Tag Archives: progressive beef

A Feed Yard is Like a Home…

My favorite farmer and I moved into our house early summer of 1997 when we made the trek back to Nebraska from New Hampshire. The building sits on the corner of one of our family’s farms about a mile north of town.  We added onto it when my favorite blonde cowgirl was born, and built a large shop to complement the farmstead several years ago. As is the case for many people, our home has become more than just a building framework.  It is a reflection of Matt and I and the family that we have been blessed with over the past 20 years.

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In my new role at the Beef Marketing Group, I spend time in a variety of feed yards working on the Progressive Beef quality management system. While most of my efforts concentrate on the five feed yards located in Nebraska, I do sometimes travel to Kansas. As I was driving home from a feed yard in Kansas Tuesday night, it occurred to me that a feed yard is like a home. Similar to my house, it has structure from both a physical and management standpoint, but the sum of its total parts is much greater than that framework alone.

Each feed yard is a home — It carries a unique personality created by the families who work there.

All of our feed yards operate under the Progressive Beef program.  Just like the framework of my house, the required 42 Standard Operating Procedures build a healthy foundation. The accountability provided by the auditing process strengthens that foundation and verifies good daily animal care.  It is an incredibly successful system and makes for a solid “house”. I truly believe that it’s people, in combination with systems, that create culture and atmosphere.  What makes the Beef Marketing Group so successful is the combination of the Progressive Beef framework with the personal touch of the families that work in our feed yards.

The blend of our program and our people turns the structurally strong house into a comfortable home.

I prefer to live not just in a house, but in a home: a place that reflects my personality and core values. My girls would likely report that (at times) their mother acts similarly to a loving Drill Sargent. But, I think that they also would say that order is preferable to chaos, and that when everyone in the family plays an important role in maintaining the home that it is a pretty awesome place to live!

I have been a believer in the system of Progressive Beef for years.  It prioritizes the crew’s focus on the animal’s needs, and holds everyone accountable for their role on the feed yard team. The unique blend of both internal and 3rd party audits allows for a dual layer of accountability that leads to both teaching moments and continuous improvement as well as verification to our customers that feed yard team members provide the high quality animal care that is our trademark.

Verified. Trusted. Sustainable.

With each day that passes, I become even more of a believer in our people. When I was the boss lady at my own feed yard, I could testify to the awesomeness of my crew @ Will Feed.  In my new job, I am getting to know many more feed yard crews.  I can report that our people make me smile and give me hope for the future. It is truly a pleasure to help these great folks work for excellence in cattle care.  As I head home at the end of the day, it certainly inspires me to eat a great tasting steak 🙂

 

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Filed under General, ILS Beef / Beef Marketing Group

Finding a New ‘Normal’…

Monday afternoon I spent time in a BMG feed yard before heading to Lincoln to the University of Nebraska.  That evening and Tuesday morning found me hanging out with graduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.   Tuesday afternoon I lectured on campus before driving back home in the evening.  It was a fun couple of days on the road, and I always find that I learn something every time that I leave my farm.

The topic of my lecture was “Sustainability, Responsibility, and the Art of Balance”.

  • Sustainability provides one of the biggest buzz words of 2017.
  • Responsibility often finds it’s way into current conversations about food production.
  • The Art of Balance applies to both the discussion of agriculture’s needed commitment to people, animals, and planet; as well as my own personal agricultural journey.

I really enjoy college public speaking gigs.  Our students are our future and if I can find a way to inspire them and aid them on their journey, then I am playing a positive role which refills my cup. While on campus, I fielded many questions about closing the feed yard and my new life and job with the Beef Marketing Group. My answer generally started with the words “I am finding a new normal…”  When you make a life change after twenty years, things look different on a daily basis.

I am happy to report that I am thriving amidst the chaos of change.  You’d have to ask my new boss about my performance on the job, but I can say that I am learning and finding my place as a new member of an awesome team.  I am spending some quality time in the five feed yards that I consult with relative to the Progressive Beef program.  This helps to fulfill the feed yard junkie part of Anne.  While I do miss the daily chore interaction with bovines, I am a short month away from moving cattle from a neighboring ranch to our grass pasture and sharing some of those chores with my foreman and my favorite pair of blonde cowgirls 🙂

Likely the best thing that I can report is that I have regained the natural optimism that makes me Anne.  This reclamation comes from attaining a better sense of balance in my life.

