Tag Archives: farm

And Then There Were None…

Yesterday morning we shipped the final pens of cattle from the feed yard to Tyson.  A calm wind with temperatures in the mid-20’s provided an easy ship out environment.  Mother Nature also rewarded us with a beautiful sunrise toward the end of the process.

As I watched the last cattle truck pull away from the load-out chute, my emotions threatened to get the best of me.  I took a moment to remember back to the first of the lasts as I experienced the last of the lasts. This particular shipment marked the end of our feed yard era, and the finality of the moment left me drained.

I wasn’t quite sure how to feel with the knowledge that, for the first time in twenty years, I had no cattle directly depending on me for care.  An internal struggle waged as the uplifting element of freedom fought with the deep rooted desire to be needed.

Recognizing the necessity and wisdom in change is sometimes easier than living it out. Watching the cattle truck pull away forced me to face the reality in a way that I had not yet done. I took a brief moment to feel sorry for myself before I packed my FAITH and went back to work.

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In that transition moment from self-pity to resolve, I made the decision to be happy. 

While that decision does not preclude me from experiencing difficult moments tinged with sadness, it focuses my attitude on the positive and grants me the strength to make the most of the future.  LIFE is a verb, and I recognize that my ability to achieve happiness is directly related to how I chose to live it.

  • Staying true to my core values
  • Trusting both myself and God on the journey
  • Recognizing that there is so very much more left to do on the journey…

All of these things give my life purpose, and I am looking forward to cowgirling up to make the most of it.

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

How Do You Tear Down a Feed Yard?

Three primary alleyways provide the “blue print” of the feedyard with cattle home pens located on both sides of each alleyway for a total of 24 pens.  Our cattle farm dropped below 1/2 capacity (1500 bovines) last week as we shipped the final pen out of our 1st alley.

Early in the fall, I arranged the logistics so that the first alley pens emptied by early November.  This allows for us to begin the “tear down” phase on part of the farm while still taking care of cattle in the pens that make up the 2nd and 3rd alleyways.

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So, how do you tear down a feed yard?

Returning the cattle pen area to crop farm ground and grass pasture provides the goal for the “tear down” phase.  The logistical process occurs in the following order:

  • Take out the fences to open up the landscape.
  • Scrape the home pen surfaces to remove excess nutrients (manure) which we transport to my favorite farmer’s fields located within a 10 mile radius of the feed yard.  This manure helps to replenish nutrients and maintain good soil health where we grow crops each year.
  • Even up the land by removing “pen mounds” in order to create a flat surface for farming.
  • Disconnect cattle drinking water lines and remove water tanks from the home pens.
  • Remove concrete to be recycled.

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Completing this process for each of our three alleys allows for the transition of 24 cattle pens into approximately 40 acres of farm ground and pasture.  These acres will combine with other adjacent farm ground that already provides us with a nice crop of alfalfa.

November, December, and January will be split months for us as we continue to take care of the remaining cattle on the farm while also working on the transition project.  Once the last pen of cattle ships to slaughter in early February, our efforts will concentrate fully on the conversion of the land. We hope to finish the tear down by summertime in order to plant a transition crop on the irrigated acres and grass for the non-irrigated pasture ground.  The winter and spring weather will play a large role determining if we are successful in meeting that time goal.

While this project provides uncharted waters for us, we are working in consultation with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in addition to the Natural Resources District.  My favorite farmer is an agronomy nerd and I am a passionate believer in the Native American philosophy that the earth was not a gift from your parents, but rather a loan made to you from your children, so managing for good soil health and the protection of our farm’s natural resources drives the decision making process.

Speaking of my favorite farmer, I need to grant him photo credits for the top two pictures shown above.  I am afraid of heights, so he nobly offered to climb the elevator leg at the feed yard to get the aerial photos 😉

 

 

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

A Bovine Anniversary…

annefeedyard2.jpgMy favorite farmer and I achieved 20 years of marriage yesterday.  It was an interesting day with lots of work and very little time for celebration.  Such is the life of a farmer…

I started the day at 5:45 shipping 9 loads of cattle to Tyson.  We don’t often ship that many animals at a time, but June is our busiest month to ship animals ready for slaughter because of the natural weather cycle in Nebraska.  The last truck left the feed yard about 8:00am.  I am excited to see the beef quality data. We are closely tracking performance this summer after switching to a new all natural feed additive known as Natursafe to both reduce the antibiotic footprint of the feed yard and also to provide a pre-harvest food safety mechanism to further reduce ecoli and salmonella on the farm.

  • After shipping cattle, I had two pens of newly arrived fall calves to exercise and acclimate.
  • I landed at the pool to coach swim team by 11:15 and spent a couple of hours sweating while mentoring about 40 of Cozad’s talented youth.
  • The afternoon brought paperwork at the office in preparation for our annual 3rd party feed yard audit that starts at 7:00 this morning.
  • At 5:30 I headed back out to the feed yard to unload another set of newly arrived fall calves.

