Tag Archives: Nebraska

Chores…

I was lucky enough to grow up down the street from my grandparents. Although they have been gone for several years now, when I think of them the word that comes to mind is devoted.  More than 70 years of marriage, the sun rose and set for them in each other.  As a little girl, I dreamed of finding a soul-mate — someone to build a life with just like my beloved Grannie and Dedaw.

Feb March 2006 017When I brought my favorite farmer to Florida for the first time, my Grannie loved him at first sight.  I still don’t know if she innately sensed that he was my one, or if she simply loved me enough to believe in my heart.  Either way, she showed me with her life that love required work — a good marriage necessitated diligently doing chores — and that the blessing of sharing your life with someone always topped the priority list.

One of the things that I love about Matt is our ability to work together in harmony.  After twenty years on the farm, I still love to do things with him. Whether we are checking fields, working on projects around the house, or building fence, we make a good team.  Matt figures stuff out, and I follow directions well 🙂

When you work well together, chores are not just a necessary part of life — they are part of what makes life fun.marchfence7.jpg

Last weekend Matt and I took down my winter horse fence.  Intermittent warm days inspire the alfalfa to green up and start to grow, so it is time to corral the horses and take them off their winter pasture. Since it snowed on Saturday, we opted to wait until Sunday to take down the electric wire fence. We traded the Saturday snow for a 35 mile an hour wind on Sunday. In hindsight, I’m not sure that we picked the correct day, but we bundled up and laughed our way through the chore.

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We brought along our favorite blondes as we’ve always maintained that families that work together find greater love together.

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We survived the wind, and finished the chore. I think perhaps the only ones pouting are the horses as they prefer their large winter grazing pasture to the corral 😉

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I spent much of the day thinking about my Grannie and Dedaw.  How my life on the farm is so different than their’s was on the Florida coast, yet how our days are actually so much the same.   When your better half provides the center of your world, love becomes much less of a chore and much more of a blessing…

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A Deer In the Headlights…

Cattle outnumber people in the state of Nebraska by a ratio of just under 4:1.  We share our great Cornhusker State with a healthy population of deer who reside amidst the 1800 miles of river ground within our boarders.

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Life on a farm leads to many miles traveled on gravel roads. Learning to drive where the pavement ends initially provided a bit of a learning curve for me, and I remember my favorite farmer giving me driving advice as I adjusted to life on the prairie. After two decades and hundreds of thousands of miles, I recently got to put his what to do when a deer jumps out on the road in front of your vehicle advice to good use…

  • Slow down as much as possible without losing control of the vehicle. 
  • Stay in the middle of the gravel road where the traction is the most consistent.
  • Hold the steering wheel with two hands and drive STRAIGHT.  Do NOT SWERVE.

 Natural human intuition often leads to swerving to avoid the collision.  Swerving results in losing tire traction on the uneven gravel and crashing the vehicle into the ditch.  It is preferable to take the deer head on which allows you to better remain in control with a solid driving surface.

It was pitch black dark the morning that a doe mule deer decided to cross the road in front of my vehicle.  The look she gave me reflected her lack of foresight and thought, but I am glad to report that I had enough to cover both of us.  I followed my favorite farmer’s advice to a T, and all ended well.

anne-ag-meg-treeAs I recounted the experience of saving both myself and the deer to my girls, I took the opportunity to turn it into a teaching moment.

  • PAY ATTENTION to the world around you.
  • TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for both your actions and the situation at large.
  • DON’T BE AFRAID to face things head on.

 Of course, the girls expressed great excitement toward their spontaneous life lesson opportunity with Mama. Now, if I can just get them to consistently wear socks and coats during the winter weather; they might be ready to go off to college in a year or two 😉

Like many of you, we reconnected with family and friends over the holiday season.  In my case, many of these awesome people lead unique lives in places vastly different than my farm on the prairie.  While I deal with deer before dawn on gravel roads dressed in blue jeans and boots, they deal with rush hour traffic while dressed in business suits.

Taking the time to appreciate the diversity in others allows our own lives to take on a new depth of meaning. In doing this, we are able to shed that deer in the headlights look and actively embrace the similarities that exist in our hearts.

**P.S. I am open to any and all advice as to how to convince my teenage daughters that physical care and comfort should come ahead of fashion.  Please leave thoughts in the comment section 🙂 —Thank you, Anne

 

 

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Benny Had a Good Life…

Likely the most often asked question by my non-farming friends is “How can you care for animals for long periods of time and then send them to their death?”

