Tag Archives: excellence

Pursuing Excellence…


Our Dartmouth College swim team shirts boasted the saying Pursuing Excellence across the back.  It provided a good fit for me as I have always felt the need to raise the bar.

My favorite farmer laughs and tells me that my standards are too high –To which I remind him that I am hardest on myself so everyone else should be in good shape 😉

Managing a feed yard for twenty years taught me the critical importance of a good team.  When you care for thousands of animals, it is impossible to do the job without the help of others.  Because the welfare of those animals is dependent on you, anything less than excellence in care is unacceptable.

A willingness to unselfishly give your all while simultaneously inspiring others to do the same allows for success.

Last week we shipped the final pen of cattle from our feed yard, and I officially started a new journey. I joined the team of Innovative Livestock Services and the Beef Marketing Group. BMG is a cooperative of feed yards in Kansas and Nebraska that operate under the Progressive Beef QMS.  My feed yard spent the last four years as a member of this coop and, during that time, I discovered a group of kindred spirits.

The mission statement of my new team states:

Combining innovation with the passion of our people to empower our rural communities and grow great tasting and sustainable beef.

Anyone who knows me can read that statement and see what a perfect fit this opportunity  is for me. I will play a dual role working on quality assurance and communications projects.  The quality assurance role enables me to continue to work to improve cattle welfare, and the communications projects allow me to empower my voice as an advocate for agriculture.


While change is hard and transitions are not naturally comfortable for me, I am truly excited to begin this next leg of the journey. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I invite you to like and follow my new team’s work on Facebook at Innovative Livestock Services or Twitter @ILSBeef.  I am striving to do a more dependable job posting multiple social media messages a week on these new outlets 🙂

As for Feed Yard Foodie, look for the usual weekly ramblings on our family, our farm, and my new adventures as the Burkholder clan continues on the pursuit of excellence.


Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

5 Lessons That I Want My Children To Learn Before They Go To College…

Thoughtful Thursday

While the love story that brought me to agriculture was steeped in romanticism, the secret to my success as a cattle caregiver and the “boss lady” at our feed yard is buried deeply in the five lessons listed below.


I learned to “run” a scoop shovel when I went to work on our farm in 1997. I still run one every Sunday morning because it plays a role in my search for excellence…

5 Lessons that I want my children to learn before they go to college…

  1. The only thing that you are entitled to is work.  Do not expect for the world to hand you what you want — Know that you will have to work for it.
  2. Realize that attitude is everything and will shape your perspective — Look favorably upon your responsibilities, then they will also become your joys.
  3. The most important thing that you take with you is your integrity.  Respect it enough to always be loyal to the truth.
  4. Work Ethic + Attitude + Integrity = A Leader.  Be one — The world will be a better place if you share of yourself.
  5. The Road To Excellence Is Rarely Comfortable.  Excellence is not about comfort — It is about reaching above and beyond your capabilities in order accomplish far more than your dreams.


Filed under Coaching / Personal Growth, General, Thoughtful Thursday

The Road to Excellence Is Not Always Comfortable…

I am one of the coaches for the Cozad Swim Team. Our primary season is late May through July, and I spend the noon hour during the summer on the pool deck coaching practice as well as Saturdays at swim meets.

I love the sport of swimming and spent the better part of my formative years training in the pool. My high school tenure found me practicing four hours a day and traveling across the country to compete in swimming meets. My journey as a competitive athlete taught me so very many things, but likely the most important is that the road to excellence is not always comfortable.


While I loved my time as a competitive swimmer, being a volunteer swim coach has grown my love for the sport exponentially. It allows me to touch the lives of the youth in our community and help to shape their tenacity and character. This year our team had almost 50 members that ranged in age from five to fourteen as well as a few brave adults competing in the 30 and over age group.

I believe that one of my most important jobs as a coach is to teach my athletes to build mental strength and confidence. As the mind begins to believe, the athlete learns to push him/herself into the uncharted waters of true physical exertion. There is nothing comfortable in this journey, yet it ultimately results in the true beauty of fitness and excellence.


