Tag Archives: humane

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!

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Filed under General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Proving That We Care…

Just a couple of weeks ago, a social media friend forwarded me an email that she had received from a reader.  The email was a cry for help from a fellow mom.  It seems that her daughter, after repeatedly watching horrific videos of animal abuse on the internet, had refused to eat any animal products.

I do not have that added challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

I do not have that added parenting challenge with my daughters because they help to raise the beef that we eat.

Concerned about both her daughter’s nutritional needs and the abusive videos, the mom was reaching out to online farmer bloggers in an attempt to find out the truth.  When I sent a link to several videos of my farm to the mom, she responded “Why can’t I find these when I search on YouTube?  These are the types of videos that we need to see!”

The short answer to that question is that search results on YouTube are ranked according to number of views.  This means that the more views a video has, the more likely that it will show up when you search a topic.  I have uploaded four “home-made” videos to YouTube over the last year—they have a total of only 1500 views.

This one is my favorite–it is my 10 year old cowgirl/chef exercising cattle at the feed yard to the tune of her favorite song “Fly Over States”.

  • I love this video because I am proud of my daughter and what a great cattle caregiver she is becoming.
  • I love this video because it shows the simplicity of good cattle handling.
  • I love this video because of the calf with the white spot on his head that kept asking Megan “do I have to” when she asked him to move.  Megan frequently looks at me asking the same question…

    Where did the trust go?

    Where did the trust go?

Twenty years ago, trust existed throughout the food production system.  Farmers were viewed positively, and those outside of the farm believed that farmers had integrity.  Today, that trust is gone.  I believe that this loss of trust is one of the biggest travesties currently affecting our great country.  Quite simply, it hurts my heart to know that many people do not trust that I care.

ProgressiveBeefLogoGreen

My brain recognizes that it is my duty to not only care, but also to document that care in an attempt to rebuild that trust.  The daily care that I offer to my animals is now accompanied by record keeping and documentation that will verify that I not only care, but that I am competent in that care.

My other job---paper work!

My other job—paper work!

Animal Care is the second pillar of the Progressive Beef program.  It is one that I believe in with every fiber of my being.  Outstanding animal care is a trademark of my feed yard.  Progressive Beef has provided me with both a documentation trail, and also a third party independent audit to bring additional integrity to my promise of high quality animal care.

Rest assured that you can feel good about feeding my beef to your family—it came from healthy and humanely raised animals.  You don’t have to just take my word for it!

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

Pablo Casals

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Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Together We Are Stronger…

I was first introduced to the concept of consumer outreach when I received the National Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year award in 2009.  I did not realize it at the time, but the award was actually the first catalyst to the creation of this blog.BQA Logo

Shortly after winning the award, I participated in the Farmer Goes to Market initiative which led me to the National Grocers Convention to speak with retailers about animal welfare.  What followed were a series of trips around the country (California, Texas, New York City etc.) speaking to groups of people that were interested in where their beef comes from.

As I sharpened my public speaking skills, the number of invitations to engagements rose until one day I realized something very important.  As much as I loved to share my farm and speak to others about how I raise beef, I loved my family and my farm even more.

They are the light of my life...

They are the light of my life…

When I traveled:

  • I missed the crooked half smile that lights up my husband’s face when I tease him.
  • I missed the laughter of my girls as we shared our day.
  • I missed the quiet dawn at the feed yard when it was just me and my animals and the work that soothes my soul.
  • I missed burying my head in my horse’s mane and breathing in his scent.
  • I missed home.

    She's a lot like her Mama...

    She’s a lot like her Mama…

This realization put me into a real quandary.  I knew that reaching out to others outside of my farm was important, but the passion that I felt for raising food was contingent on being at home with my family on the farm.  It was at this point that I began to blog—blogging was a compromise—I could still share my farm, but I could do it without leaving home…

We are all in this together...

