Tag Archives: factory farming

Setting the Stage…

I first learned of Chris Leonard about 14 months ago when he called me for a phone interview.  He was writing an article and we had a lengthy visit discussing cattle marketing, modern beef production, and the use of beta agonists.

It became clear during our conversation that we neither shared the same perspective nor approached the politics of beef farming from the same angle, but I viewed the interview as a learning experience.  When I later learned that Mr. Leonard had written a book, I deemed reading it as a necessary intellectual exercise.

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My goal is to provide good care so that this animal will achieve it’s utmost potential thereby growing great tasting beef all while using the natural resource of my farm wisely…

I have never believed that my job as a beef farmer ended when my animals were loaded onto the truck to leave the feed yard.  I recognize that my packing plant and its customers (grocery stores, restaurants, and ultimately each of you) are my partners in beef production.  With every decision that we make, we create both the economic market and the fundamental family beef eating experience.

Each one of us plays a role...

Each one of us plays a role…

The relationships that farmers have with both their rural communities and their packing plant partners are varied depending on their individual goals and resources as well as the type of food animals that they raise.   As with just about anything in our lives, all of these relationships are dynamic:  growing and evolving over time.

The idea of change can be both frightening and challenging, but it is the reality and often actually leads to improvement.  When I look at the modifications that I have made on my cattle farm in the last decade, I see positive progress.  Marked improvements in both animal welfare and beef quality offer the promise of sustainability for both my farm and my beef customers.

Good care and good nutrition makes for comfortable animals and great tasting beef...

Good care and good nutrition makes for comfortable animals and great tasting beef…

Chris Leonard stated publically this week that he believes the perfect outcome for modern food production would be to revert to the system of raising food animals as it was in 1982.  As a beef farmer, I believe that this would be detrimental to the welfare of the animals, my farm; and also the quality, safety, and cost of the food products that they provide.

From Beef Quality Assurance to Progressive Beef: My farm has made enormously positive advancements since 1982...

From Beef Quality Assurance in the 1990’s to Progressive Beef in 2013: My farm has made enormously positive advancements since 1982…

Suggesting such a goal tells me that Chris does not hold an in depth understanding of what I do every day as a farmer.  Further supporting this notion is the following quote that appears in the Prologue of the book:

The agriculture sector is one of the richest, most productive moneymaking machines in American life.  After all, a lot of the business simply involves sitting around and letting plants grow and letting animals get fat.  Mother Nature does the heavy lifting.  Then the farmer harvests the plants, kills the animals, and watches the money roll in.”

Chris Leonard, The Meat Racket

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

Romancing the Feed Yard…

My favorite farmer gave me a birthday card more than 15 years ago that showed a picture of a man systematically mowing the lawn (including the flower garden) with a caption that read, I guess I’m more ‘logical’ than ‘romantic’.mattcard.jgp

I laughed so hard when he gave it to me that I cried.  After all these years, the card is still tacked up on the bulletin board on my kitchen wall.  It is now faded and beginning to tear at the seams, but I can’t bear to throw it away because it depicts Matt and I so well.anneandmattjan2014

We aren’t inherently romantic, and I love the fact that our outlook on life is more practical as I believe that makes us good farmers.

In many ways, my feed yard is much like my favorite farmer and I:  favoring the practical side over the romantic.  It houses 3000 animals that exist to make beef and other products that we all use every day.  These animals eat, drink, sleep, play and grow.  They require daily care regardless of the weather, and their existence on our farm ensures that there is always work to be done.DSC07904

While I managed to get him to “wink” for the camera, he has no concept of the notion of romanticism…

I truly love what I do, but I also recognize that it is not quixotic in nature.  Managing a feed yard requires practical “hands on” skills, and I like to laugh that I generally earn my shower at the end of the day.  I may hum my favorite country song while I do chores, but my cattle certainly don’t appreciate the music for any more than a gauge of my mood.

And, I am quite certain that they prefer the sound of the feed truck bringing them breakfast much more than any poetry that I might recite…

The culture of a cattle feed yard does not provide an element of romanticism to the beef story; however, I feel that my farm offers a very real gift.  The gift of healthy food that is raised carefully and responsibly.

The professionalism that dictates the care that I offer to my animals ensures that they are comfortable, and make and safe and healthy beef.   This very logical process can then provide the avenue for each of you to have a romantic beef eating experience.  I am happy to stay true to my natural pragmatic self if each of you is willing to trust me as I grow your beef 🙂

What a delicious way to make your day special...

What a delicious way to make your day special…

It is this combination of reality and romance that together makes us sustainable. 

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Filed under CAFO, General

My Sunday Morning Helper…

We run what I call a skeleton crew on Sundays at the feed yard.  One of my guys comes to work to feed the cattle both in the morning and the afternoon, and I am there in the morning to read bunks, check cattle, and exercise any pens that need it.

During the fall months we are particularly busy getting in many younger animals that take a higher level of care.  I often roll my Sunday morning helper out of bed and into the car at 5:45 to provide an extra set of hands.  Megan is not only good help, but her eternally sunny disposition never fails to make me smile.

Pausing for a moment at dawn to try yoga on one of the feed yard fences...

In typical Megan fashion, pausing for a moment at dawn to try yoga on one of the feed yard fences…

One of the added bonuses of having a Sunday morning helper is that I know how many memories and life lessons Megan learns while working with me at the yard.  She is developing a great level of animal savvy, and is on her way to being an excellent cattle handler.  Outside of that, she also learns how important it is to follow directions and take responsibility for both her actions and the animals that we care for.

