Tag Archives: Farm Check Program

Fulfilling an Intelectual Need…

I laugh to my parents that they sent me to college a jock, and I graduated an intellectual.  Sometime during my four years at Dartmouth College I fell in love with critical thinking.  While a part of me will always love working with animals and being a “hands on” farmer, there is another part that thrives on intellectual challenges.DSC04809

I have lost track of the number of times that people have asked me why I agreed to serve on Tyson Fresh Meat’s Animal Wellbeing Advisory Committee.   I am not sure if their question stems from puzzlement over why I would take on another responsibility amongst my crazily busy life, or if they wonder what a small cattle feeder has in common with a large corporate conglomerate.Tysonlogo

The very simple answer to the question is that I agreed to serve on Tyson’s committee because in doing so I felt that I could make a positive difference in the United States food animal production system.  In addition, at a very personal level, serving on the committee fulfills an intellectual need. DSC07305

The Ivy League educated cerebral continues to exist somewhere underneath my farm coveralls…

Interacting with the other committee members, as well as Tyson executives and scientists, is certainly a different experience than the daily life that I live on the farm.  As I spent two days in meetings at Tyson’s Beef and Pork Headquarters in Dakota Dunes, SD last week, I fed the scholarly Anne while also staying true to Farmer Anne.

Each one of us is a complex individual with needs at many different levels.  I believe that one of the best ways to always play our “A Game” is to recognize that stimulation at each one of those levels is critical.  Diverse experiences lead to broadened perspectives, and I have found that the view from 3000 feet is often just as important as the view from ground level.F

In the words of Henry Miller,“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored.  One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

How do you feed your inner intellectual being?

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Farm Check: The Plan

Quality Assurance programs have been in place for food animal farmers for more than a decade.  The breadth of these programs varies depending on the animal species, but the core facets are based on farmer education and best management practices to ensure good animal care and safe meat.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat...

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat…

For beef farmers, the Beef Quality Assurance program is a voluntary educational effort that focuses on daily farming practices which impact both animal care and food safety.  Cattle ranchers and farmers are encouraged to both participate in the program and interact regularly with their veterinarian to facilitate this goal.BQA Logo

The Farm Check program is intended to be a natural extension of the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment.  With its key elements comprised of core BQA components, Farm Check extends the current BQA program for feed yards to include an independent 3rd party auditing component.  Auditing serves two purposes:

  1.  It creates accountability and verification of animal care practices on the farm.
  2. It offers additional assurance for customers that live off-farm that the meat that they purchase at the grocery store comes from animals that were raised responsibly.FarmChecklogo

The Farm Check Beef Animal Handling Feed Yard Training Manual is still in draft form, and will be trialed in a few “pilot” feed yards this summer before a final draft is formed this fall.  Implementation of the beef portion of the Farm Check Program will begin in 2014.  The swine version is currently in the process of being implemented, and the poultry program is slated to follow the same time line as the beef.  Tyson is the nation’s leading producer of meat and poultry, and is the first packing plant to take this step toward validating on-farm animal care.

The second component of the Farm Check program is an animal welfare research program.  Tyson has designated dollars to be used to fund and promote additional research that will lead to continued improvement in the methods used to raise farm animals.  CEO Donnie Smith states, “We want to identify and study the critical points—from breeding to harvesting—where the quality of life for livestock and poultry can be improved, and use the results to make a difference.”DSC04451

The Farm Animal Wellbeing Advisory Panel that I sit on will aid Tyson both in the Farm Check on-farm education and audit program and also provide input on necessary research areas for further study.  The panel members will work with Tyson’s internal team to create and implement the program.

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The Farm Check program is inaugural in nature and a work in progress.  I returned home after the first two day meeting with my head swimming with information and ideas.  I am looking forward to continuing to share and learn as I fulfill my duties on the Advisory Panel!

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Farm Check: The People

Although Tyson has been a partner in the beef industry since their acquisition of IBP more than 10 years ago, I knew very little about the company and its people prior to this winter.

As I headed to Arkansas a little over a week ago for the first Farm Check Animal Welfare Advisory Committee meeting, I was unsure as to what to expect from the executives and employees of such a large corporation.  In addition to this, I also did not personally know any of the other members of this third party welfare committee assembled by Tyson.  I was the lone cattle feeder amongst an impressive group of scientists and professionals that were connected to the world of meat production from an eclectic array of directions.2011_08_01_mr_Will Feed-16-2

I began the trip spending several hours in the women’s bathroom (the designated tornado shelter) of the wrong Arkansas airport as our plane made an unexpected landing to wait out the storms and tornados that threatened the area.  I arrived at the hotel in Springdale, AR about 1:00am the morning of Tuesday the 21st– thankful for safe travels while also full of concern and sorrow for those in the neighboring state of Oklahoma that suffered tremendously at the hand of Mother Nature.

We began our inaugural meeting with a moment of prayer for those affected by the storms, followed by the announcement that the Tyson Family had dispatched teams to the disaster area to help provide food for those in need.  The term Tyson Family was one that I heard repeatedly over the two day meeting—the expression took me by surprise the first time that I heard it, but after many interactions with the leaders and employees of the company I began to see why it was actually very appropriate.Tysonlogo

Quite honestly, I found the large corporation (characterized as a “bully” by Food, Inc. and others in the foodie world) to be a group of compassionate and dedicated individuals.  CEO Donnie Smith’s opening comments focused on the company’s core values and cultural tenets—each one revolving around integrity, compassion and commitment to teamwork.  By the end of the first day, whatever preconceived notions that I might have carried with me on the plane to Arkansas were dispelled by the sincerity that universally characterized the employees that I met.

