Tag Archives: spring

Water + Heat Units = A Green Spring

My favorite cowgirl and I headed down to our pasture ground last Sunday to search for grass.  Nebraska has been moisture deficient since early last summer and, in particular, the drought has greatly hurt the 23 millions acres of grass pasture that makes up more than half of Nebraska’s land mass.

Searching for grass...

Searching for grass…

While the vast majority of our land is crop ground, we do have approximately 600 acres of cool season grass pasture in the Platte River Valley.  Typically, we graze cattle on this land from April to Mid-June, and then again from August to October.  I purchase “light yearlings” or “fall calves” that weigh 600-650# to graze on this land.

We grow these animals on grass pasture until they weigh approximately 800#.  At that time (or at the time that all of the grass is eaten), we bring them into the feed yard to prepare them for harvest.

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard...

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard…

Today is the 2nd of May.  Normally, we have already turned cattle out to pasture and our cool season grass is lush and green.  This year the grass is very slow to grow due to two important variables: water and heat units.

After a very dry summer, fall and winter; we were blessed with almost 3 inches of rain (along with snow and ice) in April.  The rain brought life-giving moisture, but it also left behind very cold temperatures.  At the end of last week, we finally saw some warmth with highs in the upper 70’s but it did not last as we had snow again yesterday…

Closing a gate in between pastures...

Closing a gate in between pastures…It’s nice to have a helper along!

As Megan and I rode the pasture ground, I realized that I would not have grass to graze for several weeks yet.  While it is valiantly trying to turn green and grow, it is way behind normal.  The lack of carryover moisture combined with a dry winter and a cold spring have left Nebraska’s grasslands struggling.

Pure joy!

Pure joy!

I was glad to have my favorite cowgirl along as we traversed the pasture ground.  She was a bundle of sunshine laughing and telling stories from her week at school.  Her natural optimism is good for me and brings a smile to my face.  As we loaded up the horses and headed for home, I thought to myself that her positive nature plays a key role in the sustainability of my mental fitness!

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Environmental Sustainability: How do I care?

Sustainable = The ability to endureDSC04814

While I believe with all my heart that our farm’s ability to sustain is intrinsically tied to its capacity to endure, I also recognize that good planning and an attention to detail is critical to our success.

Sustaining is not just something that happens if you get lucky—it is the result of careful planning and diligent implementation.  It is the art of taking what Mother Nature gives to you and turning it into a usable and beneficial resource.

Recent Sustainability research conducted by the Beef Check Off demonstrates that there are three components of sustainable beef production (raising cattle to grow beef): environmental responsibility, economic viability, and social diligence.DSC04451

Because I care, I have the responsibility to minimize the environmental footprint of my farm.

While every decision that Matt and I make on the farm affects its environmental footprint, the following list denotes the key concepts of how we practically care for the farm’s environmental sustainability.

  • A detailed manure management plan that includes both soil and manure sampling, and makes use of a computer program to help figure the healthy balance of nutrients on crop ground.  The plan also ensures the proper handling of the manure as it is transported from the feed yard to a neighboring crop field.
  • A lined holding pond allows us to use the water that drains off of the feed yard during a rain storm for both irrigation and fertilization on our crop ground.  The heavy plastic liner of the pond prevents the leaching of nutrients while the water is being stored.  This helps us to both recycle the liquid for later use, and to protect the ground water (Ogallala Aquifer) that is under our farm.
  • A careful rotation plan for our crop acres reduces erosion and helps to build and sustain soil health.
  • A careful pen cleaning schedule allows for timely and effective solid manure collection.  This helps to ensure good cattle pen conditions, and the effective use of the natural fertilizer that our animals produce.
  • The procurement of genetically high quality cattle which destines them to produce tender and flavorful beef while using fewer natural resources (feed) to make that beef.
  • The dedication to high quality holistic care practices which reduces stress and improves the comfort of our cattle.  Comfortable cattle make healthy and flavorful beef using fewer natural resources!
  • The use of technology to increase the efficiency of our animals.  For instance, I use both growth hormone implants and a beta agonist feed supplement at the end of the feeding period to help my animals maintain efficient feed conversion until the time of harvest.
  • The use of crop farming technology to increase the efficiency of our crop ground.  For instance, Matt’s tractors are equipped with GPS systems to ensure that seed is placed accurately into the ground at planting.  He also uses soil probes and other mechanisms to ensure that he is using irrigation water efficiently.DSC05079

Matt and I have many “tools in our environmental sustainability tool box”.  We believe that it is our obligation to both our farm and to you to use them responsibly and with diligence.  Our farm has sustained for more than 60 years.

