Tag Archives: humane animal care

How Can You Tell If a Group of Calves Are Acclimated?

 

A couple of years ago I took this video of my favorite blonde cowgirl at the beginning of an acclimation session.  Megan then edited the video by adding music (Fly Over States) by Jason Aldean.  The video remained up on YouTube for a couple of years but was taken down recently due to copyright infringement violation.  Apparently, Megan needed Jason’s permission to use the song 🙂

I noticed that the video had been taken down last week when I tried to use it during a presentation to the Kansas State Masters of Agri-Business students.  I fielded several questions from the group relative to low stress handling and cattle acclimating at the end of my talk.  Above is the video in non-edited form which I re-uploaded to YouTube over the weekend.

As a companion piece, below find the ways that I can tell if a group of calves are acclimated during their transition into the feed yard.

  • When asked, the calves will group in the home pen and move in straight lines around the pen.
  • When asked, the calves will exit the home pen in an orderly fashion, understanding where the gate is located.
  • Once down at the corral, when asked, the calves will calmly walk past the handler.
  • When asked, the calves will move back down the alley from the corral to the home pen with exuberance.  At the end of the acclimation period, cattle exhibit more excitement traveling back to the home pen than leaving the home pen.

The goal of acclimation is for the calf (group of calves) to become comfortable with both the home pen and a human caregiver, while learning where to eat and drink, and how to move off of alternate pressure and herd with confidence. 

An acclimated calf is comfortable in its environment, naturally curious, and accepting of a human caregiver.

BCItshirt.jpg

*On an unrelated note, for those of you Serious XM subscribers in the group, I will be featured on the Angus Journal Show — Rural Radio Channel 80 Saturday morning (January 17th) at 10:00am CST.  Check it out!

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Carnivore’s Dilemma…

When I was back in Florida a couple of weeks ago for my grandmother’s funeral, my Godmother asked me if I had read the November issue of National Geographic.  In it is a lengthy article entitled, “Carnivore’s Dilemma” written by scientific journalist Robert Kunzig.  Following her advice, I tracked down a copy of the issue and spent some time last weekend reading it.

I’ll admit that when I first heard that an environmental journalist had written an article in National Geographic magazine highlighting cattle feedyards, I envisioned a pejorative rhetoric belittling the method that my farm uses to complete the final step of traditional beef production.

That is not at all what I found…I found a very balanced article that discusses the complex issue of responsible food production. 

I commend Mr. Kunzig for his detailed personal research as well as bringing an open mind to an often heated debate.  You can read the article by clicking here.  The precursor to the commentary is the author’s fundamental question:

annemattbeef1

“Is it all right for an American to eat beef?

In an effort to find an accurate answer, Mr. Kunzig spent a week at Wrangler Feedyard near Tulia, Texas. Wrangler Feedyard is one of nine feedlots operated by Cactus Feeders.  This fact immediately caught my attention because I have the privilege of knowing both the co-founder of Cactus Feeders — an older gentleman who hails from Nebraska, Paul Engler, and his son Mike, who now serves as CEO of the company.

Paul Engler reminds me of my grandfather.  Incredibly intelligent, fiercely independent, entrepreneurial  in nature, all enhanced by an incredibly personable and gentlemanly personality.  Although it has been more than a year since I last visited with Paul, a smile comes to my face whenever something makes me think of him.  As my grandfather would say, “he is good people”.  His son, Mike, holds a PhD in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University, and spent twenty years doing research at Harvard and the University of Texas before coming back home to help run the cattle feeding enterprise.

calvesfeedbunk.jpg

The author combines his personal experience visiting one of the Engler feedyards with the intellectual and philosophical exercise of exploring modern food production.  He does this by raising many pertinent questions…

  • Is the goal of using technology to produce affordable food admirable or evil?
  • What kind of people are farmers?
  • How can farmers care for animals and then send them to their death?
  • Is it humane for cattle to live in a feedyard setting for the last few months of their lives?
  • Is pharmaceutical use in food animals acceptable?
  • Are feedyards sustainable?
  • How do we meet demand for meat while protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change?

While it is clear that these topics will continue to be debated, Mr. Kunzig leaves his readers with this thought:

“What my reporting had really left me wanting to say no to was antibeef zealotry.  That, and the immoderate penchant we Americans have for reducing complex social problems — diet, public health, climate change, food security — to morality issues populated by heroes and villains.”

2014_10_06_mr_Will Feed-4

I would like to take this opportunity to thank National Geographic, Mr. Kunzig, and all those at Cactus Feeders for coming together to have a respectful, honest discussion. 

I encourage everyone to read Mr. Kunzig’s article as it was intended — with an open mind.  Please feel free to leave questions relative to beef production and feedyards below in the comment section as I am happy to be an additional resource in this discussion.

