Tag Archives: Farming

Chores…

I was lucky enough to grow up down the street from my grandparents. Although they have been gone for several years now, when I think of them the word that comes to mind is devoted.  More than 70 years of marriage, the sun rose and set for them in each other.  As a little girl, I dreamed of finding a soul-mate — someone to build a life with just like my beloved Grannie and Dedaw.

Feb March 2006 017When I brought my favorite farmer to Florida for the first time, my Grannie loved him at first sight.  I still don’t know if she innately sensed that he was my one, or if she simply loved me enough to believe in my heart.  Either way, she showed me with her life that love required work — a good marriage necessitated diligently doing chores — and that the blessing of sharing your life with someone always topped the priority list.

One of the things that I love about Matt is our ability to work together in harmony.  After twenty years on the farm, I still love to do things with him. Whether we are checking fields, working on projects around the house, or building fence, we make a good team.  Matt figures stuff out, and I follow directions well 🙂

When you work well together, chores are not just a necessary part of life — they are part of what makes life fun.marchfence7.jpg

Last weekend Matt and I took down my winter horse fence.  Intermittent warm days inspire the alfalfa to green up and start to grow, so it is time to corral the horses and take them off their winter pasture. Since it snowed on Saturday, we opted to wait until Sunday to take down the electric wire fence. We traded the Saturday snow for a 35 mile an hour wind on Sunday. In hindsight, I’m not sure that we picked the correct day, but we bundled up and laughed our way through the chore.

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We brought along our favorite blondes as we’ve always maintained that families that work together find greater love together.

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We survived the wind, and finished the chore. I think perhaps the only ones pouting are the horses as they prefer their large winter grazing pasture to the corral 😉

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I spent much of the day thinking about my Grannie and Dedaw.  How my life on the farm is so different than their’s was on the Florida coast, yet how our days are actually so much the same.   When your better half provides the center of your world, love becomes much less of a chore and much more of a blessing…

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Filed under Family, Farming, General

Finding Her Voice…

My favorite brunette entered the world in the year AF3 (year 3 of working at the feed yard).  She arrived three weeks early after a complicated pregnancy that wreaked havoc on our normal fall cattle processing chores. She came out screaming, and her birth (albeit a loud one) created one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

christmastreeagdonkey1-jpgI have spent the last 17 years watching her find her voice. From the first melodious baby sounds, to words, to sentences, and finally the mature and engaging insight (laced with a tad of sarcasm) that she routinely shares today. Last week, my favorite speech loving Haymaker spent three days in Cheyenne, WY at the National Forensics League Regional Qualifier competition.

She emerged a victor earning herself the right to compete this summer in Birmingham, AL at the National Finals in the International Extemporaneous speaking event. This event involves drawing a topic, spending the next 60 minutes writing a speech addressing it, and then delivering a 7 minute oratory to judges. The really talented kids give a poised, on topic speech complete with quoted sources to back up their argument — all without a note card…

It’s nothing short of awesome!

One day it occurred to me that perhaps Ashley Grace and I found our voices together.  As she grasped the English language and developed a knack for writing an engaging and organized speech, I opened my life outside of our family and our farm to help agriculture find its voice.  The art of public speaking and sharing the story of bovine feed yard life does not normally appear together in a feed yard manager’s skill set…But I found my niche as I found my voice.

In 2017, the need for eloquent and honest farmer voices grows exponentially as social media tops the list of “sources” for the discussion of healthy and responsibly raised food. We need our farm kids to learn the art of finding their voices just as we need them to learn the science that will allow agriculture to prosper on into the future. This unique combination of skills could well determine the stability and sustainability of our country’s food supply in addition to opening or closing the gate on many farmers’ individual agricultural journeys.

Monday I will make my way to Lincoln to be a guest lecturer at the University of Nebraska.  The goal of my lecture is to engage and inspire the next generation of farmers to effectively find their voices while they responsibly grow food. I am the first non-PhD to lead this particular yearly guest lecture on UNL’s agricultural campus — A sign of the growing importance of mentoring outside of the classroom in order to offer a more complex and multifaceted approach to education.

Just as I believe in the power of the next generation, I also believe that it will require the joining of the boots on the ground with the more traditional science background to prepare our future agricultural leaders. I am very proud to be able to play a role in that.

Unlike my favorite brunette, I will head to Lincoln with a pre-organized plan and a power point presentation.  However, I share her love of extemporaneous speaking which provides me with an incredibly useful tool when leading an intellectual discussion with a lecture hall full of gifted students.

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My mom always taught me the importance of becoming adept at expressing my thoughts and ideas — I guess the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree 😉

 

 

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

The World Seems Different at -20 Degrees…

cold1We shipped cattle early this morning.  The thermometer read -20 degrees as I drove to the feed yard about 5:30am. My mind held an awareness of the cold because I knew it was there.  I bundled up with layers of clothing and carefully covered my face with a mask.

