Tag Archives: Feed yard

A Feed Yard is Like a Home…

My favorite farmer and I moved into our house early summer of 1997 when we made the trek back to Nebraska from New Hampshire. The building sits on the corner of one of our family’s farms about a mile north of town.  We added onto it when my favorite blonde cowgirl was born, and built a large shop to complement the farmstead several years ago. As is the case for many people, our home has become more than just a building framework.  It is a reflection of Matt and I and the family that we have been blessed with over the past 20 years.

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In my new role at the Beef Marketing Group, I spend time in a variety of feed yards working on the Progressive Beef quality management system. While most of my efforts concentrate on the five feed yards located in Nebraska, I do sometimes travel to Kansas. As I was driving home from a feed yard in Kansas Tuesday night, it occurred to me that a feed yard is like a home. Similar to my house, it has structure from both a physical and management standpoint, but the sum of its total parts is much greater than that framework alone.

Each feed yard is a home — It carries a unique personality created by the families who work there.

All of our feed yards operate under the Progressive Beef program.  Just like the framework of my house, the required 42 Standard Operating Procedures build a healthy foundation. The accountability provided by the auditing process strengthens that foundation and verifies good daily animal care.  It is an incredibly successful system and makes for a solid “house”. I truly believe that it’s people, in combination with systems, that create culture and atmosphere.  What makes the Beef Marketing Group so successful is the combination of the Progressive Beef framework with the personal touch of the families that work in our feed yards.

The blend of our program and our people turns the structurally strong house into a comfortable home.

I prefer to live not just in a house, but in a home: a place that reflects my personality and core values. My girls would likely report that (at times) their mother acts similarly to a loving Drill Sargent. But, I think that they also would say that order is preferable to chaos, and that when everyone in the family plays an important role in maintaining the home that it is a pretty awesome place to live!

I have been a believer in the system of Progressive Beef for years.  It prioritizes the crew’s focus on the animal’s needs, and holds everyone accountable for their role on the feed yard team. The unique blend of both internal and 3rd party audits allows for a dual layer of accountability that leads to both teaching moments and continuous improvement as well as verification to our customers that feed yard team members provide the high quality animal care that is our trademark.

Verified. Trusted. Sustainable.

With each day that passes, I become even more of a believer in our people. When I was the boss lady at my own feed yard, I could testify to the awesomeness of my crew @ Will Feed.  In my new job, I am getting to know many more feed yard crews.  I can report that our people make me smile and give me hope for the future. It is truly a pleasure to help these great folks work for excellence in cattle care.  As I head home at the end of the day, it certainly inspires me to eat a great tasting steak 🙂

 

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

Macro vs. Micro…

I became familiar with the words “macro” and “micro” when I took my first college economics class.  I signed up for two economics courses during my tenure at Dartmouth, not because I was really very interested in the subject, but because understanding basic economics fell under the “Anne’s necessary life skills” category.

I never developed a love for economics, but the psychologist in me became fascinated with all of the ways that I could interpret the world under the concept of macro vs micro.  It fascinated me to see how the big picture (macro) relied on the small details (micros) in order to be effective. familypicturefall2016

Last week I talked about my 5 Nuggets of Wisdom from a feed yard Boss Lady.  The first nugget, Be prepared to develop yourself and learn how to problem solve, holds the key to living a focused life. I am a believer in setting goals and creating a personal system of accountability.  This ensures both loyalty to personal core values and a purposeful life journey.  While I always pack my faith, I remember that LIFE is a verb.  As such, I set myself up for success by constantly developing plans to help me attain my goals.

A goal without a plan is simply a wish…

Let me offer an example.

One of my career goals is to improve animal welfare for cattle.  I made this commitment the day that I began my journey as a cowgirl, and twenty years later it still remains my passion.  This goal provides the macro. I recognized in June of 1997 that I needed to learn many things in order to improve welfare in a meaningful way. So, I developed a plan that allowed me to create the micros to help accomplish the goal.

  1. Learn bovine psychology and build an understanding of a prey animal’s brain.
  2. Develop the ability to *think like a bovine* thereby gaining insight into what is important to a calf.
  3. Understand the beef industry life cycle and the resources that drive that system.

