Tag Archives: feedlot

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

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

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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Filed under 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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Filed under CAFO, Family, Foodie Work!, General

An Aggie In Nebraska…

Howdy!

My name is Emily and I have the privilege to be a guest on the Feedyard Foodie’s blog this week! I am originally from rural Connecticut but am currently residing in Texas. Both my Fiancé, Garrett, and I are recent graduates of Texas A&M University (just two weeks ago, actually!) with our Bachelor’s in Animal Science and are both currently pursuing a Master’s in Ruminant Nutrition.

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A ruminant refers to an animal with a four compartment stomach (ie. cattle, sheep, or goats), however, both of us are specifically studying the beef cattle sector. Our ultimate goal in the future is to start our own cow-calf operation in Texas. A cow-calf operation essentially raises the animals that will later go to the feedlot.

So how did I end up in Cozad, Nebraska?

As Anne mentioned in her previous post, I had the privilege of hosting her and Megan at Texas A&M in the fall after inviting her for a speaking engagement through the Animal Science Department. Every feed yard utilizes a ruminant nutritionist to make sure the cattle are being fed properly and nutritional requirements are being met. Knowing that I was going to be studying in this field, it seemed fitting to come visit the feed yard for a few weeks over the summer to get an inside view on how the operation is run, even if it isn’t the exact path I plan to take.

The thought behind my visit was that it’s always worth taking advantage of an opportunity to learn.

There is a good chance that my future career will somehow relate back to the feed yard, especially if it includes a cow-calf operation responsible for filling empty pens.

The Feedyard Foodie Family graciously accepted me into their home for three weeks and I have been learning everything from the business side of the operation to running various equipment at the feedyard. As far as the cattle go, we’ve processed, transported, and shipped cattle and will be receiving new calves into the yard next week.

Every day has been something new to do and another skill-set to learn. I’ve even had the opportunity to learn about the various farming sectors in Cozad from planting to harvest and of course the town, and family’s love of sports has led me to a new insight into both the track and swimming season! Anne has been a great mentor sharing her experiences in the industry, as a manager, and making time for what’s important as small business-owning parents. It has been quite the adventure and I look forward to sharing more about my journey as I move into my final week with the family!

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Filed under Family, General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

The Feed Yard: Unraveling the Myth…

When Virginia and Rachel’s cattle leave the home ranch, they travel approximately thirty miles to my farm.  The cattle make the trip in large stock trailers pulled by pick up trucks driven by the family.  Shipment day is a busy one, and the cattle arrive at the feed yard about noon.  The goal is to minimize the total stress on the calves so we all work together to make the logistics flow seamlessly.

Karyn silly and calves Sept. 2012 011

The calves are unloaded as soon as they arrive and the process of acclimation begins.  I am the team member at the feed yard who is in charge of the acclimation process, and I lead the calves through a 4-7 day transition to help them become familiar to their new surroundings.  This includes:

  • Learning to become comfortable with a new set of human caregivers.
  • Learning to exit the home pen in an organized fashion and move confidently down to the corral.
  • Learning to attribute comfort to the home pen — understanding that fresh feed, water, and a comfortable place to both play and rest can be found there.

I believe that this process is a critical component to reducing stress on newly arrived cattle and allows them to settle in quickly and seamlessly to their new home.  We run the feed yard to set our animals up for success — recognizing that it is our job as caregivers to strive to attain the 5 Freedoms of Cattle Care while also working to be sustainable environmental stewards to the resources on our farm.

As a member of the Beef Marketing Group Cooperative, my feed yard is certified under the QSA of Progressive Beef.  As such, we have Cattle Care Guidelines and Standard Operating Producers that dictate the daily care practices for our animals.  We work with our veterinarian and bovine nutritionist to ensure that our care is appropriate and effective.  We are audited twice a year to ensure that we follow through on the details relative to this care.

