Tag Archives: gates

Gates and Doors…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Today’s scripture can be found in Revelations 3: 20.

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.


As a cattle farmer, I spend a lot of time thinking about gates. Gates are essentially doors used for animals and provide critical tools for a cattle caregiver. Sometimes gates are physical, and sometimes they are the metaphorical ones that lead to a mental connection — either way, they are the pathways for forward progress.

I often think to myself:

  • Are the correct gates open to allow my cattle to go where I need them to go?
  • Are the correct gates closed to keep my cattle from going somewhere that I do not want them to go?
  • As a leader, do I correctly manage the gates as I either invite or discourage my cattle?

The simplest way to lead my animals is to cause my idea to be their idea. When we share the same thought, then we find harmony in whatever farm chore is being done. The first part to sharing a thought is gaining attention. While I don’t “stand at the door and knock” — I do the cow equivalent and enter their space until they lift their eyes and grant me their curious attention.  The moment that I become their focus, then I can begin to open the communication gate and guide them to the correct physical gate. 

There is always a choice involved, and sometimes I need to be persistent in the proper position with my animals until they chose to make that connection with me. I must be patient as well as sensitive because if I link up with them at the right moment and in the right way, then the cattle not only follow my direction but they also continue to view me as their trusted leader and caregiver. While I use physical gates and fences to help guide them, finding the doorway to their brains provides the key to having a healthy and low stress experience.


It seems to me that God makes a perfect cowboy. As a tenaciously patient and loving leader, he uses the Holy Spirit to stand at my door and knock. My awareness and willingness to engage drives whether or not we travel the journey together. He persistently pursues — always knocking and waiting for me to respond.

  • I know that there are times that God knocks and I miss it — either letting the chaos of daily life distract me from the call, or ignoring the invitation because I fail to get my priorities in the correct order.
  • I also know that my hours are better – my days are better – and my life is better when I open the door to my heart and mind to answer the call.

Sharing time with God makes life meaningful. It brings peace to the world’s chaos and reminds me of the importance of centering my life with love. Like a good friend, God offers unconditional strength and support as I travel the journey. The trinity makes a remarkably powerful combination and I have come to realize how important it is to be a part of His team.

There are many farming references in the Bible, and I think that my life is most complete when I am both one of God’s sheep as well as a loving shepard to those whom God places along my path.

Love, strength, and purpose all live on the other side of the door — We simply need to answer the knock.

 

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Filed under General, Wednesday Wisdom

“Anne Gates”…

Annegate3I think that it is impossible to pour your heart and soul into a business for 2 decades and not leave some sort of a *mark*.  The running joke at the feed yard revolves around what my favorite farmer affectionately calls Anne Gates.

I’ve always been a small person with a higher than normal energy level.  In short, I fit in small places and move pretty fast.  Over the years, I have created a variety of small passageways that allow me to move seamlessly around our corral systems at the feed yard.  Since I care for animals that are 6-13 times bigger than I am, I have the advantage of being able to fit through spaces that cattle would not even consider going through…Quite frankly, I can fit through spaces that my favorite farmer wouldn’t consider squeezing through 🙂

My crew thoroughly enjoyed my three pregnancies laughing that, at least for short periods of time, I had to be normal and use the real gates.  While I did not mind spending a few months walking in their shoes, I was always glad when my babies arrived and I could go back to using my own unique paths around the feed yard…

annegate1.jpgWhen I look back on the last 20 years as a beef farmer, my mind recalls many Anne gates — some of which are not physical passageways, but rather metaphorical bridges from my farm to the outside world.  This blog is one of them.  In 2016, agriculture in the United States faces many challenges.  Quite likely the greatest comes from a lack of effective gates from the farm to the dinner plate.  Less than 2% of Americans work as farmers, and most of our urban counterparts are more than two generations removed from the farm.  Understanding where your food comes from is no easy task, and finding good information on it resembles the old adage of finding a needle in a hay stack.

Raising cattle takes a unique set of resources as well as a relatively long period of time.  Beef farming epitomizes the newly popular slow food movement as breeding cattle live more than a decade, and cattle raised solely for the production of beef thrive for close to 2 years — grazing grass pastures and then spending a few months in a feed yard at the end of their lifetime.  Doing it right takes dedication, patience, and a whole lot of hard work.

