Tag Archives: humane care

Defining the Basic Needs of a Bovine…

What are the basic needs of a bovine which ensure good care and welfare?

I believe that cattle need the following things to thrive and achieve their God-given potential in the production of beef:

  • A consistent and clean source of feed and water.
  • A comfortable environment in which to live and express normal bovine behavior.
  • Good preventative health care that includes proper vaccination, deworming, and vitamin/mineral intake.
  • A caregiver who understands how to properly interact with the animal, and works to consistently reduce the stress that the animal experiences.

I believe that this care can be provided in a variety of environments—on a grazing pasture or in a feed yard. 

There will certainly be times when weather challenges make them temporarily difficult to obtain, but these cornerstones of good care drive quality bovine welfare.

In order to ensure the practical application of these welfare cornerstones, the Beef Quality Assurance Program focuses on 3 basic areas of education for cattle farmers:

  • Feed Ingredient Selection
  • Processing (vaccination) and Animal Treatment Records
  • Animal Care and Husbandry (welfare) Practices

Because cattle are food animals, two other areas of focus exist in the BQA program, to ensure that the beef that our animals produce is safe and healthy:

  • Feed Additives and Medications
  • Injection Site Management

He is grown with the express purpose of providing a high quality source of protein for all of us to eat…

When I asked Dr. Griffin what the most important function of the BQA program was, he responded:

The major focus of BQA today is the accumulation and dissemination of animal husbandry (care/welfare) ideas and techniques from people all across the United States.   As cattle caregivers become more knowledgeable stewards, this allows cattle to grow and reproduce at their God-given genetic potential in the environment in which the cattle are raised and kept. Animal husbandry-appropriate to the animal’s needs- and within its given environment, will accomplish the objectives that we all seek … sustainability and the production of safe beef.

After the Thanksgiving Holiday, we will take a closer look at each of the 5 areas of focus for Beef Quality Assurance and discuss their role in ensuring good cattle welfare.



Filed under Animal Welfare, General

The Basic Premise Behind Quality and Appropriate Cattle Welfare…

He views the world from a different perspective.

Thinking on a different cognitive level.

His needs are basic and may sometimes seem rudimentary to human eyes.

While those needs may appear simplistic, they are innately tied to his vitality.

His good health is intrinsically tied to the safety of our food.

He is a food animal—he feeds our families.

He is a bovine and his job is to produce high quality and safe beef.

I am his caregiver, and it is my job to offer appropriate care that meets his needs and allows him to reach his God-given potential.

When he reaches this potential, the cycle is complete and I have successfully raised a safe and healthy beef product that comes from animals that are humanely cared for.

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The Heart of “Where Your Beef Comes From”…

Mike and Peggy Coffman live “just north of Halsey, NE on the oil road”.  If you stop within 50 miles of Halsey to ask for directions to the ranch, those are the instructions that you will likely receive.  There is only one paved road that goes north out of Halsey so it is actually pretty hard to get lost as long as you watch for the ranch sign.

Angus cattle and quarter horses are the heart of the Coffman Ranch…

I met Mike and Peggy almost eight years ago.  We were introduced by Al Atkins when Mike was looking for a feed yard that was interested in buying his cattle.  Many of you will remember Al and Sallie Atkins from a little over a year ago when I traced calf #718 from birth to harvest (see the category “Beef Life Cycle-Calf #718 if you missed the series).

I have  a soft place in my heart for Mike and Peggy because not only do they produce outstanding cattle, but I also purchased my beloved quarter horse (Dandy) from Mike in 2005.

I love this big guy…

So, what exactly happens on the day that Mike and Peggy send their cattle down to the feed yard?

Last Thursday, after my quick trip to Denver and before I watched my favorite Cross Country team at our Conference Championships, I spent the morning at Mike and Peggy’s loading their calves.  It takes me just under 2 hours to drive north to the ranch.  Mike started the morning early by gathering the cattle off of grass pastures and trailing them to the corrals.  About the time that I arrived, Mike and his neighbors who came to help that morning were sorting the steers and the heifers.

The cattle are brought down the alleyway one at a time, and the steers are sent through the gate one direction while the heifers are sent the other direction through another gate…

In addition to separating the steers and the heifers from one another, Mike and his cowboy crew also sorted off about 50 “replacement heifers” that will remain on the ranch to become mama cows.  It is important for the ranch to keep good heifers to use in the breeding (reproductive) herd so that they can continue to make outstanding calves year after year.