It is our goal that our grandchildren will one day care for it with the same reverence that we do today.

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Spring Weather in Nebraska…

The only constant factor with spring weather in Nebraska is its ever-changing nature!  Monday we began the week with 60 degrees and sun—by Tuesday we had received high winds and a nice 2+ inch rain—Wednesday we were covered in a layer of ice—Thursday there was snow on top of the ice—finally today we saw the sun again and temperatures rose above freezing!

I took some pictures throughout the week in order to share the ever changing roller coaster ride that Mother Nature takes us on…

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon...

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon…

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens...

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens…

And into my line Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground...

And into my lined Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground…

By Wednesday we had ice and snow...

By Wednesday we had snow…

and ice...

and ice…

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand...

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand…

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the icy conditions...

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the wintery conditions…

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end...

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end…

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow's AYSO soccer game---it is looking promising!

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow’s AYSO soccer game—keep your fingers crossed!

As the week draws to an end, I am thankful for the moisture and hope that it will bring a Sustainable Green Spring!  Was your week a weather roller coaster ride as well?

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Sustainability: Pass It On…

Sustainability: Pass It On...

Sustainability: Pass It On…

The ability to endure is strengthened by an individual’s ability to “think outside of the box”.  I am notorious for stopping my daughters’ mid-sentence as they claim that they cannot do something and simply stating three words: Problem Solving Skills.

I believe that any challenge can be solved with creative thinking, hard work, and a positive attitude.  One of my favorite Mother Theresa quotes speaks to this.  It states:

Often, under the pretext of humility, of trust, of abandonment, we can forget to use the strength of our will.  Everything depends on these two words: “I will” or “I will not”.  And into the expression of “I will” I must put all of my energy.

I believe that our farm can be sustainable both today and in the future.  It is ever evolving and changing in order to endure.  My favorite farmer and I believe that “We will” accomplish our goal of sustaining.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

We must balance environmental responsibility and economic viability with social diligence.

Matt and I accept our responsibility and do our best to always be stewards.  We believe that a culture of sustainability can be created when we teach our children to creatively look for ways to conserve our resources and limit waste.

What follows below is a fun family illustration of how we

Pass It On!

My girls learned their numbers prior to starting school by helping me to read bunks at the feed yard.  One would call out the pen number, another would assess the feed bunk and make a call, and the third would notate the information.

Karyn's "bunk reading" position...

Karyn’s “bunk reading” position…

One morning my two favorite blondes noted that a couple of the feed yard pens did not have pen number signs.  This was problematic for my youngest daughter because she could not call out the pen number if there was no sign to read.  Megan was inspired to action and left this note for Jared, one of my feed yard crew.IMG_2592

Jared has great welding skills, and was able to fashion two pen signs for Megan out of left over scrap iron.  Megan happily painted the signs, and they are now proudly denoting Pen 21 and Pen 25 at the feed yard.IMG_2584

Recycling materials on the farm is common place. I was proud of Megan for automatically thinking of a way to use materials in the scrap pile to build what we needed.  I was also proud of Jared for doing a great job helping Megan to bring her idea to life.

A job well done!

A job well done!

I smile every time that I drive past the new pen signs.  They are a constant reminder that in addition to helping our farm achieve sustainability, recycling materials can also be a fun learning project for the next generation.

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Sustainable: The Ability to Endure…

I did some searching on the internet last week for a definition of sustainable.   This one is my favorite.

Sustainable: The ability to endure.007

  • Perhaps this definition spoke to me because there are times on our farm when I feel as though Matt and I are so challenged that we simply endure.
  • Perhaps it spoke to the natural tenacity that is firmly embedded in my personality.
  • Perhaps the simplicity of those four words caught my attention because they juxtapose against the convoluted conversation that normally surrounds the word.willfeedsign3

For whatever reason, it resonated with me and has circled around in my mind for several days now.  Interestingly, the third pillar of the Progressive Beef program is Sustainability.

Click here for the first two pillars if you missed them in January’s posts:

https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/progressive-beefs-first-pillar-food-safety/

https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/proving-that-we-care/

ProgressiveBeefLogoGreen

The fact that sustainability is a cornerstone to the Progressive Beef program speaks to the importance of the topic relative to the production of high quality beef.  Just as I care about food safety and good cattle welfare, I also care about the environment and the sustainability of my farm.Sept. 4, 2011 024

Matt and I must both effectively use and protect our farm’s resources while simultaneously enduring both Mother Nature’s trials as well as man-made challenges.  My favorite farmer believes that urban sprawl is the single largest threat for the future sustainability of our farm, our country and our planet.  That belief creates this pivotal question:

How can we all endure as population growth tests our ability to exist without irrevocably harming the Earth?