We are all in this together…

The lingering question, then, becomes “is that enough?”.  Can I and other farmers create transparency regarding food production through social media?  I do not know the answer to that question but a group of diverse agricultural organizations have come together to help figure it out.

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

How is he cared for and how does he make beef?

This alliance, USFRA (U.S. Farmer Rancher Alliance) is working hard to offer people, like me, some additional savvy and support as we look outside of our farms and into your living rooms.

Currently, the USFRA is searching for the “Faces of Farming and Ranching” in the United States.  This is a nationwide search for a few individuals who are excited to share the story of their farm or ranch with those folks that have interest.  USFRA is in the final stages of choosing the “faces” and has it narrowed down to 9 finalists who have expressed an interest in traveling across the United States to share the story of agriculture.

Janice and her family...

Janice and her family…

I am proud to say that Janice Wolfinger has made the final cut of finalists.  Janice and her husband, Jake, together with their two daughters have both a cow herd in Ohio and a small cattle feed yard in Nebraska.  Janice is currently taking a hiatus from teaching (she is a certified FFA instructor/teacher), and is looking to continue her love of education in a different role—as a Face of Farming and Ranching.

I would like to ask you all to go to http://www.fooddialogues.com/faces-of-farming-and-ranching/janice-wolfinger and vote for Janice.  You can vote for her every day between now and December 15th.  Please help me to help Janice to have the opportunity to share her wonderful story through USFRA!

I am so thankful for Janice and her willingness to give of her time to participate in this program.  I am proud to call her a fellow cattlewoman and look forward to all of her great work on behalf of myself and the other hundreds of thousands of beef farmers in the United States.  You can also check out her blog at http://www.fortheloveofbeef.blogspot.com.

Thank you for taking the time to help!

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Beef Quality Assurance: Holistic Care…

Enjoying a beautiful sunrise while helping her Mama Thanksgiving morning at the feed yard…

This Thanksgiving holiday, my daughter Megan spent every morning with me at the feed yard.  I love it when the girls have a break from school because it makes my day to have one of them tag along with me.  I had a couple of new pens of cattle, so Megan got to help me exercise and acclimate them each morning.

I remember a few years ago when she asked me why I exercised new cattle at the feed yard.  We had a really interesting discussion about mental and emotional fitness and how each ties in with physical fitness. In the 5+ years that I have used exercising sessions to help my animals transition into a life in the feed yard, I have become a believer in the importance of this holistic care.

While the low stress handling and the cattle acclimating protocols that I use at the feed yard are not mandated in the Beef Quality Assurance program, I believe that the HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point program) which provides the basis of BQA lends itself toward a philosophy of holistic care.  HACCP dictates that protocols be in place on the farm to ensure that good consistent animal care is provided—This leads to a fewer number of challenges for the animals during their lifetime.

Quite simply, BQA is all about minimizing stress (challenges) and maximizing good health which ensures safe and healthy beef that comes from animals that have been raised humanely…

Apart from feed ingredient selection, two additional core BQA fundamentals related to animal welfare are processing/vaccination treatments and general animal husbandry.  Animal husbandry does not mean that I try to marry my animals, it is simply another term for animal welfare!

Sending cattle off the farm/ranch of origin and into the feed yard is a bit like sending your child to Kindergarten.  They will be exposed to new experiences and cattle outside of their birth herd which may cause transition stress.  In addition, they may be exposed to new diseases that have the potential to compromise health.

It is incredibly important that my animals have strong immune systems that have been properly stimulated through routine vaccination paired with good nutrition.  This begins on the home ranch and is continued once the animals arrive at my farm. I am a huge proponent of preventive care, and I trace the vaccination history of my animals throughout their lifetime.  It is imperative that my ranchers and I both keep good animal health records so that this trace back is plausible.  It is also imperative that these vaccinations be properly administered and given in a timely fashion.  BQA provides templates and educational tools for this.