The horses’ jobs are finished now that the cattle are gathered off of the pastures. They get to take a rest while the cowboys sort the cattle in the corral…

After the cattle are sorted, they are counted and brand inspected by an employee of the Nebraska Brand Committee to ensure that all of the cattle are eligible for shipment.  Then the trucks are weighed at a local scale about 5 miles north of the ranch both before and after the cattle are loaded to determine the weight of the animals.

Here, Mike adjusts the balance scale to weigh the trucks…

After the truck is weighed, he travels back to the ranch to load the cattle. Then he returns to the scale again to be weighed a second time…

It is important to weigh the cattle because I purchase part of them from Mike and Peggy as they move from the ranch into the feed yard.  Mike and Peggy also retain ownership on some of the cattle so that we become financial partners in addition to being joint caregivers for the cattle.

The calves quickly find the prairie (grass) hay, wet distillers grains and corn stalks that are in the feed bunk…

While Mike and I settle up the bill and our plan for the cattle, Peggy serves us a great tasting hamburger casserole.  At the same time, the trucks and the cattle travel to the feed yard where they are placed in their new home pen with a feed bunk containing a tasty casserole for cattle.

The casserole and dinner plate look different than what I have at my house, but the meal is still a healthy and appropriate blend of nutritious food…

Mike and Peggy’s cattle easily transition into a new life at the feed yard.  They are a joy to care for and I am very thankful for the good care that Mike and Peggy provide them with on the home ranch.  That care sets the calves up for success and makes my job at the feed yard much easier.  Come the spring, the calves will make high quality beef that I am proud to feed to all of you!

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Good Is The Enemy Of Great…

Good is the enemy of great.  I had never heard this expression until my daughter’s Cross Country coach made it the mantra of this year’s season.  We all strive to be good at what we do—do we sometimes settle for good when we can be great?

AG and her coach—after her first Junior High Cross Country win…

How do we protect ourselves from falling into complacency just because we are good?

I am always amazed at the “life lessons” that I learn from parenting and mentoring my girls.  I encourage them to dream big and set goals to help those dreams become reality.  Possibly even more important than establishing and reaching goals is the commitment to create new goals once the old ones have been accomplished.

Moving the bar higher with each successful accomplishment protects us against

 good becoming the enemy of great.

As I reminded my favorite 7thgrader this weekend to set new goals for the remainder of the Cross Country season (she has reached all of the ones that she set at the beginning of the season), I found myself thinking that I might need to take my own advice.

The care I offer to them determines the quality of their life and the quality of the beef that they make…

More than a decade ago, I made the commitment to change the management philosophy at my cattle feed yard.  I promised myself that a renewed focus on quality—quality animals, quality care, and quality beef—would permeate both my business plan and the everyday actions on my farm.

To accomplish this, I made the following goals:

  • To become my own cattle buyer (https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/the-cattle-buyer/)
  • To work with my rancher partners to improve the care that we offer to our animals and the quality of the beef that those animals produce…
  • To follow animal performance all of the way through the packing plant to ensure that I am producing high quality beef…
  • To reconfigure the way that we offer care at the feed yard with the focus on “what is right for the calf”…This required developing a solid understanding of bovine psychology and implementing what I call holistic care.

Today, I am the cattle buyer and work directly with the ranchers who provide more than 85% of my cattle.  I also follow those animals all of the way through the packing plant to understand the quality of the beef that they make.  Finally, our focus at the feed yard is to provide consistent and appropriate care to our animals with our days revolving around their needs.

I believe that I am good at what I do.  We benchmark cattle performance (health, pounds of weight gained each day, the amount of feed required to get that weight gain, and carcass quality at the packing plant) to ensure that I am good at what I do.  The bottom line is that when I offer good care, my cattle thrive and make good beef.

A tasteful, highly nutritious steak that comes from a humanely raised animal is the goal…

What I realized last weekend was that although I am good, I need to work to be better.  A reader recently asked why I wean any calves at the feed yard when I know (and scientific studies show) that the animals would get along better if they were weaned on the farm of origin.

The answer to that question is that sometimes my ranchers ask me to wean their calves at the feed yard when it would be logistically difficult for them to wean them on the ranch (this year we are weaning about 15% of our cattle at the feed yard instead of the home ranch).  While our decisions are mostly based on the availability of natural resources (feed for the cattle), perhaps I need to work harder to encourage all of my ranchers to look for ways to more consistently wean their calves on the home ranch.

