Tag Archives: healthy animals

The Freedom To Thrive…

The popular sustainability discussion often holds references to animal care. From corporate statements made by McDonalds and Walmart to sensational allegations from news sources like Consumer Reports – the way that food animals are raised provides a veritable battle ground for today’s food debates.

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  • What is the correct care?
  • Who defines it?
  • Is it based on science or philosophy – or a blend of both?

With each day that passes, dialogues regarding food production practices trend beyond the farm gate to include the thoughts and ideas of an incredibly diversified audience. In 2015, the general expectation of a safe food supply is constantly expanding to also include philosophical preferences for how it is raised. I am proud of the many different types of systems used to grow food. This diversity is a tribute to the innovation of America’s farmers. It is cause for celebration, not cause for persecution.

Rigorous debates inspire positive critical examination and can result in continuous improvement. However, I grow weary of the sensational drama currently permeating the conversations involving the topic of animal welfare. To me, good cattle welfare can be defined with one simple question.

Do the animals have the freedom to thrive?

Cattle are raised with the sole purpose of contributing to the food supply. Healthy animals make healthy beef – Cattle that are raised with the freedom to thrive are healthy. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not cause for battle. It also should not be sensationalized to instigate media coverage or personal gain. Animal welfare is not about the person who eats the beef, rather it is about the calf that is raised to provide it.

These 1300# steers at my feed yard exhibit exuberant play behavior demonstrating their freedom to thrive…

Many, many different environments exist in which cattle can thrive. The animal welfare debate should not be about the type of system, rather it should be based on whether the system is managed by the farmer to allow for the animals to have the freedom to thrive. Grass pasture or feed yard, organic or traditionally raised – the basis for quality cattle welfare lies in the ability of the farmer to create an environment in which the calf can prosper. A good farmer works tirelessly for this regardless of the label that he/she places on the package of beef.

Long term food sustainability as well as the integrity of the United States protein supply lies in the hands of America’s farmers. It is wrapped up in their ability to nurture – to blend science and practical daily care with the art of intuition. It is providing for the practical needs of the animal while also taking the time to be a compassionate good shepherd.

It’s not about the grass pasture or the feed yard pen, it’s about the culture of caring that exists regardless of the type of farm.

The current discussion of animal welfare has gone terribly awry because it is no longer about the animal. It is lost in a great pit of sensational and politically motivated confusion.

Isn’t it time that Americans once again focus on defining animal welfare from the point of view of the animal receiving the care?

annemattbeef1

It won’t be a sensational story, but it will result in food raised with integrity.

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Weanin’ Calves…

I remember when I weaned each one of my girls.  It was a transition time and while it was not always easy, it was definitely necessary.

My youngest daughter on the day of her birth–it is hard to believe that she used to be that little!

Time passes, things change, babies turn into toddlers and before you know it they head off to school.  The next day (it seems) you wake up and your “baby” is taller than you…

Almost 8 years later, she is the tallest child in her 2nd grade class–she has a few more inches to go to catch me but not very many! Her oldest sister already has several inches on me which she considers very cool…

While animals are undeniably different than humans, there is also a time to wean.  This time is contingent on available nutrition (for both the cow and the calf), and the age of the calf.  The drought of 2012 has necessitated earlier than normal weaning for many calves in Nebraska.  The availability of nutrient rich grass is scarce as Mother Nature has not provided well for us this summer.

This little guy was only a couple of weeks old when this picture was taken—he will come to me next week as an 8 month old calf that weighs about 500#…He was weaned on his home ranch about 6 weeks ago due to lack of grass for his mama to graze.

The nutritional requirements for a nursing cow are high, and it is a more efficient use of our current limited supply of natural resources to wean the calf from the cow.  Both animals will prosper more efficiently without being dependent on lactation.

The milk requirements for this calf increases as he gets larger with age. When he gets to weighing about 500#, it becomes hard on the mother cow to continue to nurse him. This is a good time to wean the calf…

Sometimes calves are weaned on the home ranch in neighboring pastures from their mamas.  Sometimes the necessary feed is not available on the ranch so the calves are weaned on another farm.  Weaning is undoubtedly a stressful time for both the cow and the calf—it is a time of transition and change.  During this transition time, it is important to teach the calf how to satisfy his own needs without his mama.  There are things that I can provide and teach my animals as their caregiver to help them make this transition.

The water tank and mineral licks shown here are similar to what the animals had on the home ranch.  This familiarity is vitally important during the transition phase…

Through the acclimation process, I teach the calves where the feed bunk and water tank are in addition to helping them realize that everything that they need is in the new home pen.  Acclimation is a very powerful tool for me as I wean calves—by helping the animals realize that a pen with fresh feed, water, and their herd-mates is a good place to be, my calves experience less stress and stay healthier.

The prairie hay we feed to them is also very familiar to the calves as it is the same grass hay that they ate alongside their mama’s before weaning…The added wet distillers grains gives the calf the protein and nutrients that he needs to take the place of mama’s milk…

It is very rewarding for me to watch my calves quickly reclaim contentment and begin the new phase of their lives in the feed yard.  Content calves that look for the feed truck with anticipation as it delivers prairie hay, wheat straw, and wet distillers grains grow well and will ultimately make great tasting beef!

Over the next couple of weeks, I will talk in more detail about the care that I offer to these younger (an average of 8 months old) animals as they move off of the ranch and into the feed yard.  Keeping them content and healthy as they move through the transition is incredibly important (and time consuming).  I will do my best to continue my bi-weekly posting, but if I miss a post please know that it is only because long hours at the feed yard kept me from writing…

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

Cattle Health: Setting my animals up for success…

Calf #718--a healthy animal that made healthy beef...