My favorite 7th grader recording animal health information for a calf. BQA teaches her why this is important…

Outside of routine vaccination, another important component of preventative health is a good worming (or deworming) program.  My animals spend most of their lives eating green grass in a field.  There are many parasites that live in that grass who are happy to take up residence in the digestive tracts of the cattle.  Routine worming is a very important part of good health—it needs to occur on the ranch of origin as well as upon arrival at the feed yard.  We use an injectible wormer (given under the skin in the neck region) to take care of internal parasites and a topical wormer (spread across each animal’s back) to rid the animal of external parasites.

If you are interested in reading more about the Beef Quality Assurance program, you can find electronic documents for the program at http://www.bqa.org.  You can even be like Megan (and the rest of my crew) and go through the training and become certified!

I am going to take a brief hiatus from BQA with the next blog post before transitioning into the food safety side of BQA.  I am currently making some exciting management changes at the feed yard regarding food safety and will spend most of December talking about them.

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Animal Welfare–The Great Sea of Confusion!

When I learned that I was pregnant with my first child, I went looking for information on pregnancy.  I’ll never forget standing in a book store in Omaha open-mouthed and shocked at how many different books existed on the topic.  I was completely overwhelmed and left the book store without making a purchase.

A couple of weeks later I asked my doctor for suggestions on what books to read.  She gave me a great book that I read throughout my pregnancy.  I learned an important lesson that day—when you do not know anything about a topic, it is best to look to someone who is knowledgeable for help…

I seem to rarely be without an animal at my side–whether it is a horse or a bovine at the feed yard, or a dog or a cat at my home…

I think that the topic of animal welfare can be incredibly complex.  Many, many diverse groups and individuals have thoughts on the subject and, as a result, even getting a simple universal definition of the term is challenging.  If you were to Google the term, you are likely to get a landslide of confusing and sometimes conflicting information on the topic.

As convoluted as the term animal welfare can sometimes be, I think that the idea of good animal care is incredibly important.  I love animals. They have always played a pivotal role in my life.  Growing up I was surrounded by dogs (my dad is the ultimate dog lover), and we spent the weekends hunting for quail and ducks on ranch pasture ground about 60 miles from our home.

My brother and I, many years ago with the quail that Christie (the dog) pointed and our parents shot.  My mom makes a wonderful quail dinner…

Until I arrived in Nebraska in 1997, I personally knew of two types of animals—pets and wild game animals.  As I went to work at our cattle feed yard, I began to learn about a third type of animals:  food animals.  While I have always been an omnivore, up until that point I knew very little about raising food animals on a farm.

Fortunately, as I went to work at our feed yard, I was successful in finding good people and good information which helped me to learn appropriate care and welfare relative to this new type of animal.  It was during this transition that I began to look at the topic of animal welfare from a new perspective—from the eyes of a caregiver of food animals.

Understanding them,and understanding the goal of safe and healthy food makes me a good caregiver…

When I look back at the last 16 years, there is one program and one individual that have consistently guided me in my search to offer high quality and appropriate care to my cattle.  The program is the Beef Quality Assurance Program, and the individual is veterinarian and rumanint nutritionist Dr. Dee Griffin.  I met Dr. Griffin only a few weeks after I moved to Nebraska. His passion for “doing things right” motivated me to search for greatness on my farm—Something that I still do each and every day.

A great man—Dr. Griffin has dedicated his life to understanding good cattle welfare and mentoring others in their search to humanely raise cattle and produce high quality beef.

I am going to take a series of posts to talk about Beef Quality Assurance, and I have enlisted Dr. Griffin to help me in this journey.  I hope that by the end, you all will feel more comfortable and more knowledgeable about animal welfare relative to cattle and the production of beef.  Please feel free to ask questions—I don’t want any of you to have the same puzzled and overwhelmed expression on your faces as I did all those years ago standing in a book store looking for someone to help me through what appeared to be a great sea of confusion!