Perhaps if I placed more of a priority on this, I could shift my cattle care from good to great…I think that after I get finished weaning calves in a few weeks that I need to take the time to make a new set of goals for myself to ensure that good is not the enemy of great on my farm.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

The Leprechaun…

We left the house at 5:00am Sunday morning to drive to Lincoln so that my favorite 10 year old could play in the Cornhusker State Games Volleyball Tournament.  As usual, I took my lap top along so that I could write blog posts while Matt drove (it is 2 and ½ hours from our house to Lincoln).

Megan’s team did an awesome job and finished 2nd place!

As we headed east along I-80, I asked my family what I should blog about this week.  My two favorite smart alecks (age 40 and age 12) replied “Leprechauns”.  As I stared at my husband and my daughter with a surprised expression on my face, I was informed “Yeah mom, you know, leprechauns demonstrate that short people can still make a difference!”

Well, anyone that has met me knows full well that I am “short”.  In fact, the smart aleck twelve year old that was riding in the back seat and pontificating about leprechauns is already several inches taller than I am.  As a result of her superior height and vast middle school experience, she already believes herself to be omniscient. Being fully aware of this, I am actually very pleased that she thinks that I “make a difference”.

My favorite omniscient 12 year old…

Making a difference is one of my life-long goals.  This desire drives me each and every day, and is one of the reasons that I have chosen to open my farm to all of you.  As I work tenaciously to offer good care to my animals and raise safe and healthy beef for you, I also recognize that there are thousands of other farmers who spend their days the same way that I do.  I want to not only make a difference in the lives of my animals, but also inspire others to dedicate their lives to raising food animals.

I love to eat beef. Without cattle farmers like me, a great tasting beef dinner would not be possible…

I had a visitor come through the feed yard last week who teaches in the Animal Science Department at the University of Hawaii. He smiled as he watched me move new cattle out of the home pen and down to the corral to be vaccinated.

The sight caused him to reminisce about the majority of his students (young girls of city origin destined for veterinary school) who are afraid to work with large animals.  He remarked, “you are living proof that a smaller woman can care for and handle large animals like cattle”.

I have been told that I look like a “little peanut” up on my horse…

Perhaps I appear to be a leprechaun as I train and handle my cattle on foot?

Yet, the effective and appropriate care that I offer to my animals has nothing to do with magic.  It is based on understanding, empathy and leadership.  What I may lack in brawn, I make up for in brains.  I feel that one of the most important things that I do is to mentor others in their quest to humanely raise cattle for beef production.

Good care makes for comfortable animals and safe and healthy beef…

I love it when people visit my farm with a desire to learn.  Sharing ideas and experiences creates a unique pot of gold that benefits all of us in our quest to make a difference! Now, if I could only convince my two darling smart alecks to be a bit more respectful toward their favorite “height challenged” difference making leprechaun want-a-be!

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Digging Deeper Than Face Value When Looking at Groups Attempting to Define Humane Bovine Care…

No one was more surprised than I was when it was announced that I had been voted “Prom Queen” my senior year in high school.  I was an athlete…I was a very serious student…I did not always fit in and I certainly was not a member of the popular crowd.  When I think of a “Prom Queen”, I think of a pretty and popular girl who is more likely to be a fashion savvy cheerleader than a swimmer who went directly from morning swimming practice to school every day without bothering to dry her hair…To this day, I still have not figured out how I managed to be voted “Prom Queen”, but the experience taught me NOT to take things at face value.

A "fish out of water"...I traded my swimming suit for a Prom dress and crown...May 1993.

The past three blog posts discussed and defined humane bovine care, and explained how I ensure that the care that I offer to my cattle is humane as defined at the level of a calf.  I take great pride in the care that I offer to my animals, and I feel well equipped in my journey of cattle care and beef production.

The orange ear tag in this animal's left ear certifies through the Veterinary Quality Assurance program that this animal has been cared for by a Beef Quality Assurance educated care giver its entire life as well as being able to be traced back to the ranch of origin and a birth date.

I have confidence in the Beef Quality Assurance program, and I have confidence in my ability to care for my animals and raise safe and healthy beef.  Knowing that this is the case, I really struggle to find validity in the quest of animal activist groups to define other humane or animal welfare standards as they pertain to cattle.

I honestly cannot see how groups who have no experience or understanding of cattle could accurately define humane standards for their care.

I did not truly understand what my cattle needed to be comfortable and healthy until I had learned to care for them and spent thousands of hours observing and interacting with them.

While I believe that a quest for humane bovine care is both admirable and necessary, I believe that it is a quest that should be led by dedicated cattle farmers like myself and be defined and audited using standards developed by those that have experience understanding and caring for cattle.