  • Time spent with family.
  • Meaningful volunteer hours spent with high school students who need support as they learn accountability and the art of making good choices… 
  • A healthy commitment to exercise that improves both my mental and physical fitness.
  • A work environment that leaves me feeling as though what I do is meaningful, while also allowing me the freedom from worry at the end of the day.

I believe that life is full of purposeful paths. Sometimes it takes some soul searching to figure out which fork in the road to take, but I believe that God has a plan. There is a sense of freedom that comes from packing your FAITH and following that plan.  Over the past few months, I have found a sense of peace that eluded me for several years. Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Saw God Today”. I think that I am finally to a place where I can live George Straight’s famous song. I know that it is up to me to hold myself accountable to maintaining that balance on into the future; but I can report that finding it has provided a sweet spot 🙂

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Auditing…

annebunkpb2I will never forget my first experience with a Progressive Beef audit. While our feed yard had participated in the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment for several years, my veterinarian filled the role of auditor under that voluntary educational program.  The Progressive Beef Quality Management System took auditing to an entirely new level for my crew and I.  While it ultimately provided a tremendous tool for improvement, opening my farm to an “outside auditor” made me uncomfortable.

My feed yard was my pride and joy, and my crew like family.  I am a perfectionist and hold myself to a very high level of accountability. A comprehensive audit often finds imperfection as it is designed to measure performance to a high level of detail.  It is my nature to take things personally and I viewed every infraction (no matter how small) as a slight on my own leadership.

The rational part of my brain recognized that growth and continuous improvement involved measuring performance at a detailed level. The metrics of the audit forced me to face imperfection.  The intellectual Anne knew that the road to excellence was never comfortable, and that perfect practice made perfect performance. The emotional Anne dreaded audit day.

Over the years that Will Feed participated in the Progressive Beef QMS, I learned that the positives of the audit outweighed the negatives.  The effectiveness of the tool as a means for continuous improvement significantly outweighed my personal stress. I’d like to report that I learned to relax, but I preach to my kids that integrity trumps all so I am simply going to say that I learned to accept the reality of audit day 😉

 Somewhere along the way, I recognized that audit meant: 

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  • Human nature insists that we perform better when we are held accountable for our actions.
  • True understanding comes when you realize that the little things count.  Dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s really does raise the level of care that you offer to your animals. Animals matter so details had better matter.
  • Daily dedication to a goal of excellence builds a positive culture. When you are dedicated to caring, awesome things happen.
  • Integrity is the voice that sits on your shoulder when you make decisions. You are more likely to listen to it when you live amidst a culture of excellence. Caregivers with integrity bring honor to the farm and lead to responsibly raised food.
  • Trust in our food supply plays a critical role in the stability of our country.  Verification of care inspires trust.  If it matters to you, it had better matter to me. We’re in this together.

One of the responsibilities for my new job is becoming a Progressive Beef auditor.  I am in the process of changing my position relative to who holds the clipboard.  I am hopeful that my past experience as feed yard boss lady will enable me to empower the feed yard crews that I audit to believe in the heart and spirit of an audit.

Getting better matters.  It involves accountability, understanding, dedication, integrity and trust; and results in a level of animal care that brings pride to the vocation of raising food.

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Pursuing Excellence…

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Our Dartmouth College swim team shirts boasted the saying Pursuing Excellence across the back.  It provided a good fit for me as I have always felt the need to raise the bar.

My favorite farmer laughs and tells me that my standards are too high –To which I remind him that I am hardest on myself so everyone else should be in good shape 😉

Managing a feed yard for twenty years taught me the critical importance of a good team.  When you care for thousands of animals, it is impossible to do the job without the help of others.  Because the welfare of those animals is dependent on you, anything less than excellence in care is unacceptable.

A willingness to unselfishly give your all while simultaneously inspiring others to do the same allows for success.