Regardless of any individual athlete’s God given talent, learning the life skill of breaking outside of what is comfortable in order to attain improvement is critical. I would argue that this is a life skill that reaches far outside of competitive athletics. Mental toughness and the desire to always improve (regardless of whether that journey is comfortable) is a skill that I have used every day in my adult life.

This year, I created the Pitchfork Challenge for our swim team to add a new element to practices. Each swimmer was tasked with discovering how many laps they could complete without breathing while swimming (in both Freestyle and Butterfly strokes). Each no-breath lap was immediately followed by 15 wall push-ups with no rest in the continuous effort for multiple laps.


Watching the young athletes figure out that they could indeed achieve success in the Pitchfork Challenge was a fulfilling experience. As they realized that I believed in their ability, my swimmers also began the personal journey of believing. Many of them pushed the limit, with my favorite blonde cowgirl going the farthest with 7 consecutive laps of freestyle no breathing with 15 wall pushups as the only “rest” in between laps. I had 38 athletes complete the challenge in freestyle, and 17 of those 38 completed it in both freestyle and butterfly. Additionally, there were another 6 athletes under the age of 8 that completed the challenge with only one breath.


A nice “side effect” of the Pitchfork Challenge was a tremendous improvement in both work ethic and fitness amongst my athletes. This led to an undefeated season for the Cozad Swim Team and a dominating performance at both the Plains tsumani Swim Team Qualifier and Championship meets.

Forty eight of our swimmers qualified for the Plains tsunami Swim Team Championships and those athletes brought home 166 medals (31 Gold) and 7 high point winners. Cozad brought home the 1st place team victory with 1792 points (more than 400 points ahead of the 2nd place team—a total of 24 teams competed in the meet).


Likely, the most important result of the season is the personal growth that each of my swimmers developed during the summer as they discovered that the road to excellence is not always comfortable…

I would like to take a moment to congratulate every athlete that swam on the team this summer. Each one of you played an important role in our team journey, and it brings me great pride to be your coach. I hope that in the future, when life throws a challenge at you, that you will think back to the Pitchfork Challenge and dig deep in order to persevere with excellence.



Filed under Coaching / Personal Growth, General, Rural Communities

The Future…

Thoughtful Thursday


The University of Texas’s school slogan is:

“What starts here changes the world.”

The above is a picture of the 41 young athletes that attended our kickoff season swim team retreat over Memorial Day.

When I look at them, I see the future.

When I coach them, I teach them to work hard and to believe in excellence.

With each swim practice they become stronger: physically and mentally;

and I smile knowing that

what they learn will help them to one day change the world…



Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle, a great Greek philosopher, coined those powerful words more than 2000 years ago.  Achieving excellence in our lives becomes a reality when we take pride in our actions and focus on doing all of the little things with greatness.  While striving for excellence starts as a goal, it materializes through dedication, planning, and auditing.

My favorite 13 year old is a big Aristotle fan...

My favorite 13 year old is a big Aristotle fan…

In many ways I am both a perfectionist and a workaholic.  My mom teases me that it is a good thing that I live on a farm where my girls can go with me to work—otherwise they might never see me.  While this is an exaggeration, my life very simply revolves around my family and my farm.

All of my years of athletic training combined with my naturally inclined Type A personality have created a passionate working machine.  When you add into the mix the dreamer that lives somewhere deep in my heart, you get a unique and driven individual.September 23, 2012 008

For better or for worse, I have very high standards that I live my life by.  Because my cattle feed yard is an integral part of my life, it is a natural progression for me to hold it to high standards as well.  When I look for companies and programs to associate my feed yard with, I look for those that share my same commitment to excellence and integrity.

I mentioned in Tuesday’s post that I was currently going through the certification process for a QSA (Quality Systems Assessment) program called Progressive Beef.  The Progressive Beef program is based on three pillars:  food safety, animal care, and sustainability.