After I accomplished these three necessary prerequisites, I could then begin to figure out ways to improve the system of raising cattle in order to make meaningful improvement in welfare. I recognized that long-lasting and meaningful change came from within, so I began the process on my farm.

  1. I became my own cattle buyer so that I could develop relationships with my ranchers and follow the animals all of the way through the production system. Once those relationships became developed, we worked on improved nutrition, vaccination, and cattle handling to create a lower stress environment over the lifetime of the animals. This enabled them to thrive and reach their God-given potential.
  2. I forged a bridge with a packing plant (I actually did with two different packing plants during my twenty-year tenure) so that my ranchers and I could trace the quality of our beef and make management decisions on our farms to continuously improve it.
  3. I adopted a management system at the feed yard to hold my crew and I accountable for animal care on a daily basis. We began with the Beef Quality Assurance Program and eventually raised the bar to begin using the Progressive Beef Quality Management System.  At that time, we began allowing outside auditors onto the farm to verify our care.

denke3april-jpgToday, the animal care at my feed yard looks a lot different than it did that inaugural day in the summer of 1997.  Incremental but significant change occurred over time as the focus on appropriate micros ensured an improvement for a macro concept. The dedication to the goal of improved welfare quite literally drove my career as a feed yard boss lady.

Because of it:

  • I was willing to work harder than my peers in order to prove myself.
  • I weathered awkward moments with grace and class.
  • I recognized that not everyone viewed the world as I did, and worked to build bridges in order to further the cause.

As I simultaneously raised my family, I shared my work with my three girls always reminding them to lead with your heart, but always take your brain along for the journey 🙂

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

To the Young Women Wanting a Career In the Beef Industry…

annebunkpb2I am often asked about my journey as a woman in the beef industry. For all of the young women who have asked me for advice on the topic –This one’s for you…

5 Nuggets of Advice from the Feed Yard Boss Lady:

1. Be prepared to develop yourself and learn to problem solve. The complexities and traditions of the beef industry provide a delicate puzzle. Change is a given. It is your job to ensure that it is positive in nature.

  • Establish personal core values to live by
  • Gain an accurate understanding of the beef production chain
  • Create both long and short term goals to guide you on your journey
  • Develop plans to effectively work toward your goals
  • Recognize that you can learn something from EVERYONE

2. Be prepared to prove yourself. True leaders garner respect through work ethic and positive passion. Lead by example — Words only become meaningful after respect is earned. There are days when your body will ache and your brain will beg for refuge.  Ignore the discomfort and keep working. You must earn your place on the team. Everyone may not always like you, but over time your actions will convince them that they NEED you. Once they need you, acceptance and respect will follow.

Learn to sweat with a smile 😊 

3. Be prepared to deal with awkward moments — Do it with grace and class. 

  • There may be a time when a bull hauler (truck driver) exclaims “Hey, I’ve read about you. You’re the crazy lady who exercises her cattle!  What’s it like to work for PETA?” Smile, politely correct the PETA assumption, and go load the cattle.  The goal is to create the best experience for the animals — keep your temper in check. Trust me, it’s worth it.
  • There may be a time when you are in an auditorium with hundreds of cattlemen present. You are slated to present an award to a veterinarian who exemplifies many of the animal welfare principles that you have worked so hard to advance.  As the President of the cattlemen’s organization introduces you, he inadvertently belittles you by calling you a princess and misrepresents the project that you have spent a decade as a volunteer working on. Smile, shake his hand, turn to the audience and tell the veterinarian’s awesome story of animal care.

Recognize that IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU. It is about fostering positive change in your industry.   

4. Be prepared that not everyone thinks like you. Your job is to build bridges, not pass judgment. Building bridges requires both action and compromise on your part.  We are stronger if we embrace diversity and use it to create a more effective team. Figure out your own Anne Gates and go to work!

As a woman in the beef industry, you will have experiences that your male counterparts cannot fully understand. That’s okay.

  • It’s unlikely that a fellow male crew member knows what it feels like to work cattle during pregnancy when the little one crams her foot in between your ribs while also making your bladder a temporary punching bag. However, your crew is your team and they will likely do everything that they can to help you get the job done. They do not have to be you to empathize and care about you. Be grateful for them.
  • It’s unlikely that a fellow board member for your state cattlemen’s association will receive an “emergency” call informing him that his children had not been picked up from school that afternoon. While he won’t likely get the call, he can surely empathize with your husband who evidently forgot he was in charge of the after school pick up that day!