I love animals.  I love spending time around them, and I enjoy the daily interactions that go along with their care.  To be a caregiver is both a responsibility and an honor, and I am thankful to play that role. The answer to the above question exists amidst my own philosophical belief that different types of animals hold different types of purposes…

  • The stray dog that showed up one day at the feed yard lives in my house and falls under the category of “pet”.
  • The horses that live in my back yard are supposed to fall under the category of “work animal” (but likely trend closer to ‘pet status’).
  • The cattle that live at my feed yard are “food animals”.

I care for all of them with the same set of values as that is my God-given duty, but the actions of care that I provide differ depending on the animal’s purpose.   

Cattle exist to turn non-edible resources (like grass) into products that people need: a nutrient dense protein source, leather, soap/cosmetics, and human pharmaceuticals to name just a few.  They deserve a good life, but the end of life for a bovine holds a link to sacrifice as that is his express purpose.

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

Kurt and Jessa Karlberg

I’d like to take a moment to share “Benny’s story” as I think that it illustrates my answer to the above important question.

Benny was born on the Karlberg Ranch and lived briefly with his natural mother.  Sometimes Mother Nature acts harshly, and Benny was orphaned not long after birth.  He got a new “mama” by the name of Jessa Karlberg.  Jessa bottle fed Benny until he was big enough to eat grass and grow on his own.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.

bennyjessaJessa cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

When Benny weighed about 940# (14 months of age), he left the Karlberg Ranch and traveled to Will Feed.  He traded grass for a feed yard casserole, and Jessa for me as a primary caregiver.  He ate, slept, and played with herd mates.  In just over 3 months, he gained 530#.

I cared and he thrived.

Benny had a good life.

benny2-jpgLast Sunday, Jessa came to visit Benny.  A couple of days later, I “put him on the bus” to head 20 miles down the road to the Tyson packing plant.  Benny fulfilled his purpose, and offered 1450# of products to nourish and provide for all of us.  By fulfilling his purpose, Benny returned all of the care that Jessa and I offered to him during his lifetime.

Benny had a good life.

Benny’s life resulted in products that, in turn, ensure that each of us has a good life. There is honor in that story. There is honor in Benny’s gift.

I think that it is time for all of us to celebrate the reality of food production — To have faith in the farmers and ranchers that dedicate their lives to raise animals like Benny. When we are thankful for the gift, we ultimately respect the sacrifice.

It’s okay to think of Benny, Jessa, and I when you eat a steak.  Benny had a good life; and Jessa and I worked hard so that you could reap the benefit 🙂

 

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan 🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him 🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.

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An Aggie’s Time in Cozad…

In the just three short weeks that I spent with the Foodie Family, I was able to learn more than I ever expected. Anne was such an amazing mentor to me and her family’s hospitality made it seem like home. I’d like to take this last blogging opportunity to thank them for hosting me and reflect on my time spent in Cozad and the experiences I had.

As I mentioned briefly in my first post, An Aggie in Nebraska… , the main goal of my visit was to take full advantage of a learning opportunity. Having spent the past 4 years at Texas A&M University earning a degree in Animal Science, I felt that I was well equipped with knowledge to enter into the cattle industry. I had a toolbox full of practical skills and knowledge acquired through a diverse array of classes and hands on learning opportunities but one key aspect was missing… real world experience.

Like any traditional student graduating from a 4-year university after high school, I didn’t exactly have a lot of down time to experience the ins and outs of the industry firsthand.

You never truly understand something until you are fully submerged in it, and that’s what I hoped this trip would bring about.

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While my three weeks doesn’t come close to Anne’s 20 years in the business, I think she did a great job including me in every aspect of the operation. We spent many mornings at the office, something she wouldn’t necessarily say she enjoys compared to working with the cattle, but it’s all part of the job.

While there she used everything as a teaching opportunity as she went about her daily tasks, sharing her own personal experiences and lessons she’s learned over the years. She always worked hard to directly apply it to my future career desires of running a cow-calf operation.

From budgeting and planning to understanding where the industry is headed as a whole, to government regulations, audits, and taxation — she certainly covered all the bases. She even offered advice on juggling work and family as well as the importance of playing a role in your community, and how she’s able to make it all work.

On the feedyard side of things, I had the opportunity to take part in reading bunks every morning, receiving, processing, and exercising new cattle, shipping fat cattle, moving calves to pasture, operating the feed truck and much more.