We sat down to a meatloaf dinner about 7:15 and greatly enjoyed the delicious chocolate cake that my favorite blonde cowgirl made.  I think that I sweated several buckets over the course of the 90+ degree day, but all ended well.  It was a great day to be reminded that marriage is a journey, not a single event to decorate a calendar.

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Cheers to my favorite farmer for 20 years of awesomeness — We certainly have built something special 🙂

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Filed under Farming, General

Never a Dull Moment…

I arrived home from the feed yard Saturday morning about 11:00am, hoping to take the dog for a walk before the predicted rain and snow began. I gathered my favorite farmer and our crazy mutt and headed down the gravel road. Shellie loves to go for walks and Matt and I enjoy the peace of the open fields.

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Shellie, the mildly crazy mutt 🙂

A large group of horse trailers and a couple of riders met us on the way home. This time of year there are many mama cows grazing the residue left after harvest on the corn fields. It isn’t unusual to meet up with the riders that periodically move the animals from field to field when the feed runs out.

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A mama cow grazing in a neighboring corn field…

My own horses graze the field adjacent to our house during the winter months. I use a one wire temporary electric fence along the perimeter of the field to keep the horses contained while grazing.  I let them out to eat in the day time and then bring them back into the corral at the house each afternoon before sunset.

"The boys", Dandy and Magnum...

“The boys”, Dandy and Magnum…

The weather Saturday was cold and cloudy, obviously inspiring a spunky attitude in my horses. As Matt, Shellie and I were about a ½ mile from home I noticed that Dandy and Magnum had decided to excitedly run around our corn field — feeding off of the energy of the other horses and riders headed out to move cattle. The next thing I knew, they both tore through the temporary electric fence and headed west at a brisk gallop.

I took off at a run for home trying to get back to gather halters, my favorite blonde cowgirls, and my vehicle in order to intercept the boys before they traveled too far from home. My girls are awesome farm kids — having already figured out the problem by the time that I made it to the driveway — so we headed out picking up my favorite farmer and the dog along the way.

Looking back, it must have been comical – at the time, I wasn’t laughing. We caught up with the horses about a mile and a half west of our house. The boys weren’t really sure that they wanted to give up their freedom, but Dandy decided that the alfalfa in my hand was more interesting than running around. Megan and I got them both haltered and headed back to the house.

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My favorite farmer is a great guy and had the fence fixed shortly after Meg and I arrived home with the horses. It was obvious that the boys had enjoyed their extra “recess”. It was not the way that I had intended to spend my Saturday afternoon, but on a farm there is never a dull moment.

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Filed under Family, General

Preparing For the Fall Run…

The month of August can mostly be described as the calm before the storm at the feed yard. It is during this time that we finish up maintenance projects in preparation for the fall run of cattle. In Nebraska, many cattle move off of grass pastures and into feed yards from September to late November. The grass becomes less plentiful and the grazing season draws to an end.

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As the grass growth slows, cattle not involved in breeding herds are typically loaded onto semi-trucks at the ranch and shipped to feed yards in order to save the remaining grass for the mama cows and bulls. The fall run starts with yearlings (15-18 month old cattle) in August and September and then transitions into calves (8-10 month old cattle) in October and November.

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Large numbers of new cattle into the feed yard equates to longer hours and a large work load. Newly arrived cattle are exercised/acclimated, processed (vaccinated, de-wormed, tagged and sometimes implanted), and health is watched very carefully as animals become accustomed to their new life.

In addition to the increasing chore list relative to cowboying at the feed yard, the numbers of feed truck loads increase significantly as well. We have 7 different rations for our cattle depending on their age/size and how long they have been at the feed yard. Rations are similar to casseroles — they are a blend of a variety of feed ingredients.

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At our feed yard, our core ingredients are: Wet Distillers Grains, Rolled Corn, Alfalfa, Ground Corn Stalks/Wheat stubble, Grass Hay, and dry Supplement pellets. When cattle arrive (regardless of size), they are given a casserole that has more forage (alfalfa and ground corn stalk/wheat stubble, and grass hay) and less grain (rolled corn) blended with wet distillers grains. Throughout the time that the cattle spend at the feed yard, the percentage of forage is lessened while the percentage of grain increases.

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Increasing the grain allows for the beef to be more tender and the flavor to be enhanced.

As we prepare for the fall run, I remind myself and my crew a few core work principles:

  1. Initiative: Always look for ways to contribute –this is imperative in effectively handling the chore load in the fall. Don’t wait to be asked to do something – if it needs done, Do It!
  2. Attitude: A positive outlook is critical to maintaining good morale — this leads to effectiveness in cattle care. Taking care of all of the little things while having pride in your work makes the difference in the lives of your animals.
  3. Teamwork: We are a team and a family at the feed yard — focusing on what is good for the group allows for unselfish efforts and a degree of unity amongst the crew. Each one of us experiences times of great fatigue during the fall months, but teamwork creates a culture where we cover for each other so that the quality of our work never diminishes.

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Filed under CAFO, General

Reliability…

Thoughtful Thursday

During the summer months, my feed yard crew works on maintenance projects that the weather precludes us from doing during the winter.  One of our main projects this summer is building new fence in our receiving/shipping/cattle working corral.  This week, we began painting the fence to help “weatherize” it.