Building bridges creates a team spirit which incites positive movement.

5. Be prepared to make difficult decisions as you balance your family and your career. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything — You will have to prioritize.  After the cattle chores, the daily business decisions, and the volunteer work are completed, there is dinner to be made and the never ending laundry to be done. Most importantly, there is a beautiful family that loves and needs you.

Be a loving wife and an engaged mama — celebrate your greatest blessing by enjoying life with your family. 

The last twenty years have been an incredible adventure for me as well as a great preparation for the new journey that lies ahead. I have no regrets and many proud moments. It is truly a gift to get to use both your body and your brain to make a difference each and every day.

Cattle are amazing creatures and there is great honor in the role of cowgirl.    

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, Family, 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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The First of the Lasts…

Whenever life begins to transition toward a new path, there exists a series of “lasts”.  Last week, I experienced the first of the lasts in the journey of shutting down the feed yard.  Friday morning, I traveled south of Sumner, Nebraska to load up a group of yearlings at the Karlberg Ranch.

With the approach of fall, grass supplies diminish and feed yards in Nebraska begin the fall run of cattle as animals are gathered off of pastures and shipped to farms like mine.

A feed yard is pretty much like a hotel for cattle — A place where the animals go when seasonal limitations of grass resources require shipping off of the home ranch.  The casserole of forage and grain that they receive on my farm enables them to continue to grow despite the fact that Mother Nature refuses to provide for about 7 months.

David and two of his three children -- I got to watch these folks "grow up" while working with their dad.

David and two of his three children — I got to watch these kids “grow up” while working with their dad.

David Karlberg and I have partnered raising beef for fifteen years.  David cares for his cattle until they are 12-16 months old before sending them to my feed yard.  The animals then make the short 30 mile trip from the ranch to my farm where they spend another four months preparing to make beef.  Birth to harvest, the cattle spend their entire lives in Dawson County Nebraska.

Working with folks like David provides an integral part of my business model of collaboration.  Tracing cattle performance, improving care over the animal’s lifetime, limiting animal stress, and searching for ways to improve quality in the end product: beef.

David and I became smarter together than we could have ever been alone. 

Over the past 15 years, we have cared for and improved the lives of close to 6000 animals — producing more than 5 million pounds of beef and bovine products.  Each one of you has benefited by our dedication and collaboration.

Friday morning provided the last time that I will bring David’s cattle (or any other new cattle) onto my farm.  As we begin to exit the cattle feeding business, we will now stop bringing new cattle into the “hotel”.  The 1835 animals already on my farm will remain with me until their time of shipment, but we will no longer “refill” the home pens with new animals after these cattle travel to Tyson.

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today -- more to come on "Benny" in the next post...

An older Karlberg steer that shipped to Tyson today — more to come on “Benny” in the next post…

It was an emotional morning for me.  Although I truly believe that it is time for a new journey, the reality of stepping away from what I have worked so hard to build weighs on me.  There is regret and disappointment that I could not make my business model work as my management is a reflection of the values that make me Anne. I am thankful for David and my other ranchers who put time and energy into our partnerships – committing to search for ways to be better tomorrow than we are today.

I found my smile as I ended the day with a group of graduate students from the University of Nebraska @ Lincoln. The students visited the farm as part of the UNL Feed Yard Internship program which strives to prepare college graduates to be good cattle caregivers and businessmen/women. We had great discussions and I was very pleased that the professors and students felt that I had something meaningful to share.  I have faith that some of them will work to continue the legacy that I have tried to foster 🙂

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Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady…

I want to begin by thanking everyone who has reached out to me personally over the past week.  Please know how important it is to me to hear from you.  As many of you have guessed, this is personally a difficult time and each positive thought that I receive puts a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

Making “life decisions” requires both a leap of faith and a vision for the future.  My favorite farmer and I have packed our faith — looking forward to a future of continuing to contribute to agriculture in a meaningful and positive way.  Shifting our farm and my role on the farm is simply the product of two responsible farmers figuring out how to do the best thing for their family and their farm.  Change is never easy, but showing grace amidst change is a priority for me both as a farmer and as a mom.

