Tag Archives: farm chores

Chicken 201…

The Feed Yard Foodie family entered the realm of Chicken 201 this spring as we started our second flock of Rhode Island Red laying hens. After four years, the first flock suffered “laying fatigue” so it was time to replenish with young birds. The plan was to start all six chicks at once — After a cat defugalty, we ended up with two sets of three birds each about 3 weeks apart in age.

The first set of three grew too big for the horse water tank that we start the chicks in, so we spent some time Easter afternoon preparing the coop and moving the larger hens out of the chicken crib and into the big kid house…The smaller set will remain in the chicken crib for a few more weeks while they grow and become better able to keep themselves warm.

My favorite farmer has been fighting a nasty fever virus, but he cowboyed up and helped to fix a few things in the run. He seems to be pretty susceptible to the requests of his girls 😉 One of the things that I like most about the chicks is the projects that they make for Matt and the girls to do together. While on a smaller scale, they are similar to the cattle handling projects that the girls and I share.

Ashley Grace is currently teaching the hens how to leave and re-enter the coop so that they can enjoy the sun, food and water that we put out in the run. It is highly entertaining! We are looking forward to having a constant supply of eggs again.

Grandma spent the Easter weekend visiting from Florida. She got to play farmer a bit between the cattle at the pasture and the chick project at home.

Easter blessings from our family to yours!

6 Comments

Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General

Tis the Season: For a Beard and a Basketball…

Each fall, when the temperatures hoover around O degrees for the first time, I mutter to myself that I need to figure out how to grow a beard. Last week our temperatures hit the zero degree level on the morning that we shipped cattle to Tyson.

annedougcattle-ship1ment

My foreman and I put on a bunch of layers of clothes, and I got out my fake beard for the first time since February.

Winter in Nebraska takes some getting used to.  While figuring out the role of a hood on a sweatshirt came instantaneously to me, learning how to layer correctly to work safely outside in the cold took a little bit longer. I have a few toes with frostbite damage to remind me of the learning curve…

To this day, I vastly prefer the summer and fall months to December and January, but farm chores continue in the winter-time despite the drop in temperature.  This time of year, Mother Nature offers challenges instead of resources so we have to provide care when the cattle need us — every single day.

9mccook9

 My favorite blonde cowgirl wisely trades her boots for basketball shoes for the winter.  She made the transition this year to high school basketball and brings the same winning attitude to her team as she brings to the feed yard crew.

Her hard work and focus earn her success and she proudly represents the Lady Haymakers this season on three levels:  9th and 10th grade, Junior Varsity, and the Varsity.  She’s playing in games four nights a week and packing her FAITH along the journey.

  • F ortitude
  • A ttitude
  • I ntegrity
  • T rust
  • H umility

megbb9th1

I love to watch her love basketball almost as much as I love to see her awesome work ethic make a positive difference.

When I think of all of the great things that being a farmer has brought to my life, raising my kids on the farm tops the list.  Megan runs a scoop shovel with the best of them.  She became a member of the farm crew at an early age, and learned the art of teamwork working cattle and dealing with weather challenges at the feed yard.

She understands that no necessary action is unimportant — no matter how physically demanding or mentally menial.

The girl has grit.

Last summer, I watched Megan practice basketball in our farm shop — Shooting more than 10,000 baskets during the hours outside of working at the feed yard and training for swim team. Inspired by the awesome set of Lady Haymaker basketball coaches, she combined her farm work ethic with a fledgling love for the game and began building the necessary set of ball handling skills.

ibb5

megbbalblizzard

I look at my favorite blonde cowgirl and I see my work-a-hol-ic nature combined with a unique zest for life. This combination packs a powerful punch that we fondly refer to as the art of Meganizing.

I recognize that personal need to make a difference that she wears on her face.  It gleams in her eyes both on the basketball court and on the farm — even when the rest of her face is covered with a matching cold weather mask while she scoops snow out of feed bunks in a blizzard 😉

2 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, Farming, General

The Moment of Truth…

I am often described as an intense person.  Part of it stems from my natural personality, but a portion of it also comes from my life experiences.  I spent my formative years as a serious competitive athlete — trading Prom for national swimming championships and learning from a young age that success comes to those who work the hardest.  Although I retired from competitive swimming before I started my life on the farm, many of the chores that I do at the feed yard often inspire that same intense Anne.