Both the mom and the cattle feed yard manager in me love those pillars.  How could I not?  I spend my life raising animals that will be harvested to feed my children and children all over the world. A focus on these three areas is absolutely critical to achieving the high standards of excellence which Aristotle compels me to accomplish.

They are never far from my thoughts as I make decisions at my cattle feed yard---you and your families are in my thoughts as well...

They are never far from my thoughts as I make decisions at my cattle feed yard—you and your families are also in my thoughts…

Since many customers report that they would like to see their grocery store carry a beef product that uses a verified program, I am hopeful that many of you will share my excitement as I earn the right to participate in Progressive Beef.  I am also hopeful that you will engage in the conversation as I continue to explain the components and auditing process of the program.

I feel compelled to end by sharing some beautiful words from Mother Theresa:

You and I have been created for greater things.  We have not been created to just pass through this life without aim.

What motivates you to strive for excellence?


Filed under CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Good Is The Enemy Of Great…

Good is the enemy of great.  I had never heard this expression until my daughter’s Cross Country coach made it the mantra of this year’s season.  We all strive to be good at what we do—do we sometimes settle for good when we can be great?

AG and her coach—after her first Junior High Cross Country win…

How do we protect ourselves from falling into complacency just because we are good?

I am always amazed at the “life lessons” that I learn from parenting and mentoring my girls.  I encourage them to dream big and set goals to help those dreams become reality.  Possibly even more important than establishing and reaching goals is the commitment to create new goals once the old ones have been accomplished.

Moving the bar higher with each successful accomplishment protects us against

 good becoming the enemy of great.

As I reminded my favorite 7thgrader this weekend to set new goals for the remainder of the Cross Country season (she has reached all of the ones that she set at the beginning of the season), I found myself thinking that I might need to take my own advice.

The care I offer to them determines the quality of their life and the quality of the beef that they make…

More than a decade ago, I made the commitment to change the management philosophy at my cattle feed yard.  I promised myself that a renewed focus on quality—quality animals, quality care, and quality beef—would permeate both my business plan and the everyday actions on my farm.

To accomplish this, I made the following goals:

  • To become my own cattle buyer (https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/the-cattle-buyer/)
  • To work with my rancher partners to improve the care that we offer to our animals and the quality of the beef that those animals produce…
  • To follow animal performance all of the way through the packing plant to ensure that I am producing high quality beef…
  • To reconfigure the way that we offer care at the feed yard with the focus on “what is right for the calf”…This required developing a solid understanding of bovine psychology and implementing what I call holistic care.

Today, I am the cattle buyer and work directly with the ranchers who provide more than 85% of my cattle.  I also follow those animals all of the way through the packing plant to understand the quality of the beef that they make.  Finally, our focus at the feed yard is to provide consistent and appropriate care to our animals with our days revolving around their needs.

I believe that I am good at what I do.  We benchmark cattle performance (health, pounds of weight gained each day, the amount of feed required to get that weight gain, and carcass quality at the packing plant) to ensure that I am good at what I do.  The bottom line is that when I offer good care, my cattle thrive and make good beef.

A tasteful, highly nutritious steak that comes from a humanely raised animal is the goal…

What I realized last weekend was that although I am good, I need to work to be better.  A reader recently asked why I wean any calves at the feed yard when I know (and scientific studies show) that the animals would get along better if they were weaned on the farm of origin.

The answer to that question is that sometimes my ranchers ask me to wean their calves at the feed yard when it would be logistically difficult for them to wean them on the ranch (this year we are weaning about 15% of our cattle at the feed yard instead of the home ranch).  While our decisions are mostly based on the availability of natural resources (feed for the cattle), perhaps I need to work harder to encourage all of my ranchers to look for ways to more consistently wean their calves on the home ranch.

Perhaps if I placed more of a priority on this, I could shift my cattle care from good to great…I think that after I get finished weaning calves in a few weeks that I need to take the time to make a new set of goals for myself to ensure that good is not the enemy of great on my farm.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General