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Megan’s Dirt and Fun Before the Sun…

After almost three months of summer vacation, my three girls went back to school yesterday.  While we are all looking forward to having more of a routine to our days, I have to admit that I will miss not having them around as much.  My two favorite blondes spent quite a bit of time with me this summer at the feed yard and it will be a bit quiet with them back at school!

Enjoying a beautiful dawn at the feed yard…

One of my “summer” goals was to engage my girls and encourage them to continue learning through the summer months.  Below is a video of my favorite 10 year old emptying a pen of cattle at the feed yard at the beginning of an exercising session.  In addition to starring in the video, Megan also edited the video to include music for your entertainment.  Many of you will remember that Jason Aldean’s hit “Fly Over States” is one of my favorite songs—well, Megan likes it too!  I think that the combination of the song and her video shows clearly what happens in a “Fly Over State”.  Happy watching 🙂

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Cattle Handling 101…

Well, it is a good thing that I became a feed yard manager instead of a teacher!  Although it appears that some of you watched the video, only four of you took the interactive challenge.  Many thanks to Robert, Carol, Sherry and Bill for taking the challenge!

Last weekend, I was bemoaning to my husband the fact that my cattle handling videos do not seem to interest very many people—to this comment he replied, “Well, you need to tape the videos in your swimming suit instead of your coveralls.”  While that is an interesting thought, I believe that my years of living in a bathing suit have passed me by.  Handling cattle in a bathing suit would also go against my feed yard safety policy which requires long pants and boots.

20 years ago...

Even though the interaction part of Thursday’s post did not garner great participation, good cattle handling is such an important part of the care that I offer to my animals that I would like to take a few minutes to comment on the video…

At AL Ranch before shipping to my feed yard...

The cattle in the video came from AL Ranch.  Those of you that remember my long series of posts tracing Calf #718 last summer will remember Al and Sallie Atkins (if you missed the series of posts you can find them under the Calf #718 topic archive on the home page).  The cattle featured in the video traveled from AL Ranch to my feed yard a couple of weeks ago.  I had my husband film the beginning of the 3rd day of acclimation for the cattle.

On the 1st day of acclimation, this group of cattle were very sensitive, and I was able to send them to the back corner of the pen before even opening the gate.  They had calmed down significantly by the 3rd session, and so it required a little more energy and pressure on my part to move them away from the gate.  I walked down the bunk line swinging my outside arm with energy in order to get their attention and get them to move away from the gate.

Question #1 was True!

While I want to teach my cattle where the gate is so that they exit the pen easily, I do not want to train them to simply run out of the gate every time that it opens.  This is why I asked the cattle to move away from the gate and toward the corner of the pen before I asked them to leave the pen.

Question #2 was True!

If I had not placed some pressure on the cattle when I entered the pen, then they would have immediately left the pen—they both remembered where the gate was and were interested in leaving!  By the last day of acclimation, the cattle’s interest has changed and  they would rather stay in the pen and just wait for breakfast.  At that point, I know that the animals have attributed comfort to the home pen and I have been successful in acclimating them.

Question #3 was C. Mousey Brown!

Shortly after I entered the pen there was one animal in particular that wanted to go directly out of the gate.  I had to remind the animal a couple of times to move with the group instead of going off on her own to exit the gate.  It is very important for me (as a lone handler) to encourage my animals to move as a group.  If they do not all go together, the flow of the cattle is disrupted and it makes my job as handler very challenging.

Question # 4 was False!

While the video may have been more entertaining if I had been knocked down on my behind by this animal, that is not what occurred.  You could see, however, that I had to move fairly quickly one time to make sure that I redirected the animal toward the herd.

Question #5 was B. Straight Lines and Angles!

If you watch my movements carefully, you will see that I walk in straight lines and move in angles toward the cattle to create alternating pressure that moves the cattle in the direction that I want them to go.

Question #6 was False!