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Most importantly though, I was able to witness a well run business. In my mind, a successful business is not only measured by their bottom-line but also their integrity and the way they treat their employees. It was evident that every employee loved their job at Will Feed. Regardless of the situation, I repeatedly saw everyone work together as a team each day all while treating the cattle with the utmost respect.

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I cannot thank Anne and her Foodie Family (including those at the feedyard) enough for all that they have taught me while I was here. From farming to feedyard and everything in between, my time in Cozad was full of new experiences!

A few of the big take-home messages:

  1. “Two wrongs don’t make a right”
  2. Always stay humble
  3. Listen to your animals
  4. There are many ‘practical applications of math’ throughout the day
  5. Nothing smells quite as good as the alfalfa dehy plant on a long run

 

-Emily

*The photos throughout this post are a few of my favorites taken while receiving weaned calves earlier this week.

 

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Going to Grass, An Aggie in Nebraska, Summer weather on the prairie, Swim Team!

About ten years ago, our farm purchased about 600 acres of grass pasture south and west of the feed yard.  We use this grass pasture to graze lighter weight animals in the summer months as well as to harvest prairie hay to feed during the winter months.  After a cold and wet spring, the grass has finally grown enough to start grazing so we spent last Thursday going to grass with 134 fall calves.

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While I truly enjoying caring for cattle in a feed yard, I also love to utilize the unique resources on our pasture ground to grow calves on grass.  These animals will spend the summer season grazing and then will head back to the feed yard when Mother Nature begins to shut down for the year.  The animals typically weigh 600# when they go to grass and hopefully will weigh about 750# when they come home in August.

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In addition to going to grass, the Feed Yard Foodie family welcomed Emily, a graduate student at Texas A & M University, this week on the farm.  Emily hosted Megan and I when we traveled down to Aggieland last fall, and will spend three weeks in Nebraska with us this summer.  She arrived on the 16th and we spent the week learning to read bunks, shipping cattle, processing calves, and then taking these fall calves to grassEmily took most of the pictures included in this post as I am trying to inspire her to take up blogging during her remaining two years in the ruminant nutrition department at Texas A & M.

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Emily thinks that her sweatshirt is her best friend in Nebraska, and we are all hoping that she brought some of the Texas warmth with her 🙂  While the prolific moisture received in April and May helped to turn the grass green, the cold temperatures that accompanied it made the start of our growing season tardy according to the calendar.  My favorite farmer is antsy for a few heat units and drying days so that seeds will germinate and his alfalfa will grow.

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I am hoping to get Emily to write a “guest blog post” or two over the next couple of weeks — giving a glimpse into the Feed Yard Foodie farm from a different perspective.  We are laughing that she is very brave to join the general mayhem at our house which is likely to be more challenging than working at the feed yard…

On the home front over the past week, the girls finished up the spring track and soccer seasons.  Ashley Grace’s 4 X 800 relay team competed in the Nebraska State High School Championships, Megan garnered 3rd place finishes in Pole Vault and the 4 X 100 relay at the Nebraska State Junior High Championships, and Karyn earned gold medals in the 400 and 800 at a couple of local track meets as well as finishing up her spring soccer season.

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After 12 years, I hung up my soccer coaching hat last weekend.  Today, I put on my swim team coaching hat to kick off the start of the swim team season. Emily seems to be game to do anything as long as I don’t ask her to jump in the pool when it is 50 degrees outside…

The entire Haymaker Swim Team is hopeful that each of you will send warm weather out to the prairie as they have a really mean coach who makes them swim regardless of the temperature!

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Track Season in Nebraska…

In Florida, track season is filled with heat and afternoon thunderstorms.  The humidity grabs at you with a consistent tug from March to the end of May.  I ran the two mile, and remember hoping that my races fell in the evening rather than during the full sun of the afternoon.

In Nebraska, track season is filled with wind, snow, cold rain, and the occasional bout of warmth.  It provides a completely different experience for the athletes with a frequently changing set of environmental elements.  The weather toughens the competitors and gives them a firm appreciation for the nice days that occasionally align with the track meet schedule.

With three girls competing in track at three different levels, my favorite farmer and I spend a lot of afternoons/evenings at meets.  It is fortunate that we are track junkies and love every minute of it 🙂

As we prepare to finish up the second straight week with four meets to attend, I remind myself how awesome it is to watch my girls and their teammates fight for success.  Ashley Grace and Megan both made the record board last week — Ashley Grace in her high school 4 X 800 meter relay, and Megan in the junior high pole vault.

