Tag Archives: natural resources

Good Timing…

As winter hints of an end and spring draws my crocuses out of the ground, I spend time putting together my spring shipment schedule. The growing season in Nebraska dictates that many bovines leave the home ranch in the late fall when Mother Nature signals the end of the growing season. After wintering at my feed yard, spring and summer finds these animals ready to make beef.

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Good timing enables the ultimate goal as both the environmental footprint of my farm and the quality of my beef rely on my instincts of when to ship cattle to the packing plant.

My judicious dedication to timely cattle shipment makes me a good farmer.

It ensures that an optimal amount of resources (animal feed and water) creates the ultimate nutrient packed, great tasting beef product that we feed to our families.

If I do not feed my cattle long enough, then their beef may be less tender and not provide the best eating experience. If I feed them too long, then the additional resources of my farm are turned into fat that must be trimmed off of the meat before it is packaged to sell to you. I honor the resources of my farm as well as my customers when I do it right; and I get a report card from the packing plant each time that I ship cattle.

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture...

Many thanks to Miranda Reiman for taking this picture…

There are two main components to figuring the optimal time to ship a group of cattle:

  1. Looking at the numbers.
  2. Looking at the cattle.

I feed cattle off of the same ranches almost every year, so I start the process of figuring a shipment date by looking at the report card from the previous year. Did I get an “A” last year, or do I need to make changes to the feeding plan?

I then look at the:

  • Initial weight of the animals when they arrive at the feed yard from the home ranch
  • The estimated average daily gain (which I calculate looking at past years’ performance)
  • The appropriate shipment weight of the animals based on the genetics, age, and phenotype

Using these three numbers, I can theoretically predict the appropriate shipment date. As much as perfection would make life on the farm easier, weather often wreaks havoc with a good plan. Consequently, it is very important to look at each group of animals after figuring the numbers (keeping in mind the weather patterns of the recent months) to make sure that life in the real world fits the plan drafted on paper.

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Good timing relative to shipping cattle to the packing plant is both an art and a science. It also requires an inherent desire to be a responsible steward as market conditions may often tempt a cattle feeder to not remain dedicated to timely shipments.

I view good timing as one of the ways that my farm excels at sustainability and the judicious use of resources…

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, General

What is a Beta Agonist?

A beta agonist works to relax smooth muscle tissue.  In humans, it is used to treat or prevent breathing problems that result from asthma or other airway diseases.  My daughter, Karyn, uses an albuterol inhaler before athletic events—this is an example of a beta agonist.  By relaxing the smooth muscle tissue in the airway, albuterol allows air to flow in and out of her lungs more easily.

Yes, it was cold enough Friday to warrant the stocking cap…Especially since she had just finished swimming practice 🙂

The use of an albuterol inhaler is new for Karyn.  Those of you that followed Feed Yard Foodie last November and December will remember that she became very ill and was hospitalized with pneumonia over Thanksgiving weekend.  My baby (she may be 7, but she’s still my baby!) got very sick, and her respiratory system still has not fully healed.  While there appears to be no permanent damage to her lungs, the tissue in her airway has not fully recovered which impedes her ability to move oxygen in and out of her lungs.

Go Kare-Bear Go!

Because she is such a tremendous little athlete, this challenges her.  She is my most “stoic” child, and never complains.  But, as I watched her run early this spring when athletics started up again after a winter hiatus, I could see her struggle to breathe.  When I initially took her to the doctor, she was only getting a 60% supply of oxygen into her lungs.  After an intensive two week treatment, we got her up to 80%.  She is on the right track, but it will take time for her to fully heal.  Until then, her albuterol inhaler will be a part of our athletic routine.

Setting the meet record in the 200M Saturday in Hastings, Nebraska…

Modern medicine and medical technology is amazing.  The first beta agonist became available for human use in 1968, and it has revolutionized the lives of asthma patients or other people like Karyn that have a temporary condition which impedes oxygen flow.

Animal scientists often look to human medical advancements for new ideas.  Animal scientists and food animal caregivers are constantly looking for ways to improve.  Whether you are talking about improvement in animal care, improvement in food quality and safety, or improvement in the use of resources necessary to grow that food; we constantly search for ways to get better.

I raise them to make beef—I am always looking for ways to do a better job. That sets both my animals up for success and also, you, the consumer of my beef.

A couple of decades after the first beta agonist became available for use in human medicine, animal researchers began looking for ways that they could be beneficial on farms growing food.  They discovered that a beta agonist could allow cattle to increase lean muscle (what we want to eat), and decrease fat deposition (what we do not want to eat) all while enabling them to use fewer pounds of feed to make more pounds of human food.