MegKarynbunk2.jpgMany of you will remember a blog post that my favorite blonde cowgirl wrote about a month ago.  The Rainbow Ends At the Pot of Gold provides a list of things Megan reported learning “growing up at the feed yard”.  Not long after Matt and I told our girls that we planned to close the feed yard, Megan asked if she could write a blog post.  I have always encouraged the girls to take pictures/write/and generally contribute to the blog so my immediate answer was “yes”.  That weekend, I came home from working to find Megan and Karyn laughing as they compiled this master *list* — reminiscing and chronicling lessons learned taking care of the cattle.

It made me laugh — it made me cry — it made me incredibly proud as I watched them turn their grief and fear for the future into something beautiful and positive.  I love that blog post for a number of different reasons, but it truly touched my heart to watch my girls dig deep and choose to embrace the positive as they struggled with the thought of change.

Although we will no longer have a cattle feed yard, the girls and I are making plans to purchase some calves next spring to graze our grass pasture.  We’ll need to find a new feed yard to finish them in come fall, but this project will allow them to continue to participate in the cattle business on a small scale.  I’d hate to remove all character building exercises from their lives 😉

June 13 2012 feed yard 009Despite the fact that I’ve announced my impending retirement, my life still revolves around the feed yard.  I am checking cattle health this week as my cowboy is on vacation, so I get to start each day with a beautiful sunrise and a large number of bovines…

I am toying with the idea of creating a category on the blog site for Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady which would enable me to stay organized writing during this time of transition.  I’m open to other ideas for the category name, so feel free to share your thoughts.

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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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An Aggie’s Time in Cozad…

In the just three short weeks that I spent with the Foodie Family, I was able to learn more than I ever expected. Anne was such an amazing mentor to me and her family’s hospitality made it seem like home. I’d like to take this last blogging opportunity to thank them for hosting me and reflect on my time spent in Cozad and the experiences I had.

As I mentioned briefly in my first post, An Aggie in Nebraska… , the main goal of my visit was to take full advantage of a learning opportunity. Having spent the past 4 years at Texas A&M University earning a degree in Animal Science, I felt that I was well equipped with knowledge to enter into the cattle industry. I had a toolbox full of practical skills and knowledge acquired through a diverse array of classes and hands on learning opportunities but one key aspect was missing… real world experience.

Like any traditional student graduating from a 4-year university after high school, I didn’t exactly have a lot of down time to experience the ins and outs of the industry firsthand.

You never truly understand something until you are fully submerged in it, and that’s what I hoped this trip would bring about.

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While my three weeks doesn’t come close to Anne’s 20 years in the business, I think she did a great job including me in every aspect of the operation. We spent many mornings at the office, something she wouldn’t necessarily say she enjoys compared to working with the cattle, but it’s all part of the job.

While there she used everything as a teaching opportunity as she went about her daily tasks, sharing her own personal experiences and lessons she’s learned over the years. She always worked hard to directly apply it to my future career desires of running a cow-calf operation.

From budgeting and planning to understanding where the industry is headed as a whole, to government regulations, audits, and taxation — she certainly covered all the bases. She even offered advice on juggling work and family as well as the importance of playing a role in your community, and how she’s able to make it all work.

On the feedyard side of things, I had the opportunity to take part in reading bunks every morning, receiving, processing, and exercising new cattle, shipping fat cattle, moving calves to pasture, operating the feed truck and much more.

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Most importantly though, I was able to witness a well run business. In my mind, a successful business is not only measured by their bottom-line but also their integrity and the way they treat their employees. It was evident that every employee loved their job at Will Feed. Regardless of the situation, I repeatedly saw everyone work together as a team each day all while treating the cattle with the utmost respect.

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I cannot thank Anne and her Foodie Family (including those at the feedyard) enough for all that they have taught me while I was here. From farming to feedyard and everything in between, my time in Cozad was full of new experiences!

A few of the big take-home messages:

  1. “Two wrongs don’t make a right”
  2. Always stay humble
  3. Listen to your animals
  4. There are many ‘practical applications of math’ throughout the day
  5. Nothing smells quite as good as the alfalfa dehy plant on a long run

 

-Emily

*The photos throughout this post are a few of my favorites taken while receiving weaned calves earlier this week.

 

BarnQuilt

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