I have worked hard to earn the right, and the knowledge needed to help define "humane bovine care standards"...

I do NOT believe that the quest for humane bovine care should be led by politically based animal activist groups who have no practical experience caring for cattle.

I do NOT believe that the quest for humane bovine care should be led by groups whose primary goal is to end the use of animals for human food consumption.

I do NOT believe that the quest for humane bovine care should be led by groups who fail to do their homework, and call me and my hard working family farm a FACTORY.

I believe that it is my job as an animal welfarist to work hard for continued improvement in the quest for quality and humane bovine care.

I believe that it is your job as consumers of my beef to come to me when you have questions regarding cattle care practices, and also to do your homework before inadvertently lending support to activist groups in the name of “humane care”.

I traded my Prom Dress for blue jeans and boots, but I still put on my swimming suit each summer to compete on a local swim team with my girls!

It took this “studious jock” turned Prom Queen a long time to earn the right to help define humane bovine care—make sure that the groups that you turn to for information regarding humane bovine care have the necessary knowledge and “hands on” learning experience that is required to effectively and humanely care for a bovine…


Filed under Animal Welfare, Foodie Work!, General

The Humane Caregiver, Part 3: Auditing Humane Care…

Those of you that followed the Feed Yard Foodie blog throughout the summer will remember that I am not much of a TV watcher (My husband’s new entertainment center is now two months old, and I still have no idea how to turn it on…)  However, even I (the non-TV watcher) have heard of the Nike commercial “Just Do It”.  While I am a “go getter” myself who believes in action rather than excuses, I do believe that Nike forgot a word…The expression should be “Just Do It Right!”

It is human nature to get busy and be tempted to “cut corners”.   This can be devastating when you spend your days caring for prey animals whose well-being and natural makeup revolve around perceiving details. 

When you care for cattle that will be harvested for human food consumption, there is no room for sloppy work, and no room for excuses as to why a task was not performed correctly.

 My motto is “Take the time it takes to do it right”, and I live my life in accordance to those words.  It is imperative to the humane care and well-being of my animals. 

The Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment is a tool that I use at my feed yard to ensure that my crew and I “take the time it takes to do it right” as we care for our cattle and raise beef.  I use it as a third party audit because I believe that people are more likely to do the right thing if they know that they will be held accountable for their actions.

The oldest pre-harvest cattle (beef) farmer education program, the Beef Quality Assurance program is the “gold standard” for humane cattle care and beef safety.  The educational and auditing materials were written by veterinarians, cattle farmers like myself, and professional animal welfare consultants.  It is, in my opinion, the animal welfare (humane care) and food safety audit that should be universally used for all those involved in cattle care and beef production.  It is also, in my opinion, the program that should give you confidence in the beef that you purchase at the grocery store to feed to your family.

Let’s take a look at the main components of the BQA Feed Yard Assessment…

*Willful Abuse and Neglect of any animal is UNACCEPTABLE.  It is NEVER acceptable to abuse or neglect an animal.  It is my duty as an animal caregiver to ensure that my animals have an appropriate amount of high quality feed and access to clean water.  It is also my duty as an animal caregiver to ensure that my animals are handled appropriately to minimize pain, injury, or suffering.

Here I am taking the temperature of a calf I thought looked sick when I checked the animals in his home pen...

*Beef Safety as it pertains to antibiotic use in cattle… Shipping cattle to harvest that have not passed the FDA designated withdrawal time following treatment with an antibiotic is ILLEGAL. Every antibiotic must be evaluated and approved by the FDA prior to being used to treat disease in cattle, and as a part of that approval process is given what is known as a “withdrawal time”.  A withdrawal time is the number of days that an animal must wait prior to harvest after a treatment with an antibiotic—this ensures that no antibiotic residue is present in the animal when it is harvested.

I am required to have audit able records and protocols relating to the use of antibiotics at my cattle feed yard.  This both leads to a proper level of care for my animals and ensures that the beef that you buy in the grocery store is free from antibiotic residues.

I am preparing to treat this sick calf with an antibiotic injection in his neck. After treating him, I am required to keep him at the feed yard for a set numbers of days to ensure that he does not leave my farm until all of the antibiotic has passed through his system. I am glad to report that this calf has regained good health and is now doing well.