But really, the phenomenon of temperatures like that provides an experience much bigger than layers of clothing.

The world seems different at -20 degrees.

Silent, unrelentingly harsh and yet beautiful at the same time.

Perhaps you have experienced this before?

  • The air takes the description of raw and crisp to a new level.
  • Sounds of the gates, the cattle moving, and the normal night noises are more distinct.
  • The hardness of the ground pounds at your feet as you herd the animals to the corral.

I, at least, seem to have a higher level of acute awareness at -20 degrees.

  • My cowboy laughed at me when I pointed out the small frost formations hanging from our steel pipe corral fence.  They took me back to science class as they were similar in shape to the molecular models in my high school text books.
  • I had to stop myself from reacting nervously each time the Union Pacific trains passed by on the tracks about ½ mile south of our corrals.  Normally, I am desensitized to the sound of the trains; but they sound unnervingly strange at -20 degrees.
  • Each step on the hard and unforgiving ground felt different and I noticed a clarity of movement in my own muscles that I often overlook.

Today I found a new level of perception.  A bitter cold morning with blessedly no wind opened up a new prairie experience for me.

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With 8 pens still to ship, I am left wondering what I will notice next?

 

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

F.E.A.R.

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I found this quote on Instagram a few weeks ago. My girls tease me that I am a quote nerd.  I proudly reply that my grandfather taught me long ago to appreciate the potent message delivered by a cleverly strung cluster of words 😉

While I did not personally coin this particular acronym, it well describes my experiences in 2016.

No one can claim immunity from fear, but fear only defines us if we chose to allow it.   

Fear of the unknown provides one of my greatest personal challenges.  I am a stalwart creature of habit, and I like to be in control.  As a result, my decision last summer to close the feed yard left me terrified. Over the course of 2016, I discovered that a decision takes on an entirely new level of enormity when it involves altering a 45 year old business.

The mental process of defining the cause of fear provides a critical survival practice for me.  While I may occasionally wish that I could forget everything and run; the act of facing the challenge ultimately provides the courage to rise above it. As I reflect on 2016, I acknowledge the personal struggle that marked most of the year.

I end this time period proud of my decisions and the actions that resulted from them.  2017 will bring change; however, I stayed true to my core values and consequently can look with both excitement as well as confidence on into the future.

Sherry Bunting did a wonderful job “telling my story” in a recent article in the Progressive Cattlemen magazine entitled As Will Feed Closes, Reflecting On Twenty Years In the Feed Yard.  You can read it by clicking here.

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Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! 

May 2017 inspire you to face everything and rise…

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General

Finish What You Start…

AnneGirlsApril2016.jpgWhen I think of all of the important lessons that my parents taught me growing up, likely the greatest is to finish what you start.  My own girls have grown up indoctrinated with that mentality as I follow in my parents’ footsteps in order to prepare them to be responsible and contributing adults.

Many people ask why my cattle feeding exit plan spans more than six months.  The short answer to that questions is I always finish what I start.  When I made the decision to close down my feed yard, I knew that I needed to do it the responsible way.

  • The way that offers the best care to the animals on my farm.
  • The way that provides the best benefit for my employees.
  • The way that allows our farm to continue to thrive in the environment of change.

That requires me to remain in the business for an elongated period of time.  Honestly, it is emotionally more difficult for me to slowly phase out the feed yard than it would be to just sell the animals on my farm and shut the gate.  However, I am cowgirling up because that’s what you do when you are the boss lady 🙂

I remember my dad telling me as a child, “Anne, there is no excuse for quitting.  It is never acceptable.”  Time and time again, my parents showed me both with their actions and their words that honoring your responsibilities came ahead of personal comfort.  There are hundreds of young athletes in our community that would tell you that “Coach Anne says to always Finish Strong!”  I don’t just say it, I live it.  While I have many imperfections, quitting is not one of them.

One of the things that I grappled with when making the decision to shut down the feed yard was whether closing the gate meant I had personally failed.  The rational part of my brain understood that there were many outside forces at play pushing me in the direction of change, but the bottom line showed that I was the one who was throwing in the towel.  It was under my leadership tenure that part of our farm would cease to exist.

annemattbale2.jpgDespite the fact that I am the psychologist and Matt is the engineer, my favorite farmer was ultimately the one that allowed me to see that I was continuing to remain loyal to my responsibilities.  That making the hard decision to transition the farm did not constitute a failure, but rather a carefully weighed decision that could ultimately benefit both our family and our farm.