One of the things that I have attempted to convey with Feed Yard Foodie is the complexity of caring for cattle and growing beef.  The gate of transparency challenges farmers, and figuring out how to explain daily animal care and business decisions to those that live outside of the farm is hard.  I struggle with this, and I know that I am not alone.

After six years of sharing, I can report that I have likely learned more than I have imparted.  I realized in the early days of Feed Yard Foodie that my social media experience needed to be bidirectional as relationships and trust (even virtual ones) are built not just through sharing but also by receiving.  The good thing about a gate is that it doesn’t cost any more to travel two directions and you can build it as big as you need it to be 😉

While I am closing the gate to my feed yard in about six months, I do not plan to “close the gate” to this blog.  It is an Anne gate that I am keeping until I both run out of things to say and run out of things to learn…Many thanks all of you for taking the journey with me.

 

 

 

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

Mind the Fence, Shut the Gate, and Respect the Animals That Bring You Food…

While I grew up in urban West Palm Beach, my dad leased the hunting rights to some rural ranch land west of Clewiston, Florida. During my childhood, we spent weekends at the “hunting camp”. Although I knew little about cattle, I learned at a young age something called gate etiquette.

Gate etiquette is really a very simple concept – If you find a gate open, you can leave it open – If you find a gate closed, then you must re-shut it after you pass through it. Gate etiquette ensures that cattle remain in the pastures that they are meant to be in and do not stray somewhere that they do not belong. In addition to taking care with gates, we also made sure that we did not disturb or harm the fences in between pastures.

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the

My brother and I, many many years ago out at the “hunting camp”…

Our family was both thankful for the ability to hunt on the ranch land, and also for the cattle that grazed there. In addition to growing beef, the presence of the bovines played an important role in ecosystem which improved the health of the land and the quality of the hunting. My dad was a stickler for rules, and I know that the rancher appreciated our diligence.

When I moved to Nebraska in 1997 and went to work on the farm, I learned to truly appreciate gate etiquette. It, along with good fence maintenance, ensures the safety of both our cattle and the community members that drive the roads near our farm. I cannot stress how truly important this is. I also cannot stress how truly frustrating it is when people from outside of the farm do not respect fence and gate etiquette.

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety -- please don't tamper with it!

The fence prevents accidents and ensures safety — please don’t tamper with it!

Unfortunately, in the last 18 years, I have seen all of the following things occur on our farm. As a result, we have lost cattle (a few that were never recovered) who became a liability for everyone as they wandered and strayed across roads where they might cause accidents.

  • Poachers cutting down fence in order to illegally trespass and hunt on our property.
  • Careless off farm repairman who are hired to come to the farm to fix a problem but open gates and forget to close them.
  • Irresponsible electrical company workers who take down fence along property lines without asking in order to do maintenance on power lines, and then not rebuilding the fence properly when their work is complete.
Annegate2.jpg

A properly closed gate protects both the animals and the people that travel the roads near farms…

One of the worst feelings in the world is a phone call from the sheriff’s office in the middle of the night informing you that cattle are on the highway. Regardless of whether they are your cattle or the neighbor’s, it leads to a sleepless night.

The truly sad part of this story is that all of this can be prevented if everyone took the time to care.

Minding the fence, shutting the gate, and respecting the animals that bring food to your table is everyone’s business. It keeps our animals on the farm where they are safe, and off of the roads where they endanger not only themselves but also innocent road travelers. Please take the time to do your part.

Together we are responsible providers: to our animals, our land, and to each other.

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Doin’ Gates…

Every self-respecting feed yard cowboy can “do gates” while on horseback.  A good horse understands how to set himself up so that the rider can reach both the chain and the gate which simplifies the process.

Doin’ a gate while checkin’ cattle…

I do not know what other newer feed yards look like, but my feed yard has a very diverse set of gates and chains.  There are no two gates on my farm that chain and latch the same way…My cowboy is a patient guy and has figured out ways to do most of our gates without having to get off of his horse.  He is also 6 feet tall with fairly long arms which is very useful when doin’ gates.

Two weeks out of the year, my cowboy goes on vacation.  When he is gone, I fill in for him checking cattle health (otherwise known as checkin’ cattle).  This involves looking at each animal in each pen to make sure that they look healthy.  I have 23 pens at the feed yard which equates to 23 unique gates.

Getting ready to start checkin’ cattle…

During these two weeks, I have been known to mutter creative words under my breath at many of those 23 gates.  This is what happens when you take a short lady and add a tall horse and a diverse system of gates.