It is my job to be a responsible grower of food…Technology helps me to do this!

Thursday’s post will talk in more depth about the role that beta agonists play in improving the beef that I grow on my farm.  Which one do I use?—Why do I choose to use it?—How does it work?—How does it affect my animals and the beef that they make?

Family time on the track last Saturday—minus my favorite 12 year old who was competing in Tennessee at the Global Finals for Destination Imagination…

Beta agonists play an important role on my farm—Just as they play an important role in allowing my youngest daughter to continue with her love of athletics while her respiratory tract completes the healing process.

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Filed under Antibiotics, hormones, and other growth promotants..., General

Learning To Understand The Balance of Life…

One of the things that I love most about my husband is his natural tendency to think and problem solve.  Whether it is figuring out how a piece of equipment works as he uses it, thinking of ways to improve our farm, or struggling through social and political issues; he is a natural intellectual and inspires me daily. He never takes anything at face value, and digs deep when researching a topic.  My children roll their eyes and groan when they ask a simple question and get a detailed chemistry lesson from their daddy in return…

Matt and his captive lecture audience...

When I think of two words to describe a farmer, realistic and pragmatic come to mind.  Farming is an inherently “hands on” profession and is beholden to both science and the local natural resources of an area.  It is also intrinsically tied to the cycle of life.  Our goal, as farmers, is simply to ensure life and grow things.  When we fail to accomplish our goal, we are faced with a sobering glimpse of death. Whether it is the death of an animal or the death of a crop, it is an experience that is long remembered and provides great motivation for continual improvement.

On our farm, we have many things that are alive…

*Our family and our employees…

*Our cattle…

*Our crops (at least during the growing season)…

*Our soil…

The cycle of life on our farm can only continue as each one of these things works together to nurture each of the other things.  If any of the above four components are lost, then the cycle is broken.  Maintaining balance is like putting the pieces of a jig saw puzzle together.

Our family and our employees provide labor to convert our resources into food for human and animal consumption. Both plants and animals need a number of macro nutrients in large quantities to operate their metabolisms and build their bodies.  The important ones are carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A farmer takes molecules that are organized in a low energy state and reorganizes them into forms that have energy that are ultimately available and usable to humans.

A little intelligence and labor combined with a seed and healthy soil is the first step...

Add water and solar energy and the corn plant grows...

The same is true for alfalfa...

A balanced meal for cattle is made from the corn and the alfalfa...

The cattle eat the feed and grow...

The cattle are harvested to produce a digestible human nutrient packed protein source...

Soil samples are taken after crop harvest to determine how many additional nutrients are necessary to maintain a healthy soil for the growth of the next crop...Fertilizer samples are also taken to provide the rest of the information so that Matt can determine how much fertilizer to apply on each field by tying the needs of the soil to the nutrient levels of the fertilizer...

Natural fertilizer (indigestible nutrients of mainly phosphorus, nitrogen, and other organic matter) is recycled and applied to the farm ground to keep the soil healthy for a new crop...

In this way, water plus carbon dioxide are recombined with other nutrients and used to create starch/sugar/proteins for human use.  While I have simplified the process, the core components necessary for understanding are explained. It takes precise and intelligent human labor to properly combine resources and efficiently grow food.  In 2012, this puzzle has an added challenge.  Less than 2% of the population are actively involved in the reorganization of these nutrients into food.  The resulting limit in labor creates a necessity of efficiency.

To me, the big question is: How do I know that I am caring for the soil and the natural resources that are available to me while I reorganize them to make food?  The answer is simple: look and observe…test and measure…focus on the details and continually improve…

We test the soil.

We test the fertilizer.

We measure our yields (both crops and cattle).

Every single growing cycle…

Here are examples of test sample sheets for fields that we are currently spreading fertilizer on–getting ready for the next growing cycle in 2012. We get these back from the lab when we test the farm ground and the fertilizer produced by my animals…

Soil Sample Fall 2011

Manure Sample fall 2011

Matt takes this information to match up the soil and crop needs with the nutrients of the fertilizer…Below is a sample document from a field that we spread fertilizer on prior to the last growing cycle. This shows how we make sure that we did it correctly…

Brownfield manure application report winter 2011

The goal is healthy soil, abundant crops, healthy animals and nutritious beef for my family and for yours!

Raising food--it's a family affair on our farm...

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Filed under CAFO, Environmental Stewardship