Tag Archives: Leadership

Who will be the Scott Frost of the beef industry?

I got to know Dr. Richard Raymond serving on Tyson Fresh Meat’s Farm Check animal wellbeing committee. A native of the Nebraska Sandhills, Doc served as Undersecretary for Food Safety at the US Department of Agriculture from 2005-2008. A blended background in medical practice, food production, and regulatory savvy makes for an interesting perspective and Doc has a natural ability to always leave me thinking…

Last weekend, I popped open my facebook account to find a Feedstuffs article that he authored. The title “Frost Returns to Nebraska” caught my attention as any true Nebraskan is aware that the Cornhuskers recently hired Coach Scott Frost to lead our football team back to greatness.  A former Husker quarterback, Frost led Nebraska to its last national championship game twenty years ago. I remember it vividly as it was my first football season on the farm in Nebraska.

The Big Red Nation has gathered around Coach Frost in support, and the hope of a return to greatness permeates the hearts of the 1,896,190 residents that call the Cornhusker state home. I never understood the united pull of loyalty toward a football team until I moved to Husker country. It seems that all 77,220 square miles of prairie bleeds red on game day as fans from all across the state unite to cheer on their boys of fall.

Doc raised an interesting challenge in his article:

Who will lead the beef industry to united greatness so that we can effectively communicate with our customers and build trust in our product?

It is no secret that the beef industry struggles for unity on a vast array of issues with over 900,000 independent farmers and ranchers that care for over 93 million animals. It takes an average of 2 years to bring beef from farm to fork, and many animals have multiple owners across their lifetime. The complex lifecycle of beef results from a unique blend of resources needed to bring the animals from a birth weight of approximately 75# to a final weight in the neighborhood of 1300#.

It takes a team of people to care for a calf across his lifetime; and politics divide the beef industry in much the same way that they currently antagonize the unity of our great Nation.

  • A divided nation struggles to tell its story.
  • A divided nation creates internal chaos which drowns out the voices of its customers.
  • A divided nation fails to achieve as high a level of efficiency when striving to work for continuous improvement.

In the twenty years since Scott Frost led the Huskers to the National Championships, I’ve often wondered what it would take to create a unified effort of cattlemen across the United States. The majority of us agree on so many important things:

  • Quality animal welfare
  • A strong focus on food safety
  • A need to care for the environment
  • The importance of transitioning our farms/ranches across generations so that our children can carry on the tradition of raising food.

The list is long and the importance of success cannot be understated. Within each of those above topics lies a long list of subtopics as we strive to responsibly raise a quality beef product.

Does any one person exist that can unite us in our search for greatness?

I don’t know, but I can tell you that it will take a team of dedicated individuals to deal with the challenge of building trust with our customers.

Together we are stronger.

Learning to listen, pool our ideas, and create viable production changes to meet customer asks will determine the success of the industry over the next twenty years. I don’t want to lose my ability to create a memorable family dinner centered around a delicious steak any more than the die-hard Husker Nation plans to let the tradition of victory fall by the wayside.

Scott Frost provides the beginning to a great Husker game plan –

Who will be the Scott Frost of the beef industry?


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

The Drill Sergeant…

My children call me a Drill Sergeant, although a swimming recruiting trip to West Point as a senior in high school is as close as I have ever come to being in the military.  Since I cannot fathom that my 5’3” and 110 pound frame is physically imposing, I suppose it is my confident and no nonsense manner that inspires the nickname.

The Drill Sergeant...

I tell my children that “you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything”.

I had an experience last week at the feed yard that brought this saying (as well as my nick name) to the forefront of my mind…

This animal is ready for harvest...

When my cattle are ready for harvest, I sell them to a packing plant.  While the vast majority of my cattle are marketed through U.S. Premium Beef on a value added and carcass merit (value) basis, I do have a small number of animals that are unable to be Age and Source Verified that I sell as commodity cattle to a different packing plant.  Commodity cattle are animals that do not have anything that makes them unique—they are not value added, and will be marketed as generic cattle/beef.  I sold a pen of commodity cattle last week, and I sold them on a Live Basis.  Those of you that followed my long series of posts tracing Calf #718 from birth to harvest are aware of the way that I market my value added and Age and Source Verified cattle (https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/calf-718-becomes-beef/).