*General best management practices for cattle care…This includes protocols for employee training, pen surface maintenance (quality of the living circumstances in the home pen), euthanasia of sick or non-ambulatory animals, holistic herd health, biosecurity, medication receiving and storage, feed quality and delivery records, cattle receiving and processing, cattle shipping, Emergency Action Plan, and the validation of a Client/Patient relationship with a qualified consulting veterinarian.

*Cattle handling and structural facility quality…  As a part of the assessing process, the cattle handling crew and physical facility are audited while 100 animals are vaccinated and processed.  This is done to ensure humane handling, and freedom from unnecessary discomfort, pain, injury, fear or distress for the animals.

My loading and unloading facility is also checked routinely to ensure that it is in good repair...

*Proper maintenance of cattle living space as well as maintenance of machinery used to provide care for the cattle.  Are the cattle comfortable in the home pen?  Is there enough room for the animals to display normal bovine behavior?  Are the cattle feed bunks, feed trucks, and water sources clean?

Cattle resting comfortably in the home pen.

Verification of proper humane cattle care and beef safety using the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment requires a yearly third party audit.  If you are interested in more detailed information on the program, you can visit http://www.bqa.org/assessments.aspx to view the full assessment.

Hopefully I have given you an inside look into the audit able components that I use to ensure that I am a humane caregiver to my cattle while also ensuring that my cattle produce safe and healthy beef for me to feed to my family and you to feed to yours.  I use this Beef Quality Assurance humane care assessment because I feel that it is the most comprehensive one available that addresses animal welfare in a practical manner and through the eyes of a calf.  It also contains a tremendous food safety element to ensure that my animals are healthy and produce healthy beef.

It ensures that I “Just Do It Right” every single day…


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A Humane Caregiver…Part 1 (Animal lover + food animal caregiver)

We have three dogs, five cats, and two horses that live at our house.  Of those ten animals, four of them were stray animals that adopted us.  I have a soft heart, and my pets receive loving care and attention.  They are, quite literally, part of the family.

I am an animal lover…

Shellie has come a long way from the frightened and neglected dog that I brought home after finding her near the feed yard 18 months ago...

Early in the fall, Shellie (one of our dogs) got into something that made her really sick.  When I rushed her to the vet (at 8:00 on a Friday night—thank goodness for small town veterinarians!), two kittens ran in front of my vehicle outside of the vet clinic.  I got out of my vehicle to move them out of the way.  Instead of running away from me, the kittens jumped into my arms.

I am an animal lover.

Tigger and Misty are the newest members of our family...

I have close to 3000 beef animals that live at my feed yard.  While these animals are food animals and not pets, they still receive quality care and attention.  They require different care than my pets at home, but that does not lessen my personal responsibility for them.

I am an animal lover.

This is an expression of curiosity. Prey animals are only curious when they feel safe and comfortable in their environment...

I go to work every morning at 6:00am so that every one of my beef animals can have breakfast delivered by 9:30am.  I honestly do not remember the last time that I was still in bed when the sun came up…

Sunrise is a magical time of day...

I put in 70 hours at the feed yard last week because that was what my animals needed.  I ran a scoop shovel, I vaccinated and exercised/acclimated three hundred newly arrived animals, I put out more 60# small square bales of prairie hay than my back wanted me too…Needless to say, it was a “calorie deficient” week for me and I may have to start cinching my belt up a bit tighter as my jeans are getting looser!

I am a dedicated animal lover…

I believe that it is an admirable vocation to raise food animals…

 I believe that I can be both an animal lover and a food animal farmer…

Her growing body needs zinc, iron, and protein...

While I love animals, I love my children more.  I believe that harvesting beef animals to feed to my children fulfills my duty as a parent to provide nutritious and wholesome food.  It is also my duty as an American farmer to provide food for other people’s children as well as my own.  I believe that my beef provides a unique protein source which ensures that my children (and yours) have enough zinc, iron, and protein to grow strong and maintain good health.

I am an animal lover…

I am a grower of food…

Calorie for Calorie, Beef makes a great tasting and nutrient filled eating experience.

Although my cattle will be harvested for food consumption, I have a high standard of care that I give to them while they are in my feed yard.  A standard of care that exemplifies my definition of  humane care as I make sure that each animals’ needs are met on a daily basis.   As a prelude to Thursday’s post where I will define humane bovine care (bovines are cattle!) and explain in more depth why I believe that I can both love animals and raise them for food, I would ask that if you have not followed Feed Yard Foodie since its inception that you go back and read two of my early posts.  They are necessary “back ground” information for our discussion of humane care



In the meantime, take a nap for me.  I am only half way through The Fall Run and could use the boost!

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