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My daughters, in addition to my graduate student intern from the University of Nebraska, all added onto the regular crew to work on this popular task.  It is amazing what comes up when a diverse group of smart minds spend hours performing manual labor tasks…

 At one point, my favorite blonde cowgirl announced Mom, you should write a blog post about reliability because it is the most important quality in an animal caregiver.”  As I thought about her statement and the explanation that followed, I realized how truly perceptive she is.

Reliability provides the basis to being a good animal caregiver — from showing up to work on time every day, to working diligently and carefully to provide good feed and animal care, to consistently demonstrating calm leadership to the animals — my cattle rely on us every day of the year.  They don’t tolerate excuses, instead they inspire responsible diligence.

The Feed Yard Foodie

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Chipotle Isn’t Any Fun To Write About…

Almost a month ago, a reader asked me to blog about Chipotle. While I have thought about what to write often during that time — the words have not easily transitioned onto paper. I have very definite feelings toward the restaurant chain and its CEO, Steve Ells. These feelings have precluded me from ever being a customer at any of the restaurants. I like to vote with my dollar.

I have a personal rule that before I write about a person or a topic, I must “walk a mile in their shoes” — searching for a level of understanding before I render a judgment. In this instance, the process has been terribly uncomfortable for me because the inherent negativity of Chipotle’s advertising campaign turns my stomach…

Chipotle isn’t any fun to write about because there is nothing positive to share in the story. The restaurant chain creates drama by distorting the story of food production, turning hypocrisy into dollars. It capitalizes on fear and distrust, making one disturbing and inaccurate statement after another simply to keep its brand name in the limelight.

I find that disgusting…

Rather than harp on a negative topic that depresses me, I would like to instead share a few thoughts on the topic of responsibly raised food.

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When I look through my glass at the United States food production system, I see diversity in methods but a common thread of responsibility. I see hundreds of thousands of farmers who honor their land and care for their animals regardless of whether they choose to market their products as organic, grass fed or conventionally grown.

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I raise my children on a diverse farm where financial markets and long term goals of sustainability dictate the types of products that are grown.   The dedication to responsible food production is steadfast even as the ebb and flow of markets and natural resources dictate changes in farming methods.

My commitment to quality and responsibility at the feed yard where we raise conventional beef mirrors that same promise of quality that my favorite farmer makes to his crop farm where he grows both organic and conventionally raised animal feed. We are the same two people, yet we grow a diversity of food products in order to ensure that our farm is sustainable and prosperous over the long run.

Every product that leaves our farm is responsibly raised regardless of the label that it holds.

I believe in transparency in food production. That is the reason that I blog. I also believe that every American has a responsibility to look to farmers for the truth regarding where their food comes from. This conversation needs to be based on trust and respect, leaving out special interest groups that stand to gain by putting others down.

Finally, I believe that all farmers need to respect diversity in food production systems, recognizing that food can be responsibly raised using a vast array of management systems. Organic, grass fed, and conventionally raised food can all exist in harmony in order to give consumers the right to food choices.

 I choose to have faith in the United State’s food supply.

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I don’t eat at Chipotle…

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Filed under CAFO, Farming

Equal Opportunity Barnyard Supporters…

Since we missed "Thoughtful Thursday", instead you get Friday update on the chickens from my favorite teenager...

Since we missed “Thoughtful Thursday”, instead you get a Friday update on the chickens from my favorite teenager…

As you all know, the Burkholder Family gained five new members at the start of the summer. Ten weeks later, they are no longer tiny, fluffy balls that fit in the palm of my hand: the “ChickiDees” are formidable feathered friends.

"Sliding" down the ramp...

“Sliding” down the ramp…

Although they were reluctant at first, the Burkholder chickens spend the great majority of their day in the the fenced in run, aka “The Forest”. Their hobbies include playing Hide and Seek in the tall weeds, squawking over the food dish, and pecking the hand that feeds them.

Juliet has also expressed an interest in becoming dog food. (A few weeks ago she was almost eaten when Shellie grabbed her from the coop and ran around a bit. Apart from being completely traumatized for a few days, she was perfectly unharmed.)

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“Shellie”

Their favorite color is alfalfa dust green, as they have been known to eat the dust off the top of the food. They also enjoy cherries, and, to my disbelief, squash and other vegetables from the garden.

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Our four barn cats showed quite a bit of interest in the coop during its building phase, and you will be pleased to know that the interest has not waned. The yellow cats especially, Simba and Little Bit, take great pleasure in spending their leisure sitting outside of the run. Simba also likes to climb on top of the run and peer down at his imagined entree. The chickens have eventually become desensitized to this behavior, and it is now a game to mock the cats.

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All in all, I believe the chickens have transitioned into their place at Casa de Loca, and like all of our animals, have truly found The Good Life. They are rapidly growing on my own special diet of alafalfa dust, vegetable scraps, 5 Seconds of Summer music, and The Fault in Our Stars quotes.  The last ones definitely have the greatest effect……

Author Extraordinaire: Ashley Grace

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