May 20 2011 015

Because this thought is forever in our minds, there are many things that Matt and I focus on at the farm to try to increase its ability to endure.

  • Reduce waste through recycling.
  • Responsibly manage the manure that we use to fertilize our crop land.
  • Reuse the water that runs off of the feed yard during a rain to both fertilize and water adjacent crop land.
  • Constantly learn new science and the subsequent development of technology, and determine whether it is a fit for our farm.
  • Procure the feed for our cattle locally (either on our own farm or within our greater community).
  • Feed cattle who are bred to be efficient converters of feed, and offer them outstanding care that enables them to reach their God-given potential.

I believe that achieving and maintaining sustainability is a journey.  It is a constant evolution of ideas and practices that revolve around a principle goal of responsible food production, and are driven by an unrelenting desire to be a good caretaker.Pasture June 2, 2012 Gather 032

Somewhere deep inside my heart is the desire to not only endure but to endure with excellence.  Does the surrounding new life of spring inspire you in your journey for sustainability?

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March Madness…

It’s March.  In Nebraska, this is the month known for wind, basketball, preparation for crop planting, and more wind.  My favorite farmer is following the basketball tournaments with enthusiasm, while also developing a certain personal sense of March Madness as he begins to do field work and prepare for planting.

Here the tractor is "packing" the soil so that it is smooth and level to plant seed into...

Here the tractor is “packing” the soil so that it is smooth and level to plant seed into…

As the calendar warns of spring, Matt’s internal clock starts to crank up a notch as low key winter chores turn into higher energy preparations for the growing season.  One of the winter chores that we are wrapping up is hauling manure out of the feed yard pens to be used as fertilizer for our farm ground.

Good soil health is critical to the sustainability of our farm.

Taking soil samples from a farm that will be tested at a local laboratory.  The results tell Matt the nutrient levels in the soil.

Taking soil samples from a field that will be tested at a local laboratory. The results tell Matt the nutrient levels in the soil.

It is what ensures that our land will be productive year after year.  According to my favorite farmer, the four key components for soil health are: balanced nutrients and moisture levels, active soil biology, and tilth (the composition of the soil relative to solids, liquids, and air).NRCSsoildocument

The by-product of my cattle (manure) plays an important role in both creating a healthy balance of soil nutrients and an active soil biology.  While some people may view manure as “icky”, to Matt it is a valuable resource.

The tractor and box scraper cleaning a home pen...

The tractor and box scraper cleaning a home pen…

We harvest the manure by using a tractor and box scraper to lift the manure off of the surface of our feed yard pens.  We pile this manure temporarily in the pens before Matt’s crew hauls it to farm land that has been identified through soil testing as needing fertilizer.

A pile of manure ready to be hauled out to farm ground and used as fertilizer...

A pile of manure in a home pen ready to be hauled out to farm ground and used as fertilizer…

Being diligent in cleaning the manure out of the pens serves a dual purpose.  It not only provides Matt with a valuable resource for our crop ground, but it also ensures good living conditions for our cattle.

The manure truck transports the fertilizer from the feed yard to the appropriate field, and then spreads it on the land at an agronomic rate.

The manure truck transports the fertilizer from the feed yard to the appropriate field, and then spreads it on the land at an agronomic rate (determined by the field’s soil nutrient count and the nutrient levels in the manure).

Cattle comfort is a priority to me because it is important for good animal welfare, but it also plays a role in reducing the environmental footprint of my feed yard.  When my cattle are comfortable, they are more efficient in converting their feed into pounds of beef thereby making it more environmentally friendly.

Comfortable cattle in a clean home pen...

Comfortable cattle in a clean home pen…

Harvesting manure “on farm” also allows Matt and I to have a more balanced and sustainable farm.  We grow crops that are fed to animals, our cattle provide primary products (like beef) and secondary products (like manure).  The manure is taken back to the farm ground to replace the needed nutrients that were taken out with the initial crop growth.

While this is a very simplified flow chart of resources on our farm, it gives you an idea of how all of the different facets work together to form a Sustainable Spring (when mixed with just a little bit of March Madness!)

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Cowgirl Up…

Less than 24 hours after being bedridden with a virulent stomach flu, Megan rallied back to tie for 3rd place in the state 10 year old gymnastics competition in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday.

She drew her toughest event first, and her performance set the stage for a great competition.

She drew her toughest event first, and her performance set the stage for a great competition.