There is a core group of Tyson employees that are working on the Farm Check program.  This team is led by Dean Danilson PhD; and made up of:

  • Paula Alexander MS
  • Kate Barger DVM
  • Chris Daugherty PhD
  • John Hardiman PhD
  • Russ Nugent PhD
  • Kellye Pfalzgraf DVM
  • Lora Wright MS

    The intern Tyson Farm Check Team...

    The intern Tyson Farm Check Team…

Corporate leadership commitment to the program was evident as CEO Donnie Smith, COO Jim Lochner, and EVP Corporate affairs Sara Lilygren and several others were actively engaged throughout the meeting.

The 3rd partyAnimal Welfare Advisory Committee is made up of:

  • Ryan Best
  • Ed Cooney
  • Gail Golab PhD MD
  • Temple Grandin PhD
  • Chef Karl Guggenmos
  • Tim Loula DVM
  • Miyun Park
  • Ashley Peterson PhD
  • Richard Raymond MD
  • Janeen Salak-Johnson PhD
  • Janice Swanson PhD
  • Bruce Webster PhD
  • Anne Burkholder

    The Advisory Committee members who attended the first meeting...

    Those who attended the first meeting, along with a few Tyson team members…

You can access brief biographical information on each of these folks by clicking here:http://bit.ly/10AxJgd.

I am convinced that my involvement in the Tyson Farm Check Animal Welfare Advisory Committee will result in tremendous learning and personal growth.  It is also my hope that my contributions to the group will result in appropriate improvements and verifications in food animal welfare.  Your trust in the beef that I grow is important to me.  This Animal Welfare Advisory Committee allows me the opportunity to make an impact regarding animal welfare outside of my own farm.

Together we are stronger.

Together we are committed to striving to find the best way to care for food animals and grow healthy meat to nourish ourselves and the families that we are honored to provide for.

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Farm Check: Ensuring Responsible Animal Care On the Farm…

A life-long animal lover, I have been interested in Animal Welfare relative to cattle since the first day that I visited our family’s feed yard.  The naive 19 year old East Coast girlfriend had no idea that the majority of cattle in the United States spent time in a pen eating out of a bunk prior to becoming beef.

Cattle eating out of a "feed bunk" at the yard...

Cattle eating out of a “feed bunk” at the yard…

While I felt many different emotions during my first visit to the feed yard, the most pervasive of those was genuine interest.  In typical Anne style, I asked Archie (the feed yard manager) a multitude of questions as I tried to gain an understanding of both the animals and the way that the farm worked.  The more I learned, the more that I wanted to know .

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather...

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather…

In particular, I found the care of the cattle fascinating.  The psychologist in me wanted to understand the animal—to figure out how he thought so that I could fully understand his needs.  This initial fascination led to my desire to go to work at the feed yard after college graduation.  Three days after leaving Dartmouth College with a cum laude star on my diploma, I went to work in a whole new world: the world of food animal production.

One of the "home pens" where cattle live at my feed yard...

One of the “home pens” where cattle live at my feed yard…

Over the next 16 years, I learned the practical skills that I needed to care for those intriguing animals and I worked hard to earn the respect of my fellow feed yard team members.  Today, I make decisions that affect the welfare of thousands of animals who make millions of pounds of beef and other products that we all enjoy.  I have learned so much since that first day when my naïve eyes glimpsed the feed yard, but perhaps the best part of all is the fact that the learning never ends.

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Animals teach us many things if we take the time to look and are able to understand how they *think*!

The care of beef cattle is highly complex and I view the interaction between bovine and caregiver to be incredibly fascinating.  Enabling my animals to feel comfortable on my farm and watching them to subsequently thrive is one of my greatest pleasures.  Being able to share that with my daughters is nothing short of priceless.

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Although I strive to continually learn, I have come to a point in my life where I think that I know enough that I can also share something meaningful regarding animal care.  It is very rewarding to me that others in the beef family share that same feeling.  Animal welfare is a team effort, and I am very proud to be a part of the team.

Late this winter, I was asked to serve on Tyson Fresh Meats 3rd party Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as a part of their new Farm Check program.  The Farm Check program is an education, audit, and research program to help ensure that animals are cared for responsibly on the farm.

As a customer, each one of you deserves to know that the meat that you purchase came from an animal that was cared for appropriately and conscientiously. 

I believe that the meat industry is only sustainable if it operates with integrity.   I also believe that the Farm Check program will contribute to this sustainability.FarmChecklogoI am tremendously honored to be a member of this inaugural group of animal welfare professionals.  I am also truly humbled to be thought of as an expert in the field of farm animal behavior, health and production.  My goal has always been to continuously work for improvements in the care of farm animals.  This is best accomplished through the creation of practical and applicable animal welfare practices that dictate responsible daily care.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy food, and this is always the goal…

Throughout the next few posts, I would like to share my experiences last week at the first Farm Check Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as well as more information regarding the people, the goal, and the plan.

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