A big smile before the relay...

A big smile before the relay…There was an even bigger one after the run!

It’s always fun to continue to legacy of Burkholder record holders for the Cozad Haymakers.  The girls watched their dad’s 20 year old sprinting records fall a few years ago, and are now enjoying teasing him that they took his place on the record board…

Megan sailing over 9′ — #cowgirlsmakegoodpolevaulters

 Ashley Grace and her team head to the Class B Districts today with aspirations of competing in Omaha next week at the Nebraska State High School track meet.  Megan will end her junior high career pole vaulting Saturday at the Nebraska State Junior High track meet.  Karyn finally will trade the bleachers for the track on Sunday competing in the high jump, 400 and 800 meter runs.  After watching her sisters for 8 weeks, she is ready to be an athlete instead of a spectator!

As for Matt and I, we will celebrate the awesomeness of our girls as we proudly watch them travel down the road to excellence.  I might also be found teasing my favorite farmer as my name still appears on my high school record board 🙂

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From Ranch to Plate: The Beginning of the Cattle Life Cycle…

I remember when my favorite father-in-law first introduced me to the cattle business.  Matt and I were still living in New Hampshire, but we flew to Kansas City to attend the 1996 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention.  The *plan* was to move back to Nebraska to the farm the following June, and I was badly in need of a basic cattle education.  As was the case for many city folk, I thought cattle went from the pretty green grass pasture straight to the package of beautifully marbled Certified Angus Beef steak that my dad loved to grill…

It never really occurred to me to even think about everything that went into making that awesome tasting steak until those first few days at the NCBA convention.  Twenty years later, I am well versed on the complicated process of beef production that begins on a cow-calf ranch and ends at the grocery store.  I know that it takes teamwork, a dedication to caring, and a disciplined and respectful use of natural resources.

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Fifteen years ago, I took over the job of procuring cattle for the feed yard.  I set out looking for ranchers who wanted to partner with me — sharing information that allowed for the improvement of both animal welfare and beef quality at the first two levels of beef production: the ranch and the feed yard.  I was finding success personally as a calf caregiver, and I realized how much better the lives of my cattle would be if I could better organize a holistic lifetime care program that included ranchers who shared my vision.  The make up of resources on our farm did not allow for a cow-calf herd, so I set out to find ranchers who wanted to collaborate with me and follow their calves from birth to harvest.

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The majority of cattle in the United States spend the first 8-14 months grazing on grass pastures and growing from about 70 pounds (at birth) to approximately 600-700#.  Grass is a wonderful resource and a critical component to raising beef.  More than half of Nebraska’s landmass (23 million acres) is made up of these grasslands where the soil and topography allows only for the growth of prairie grasses.  Cattle, as ruminant animals, have a digestive tract that is made up of four compartments which allows for them to be tremendously efficient grass converters.  This capability provides a core component in our effort as farmers to convert a non-edible resource (grass) into a nutrient packed and great tasting human protein source (beef).

The list of ranchers that I work with has grown over the years, and my partnership with them allows for better animal care and a smaller environmental footprint in our journey of beef production.  Our animals remain healthier both allowing for a more efficient conversion of feed resources, and a smaller antibiotic use footprint.  Tracing the performance of the animals from birth all of the way into the packing plant allows for genetic changes to improve beef quality, taste, and tenderness.  In short, together we get smarter as farmers, and our animals get more efficient and produce a higher quality beef product.

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The Evert family is one of my cow-calf ranching partners.  I met Virginia Evert when she went to work at Eastside Animal Center as a vet tech in 2002.  Four years ago, she left the vet clinic to work full time ranching with her cousin and raising their families.  I do not often get to work with women, and I consider it one of my greatest pleasures to work with Virginia and Rachel and their families.

Evertcalves9a.jpgIt is easy to work with people who share your values.

Evertcalves12a.jpgIt is easy to partner with those who teach their animals confidence and curiosity.

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It refills my cup to watch the improvement that Virginia, Rachel and I can make each year in our journey helping that great tasting steak get from the grass pasture to the meat case.

You can read more about the Evert Family through this blog series featured in Black Ink with CAB by Miranda Reiman:

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2015/10/23/following-the-calves-everything-evert/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2015/10/31/following-the-calves-a-success-story-in-the-making/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2016/01/20/following-the-calves-the-herd-changer/

http://www.blackinkwithcab.com/2016/02/24/following-the-calves-decisions-decisions/

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, General