These cattle (once I let them go toward the gate where they wanted to go) have a lot of energy and move very quickly.  They have quite a bit of impulsion.  If you remember back to the last cattle video that I put up, one interesting contrast between the two sets of cattle was their level of impulsion or energy.  While the first pen moved more slowly, this pen of cattle from AL Ranch moved with a higher level of energy.

Question #7: I calmly walked away from the cattle and then applied alternate pressure as needed to manage the flow of movement. This allowed them to leave the pen with confidence.  With a group of animals that have this much energy and desire to go somewhere, once you get good movement it is important to back off and remove the pressure so the cattle stay in a learning frame of mind.  It would be easy to overstimulate cattle of this nature.

My goal is learning and communication which results in organized movement.  While the pressure is what moves the animals, it is the release that allows them to learn.  The amount of pressure that is appropriate to use when handling cattle will change with each group of animals depending on their genetic nature and their prior cattle handling experiences.  It also changes during the acclimation period as the cattle begin to learn and become more comfortable with the handler.

Question #8 was False!

I move in a zig-zag pattern behind the cattle as they trail down the alleyway.  This is an alternate pressure movement (pressure and release) that encourages the animals to continue moving in a straight line.  Cattle are unable to see the area directly behind them, so as I move in a zig-zag pattern they can see me out of the corner of each eye which allows for consistent communication.

Sharing my passion with Megan--the next generation of good cattle handlers!

My husband and children remind me frequently that I tend to be a bit long winded when I get on the subject of cattle handling.  It is a subject that I love.  I hope that my passion is contagious—otherwise you probably quit reading about 500 words ago!

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Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

We look just as young today as we did 16 years ago when this picture was taken!

I come from a long line of teachers.  My beloved Grannie taught 4th grade for 40+ years, and my amazing mom is still stimulating and educating young high school minds on the art of literary critique and essay writing.  As she so eloquently states, “my students keep me young!”. I believe that interactive learning is important, so I am inviting all of you to Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

My favorite 12 year old remarked last night that I had been doing too much pontificating lately..

I always try to follow her advice so, to mix things up a bit, I would like to do an interactive series looking at cattle handling.  Now, as you read this, you should not get that same “sinking sensation” in your stomach that you used to get when you forgot that there was going to be a quiz and showed up to science class completely unprepared…I will not be grading your efforts, and I promise that participating will be FUN!  However, the amount of FUN that we have will be contingent on your enthusiasm and willingness to participate (please don’t let me down here, this will only work if you all watch the video and answer the questions!).  I laughed to my husband last night that I could offer signed copies of the American Cattlemen magazine as Cover Girl to the folks that participate, but he looked at me like I was crazy so I scrapped that idea…

Participating is easy: Step 1: watch this video of the beginning of an exercising session with a group of cattle (it is about 4 minutes long). Step 2:  answer the questions listed below about the video.

Questions:

1. True or False: At the very beginning of the video, as I walk down the outside edge of the pen to the gate, I swing my outside arm back and forth to both get the cattle’s attention and move them away from the gate.

2. True or False: The cattle remember where the gate is located and are interested in exiting the pen.

3. The animal that challenges me right after I enter the pen, is what color? A. Black, B. Black and White, or C. Mousey Brown.

4. True or False: You can tell that the animal is challenging me because it knocks me over on my behind…

5. My walking pattern while working with the cattle is comprised of A. Circling or curved movements or B.  Straight lines and angles?

6. True or False: These cattle are very lazy and have no energy as they exit the pen in the middle of the video.

7. How do I respond when the cattle begin to walk past me and exit the pen?

8.  True or False: I walk directly down the alleyway behind the cattle without ever changing my angle to them after they leave the home pen.

Extra Credit:  Name three ways that these cattle are either similar or different than the cattle in the last cattle handling video that I put up a few weeks ago.  Here is the link to the last video if you missed it:

You can leave your answers either in the comment section of this post or send them to me privately via the Ask Me section of the blog.  Next Tuesday’s post will talk about both the video and the answers…Have FUN!

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