Calf #718 never got sick…He was healthy his entire life…

This is not due to luck.  This is mainly due to high quality care and diligence on the part of Al and Sallie and I.  We put the pieces of the puzzle together correctly and set him up for success.

He was cared for holistically throughout his life span…

He was raised in a low stress environment…

He was raised by people who are Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified and trained…

Al and I both participate in the Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance program.  This is an educational program developed to teach cattlemen how to holistically care for their animals.  The program is administered by veterinarians and extension educators, and provides a very important link between cattle farmers and ranchers and their veterinarians.  BQA is a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) program. In essence this means that you figure out all of the things that can challenge you in your day to day care for cattle, and have a plan in place to effectively, safely, and efficiently deal with the challenges.

There are five core categories under the National Beef Quality Assurance program:

Care and Husbandry Practices

Feedstuffs

Feed Additives and Medications

Processing / Treatment and Record Keeping

Injectible Animal Health Products

These five areas of study and training provide cattle farmers and ranchers with the necessary training to holistically care for their cattle–from basic animal care, to nutrition/feed stuffs, to cattle handling, to vaccination administration, to antibiotic usage, to record keeping…

My goal is to only feed and finish cattle that are cared for by Beef Quality Assurance educated cattlemen—I believe that it is important to “complete the quality assurance circle” so that each calf in the United States is cared for by a BQA trained cattlemen from birth to harvest.  By doing this, we set the calf up for success and ensure high quality and healthy beef for consumers to enjoy.

BQA ties the consulting veterinarian with the cattle farmer...

As I work with my consulting veterinarians, using the core concepts and additional Best Management Practices of Beef Quality Assurance, I ensure that my animals are healthy and their beef is safe.

The veterinarians are great resources for me and help me to keep my cattle healthy...

Calf #718 is a success story—one of thousands at my cattle feed yard.  He is the product of good care:  properly timed and administered vaccinations and de-worming, good nutrition, and a low stress environment in which to live.

Every time that I look at a calf, I remember that the care that I give to him will allow him to thrive and grow.

A healthy steer makes healthy beef...

Every time that I look at a calf, I remember that his beef will be fed to my family and families all over the world.

My family of "beef eaters"!

Every time that I look at a calf, I feel proud that I am a beef producer.

Flat Iron steaks are my girls' favorite cut of beef. The Flat Iron is part of the Chuck muscle and makes a very tender steak. Thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council for the great picture!

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General

Healthy Animals…Healthy Beef!

Of all of the things that I have accomplished in my 36 and ½ years, I am most proud of my children.  They are the center of my world, and every decision that I make every day involves them in some way…

My talented girls who make me so proud...

My girls are always forefront in my mind as I care for my cattle.  My cattle are food animals, and I will use them to nourish my children.  My number one priority is to keep my cattle healthy because:

Healthy Cattle Make Healthy Beef!

Early immune system development in cattle plays a crucial role in the life-long success of the animals.  It is critical that Al provides his calves with everything that they need from the time of conception to ensure that they will be as healthy as possible throughout their entire life span.  Al does several things “at the ranch” to ensure that his calves remain healthy—I continue to do these things when I receive the cattle “at the feed yard”—this ensures that the beef that our animals produce is safe and healthy to eat.

Calf #718 is a great example of how doing all of the little things right everyday allows for the production of high quality and safe beef—beef that nourishes my children and yours.  Let’s talk about what some of these things are:

  1. Proper Nutrition—High quality feed that is balanced to provide the calf with the proper nutrition allows him to thrive.   He begins nursing his mama’s milk—he then transitions to eating grass—he then transitions to eating a blend of forage (grass) and grain to give his beef the taste and tenderness that we all love.

    One of Calf #718's herd mates...with Mama resting close by.

  2. Later in life and eating out of a feedbunk...

    Proper Mineral Supply—Minerals to cattle are like vitamins to humans.  Providing the proper “trace minerals” to our cattle allows for good development and immune system maturity that is required for the calf to remain healthy and flourish.

    A "trace" mineral tub for cattle...

  3. Proper Vaccination—I am a huge proponent of good vaccination protocols—it doesn’t matter if you are talking about animals or humans.  Properly timed and administered vaccines stimulate the immune system and protect against disease.  Just ask my girls how I feel about vaccinations—they will roll their eyes, remember the flu shot that they got last fall– and then give you an “ear full”!

    Beef Quality Assurance ensures good vaccination technique and selection...

  4. Proper Parasite Control—The reality is that when a bovine grazes on grass, he will come into contact with parasites.  It is important for good digestive function for the calf to be “de-wormed” periodically to get rid of these parasites.

    Grazing on grass...

  5. Limiting Stress—We all know what stress does to us…elevated blood pressure, increased risk of illness, and overall decrease in good health.  Well, a calf is really no different than a human when it comes to stress.  One of the most important things that Al and I can do for our animals is to figure out ways to decrease or limit stress.

    Cattle resting quietly in the home pen---stress free!

There are many days when I am positive that I have done a better job limiting the stress on my animals than I have limiting stress in my own life…We all work to achieve “balance” in our lives.  Al and I also work hard to enable our animals to achieve balance.

Every time I look at my children I am reminded of the importance of good quality animal care…High quality and wholesome beef is “What’s For Dinner” at my house.

One of the perks of having a daughter who raises great tasting Nebraska beef!

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