When I sell a pen of commodity cattle on a live basis, I get paid simply on the pounds of live animal weight at the time of shipment.  In other words, the cattle are weighed when they are loaded onto the semi-trucks and that weight is multiplied by a negotiated price and that is the payment that I receive for the cattle.  When you sell a pen of cattle on a live basis, the packing plant both sets the shipment schedule and arranges the semi-trucks to carry the cattle to harvest.  Although these animals are not sold on a carcass value basis, they still produce safe and healthy beef and their care is of the up-most importance to me.

We start feeding early in the morning so that every one of our animals has "breakfast" delivered by 9:30am.

I began my day last Thursday morning by reading bunks and establishing a feeding schedule for the cattle in the feed yard.  I then exercised a pen of newly arrived cattle just as the sun came up.  After this, my cowboy and I prepared to ship the pen of commodity cattle to harvest.  Unfortunately, what should have been an easy transition of animals onto the semi-truck became a challenging experience for this Boss Lady turned Drill Sergeant.

One of the three truck drivers hired by the packing plant to carry my cattle to harvest did not share my philosophy that animal handlers should be calm and level headed.  He was upset about the circumstances and timing of the shipment and lost his temper… So what did a 5’3” and 110 pound female drill sergeant do with a 6’1” and 250+ pound angry male truck driver when it became obvious that he was not in control of himself?

I told him to leave my property and did not load my animals on his truck.

 Something in my steady and steal-like gaze must have penetrated his anger because he left without further argument.

 He returned to my feed yard an hour later in a much calmer frame of mind.  His boss arrived shortly there after to ensure that professional behavior would prevail, and we loaded the truck.

Here is a semi-truck backed up to my loading chute and ready to receive animals to be transported to harvest...

I believe that calm and rational people make good cattle handlers.  I believe that it is my job as Boss Lady and Humane Caregiver to ensure that my crew and I work with people that share a rational frame of mind.  This was a very challenging situation to deal with, and I was glad for both my drill sergeant nature and my commitment to “stand for what I believe in”.  My safety, the safety of my cowboy, and the safety of my animals relied on my ability to effectively handle the situation.

So, what is the moral of the story?  Be true to your core values, and stand firmly for what you believe in.  Good leadership is marked by confident, rational, and steadfast commitment…No matter what your physical stature is!


Filed under Foodie Work!, General

What makes a leader?

Last week I asked for reader feedback as to what were important human qualities for “prey animal leaders” and “caregivers”.  As I compiled the answers that I received, I noticed a few things: 1.The answers from all three commenters had the same feel to them, 2. The qualities named also make good leadership skills for people, and 3. Since only three people commented, I must be intimidating!

Let’s recap those qualities…

  1. Put the wellbeing of others ahead of your own needs.
  2. Cow Time, Cow Think, Cow Motivation, and Cow Watching—all of these require using empathy and understanding in order to place yourself in some one or some calf’s “world”.  Do you understand how a calf (or other person) thinks and accept that it is not the same as the way that you think?  Do you understand that cattle have no sense of “time” or “schedule” (come to think of it, two of my daughters do not either!)?  Do you understand what motivates the calf or the person?  Can you watch and observe others (either calf or human) in order to figure out “what makes them tick” and how they interact with others and the world around them?
  3. Find joy in what you do and in the beautiful outdoors that you are blessed to live in.
  4. Your brain is the most important tool!  It can overcome challenges of all kinds.
  5. Be calm
  6. Be confident
  7. Be consistent
  8. Be firm (the boss!)
  9. Have focus
  10. Get creative instead of getting frustrated or giving up.

I have found over the years that my experience understanding and handling cattle (and horses) has really improved my ability to handle people because it has improved my empathy toward others as well as my ability to “think outside the box”.  If you have ever coached a t-ball team comprised of  five year old children, I am sure that you can recognize the importance of many of the qualities listed above!

One more thought for the day…I read the book Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints quarterback) last year.  It is a fabulous book and has many really great quotes in it.  In the book he states that one of his favorite quotes is, “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying”.  Do you lead with your mouth or do you lead with your actions?  An interesting question to ponder…

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General