Studly (the horse) and I approaching one of the 23 unique gates…

Over the years, I have learned to let go of my desire to be a self-respecting cowboy and accept the fact that I am going to have to get off of my horse at some of our gates to open and close them.  I make myself feel better by remembering that the goal is checkin’ cattle, not doin’ gates.  An added bonus of getting on and off of my tall horse many times during a 3 hour period is great strength and flexibility training…

Tall horse + short lady = Good flexibility and strength!

Good balance is nice to have also…

Headed for the next pen where, luckily, I can actually “do the gate” on horseback…

I have to admit that as I watched Michael Phelps in the Olympics this summer I looked enviously at his long arms…They are just the tool that I need when leaning down over my horse to reach the chain and latch!

While doin’ gates may seem a mundane task, it is actually very important.  Guess what happens when you do not re-latch the gate correctly?  The cattle in the pen get an unplanned exercising session frolicking all over the feed yard.  While the cattle enjoy this immensely, it results in acute embarrassment for the cowboy.  You see, it is an unwritten rule at every cattle feed yard to properly SHUT THE GATE!

Doin’ the gate to leave a pen–Step 1…Take the chain off of the latch.

Doin’ the gate—Step 2…Ride through the open gate and out of the pen.

Doin’ the gate—Step 3…Re-latch the gate once you are out of the pen.

Doin’ Gates—Step 4…Double check to make sure that the gate is properly latched!

I am pleased to report that although I am only marginally successful at doin’ gates, that there were no surprise exercise sessions due to improperly latched gates while my cowboy was on vacation.  I am also pleased to report that I actually enjoy checkin’ cattle very much and have (over the years) developed a knack for making sure that my animals are healthy and thriving.

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Filed under CAFO, General

Think like a calf…Then open the gate!

We originally were missing about 45 head…Monday morning the number was down to 13…Today it is down to 10…

10 is too many, but better than 45.

I found two calves last night in our corn field.  I got smart—thought like a calf—used patience and good cattle handling savvy—and got them in.  My cowboy and I found a third calf at the neighbor’s this morning.  We are gaining.

The second calf in the field approaching the fence...(I wasn't organized enough to have my camara for the first one...)

Handling cattle in a corral system is very different than handling cattle “at liberty” with no fences.  If any of you do Natural Horsemanship, you may be familiar with the concept of “liberty” and the communication system that you set up with your horse which enables you to interact (either on the ground or in the saddle) with no halter/bridle or lead rope.

Horses "at liberty" in a pasture...Two of them are asking me a question...

Handling cattle at liberty follows the same concepts, but the animals are much “flightier” or wilder.  Small movements mean big things, and it takes a lot of savvy to move a lone animal through a big field with tall crops and then through a gate.

The corn is 6' tall (I am only a measly 5'3" and the calf is much shorter than that...)

It also requires you to “think like a calf” in order to increase your chances of success.  Cattle are concerned with safety (they prefer being in herds/groups), they are concerned with having enough to eat (not a problem out in big green fields with growing vegetation!), they are concerned with finding water to drink.

What did I do?

I put a big red mineral tub in the middle of the gateway (mineral “licks” or “tubs” are a good magnet for cattle–they love them!).  We turned on the water tank that is near the gate.  I waited until dusk when cattle are more likely to be active in the warm summer months…and when the calves that are still in my feed yard are more likely to bawl or vocalize which will “call” the missing calves back into the group.

The mineral tub and water tank that are by the gate...

One by one two animals showed up…

I worked each calf (they showed up about 30 minutes apart) quietly and carefully down the field and toward the gate.  I waited for them to find the mineral tub and move through the gate.

I guided the calves down the alleyway and back to the home pen.

The first calf--turning to ask me a question as I moved him down the alley way. At that moment, I am "outside of his bubble" and he is confident enough to ask me for guidance.

I did all of this with great patience and small movements in my body focusing on pressure and release once I figured out where each calf’s “bubble” was.  Each calf is surrounded by an invisible “bubble”.  If you apply pressure to the bubble, then the calf will move.  It is important to only gently apply pressure to this bubble (especially in a situation where you are at “liberty” with no fences for help).  When the calf responds appropriately, then you release the pressure.  This pressure and release system is a good way to communicate with cattle (and horses too).

I penetrated the calf's bubble and he moved away from me and down the alley...

Watching the body language of the calf tells you when you penetrate his “bubble”.  This requires patience and focus.