Last week we shipped the final pen of cattle from our feed yard, and I officially started a new journey. I joined the team of Innovative Livestock Services and the Beef Marketing Group. BMG is a cooperative of feed yards in Kansas and Nebraska that operate under the Progressive Beef QMS.  My feed yard spent the last four years as a member of this coop and, during that time, I discovered a group of kindred spirits.

The mission statement of my new team states:

Combining innovation with the passion of our people to empower our rural communities and grow great tasting and sustainable beef.

Anyone who knows me can read that statement and see what a perfect fit this opportunity  is for me. I will play a dual role working on quality assurance and communications projects.  The quality assurance role enables me to continue to work to improve cattle welfare, and the communications projects allow me to empower my voice as an advocate for agriculture.

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While change is hard and transitions are not naturally comfortable for me, I am truly excited to begin this next leg of the journey. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I invite you to like and follow my new team’s work on Facebook at Innovative Livestock Services or Twitter @ILSBeef.  I am striving to do a more dependable job posting multiple social media messages a week on these new outlets 🙂

As for Feed Yard Foodie, look for the usual weekly ramblings on our family, our farm, and my new adventures as the Burkholder clan continues on the pursuit of excellence.

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Building a Dream…

At age 70, my mom devotedly continues her teaching ministry at Cardinal Newman High School.  Mrs. Gibson’s high school English classroom exhibits a magical culture of passion as my mom inspires her students to analyze literature, learn to write, and develop personal accountability.  Her vision of inspiring teenagers to greatness continually refills her cup and gives her life a special purpose.

anne-dandyMuch to my mom’s chagrin, I never developed a kinship with Shakespeare.  However, despite the fact that I chose animals over literature, I took a part of her with me as I internalized the belief that a healthy life vision revolves around fueling your passion to make a difference.  When I graduated from Dartmouth College and started my new life on the Nebraska prairie, a feed yard became my personal version of her classroom and I went to work looking for ways to understand the bovine brain in order to improve animal welfare and beef quality.

My cattle taught me patience and perspective.  They instilled in me a new level of maturity as I discovered a fascination with seeing the world through the eyes of a bovine.  Along the way, I developed long term dreams of helping to bring the concept of total fitness (mental, emotional, and physical) to the art of daily cattle care in order to improve both welfare and animal performance.

What started on my farm grew to hold a larger audience as I shared my ideas with other cattlemen in my volunteer efforts on Beef Quality Assurance, as well as hosting interested high school and college students at the feed yard.

When you believe in something, it is natural human tendency to want to share it.

The above video was filmed four years ago.  I had a potent moment this week when I clicked on it and heard myself talking about my passion for cattle, sharing the story of beef production, and realizing that the future would bring change.  In the fall of 2012, I had no idea that I would make the decision to close down my feed yard.  However, as I listened to myself on the video, I heard wisdom and foresight in my attitude toward the future and my role in it.

After this winter, I will no longer be the boss lady at Will Feed, Inc.  Despite that, I plan to continue to build my dream of improving bovine animal welfare and beef quality.  Beginning in February, I start a new phase with a new team as I join the crew of the Beef Marketing Group.

  • I have new goals for expanding the reach of my cattle care philosophy.
  • I have new goals for figuring out better ways to share how cattle are raised and where beef comes from.
  • I have new goals for refilling my cup of passion so that I can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

I am really excited to be able to tunnel my energy and passion into my two favorite components of being a beef farmer: animal care and sharing the story.  I will work directly with five feed yards in Nebraska on the Progressive Beef QSA program focusing on high quality animal care.  Additionally, I have the privilege of expanding my social media reach beyond Feed Yard Foodie to write blog content and work on communications efforts for my new team.

I will get to do all of this while maintaining a more human friendly schedule that allows for time with family and for volunteer coaching efforts in my rural community.

While I will never have my mom’s talent for making poetry come alive to teenagers, I am confident that this new journey in my quest to build a dream will allow me the ability to make a difference in the lives of others — both two legged and four legged 🙂

 

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Filed under Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

What is ‘Ethical Beef’?

When people talk about ‘ethical meat’, what does it mean?