BovinePhotoBomb.jpgI remember feeling raw fear the first time that I walked among a large group of cattle on the farm.  Commingling with 1500# animals was not something that I learned how to do at Dartmouth College 🙂

Our retired feed yard manager taught me how to herd, sort, and cowboy.  While it took a while to desensitize myself to the LARGENESS of the animals, the bovine mind intrigued me enough to take me past that initial fear.

Working with prey animals requires an intense concentration. Getting distracted not only erodes your effectiveness as the herd leader, but it can also be very dangerous.  Not too long after I started working at the feed yard, I began participating on the ship out crew.  This provided one of my greatest moments of truth.

The amount of power that a herd of 1500# animals exudes is nothing short of awesome. A savvy and seasoned cowboy works effectively to ensure that all that powerful animal energy moves harmoniously in the correct direction.  Moving those giant animals through the corral for the last time always offers me a moment of humility.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...My foreman and I greeted last Friday morning early to ship cattle to Tyson. Although the sky was clear, the crescent moon provided little light as we moved through the darkness to herd the animals from the home pen down to the corral.  The 18 degree temperature provided for both a cool experience and poor visibility with steam rising off the animals as well as from our own breaths.  The ground was frozen unevenly due to a recent rain storm and the cold temperatures.

I felt both intensely human as well as intensely vulnerable as the animals moved through the corral and up onto the semi-truck.  Each time that we ship cattle, I accept the personal risk that exists when working with animals almost 15X your size.  I can control my own actions and use my skills to create positive herd movement. However, there are no guarantees.  In a purely physical match, I would lose every time.  This creates a moment of truth.

We ship our cattle without the use of any large equipment: simply a cowboy on foot or on horseback. The art of moving the large animals safely from the home pen up into the semi-truck lies in the hands of a small cowboy crew.  Success requires a blend of intuition and skill, and putting the big ones on the bus provides the most challenging task performed at the feed yard.

In just over two months, I will ship my last pen of cattle to slaughter.  Even though I close that chapter of my life, I will forever carry with me a deep appreciation for all of the cowboys that continue to perform this task on farms all across the Midwest.

The blend of vulnerability and intense strength in the action creates a memory that lasts a lifetime.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

Pass the Peanut Butter…

I have enjoyed a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and a banana for breakfast every day since the 22nd of September. I eat the peanut butter sandwich after I read bunks and exercise calves, and before I check daily cattle health. I eat the banana after the daily health check is completed late-morning.

Reading bunks and determining the daily feeding plan for my cattle begins at 6:00am.  It does not matter if it is Sunday, Halloween or the Thanksgiving holiday that we will celebrate next week – the feed yard day starts at 6:00, and there are thousands of animals that look forward to the morning routine. We start early because my cattle have taught me that a disciplined breakfast schedule benefits their health and comfort, and consequently reduces the environmental footprint of my farm.

annecattlecheck.jpg

September 22nd provided the first day of the “fall run of calves” at the feed yard. Each year, the extra cowboy chores that I take on during this time period wreak havoc with my breakfast choices. Since Graves Disease necessitated the destruction of my thyroid gland on my 33rd birthday, I am dependent on a pill to provide my body with the thyroid hormones that allow me to function. The thyroid pill is a bit picky, and (for my body) works best if I take it on an empty stomach. This means no breakfast for 30-45 minutes after I start my day by taking the thyroid pill.

Even though I enjoy breakfast, I enjoy sleeping more. I leave the house within 10 minutes of crawling out of bed. The result: a necessitated delayed breakfast after starting my day at the feed yard. During September, October, November, and the first half of December my mornings are so busy that I have to eat on the go. A peanut butter sandwich and a banana provide an easy solution to the challenge. Although it lacks diversity, it does start my day with protein, whole grains, and fruit.

By the time that Christmas rolls around, my pallet cries for a new breakfast flavor – almost as much as my body longs for a morning reprieve from the daily 5:35 wake up call. Such is the life of a feed yard boss lady in the fall months of the year. It’s a good thing that my freezer is full of home grown beef so that I can ensure that dinner promises more flavor and satisfaction than breakfast 🙂

BeefStripSteaksandMushroomKabobs I really prefer a beef meal where I can pass on the peanut butter!

