Tag Archives: Farm Check

Caring for God’s Creatures…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from Genesis 1:24

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce every sort of animals, each producing offspring of the same kind – livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.”


Two days after I dropped my favorite brunette off at college, I headed to Dakota Dunes, SD for a Tyson Animal Well-being Advisory Committee meeting. The advisory panel provides a pillar of the FarmCheck program and I have been honored to participate since it’s inception in 2013.  The 15 member committee consists of dedicated people from all across the world who gather for “think tank” discussions as we work to intentionally strive to improve farm animal welfare.

Are we perfect? No! Do we care? Yes! The intensity and devotion to doing the right thing for our animals provides a tangible presence in the meeting room. We have hard and detailed discussions on the complex challenges that we face raising food animals. The goal is to honor the sacrifice that our animals give to us when they become food by doing our very best to provide them with a good life during their time on earth. In short, we talk about how we can care for God’s creatures.

 

I’ve laughed to my favorite farmer many times over the years that I may be the only one in the room without a graduate degree 🙂  I try to make up for that by offering a boots on the ground perspective on animal welfare issues that affect cattle on their life journey. I began my personal cattle adventure more than two decades ago —  driven by a love for animals and a gratitude toward the nutritious beef that often provides the center of my dinner plate. You could likely debate whether or not I’m an animal welfare expert but my heart holds tightly to a God-given passion to serve His creatures with integrity.


As we move forward in a world where ethics play an increasingly important role in the food discussion, I think that they are a few key ideas to hold tightly to:

  1. God created man to have dominion over animals. It is our job to care for them, but it is also our right to use their meat to nourish our bodies.
  2. While it is clearly important to raise food with integrity, it is critically important that we come together as a team to find answers to challenges. Farmers, packing plants, scientists, NGO’s, government officials, individual Americans — the list is long, but we will find meaningful answers TOGETHER.
  3. While many in our country are food secure, many are not. The need of those challenged for food security is just as important as that of the privileged. We must never forget the quiet voice of the child who struggles for daily nutrition.
  4. Farmers are not perfect, but we are dedicated to doing the best that we can. A basis of trust and agape love is necessary for meaningful discussion about how and why we raise food animals. As a city kid turned farmer, I’ve found that the more that I understand my animals, the better job I can do caring for them in a meaningful way. I want to have a “seat at the table” for discussions about animal welfare so please leave me a chair!

One of the things that I like most about serving on Tyson’s Animal Wellbeing Advisory Committee is my ability to honor all four of those ideas. It was a great meeting — full of awesome people — that generated innovational thoughts of how we can better understand, care, and honor our animals. I am incredibly thankful to be included in this effort as it helps to fulfill an ongoing ministry for me as we care for God’s creatures.

 

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Efficient Living…

cornanneOur family returned via airplane to Omaha from our trip to New England on Monday night of last week.  I got up Tuesday morning and got on a different set of airplanes to head to Springdale, Arkansas for a Animal Well-Being meeting.  Always one to find ways to be efficient, I jumped on the chance to combine the two trips and cut out the 7 hour round trip car ride from our farm to the Omaha airport…

It made for a long time to be away from home — 11 days — but my foreman and his son, along with my cowboy took care of animal chores for me while I was gone.  The summer months are the slowest time in the calendar year at the feed yard because Mother Nature provides grass pastures for cattle in June, July and August which seasonally limits the role of a Nebraska feed yard.

I traveled to Arkansas as a member of Tyson’s 3rd Party Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel.  I serve on the panel as the cattle/beef farmer specialist for the group.  I knew very little about Tyson as a company before I became involved as an Advisory Panel member in May of 2013, but this role has provided me with a tremendous personal and professional growth opportunity.

I love both the ability to make a difference in “food” animal welfare as well as the interaction with Tyson team members as we work together to brain storm ways of improving how we grow food.  Our Advisory Panel meetings fuel the “intellectual Anne” as we tackle subjects that encompass animal welfare, sustainability, and food safety for poultry, pork and beef.  The Tyson leadership team and the animal welfare scientists that make up Tyson’s Sustainable Food Production team are first class.  I am continually impressed by their intellect and understanding of the highly complex issues that surround growing food; and value their ability to work as a team to move forward in a meaningful way.

I have served on many different beef industry committees in the last two decades, and I can honestly say that being a member of the Tyson Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel is the one that I value most.  It is refreshing to spend time with a bunch of smart people that just want to figure out how to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I arrived back at the farm late Thursday night glad to sleep in my own bed.  I am reminded every time that I travel that leaving the farm opens my eyes to a broader perspective and offers me incentive to think outside of the box as I continue to complete the important task of putting nutritious food on the table…

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Making Beef…

Virginia, Rachel and I spend roughly 15 months raising each calf that originates from the Evert Ranch.  During those months, the calf will grow from 70# to 1300# — gaining the first half of those pounds from a combination of mama’s milk and grass at the ranch and the second half of those pounds on a grain and forage casserole at the feed yard.  It amazes me to think that good nutrition, planning and care can be so effective, but each year the Evert calves get better and better.

Evertcalves7a.jpg

We measure performance on the cattle at each level of the production chain.  Virginia is well-known for the “clipboard” that she carries around — making notes on the calves during their time on the ranch.  Each calf receives a visual tag at birth that correlates to its parents so that genetics can be measured.  Things like disposition (how the calf acts around its human caregivers), phenotype, frame scoring, and general health are all combined to determine the total quality of the animal.

When the calf changes address and comes to the feed yard, I tie the visual ranch tag with an EID (electronic identification tag) that allows us to trace performance at the feed yard as well as at the packing plant.  I track three main things: overall health, total pounds gained, and dry matter feed conversion.Evertfeedyard2.jpg

When the calf leaves my farm, it travels about 20 miles to the Tyson packing plant in Lexington, Nebraska having spent its entire lifetime within a 50 mile radius.  At that point, the EID tag allows the transmission of carcass data which provides over-all beef quality scoring for the animal.  This data collection includes carcass weight, meat tenderness score, steak measurements, and total leanness of the animal.  The carcass data is the final piece of our report card as beef producers, giving Virginia, Rachel and me information that we can use in the future to continuously improve quality.

Evertfeedyard1.jpg

Because animal welfare, food safety, and sustainability are important to me, I look to my packing plant partner to share both my passion and my dedication to excellence on these topics.  In addition to supplying cattle to Tyson, I have the unique opportunity of serving on their Farm Check Animal Well-Being Advisory committee.  As a member of this board, I work to understand and improve animal welfare throughout the entire production chain.

The latest Tyson effort to ensure good animal welfare on the farm...Tyson plays a critical role making beef.  As the last stop for the animals that Virginia, Rachel and I raise, their cooperation and hard work finishes the circle in the production of responsible beef.

  • Their impressive food safety and animal welfare auditing practices provide a fitting end to the hard work that goes into raising a healthy food animal.
  • Their commitment to transparency allows for the sharing of information both back to the farmer in the form of carcass data, and forward to the beef consumer who wants to understand the company’s commitment to sustainably raised food.

I believe that the future of food production lies in the building of strong partner relationships.  It is a complicated and difficult task to grow safe, healthy, and great tasting beef.  As a team, we are able to put the pieces of the puzzle together in the ever important journey of continuous improvement.

annemattbeef1

Our next blog post takes us into the world of retail and food service – the last critical step of bring beef to your plate 🙂

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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 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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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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