While there is a part of my heart that still feels a sense of loss, I am passed feeling a sense of failure.  I’ve decided to cut myself a little bit of slack, celebrate the long list of accomplishments over the past two decades, and look to the future with a strong sense of hope.  My favorite blonde cowgirl reminded me a couple of months ago that, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream”. C.S. Lewis

I just needed to figure out that I could finish what I started 20 years ago and still look for that new dream.

It’s a good thing that God has filled my life with really smart people 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Atlantic.com

BCItshirt.jpgI received a request for a phone Q and A interview from a business reporter at The Atlantic.com early last week.  With the busy fall days and our “farm transition”, I was tempted to turn it down.  But, the request intrigued me as the Q and A was part of a series entitled “Working” which explores the range of things that Americans do for work and how they feel about their profession.  After completing the phone interview last Friday, I was glad that I chose to engage.  The reporter, Bourree Lam, held genuine interest in our farm and the planned 15 minute interview spanned closer to 45 minutes.

Finding the courage to engage with the media provides a steady challenge for me.  Over the past 15 years, I have performed hundreds of media interviews — some of them friendly and rewarding, and some of them uncomfortable and disturbing.  The positive experiences teach me that there are those that are truly interested in learning about “where their food comes from”, and the negative ones open my eyes to the passionate judgements and resulting hatred that sadly has found a solid place in our current culture.  While I feel as though my family and my education prepared me to be a contributing adult, I am not sure that anything provides the necessary skill set for dealing with the zealous hatred sometimes spewed from strangers.  I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the interview as Bourree’s respectful interest put a smile on my face and hope in my heart.

One of my favorite phrases is “pack your faith”.  Nothing meaningful in life comes with a guarantee, and the road to excellence is rarely comfortable.  Instead of thinking of taking a chance when faced with a decision, I prefer to pack my faith and believe that it will ultimately lead me to a successful place.  Life isn’t a game of Roulette, it is a journey made up of decisions and action.  Inside each one of us exists a well of strength, and sometimes the difference between victory and defeat is determined by whether or not we chose to engage.

The Q and A article can be accessed here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/10/cattle-farmer/502991/. 

You will notice that the comment section is not completely friendly, but I enjoyed a tremendously positive engagement with the reporter and I am packing my faith that the article will at least put a face on farming for someone that reads the article with an intention of learning.

 

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Benny Had a Good Life…

Likely the most often asked question by my non-farming friends is “How can you care for animals for long periods of time and then send them to their death?”

I love animals.  I love spending time around them, and I enjoy the daily interactions that go along with their care.  To be a caregiver is both a responsibility and an honor, and I am thankful to play that role. The answer to the above question exists amidst my own philosophical belief that different types of animals hold different types of purposes…

  • The stray dog that showed up one day at the feed yard lives in my house and falls under the category of “pet”.
  • The horses that live in my back yard are supposed to fall under the category of “work animal” (but likely trend closer to ‘pet status’).
  • The cattle that live at my feed yard are “food animals”.

I care for all of them with the same set of values as that is my God-given duty, but the actions of care that I provide differ depending on the animal’s purpose.   

Cattle exist to turn non-edible resources (like grass) into products that people need: a nutrient dense protein source, leather, soap/cosmetics, and human pharmaceuticals to name just a few.  They deserve a good life, but the end of life for a bovine holds a link to sacrifice as that is his express purpose.

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

I’d like to take a moment to share “Benny’s story” as I think that it illustrates my answer to the above important question.

Benny was born on the Karlberg Ranch and lived briefly with his natural mother.  Sometimes Mother Nature acts harshly, and Benny was orphaned not long after birth.  He got a new “mama” by the name of Jessa Karlberg.  Jessa bottle fed Benny until he was big enough to eat grass and grow on his own.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.

bennyjessaJessa cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

When Benny weighed about 940# (14 months of age), he left the Karlberg Ranch and traveled to Will Feed.  He traded grass for a feed yard casserole, and Jessa for me as a primary caregiver.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.  In just over 3 months, he gained 530#.

I cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

benny2-jpgLast Sunday, Jessa came to visit Benny.  A couple of days later, I “put him on the bus” to head 20 miles down the road to the Tyson packing plant.  Benny fulfilled his purpose, and offered 1450# of products to nourish and provide for all of us.  By fulfilling his purpose, Benny returned all of the care that Jessa and I offered to him during his lifetime.

Benny had a good life.

Benny’s life resulted in products that, in turn, ensure that each of us has a good life. There is honor in that story. There is honor in Benny’s gift.

I think that it is time for all of us to celebrate the reality of food production — To have faith in the farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to raise animals like Benny. When we are thankful for the gift, we ultimately respect the sacrifice.

It’s okay to think of Benny, Jessa, and I when you eat a steak.  Benny had a good life; and Jessa and I worked hard so that you could reap the benefit 🙂

 

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan 🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him 🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.

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