This great question came my way from nocrumbsleft via the girlcarnivore last week while I was in Denver.  Kita, AKA Girl Carnivore, attended the Top of the Class seminar for beef advocacy where I held an honorary position as ‘faculty’.  I love the passion that Kita has for all things meat (even the farmers that grow it!), and I have a great respect for her ability to bring people together online for important discussions.

DSC03744As I offer “Anne’s answer” to what is ethical meat, I am going to operate under the premise that it is ethical to eat meat, and instead address the question from the standpoint of what farming practices enable meat to be described as ethically raised. To my knowledge, there is no official definition or label for ethical meat, so please bear in mind that anywhere you see the term ethical meat you are reading someone’s opinion.

For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on beef since that is the meat that I grow on my farm.  I personally define the word ethical as ‘morally correct and striving to use practices that do not harm either people or the environment’.

Anne’s short answer to the question is,

“Farmers behave ethically by employing core values that encompass good animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and effective safety practices in their quest to raise food.  Ethical farmers grow ethical beef.”

As a city girl turned farmer, I have often pondered what makes quality food.  After twenty years on a farm, I seem to always circle back to the role of the farmer.  The very heart of food exists with the farmer.

Farmers care for animals day in and day out:

  • Working with a veterinarian to ensure good welfare
  • Making decisions of how to use and protect the natural resources on the farm
  • Striving to incorporate safety into daily farm practices

To me, food is simply an extension of the person who toils to grow it.  Perhaps the long winded answer to this question manifests itself in another question:

“How do you know that the food that you buy was grown by an ethical farmer?”

Doing the right thing tops Anne’s priority list.  Whether it is caring for my cattle and our farm, mothering my three girls, or mentoring other youth in my community through coaching athletics — I take the responsibility of doing a correct and careful job to heart.

I recognize that many of you (my beef customers) don’t personally know me, so it is hard for you to trust me.  This creates a dilemma as every time you decide to purchase my beef, you must take a leap of faith trusting that I am competent and honorable in the care that I offer to my cattle.

Almost five years ago, I found a beef farmer program that not only provided a framework to my daily cattle care, but also offered an audit tool to verify my competence.  I settled on Progressive Beef  because it was the most comprehensive and practical QSA program that fit my core values of quality animal welfare, environmental stewardship (sustainability), and food safety.

Progressive Beef provides me with 39 different Standard Operating Procedures to ensure a daily culture of good ethics on my farm.  Crew training and in depth documentation requirements pair up with audits that verify the behaviors and management practices of my crew and I.  The core values of the program become a promise of competence when I pass the audit; thereby lending credence to my claim of being an ethical farmer.

In essence, Progressive Beef closes the gap between the farmer and his/her beef customer when a personal relationship between the two is unattainable.

Aligning our core values within the Progressive Beef QSA allows for both of us to enjoy ethical beef.

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General, Progressive Beef QSA Program

Finding Value…

We all search for value in our lives.  I would argue that what we individually value often defines who we are as a person – creating our priorities and the actions that result from them.  There are three core values that make me Anne:

  • Integrity
  • Hard Work
  • Altruism

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I am in-arguably both an idealist and an over-achiever.  Honesty and transparency are high on my list of priorities, and a capacity for hard work seems to be firmly entrenched in my DNA.  When I landed at Dartmouth College as an incoming freshman, I had to take a math test to prove competency due to my less than stellar math SAT scores.  I responded by passing the test, getting an A in college calculus and graduating Cum Laude four years later.  My brain didn’t get any smarter, but determination and dedicated study brought me success.

I grew up believing in working for the greater good.  At age seventy, my mom still spends her days teaching high school English driven by an admirable passion to make a difference in the lives of her students.  While I chose a farm and bovines over a classroom full of teenagers, it is easy to see my mom’s steady influence in my dedication to altruism.  There are likely times when this makes me a less skilled business woman, but I tend to lead with my heart and take faith with me on the journey.