One of our two Progressive Beef audits in 2016 is an “unscheduled” audit — this means that we do not know what day the auditor will arrive to check both the physical aspects of our feed yard care and our supporting paperwork.  Tuesday morning, I left the feed yard and headed to the dentist at 8:00am.  I was on the road headed back to town when I got a text message saying that the Progressive Beef auditor was 45 minutes away from the feed yard.

The auditor checking the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind...

The auditor preparing to check the water tank with the Evert calves watching curiously from behind…

Although an audit disrupts the daily routine at the feed yard, I view it as both a learning process and a way that I can assure the folks who purchase my beef that it was raised responsibly.  An audit is very much like a report card, and the metrics involved play a key role in our path of continuous improvement.

In an effort to ensure that the Progressive Beef standards for animal welfare, food safety and sustainability are met daily on the farm, the auditor assesses:

  • Cattle handling and daily care
  • Cattle home pen living conditions
  • Cattle water tank cleanliness
  • Cattle feed nutrition, handling and delivery which follows developed HACCP principles for safety
  • Antibiotic use on the farm (volume of use as well as animal withdrawal records to ensure that meat is residue free)
  • Food safety practices used on the farm to ensure that the meat that our animals provide meets high safety standards
  • Feed yard employee safety guidelines
  • Farm sustainability practices which ensure responsible resource utilization
Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture...

Ever curious, an Evert steer poses for a picture…

At the end of the video that I put up last week, I asked for trust from you for me as a farmer.  I recognize that this is a big ask on my part, and as a result I open my farm to auditing so that I can verify my actions and reward your trust.

Stay tuned for next’s week post that takes us from the feed yard to the packing plant — among other things, we will learn the importance of the small white button in the above calf’s ear!

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Refilling the Cup…

Katie Pinke of the Pinke Post made a comment on Facebook last week stating the difficulty of finding ways to “refill the cup” as an advocate for agriculture. Katie has many years of experience in social media and her intuitive thoughts often leave me pondering. As advocates for agriculture, our cups of energy are often depleted. Learning how to refill them is a journey of survival.

annecattlemiranda.jpgThis April will mark the 5th year anniversary of the Feed Yard Foodie blog. Four hundred and eighty nine blog posts and almost a million views (from a half a million visitors) separate the naïve cattle feeder of 2011 with the seasoned (and somewhat hardened) blogger of 2016. So much has changed since the birth of this blog, and yet, so much remains the same.

It takes an enormous amount of optimism and energy to brave the social media world that revolves around agriculture. On a good day, you pick up a follower who shares some common ground and wishes to further understand “where food comes from”. On a bad day, you are threatened and disparaged with an appalling lack of basic respect.

As I close in on five years, I find myself reflecting and attempting to rationalize the volunteer time and energy that I pour into Feed Yard Foodie. I try to look past the heartache that sometimes permeates my outreach to find the shining light that leads me to continue down the ag-vocacy trail. It takes a constant effort to figure out how to tap that unlimited source of energy which serves to fuel the blog amidst the regular list of chores that go along with being a mom and a feed yard boss lady.

I tell my girls that the most important life skill they will learn is perseverance. Perseverance is all about refilling the cup. My words take on a new depth of meaning as they watch me “cowgirl” up and continue the journey. They live with the stubbornly independent mom and boss lady, just as they watch the vulnerable woman struggle to find the courage to continue to share her story.

My girls work every day to refill my cup because they watch first hand as others deplete it. I do not shield them from my struggles, and it teaches them to not only persevere but also to empathize and offer compassion to those in need.

Life is hard. It is filled with demands that work to deplete the cup. I believe that the difference between those who persevere and those who do not lies in the ability to gather the love and optimism that is required to refill the cup. That is a very personal journey as everyone’s cup is unique.

Below are five things that I have learned to rely on for the past five years in order to persevere:

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is human. Learn to forgive.
  2. Notice your blessings – learn to look for the good as it is what refills your cup.
  3. Draw a line between your real life and your cyber life – understand that the majority of what refills your cup comes from personal interactions outside of the internet.
  4. Take the time to be pensive – quiet thinking breeds both respect and learning.
  5. Understand that temporarily walking away is not failure – rather it is a necessary component to finding the courage to continue.