The mosquitoes made a very tenacious attempt to “eat me alive” while I was up in the corn field.  I kept my focus on the calf and ignored the bugs…Slapping at mosquitoes with a flighty calf nearby will send the calf running in a “flight” behavior pattern which is virtuously impossible for a handler to manipulate.

Back in the home pen and bawling to his herdmates...He seems glad to be there...

I got home after dark, tired, but feeling a sense of accomplishment.  Who would have thought that a city kid from Florida would be able to act as a “calf whisperer”?

The second calf heading back in to the "home pen" with the herdmates that came out to greet him...

I am still moving forward, I am still praying that we will recover the other 10 calves, I am still caring, and I am still exhausted.  But, under it all, I know that I am gaining.  I know that I am a good calf caregiver.  And, I know that tomorrow will again be a better day.

Back home after a long day...

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General

Shut the gate!!

Anne by the main gate of the feedyard...

When you raise cattle, a gate can be both your best friend and your greatest foe.  Fence lines and gates enable cattle caretakers to ensure that their animals “stay where they are supposed to”—on pastures and in the cattle feed yard.  They keep the animals out of dangerous places such as roads and railroad tracks, as well as neighboring crop ground where the cattle can do significant damage to growing corn and soybean fields.

So, as a cattle caregiver, gates and fences are my best friend and my greatest foe…They are my best friend when they are in good repair and closed.  They are my greatest foe when they are damaged or left open due to negligence.  It is the “golden rule” on our farm that if you open a gate you ALWAYS close it.

Karyn (my six year old) standing by a CLOSED gate!

My six year old will even give you a lecture on it because she knows how important it is.

Calf #718 was able to grow and thrive on both AL Ranch and at my farm because our systems of gates and fences worked.  Al and Sallie maintain miles and miles and miles of fence line and many, many gates.  For the system to work, all must be in good repair and cattle caregivers must be diligent in ensuring that gates are closed.

I am going to deviate from Calf #718 for a bit to share a “gate” story from the weekend…

I spent all night Friday night unloading new calves at the feed yard.  These calves were shipped north to Nebraska because of the terrible drought that is occurring in northern Texas.  The drought has devastated the pastures in that area and calves are being shipped to feed yards like mine because there is no grass left to eat.

One of the new calves...

We vaccinated and de-wormed the new cattle early Saturday morning, and then set out to move the calves into the “home pens” where fresh feed and water awaited them.  Something spooked the calves that were placed into Pen 23 and about 45 head broke through the back fence and were loose within the feed yard facility.

Some of the new calves in Pen 23...

We have systems set up at the feed yard to deal with this—we have a perimeter fence that keeps the cattle inside the cattle feed yard even if they get out of their pen, and all four of us caregivers at the feed yard follow a “protocol” when this happens to minimize the amount of cattle that are loose and contain the ones that get out.

A pivot is a big "sprinkler" that travels in a circle irrigating crops.

My system failed on Saturday.  My system failed because the custom crew that built my new LWCF (Livestock Waste Control Facility) were out working on my pivot (the big sprinkler that irrigates the corn field north of the feed yard) Friday and  did not shut the two perimeter gates along the east side of the feed yard when they went home Friday night.  My system failed because my crew and I failed to double check that the perimeter gates were closed after the crew of workmen left.

The result…

We ended up with about 45 head of cattle getting out of the feed yard and running loose on neighboring farm ground.  We (along with several wonderful neighbors) have worked tirelessly all weekend trying to find the “missing cattle”, and I am sorry to report that there are still 13 head running loose.

The corn is taller than I am right now, so it is very difficult to see cattle if they are out in the middle of the field.

Rules like “closing gates” are so simple, yet so important to follow.  It may be harvest time before we find all of the missing cattle.  We may never find them all.

Today, I am exhausted and feeling terribly “beaten” down.   I thought that I had a system in place to prevent things like this from happening—in the fourteen years that I have been at the feed yard, we had never had a calf get loose until Saturday morning.

I will move forward and tomorrow will be another day, but this weekend will forever stick in my mind.  I failed my animals, and that is a very difficult thing for me to accept.

A closed gate is a good gate...

We will keep looking…We will keep caring…We will keep praying that we will find the lost cattle.  We will ALWAYS double check the perimeter gates before we move cattle.  We will learn from our mistakes and hope that tomorrow is a better day.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, CAFO