6 Comments

Filed under Foodie Work!, General

We’re In This Together…

My favorite farmer’s and my mantra has always been, We’re In This Together. We met the fall of my freshman year at Dartmouth and quickly became the couple that we still are today. We are the ones that do everything together – from home, to work on the farm, to parenting our three beautiful girls.

annemattjeanskiss.jpg

The driving factor in our decision to head from the East coast back to the family farm in 1997 was our desire to build something meaningful together. Matt is my rock – the steady intelligent entrepreneur who somehow manages to thrive in a house of four very driven females.

My dedication to doing things right often makes me a work-a-hol-ic. I don’t rest until my animals have all that they need. That is just the way that God made me. I shrug off the fatigue and keep going, never stopping until the job is done. There are days that I am pretty sure that I exhaust both my husband and my crew, but they loyally stay and work alongside me. That is just the way that God made them.

MegKarynbunk2.jpg

There are two young ladies that make us all smile. Their presence puts everything into perspective, and their good humor breaks up the long weeks of the fall. I look forward to the weekends and rely on them to practically help complete chores while also to lighten the mood at the feed yard.

It struck me Sunday morning, just how much I need them. It left me a bit in awe as I realized how well they listen, how quickly they learn, and how incredibly capable they are. From scooping bunks, to exercising calves, to checking daily animal health, to spouting Beef Quality Assurance and Progressive Beef protocols — all with a smile, and all with the work ethic and responsibility that permeates the culture of the farm. They GET IT.

MegKaryncalves.jpg

After we finished morning chores, we headed over to the feed yard office. Every Sunday morning, Megan writes a new inspirational quote on the white board in the office. The one she chose for this week could not have been more appropriate.

megquote2.jpg

Some might think that I expect too much of my girls, but one of my greatest responsibilities as a parent is to place them in situations where they can develop maturity, responsibility, accountability, and the resulting self-confidence that comes from true accomplishment.

My gift to them comes in the form of a shovel, coveralls, and Bogg boots all wrapped up with the knowledge of how to use these tools to benefit the animals on our farm and ultimately the people that those animals will go on to nourish.

Ogirls10.jpg

Between our home and our farm, our girls learn every day that life is more meaningful if we’re in this together.  I look at them and recognize Matt’s and my greatest success in our journey…

8 Comments

Filed under Family

The Feed Yard Foodie Farm Heads Into the Fall Run…

This week officially marks the beginning of the fall run at the feed yard. Cool nights signal the end of the growing season and grass quality begins to diminish. Many animals not intended for breeding stock move off of home ranches and into feed yards as the pastures can no longer sustain them. The fall months provide the busiest time of the year at the feed yard as we offer care to large numbers of newly arrived animals.

denkecalvescorralwf.jpg

A couple of months ago, I wrote about finding personal balance and my search to figure out the best future plan for Feed Yard Foodie. After thoughts of retiring the blog site, I came to the realization that I was not ready to quit blogging. Instead, I needed to lighten the self-imposed pressure to write as frequently so that the work load became more manageable.

As we move into the fall, the frequency of blog posts will likely decrease due to my busy schedule. However, I am going to try to consistently upload pictures and short thoughts from the feed yard onto the Feed Yard Foodie Facebook page in between posts. I would encourage everyone interested in being a part of those messages to “Like” the page so that you can participate.  You can do this on the home page of the regular blog site or search Feed Yard Foodie on Facebook to find the page.

In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts from last week to share:annegwm2015.jpg

  • We completed our bi-yearly ground water monitoring to ensure that our farm is not negatively impacting the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • We also completed our 2nd Internal Progressive Beef Audit for 2015 to ensure that our farm remains dedicated to animal welfare, sustainability and food safety. This audit not only serves as an important “report card” for our daily care at the feed yard, but it also provides each of you the validation that my beef is raised responsibly.
  • My favorite Cross Country running teenager and her teammates are rocking through the first half of the season with an undefeated record. Each fall I am reminded how much I truly love the sport of X Country — I may well be the most enthusiast fan running around the course cheering for the runners 🙂
  • My favorite blonde cowgirl jumped right into her 8th grade Volleyball season when we returned home from Texas A & M. Her smile and leadership is contagious on the court, and she is a joy to watch.
  • My favorite 10 year old anxiously awaits the start of the fall soccer season as well as her 11th birthday. She and I continue to run and swim when we can in order to keep her lungs strong.
  • My favorite farmer will soon transition from dehydrating alfalfa to harvesting corn. Despite his long days on the farm, he takes the time to support and hang out with his girls – often providing a joke or a friendly “eye roll” when the estrogen levels permeating our house become too strong.

mccookgirls3

I hope that each of you is enjoying the transition to the fall run. It is indeed a beautiful time!