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under CAFO, General

Audits…

Sometime between my 2nd and 3rd visits to Florida to see my parents this fall, the feed yard had its final internal Progressive Beef Audit for 2013.  In total, my cattle farm is audited three times in a calendar year as a result of my participation in the Progressive Beef program.  The first and third audits are “internal” in nature where a BMG quality assurance director conducts the audit; and the second one is external with a third party consultant conducting the audit.ProgressiveBeefLogoGreen

The Progressive Beef program is based on three tiers:  Food Safety, Animal Welfare, and Sustainability.  In order to ensure that my feed yard is working diligently in these areas, we follow a certified HACCP plan for our feed mill as well as 39 SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures).  These 39 SOP’s cover everything from cleaning water tanks and cattle home pens — to cattle handling — to taking care of and cleaning farm equipment — to food safety measures.

Checking feed bunks, water tanks, and cattle home pens during an audit...

Checking feed bunks, water tanks, and cattle home pens during an audit…

The HACCP plan and SOP’s provide the basis for everything that we do on the farm as well as the standards on which we are audited.  While these audits take time and are a bit intrusive, I believe that they help me to accomplish excellence in cattle care.  They are a necessary second step to verify the high quality daily care practices for my animals as well as the safety of the beef that those animals make.2013_09_27_mr_Will Feed for Drovers-67

The HACCP plan and SOP’s provide the road map…

The audit ensures that we don’t get lost on the journey…willfeedsign3

I am proud to report that my feed yard has scored in the “Excellent” category on all three of our 2013 audits.  I believe that this is proof that we are whole-heartedly dedicated to this journey of excellence in cattle care and beef production…

I would like to take a minute to publicly thank the three awesome men who give of themselves each day to help me to care for our animals.  Their dedication, compassion, and loyalty all play an enormous role in the success of my farm.  Together the four of us make a fabulous team — which ensures success on this important journey.IMG_4534

I hope that sometime during this holiday season you will choose to eat a delicious beef meal as your own personal tribute to us!

4 Comments

Filed under General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Farm Check: Ensuring Responsible Animal Care On the Farm…

A life-long animal lover, I have been interested in Animal Welfare relative to cattle since the first day that I visited our family’s feed yard.  The naive 19 year old East Coast girlfriend had no idea that the majority of cattle in the United States spent time in a pen eating out of a bunk prior to becoming beef.

Cattle eating out of a "feed bunk" at the yard...

Cattle eating out of a “feed bunk” at the yard…

While I felt many different emotions during my first visit to the feed yard, the most pervasive of those was genuine interest.  In typical Anne style, I asked Archie (the feed yard manager) a multitude of questions as I tried to gain an understanding of both the animals and the way that the farm worked.  The more I learned, the more that I wanted to know .

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather...

After almost 20 years, I love Archie like a grandfather…

In particular, I found the care of the cattle fascinating.  The psychologist in me wanted to understand the animal—to figure out how he thought so that I could fully understand his needs.  This initial fascination led to my desire to go to work at the feed yard after college graduation.  Three days after leaving Dartmouth College with a cum laude star on my diploma, I went to work in a whole new world: the world of food animal production.

One of the "home pens" where cattle live at my feed yard...

One of the “home pens” where cattle live at my feed yard…

Over the next 16 years, I learned the practical skills that I needed to care for those intriguing animals and I worked hard to earn the respect of my fellow feed yard team members.  Today, I make decisions that affect the welfare of thousands of animals who make millions of pounds of beef and other products that we all enjoy.  I have learned so much since that first day when my naïve eyes glimpsed the feed yard, but perhaps the best part of all is the fact that the learning never ends.

a

Animals teach us many things if we take the time to look and are able to understand how they *think*!

The care of beef cattle is highly complex and I view the interaction between bovine and caregiver to be incredibly fascinating.  Enabling my animals to feel comfortable on my farm and watching them to subsequently thrive is one of my greatest pleasures.  Being able to share that with my daughters is nothing short of priceless.

a

Although I strive to continually learn, I have come to a point in my life where I think that I know enough that I can also share something meaningful regarding animal care.  It is very rewarding to me that others in the beef family share that same feeling.  Animal welfare is a team effort, and I am very proud to be a part of the team.

Late this winter, I was asked to serve on Tyson Fresh Meats 3rd party Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as a part of their new Farm Check program.  The Farm Check program is an education, audit, and research program to help ensure that animals are cared for responsibly on the farm.

As a customer, each one of you deserves to know that the meat that you purchase came from an animal that was cared for appropriately and conscientiously. 

I believe that the meat industry is only sustainable if it operates with integrity.   I also believe that the Farm Check program will contribute to this sustainability.FarmChecklogoI am tremendously honored to be a member of this inaugural group of animal welfare professionals.  I am also truly humbled to be thought of as an expert in the field of farm animal behavior, health and production.  My goal has always been to continuously work for improvements in the care of farm animals.  This is best accomplished through the creation of practical and applicable animal welfare practices that dictate responsible daily care.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy food, and this is always the goal…

Throughout the next few posts, I would like to share my experiences last week at the first Farm Check Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as well as more information regarding the people, the goal, and the plan.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Sustainable Spring, Tyson Farm Check Program