Here Megan is trailing cattle down the alleyway going back to the home pen at the end of an exercising session...

Here Megan is trailing cattle down the alleyway headed back to the home pen at the end of an exercising session…

Megan is Beef Quality Assurance Certified–having attended two different trainings with our consulting veterinarian.  I also try to take the time to explain BQA care practices to her as we work together at the yard.  I know that hands on training is critical to her understanding and retention of the principals of good animal and environmental stewardship.

Our vet, Ryan O'hare, doing our yearly BQA training at the feed yard...

Our vet, Ryan O’Hare, doing our yearly BQA training at the feed yard…

I truly cherish the time that I spend with my girls.  It is a constant reminder that the best thing that I have done with my life are my three confident and compassionate daughters.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, General

Farm Check: The Goal

I have to admit that as a child and teenager, I never gave a thought to where my food came from.  I took both the food and my mother’s wonderful home cooked dinners completely for granted.  As a dedicated athlete who trained four hours a day, I consumed a lot of food—thinking about nutrition and fuel for my body, but never giving a second to think about what it took to grow it.

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago...

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago…

I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face the first time that he attended a team dinner for the Dartmouth Women’s Swim Team.  As a college football player he was no stranger to eating, but the feeding frenzy that he witnessed that night left him speechless.  He wisely decided to step aside and let my team mates and I eat our fill before attempting to enter the food line himself…

As I transitioned from competitive athlete to farm girl, I found myself (for the first time) taking an active role in both understanding and growing food.  When I moved to Nebraska in 1997, I had complete trust in modern food production but very little understanding of it.

The day that I graduated from college--pictured with my husband and brother.  The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life...

College graduation: pictured with my husband and brother. The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life…

Somewhere in the last 16 years, universal trust in food production has been eroded.  Farming practices have been questioned as well as the integrity of the farmer that implements them.  This saddens me.  While I truly believe that every person has a right to understand where their food comes from, I also believe that it is important to truly understand before passing judgement.

The challenge that we all face is the ever growing gap between farmers and urbanites.  Whenever a disconnect like this occurs, myths perpetuate and misinformation stands in the way of good conversation and understanding.  Perception becomes a cloud of fog that hinders trust and stands in the way of true learning and comprehension.

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you...

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you…

Somehow philosophers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have become the authority on food production, while farmers like myself have become the evil opportunists.  While I can certainly respect that every person has a right to their own beliefs, it bothers me tremendously to read books like Fast Food Nation that misrepresent both who I am and what happens on my farm.

  • I believe with all of my heart that responsible food production must universally exist.
  • I believe with all of my heart that this responsible food production includes quality animal care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that a deep understanding of food animals and their needs must play the key role in determining what defines proper care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that good care leads to healthy animals and a safe food supply.
  • I believe with all of my heart that together farmers and urbanites can come together to build relationships and understanding relative to meat production.

The goal of the Tyson Farm Check program is to bring scientists and farmers together with our customers to rebuild trust while also continually learning how to improve farm animal care.

Do we care?  Absolutely! 

Can we get better?  Absolutely!FarmChecklogo

  The goal is to build trust while responsibly growing safe and nutritious food.

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Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Factory Farmer or Faithful Farmer?

I asked around a bit in social media circles last week looking for a definition of Factory Farm as it pertains to cattle.  I was curious given that I had just read Fast Food Nation and had Mr. Schlosser’s description pretty clearly imprinted on my mind.

An aerial view of my feed yard...

An aerial view of my feed yard…

Here is a list that I gathered of the general specifications of a cattle factory farm:

  • The cattle live in dirt pens.
  • The cattle are fed by a tractor or some other type of machinery with the feed placed in feedbunks.
  • The cattle are fed corn or some derivative of corn in addition to forages.
  • There are more cattle per acre than in a pasture grazing situation.
  • The higher concentration of cattle produces an odor or smell.
  • The farm is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).

My feed yard fits each one of those specifications.

I am concerned that an ever growing number of people believe that any animal that lives on a Factory Farm is abused and has a terrible life.  Additionally, many also believe that a Factory Farmer (someone who works on a factory farm) either has no integrity or is being unhappily forced into working there.

Dartmouth College graduation with my husband and my brother: just a week before going to work at the feed yard...

Dartmouth College graduation with my husband and my brother: just a week before becoming a “factory farmer”…

I certainly hope that I have not spent the last 16 years of my life sacrificing my integrity, abusing my animals, and teaching my children to hate our farm…

I feel a God-given need to offer good care to my animals.

I feel a God-given need to offer good care to my animals.

I feel a relentless drive to raise safe and healthy beef which I feed to my family as well as to yours...

I feel a relentless drive to raise safe and healthy beef which I feed to my family as well as to yours…

I feel a responsibility to care for the natural resources that make up our farm: to use them wisely so that they can be both productive and beautiful...

I feel a responsibility to care for the natural resources that make up our farm: to use them wisely so that our land can be both productive and beautiful…

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I feel a passion to work for constant improvement so that my animals prosper and do their job of growing beef…

I share

I feel a desire to share my hard work and values with my daughters so that they learn to appreciate their food and what it takes to grow it…

I believe that my life is one of beauty and devotion.  Perhaps if those that coined the term Factory Farming really understood me, my family, and my farm I would instead be called a Faithful Farmer…

What do you think?

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Filed under CAFO, General