8 Comments

Filed under Family, Foodie Work!, General

Freezing in the New Year…

Central Nebraska is ringing in the New Year with frigid temperatures.  Yesterday, the thermometer reported -18 degrees when I read bunks at just after 6:00am.  This time of year, I tend to reflect back to my high school days — sitting in a warm Florida classroom and reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire.  Since learning how to winter on our farm in Nebraska, the words of the story take on a much fuller meaning…

calfice2

When it turns this cold, we rely on technology — common sense — instinct — and basic care standards to protect both ourselves and our animals.  In times of harsh winter weather, survival becomes intrinsically tied to the above things, as depicted eloquently by London’s story.

  • Any vital equipment (feed trucks, tractors, pay loaders) is parked inside the heated shop or next to a building where we can plug in an engine heater to better ensure its likelihood of working when it is needed.
  • Special fuel is used to run the equipment that makes it less likely to “gel up” and quit working.
  • Crew priorities focus on the basics: feeding the cattle a special storm ration during both daily feedings that helps them to generate heat from within, frequently checking all water tanks to make sure that a constant supply of water is not disrupted by a tank freezing over, checking cattle health, and preparation for the next day to ensure that morning feed delivery (breakfast) occurs on schedule.
  • Any extra time is spent working on inside paperwork/chores.

Crew members working outdoors are fully covered with multiple layers of clothing, and take frequent breaks either in the shop or in a warm pick up truck to protect against frost bite.  My guys all tend to grow beards for the winter, I get out my ski mask and do my best bank robber impersonation.

IPhone fall 2011 079

London’s protagonist perishes in To Build A Fire due to his lack of common sense and employment of poor survival skills.  Conversely, his dog companion depends on instinct and survives.

I think that it is fair to say that good farmers use a combination of modern technology and instinct to ensure survival and productivity during times of winter challenge.  After all, it is our job to care for the animal, not be bested by him!

 

8 Comments

Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

Small Squares…

I have always loved horses.  As I little girl, I had a typical infatuation with the big beautiful animals.  I dreamed of one day having my own.

Matt and I moved to Nebraska more than 15 years after my first horse ride as a vacationer in the mountains of Montana.  As an adult, I put the dreams of having my own horse on hold for another nine years after changing my address to the Cornhusker State.  I had set my sights on learning how to manage a cattle feed yard, and that was no small task for the East Coast urbanite.

"The Boys" and I...

“The Boys” and I…

My favorite farmer grumbled quite a little bit when I brought “my boys” home the summer of 2006.  He worried that caring for them would add too much to my work load.  In addition, he lamented the amount of feed that was required to keep the boys in good shape.

Over the years, Matt has mellowed toward the horses.  He now affectionately calls them my “knot heads”, and does a great job growing the feed that they need.  I graze them on grass in the summer, and an alfalfa field in the winter.  When the winter weather gets especially cold, I supplement the boys with alfalfa dehy pellets and baled prairie hay.

We put the prairie hay up in small square bales that weigh 50-60 pounds.  Gathering the bales and bringing them home is always an interesting chore!

One of the places that we grow prairie hay grass is on pivot corners where we must grow a dry-land (non-irrigated) crop...

One of the places that we grow prairie hay grass is on pivot corners where we must grow a dry-land (non-irrigated) crop…

8 small square bales of prairie hay waiting to be picked up and placed on a trailer...

8 small square bales of prairie hay waiting to be picked up and placed on a trailer…

The tractor and hay implement picks up the sets of 8 bales and places them on the trailer...

The tractor and hay implement picks up the sets of 8 bales and places them on the trailer…

Megan and Matt helping to place the bales...

Megan and Matt helping to place the bales…

The pile got pretty high!

The pile got pretty high!

The horses will be well fed this winter, and some of this hay will also go to the feed yard...

The horses will be well fed this winter, and some of this hay will also go to the feed yard…

Baling prairie hay (grass hay) that we are unable to graze allows us to make good use of our resources.  Prairie hay is great feed for both horses and cattle.  It also provides a way for our farm to make a sustainable cycle.

2 Comments

Filed under Farming, General