I do not know how to measure the success of my agricultural outreach, but I can recognize the personal growth that has occurred as a result of it. The road to excellence is rarely comfortable and I can attest to the fact that being an advocate for agriculture is not a comfortable journey. I am thankful to all of you loyal Feed Yard Foodie readers as you play a vital role pushing me to search for continuous improvement on my farm. You all help to refill my cup by reading, commenting, and sharing of yourselves.

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

The “Chore” of Happiness…

After I conquered Graves Disease, I made a promise to myself that I would treat each day as a gift – always aware that life is a blessing. Despite that promise, I am human and sometimes find myself in the midst of small struggles that challenge both my commitment and my confidence.

Last week I read an article in Time.com entitled 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy, According To Neuroscience. The psychology major in me found the article fascinating with very practical advice for daily life.

The four rituals are:

  • Consistently ask yourself the question, “What am I grateful for?” The search for gratitude provides a positive mindset that plays a critical role in creating happiness.
  • Label your emotions so that you can define them, acknowledge them, and take control over them.
  • Make decisions – It is stressful to worry about possible outcomes, so make a decision and move on.
  • Give Hugs – Personal touch is a vital component to creating confidence, support and ultimately happiness.

Like any good wife and mother, I required everyone in the Feed Yard Foodie family to read the entire article 🙂 It is a rather long one with a lot of nerdy physiological psychology terms which brought curiosity from my oldest, and plenty of grumbling from my two younger “budding intellectuals”.

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In typical “Anne fashion”, I also put the advice to work the following morning…

I started the day getting my pinky finger squashed between the metal arm of the squeeze chute and the head of a calf. The calf tossed his head as I was manually reading a faulty EID ear tag that my wand reader refused to scan. I have a new crooked bend in my finger and it appears that my fingernail is likely to fall off, but the pretty blue/purple color does give my unpainted nails a nice flair. It was the perfect opportunity to remind myself how grateful I was for technology (at least when it worked).

I continued the day checking cattle health at the feed yard because my cowboy decided to travel up to the Black Hills to watch the annual buffalo roundup at Custer State Park. I am the “back up cowboy” so his daily chores fell to me for the long weekend.

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We received 2” of rain Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. Having just completed a dirt rebuilding project in Pen 12, we moved cattle into the pen a few days prior to the rain. When it came time to check those cattle, I stepped confidently off of the concrete pad behind the water tank all while looking carefully at the nearby cattle. I promptly sunk down to my knee in watery mud, quickly discovering that my crew had not packed the new dirt in properly.  As the moisture seeped into the top of my Bogg boots, I realized how grateful I was that the rain had “settled the dust” at the feed yard.

It was about 1:00pm by the time that I finished checking cattle health (sloshing around in my wet boots with a still throbbing finger), and I have to admit that I was pretty well wearing my “grouchy pants” by that time. But, I spent the car ride home (to change my clothes) lecturing myself on gratitude, labeling emotions, making decisions, and thinking where is the heck is my favorite farmer because I think that I need a good LONG hug…

I found him at the office, and he was happy to offer a smile and oblige. By the time that I picked up my favorite ten year old, I was able to look Karyn in the eye – smile – and tell her that my day was much better now that I got to spend the rest of the afternoon with her.

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Karyn and I arrived in Ogallala and hour and a half later to watch my favorite Cross Country running teenager have the best race of her budding career – earning the 1st place gold medal in the Varsity High School Girls 5K run. She ran with heart, perseverance, and strength gaining the lead in the final 150 meters of the race.

With tears in my eyes, I had much to be grateful for as I threw my arms around her for a post-race hug. Dozens of different emotions floated around in my brain waiting to be labeled as I made the decision to cherish the moment and thank God for all of the blessings in my life.

While it certainly was not a romantic day on the farm, happiness undoubtedly prevailed…

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