As I studied her with questions in my eyes the morning of the competition, she looked at me and said “I’m going to do this, Mom.” I realized that physically she was not 100%, but I believed her because I knew that Megan would Cowgirl UpCowgirl Up is an expression that is regularly spoken at the Feed Yard Foodie house.

It is what happens when adversity is embraced as opportunity.

A tough little cowgirl...

A tough little cowgirl…

Four strong gymnastics routines later, she was standing on the awards stand with a big smile on her face.  While I am certainly proud of the hard work that she has put in to be competitive in gymnastics, I am more proud of the mental toughness and tenacity that drove her to personal victory.

Megan was able to sustain despite a challenge, and that is the essence of the expression Cowgirl Up.

The promise and optimism of spring...

The promise and optimism of spring…

Each year as winter turns into spring, I am amazed at the ability of our land to sustain growth and start to awaken from hibernation.

The geese have arrived by the millions on their trek back north...

Arriving by the millions on their trek back north, the geese feed on the corn that is spilled on the fields during harvest.

  • My crocuses bloom only to get covered with snow.
  • The grass starts to green despite nightly temperatures in the teens.
  • The geese and the sandhill cranes determinedly fly north as the stubborn Nebraska wind attempts to push them back to where they originated.
  • My horses and cattle begin to shed their winter coats as the days get longer and their bodies tell them that warmer temperatures are coming.
  • Neighboring ranches celebrate the birth of baby calves as the bovine life cycle perpetuates.

    New life...

    New life…

Mother Nature does a beautiful rendition of Cowgirl Up each spring and it is something that I watch for with great excitement.  This spring, as the Nebraska earth awakens on our farm, I am beginning a new theme entitled Sustainable Spring

s

Breakfast on a spring day…

Throughout this series of posts, I would like to share our experiences as the farm sustains life, and our natural resources steadfastly provide despite challenges.

We can Cowgirl Up together and hopefully have a great discussion of the increasingly popular term sustainability.  Drop me a note with any specific topics or questions that you might have!

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New Beginnings…

Perhaps it is because I grew up in South Florida where there was only a very subtle change of seasons each year…

Amphibious South Florida children! Can you guess which one is me?

Perhaps it is because I have witnessed first-hand the miracle of life with the birth of my three daughters…

My angels are not this little anymore...

Perhaps it is because after learning to balance three children, 3000 animals, and a recovery from a chronic illness, I take nothing for granted and revel in the beauty that each day brings…

My brave crocuses are first sign of spring, but the tulips and grass follow quickly behind...

Perhaps it is because I spend 365 days out of the year outside working in the weather that the changing seasons bring…

Summer, Fall, Winter, or Spring---they rely on me every day to offer good care...

Perhaps it is because we celebrated the Easter holiday last weekend…

With every season that passes, their ever-growing maturity and compassion makes me feel renewed...

Perhaps all of the above reasons play a role in my belief that spring is a time of new beginnings.

Dandy enjoys a sunny spring afternoon (as well as the new green grass to eat!)...

Since I relocated to central Nebraska, it has always seemed to me that the new-year really begins as the spring winds bring warmer temperatures and the grass greens up.  Although the calendar states that we start a new year January 1st, Mother Nature brings in the true new-year about the 1stof April.  Each year, I never realize how much I missed the sound of the birds singing until the silence of winter gives way to the life of spring. One morning the silent air is filled with the joyous calls of birds.  It is like an epiphany for me as I realize how much I missed the chatter of those beautiful little creatures over the course of the cold winter months.

Mr. Robin Redbreast sings in our newly blossomed apple tree...

Just as the grass begins to turn green and the birds begin to sing, my husband gets the itch to start farming.  The rural Nebraska countryside is filled with tractors preparing the land for spring planting.  We started planting new alfalfa this week and corn planting is just around the corner.

Preparing a field to be planted...

In fact, it will not be long before Matt begins harvesting the older fields of alfalfa.  Alfalfa is a perennial plant which comes back out of dormancy year after year as the temperatures warm and the birds sing.  Almost 2/3rds of our crop ground is planted to alfalfa, and Matt hopes to get 4 cuttings during the growing cycle of April to the end of October.  A good alfalfa field will prosper for 6-8 years before it gets tired and must be rotated to another crop.  My favorite color is green, and I truly love the beauty of a vibrantly growing alfalfa field.

This gorgeous plant brings the color of life to the countryside as it grows, and will also ensure life to animals as it makes a wonderful source of feed...What a wonderful new beginning!

As you read this post, I am in Washington DC spreading the good word about agriculture and beef…Look for future posts on the topic of “Feed Yard Foodie Visits Capitol Hill!”

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