My feed yard crew consists of myself and three employees.  My guys are nothing short of awesome, and it is virtually impossible to find the words to relate how valuable they are to my family and our farm.  The team that we form together ensures that our day to day animal care upholds a standard of excellence.  I know it because I live it – you all can believe it because our Progressive Beef audit scores are always in the “excellent” or highest category possible.  My guys and I find value in doing our best, each and every day, to ensure that we offer appropriate and responsible care to our cattle.  It is easy to do that when you dedicate your life to taking the time to care.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

Ideally, an altruistic person works tirelessly to make the world a better place without ever giving thought to being rewarded for those actions.  Since my guys and I are human, I have to admit that sometimes we get tired.  In the midst of a 60 hour week, we wonder if what we have dedicated our lives to really makes a difference.  We watch our cattle thrive and reach their God-given genetic potential, but we rarely receive any positive feedback from outside of our farm for our efforts.  It is hard to push yourself, day in and day out, to strive for excellence when there is no one rewarding your efforts.

The beauty of the BMG-Progressive Beef-Tyson-Braveheart Beef program exists in the system of support and reward.  The community of food production that we create together refuels itself by adding tangible value to the beef that we grow.  After many, many years, my guys and I are finally able to see that someone outside of our farm really does care that we do our jobs well!

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I’ll never forget the first week that we shipped cattle destined to create beef for the Braveheart brand.   There were proud smiles all across the feed yard as my guys experienced a true sense of accomplishment.  For once, our “face” could appear on a product – our story held significance – our efforts created tangible value to someone outside of our farm.

The demand for Braveheart Beef is growing.  A new partnership to create a Certified Angus Beef – Braveheart beef product launched this year combining two great brands to bring each of you a verified and value added beef eating experience.  The product initially launched in New York City and the boxes of beef keep flying off of the shelf as an impressive demand overpowers supply.

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Meanwhile, my guys and I keep doing our part creating value on the farm.  Focusing on integrity, hard work, and being positive contributors to the country that we love.  We are sporting proud smiles with the knowledge that someone outside of our farm thinks that we do is valuable 🙂

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

It Takes a Community…

A few years after I moved to rural Nebraska, an elementary school teacher told me “Anne, it takes a community to raise a child”.  I was a new mother at the time trying to figure my way into the vast responsibilities of having a child, and her words resonated in my heart.  Many years later, I still think of her advice as I continue to raise my own daughters as well as serving as a youth athletic coach in our small town.

A great amount of power exists in a community.  The team work and dedication to a common cause provides strength and longevity.  Just as strength comes in numbers, compassion increases exponentially as the group works to provide for its members and the common good.  Although my vocation is responsibly raising beef, the local kids that I coach and mentor serve as a daily reminder of what is truly important in life.  Of all of the things that my community has given to me over the past twenty years, the ability to positively make a difference in the lives of our youth is the one that I truly treasure.

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While it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a food production community to raise high quality and traceable beef.  From the ranch all of the way to the dinner plate — an organized supply chain needs to inspire all of the contributors to act with integrity and congruence.  What Virginia, Rachel and I do on our farms makes a difference in the lives of our animals.  In order to complete the circle of quality, we need partners at the retail level of food production to maintain and augment that value all of the way to your dinner table.

The best way to do that is to work together to build a brand.  Three years ago my feed yard became a member of the Beef Marketing Group.  I was looking for a group of like-minded feed yards who focused on quality animal care, and were interested in coming together to sell a value added product. Each feed yard in our cooperative participates in the Progressive Beef QSA program and is audited against animal welfare, food safety and sustainability standards.

The Beef Marketing Group now teams up with Tyson Foods and Performance Food Groups to bring the Braveheart Beef product to your restaurant table.

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This is a unique and true partnership that adds value all across the production chain. Cattle care and farmer integrity are assured, and the Path Proven technology verifies that the DNA of the Braveheart Beef comes from one of our Progressive Beef certified animals.

This adds confidence to the food supply chain by:

  • Audited and verified animal care on the farm
  • Meat testing to ensure traceability and product integrity

BMG, Tyson, and Performance Food Groups come together to let you know that “we’ve got your back” relative to beef quality and farmer integrity.  The product is sold in restaurants all across the country, and we are hopeful that demand for it will continue to grow making it even easier to get to your dinner plate in the future!AnneGirlsApril2016.jpg

My girls are blessed to be able to grow up on “Mama’s beef”, now the Braveheart Beef brand makes it easier for you to be also 🙂

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