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Posts Tagged ‘livestock’

We live in Nebraska where if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few hours; it is certain to change! We received all of that welcome moisture a while back, in the form of snow, which has now melted. It is a muddy mess! What, you ask, to I mean by “it”? “It” includes every place that has soaked up all of that melting snow and is not drying out – driveways, roads, and most certainly, cattle pens.

These are my fun flowery (I get them with flowers so my kids won't borrow them so much!) chore boots before feeding time.

I will say this – traveling through those pens, doing my very best to keep my balance as I haul buckets, check waterers, and pitch hay is an outstanding workout for the thighs, hips, calves, and stomach; not to mention the arm strength built by holding the buckets and catching myself before going completely down. The resulting toned muscles are most certainly appreciated! The impending laundry challenge, not so much. Luckily, there are four of us in the family that can take care of chores and Matt is SO good to usually take the morning rounds!

These are my boots post feeding. The pens didn't have deep mud, just slippery for my less than graceful self!

So, if I don’t like being in those muddy pens, what about the cattle that live in them? Actually, they get some spots that are not so muddy to lie down. It just happens the paths I have to take are quite slippery! We have nice slope to our pens, so the mounds or tops of the pens dry quicker than the bottoms. We also bladed out some of the snow so it wouldn’t melt directly in the pens. We do provide some straw, so they have a “bed.”

God was very smart when he created animals that are meant to be able to handle conditions other than the comfort of a house, street, sidewalk, and so on, like us humans. He gave the critters (cows) four legs & lots of hair! They have a WAY better sense of balance in slippery conditions than I do! Snow, rain, mud, wind, it is all part of nature; and animals were created to be able to handle much of what Mother Nature throws their way. However, when we can make them more comfortable, we do. We (we, here, is a generalization of livestock farmers) build windbreaks and scrape pens for cattle and sheep, we keep pigs and poultry in climate controlled buildings so they can be comfortable all of the time, and we make sure all of them have proper nutrition for the conditions and plenty of fresh water.

Comfortable animals, typically, are healthy animals. Healthy animals create healthy and safe food. I appreciate being able to give my family safe food from the grocery store & I hope you do, too.

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the funeral of a man who taught me a great deal about feeding cattle and raising a family, and most importantly, living life. During my years of working in feed sales and beef nutrition, I loved all of my customers for their uniqueness and their love for livestock and farming.

I have spent many days in sale barns learning from folks like that man this article is about. Definitely days well spent!

I was very sad to see the end of this person’s life on earth, but I am truly thankful for all of those visits standing over the feed yard fence and sitting at his kitchen table and sitting in the seats at sale barns. The priest at my friend’s funeral had a wonderful message & I couldn’t help but jot a few notes for a future blog topic. So here I am – writing about the dash.

As the saying goes, there are two things we are guaranteed in this life: taxes and not making it off this earth alive. While that is certainly true, it is a bit of a morbid thought. I prefer to focus on something else, something more cheerful! The priest at the funeral pointed out – on our headstone, there are two years printed; the year we are born and the year we die. The most important parts of our life are not those two dates, but the dash between them. How we fill that dash is up to us.

The gentleman’s life that was being celebrated had a very full dash! He and his wife raised 9 children to all be very successful people, ranging from farmers and beef producers to teachers to business people. With that many kids, there are bound to be several different occupations in the final mix! Family has always been at the core of their farm, just as with my family. I loved hearing tales of weather and pricing challenges that happened through all of his years of raising and feeding cattle. I was amazed at how he could remember an animal or pen of animals from decades before and compare them to what we were looking at right at the time. He was extremely involved in his church and made it to many, many of his grandkids activities, including college athletics. Besides all of that, he would make his rounds to several sale barns each week to buy cattle and he was involved in cattle and grain organizations. I’m sure he never woke up in the morning and had to look for something to do!

I share this because it is just one more example of a great farmer who was also a great person. Too often, farmers get accused of making decisions based solely upon potential financial gain. I will say, it takes a significant amount of land and cattle to generate enough income to raise 9 kids and send them all to college. But more importantly, his farm and livestock were handled, over the years, in such a way that the next generation is assured the opportunity for a livelihood and can continue the family legacy of farming. Sustainability is such a buzz word these days – many families, just like this one, continue to demonstrate absolute sustainability environmentally, economically, physically, and emotionally.

This man’s dash was full of caring for God, his family, the land, and his cattle & I am so glad I got to know him!

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If you have been following my blog from my early days….all the way back to last winter/spring, you would know that extremely cold conditions make for challenging days for farmers & ranchers – especially for those who have cattle.  Well, Mother Nature is being every bit as sassy in the summer months, this year!  Much of the U.S.  is experiencing an extreme heat wave – with not only heat, but more importantly, humidity, making miserable conditions for animals and people.  Sweating profusely is certainly the norm in our neighborhood these days – one certainly doesn’t have to worry about being embarassed by a soaked-through shirt…everyone else around is in the same condition!  I’m pretty sure Secret and Axe are doing especially well these last couple of months…maybe I should have paid attention to the weather forecast and bought stock!

So, what do cattle producers do when extreme heat sets in?  Different producers have different methods and capabilities, but everyone does the best they can to keep animals as comfortable as possible.  For the feedyards, many will alter diets slightly or feed at such a time that cattle ruminate (or digest) primarily in the cooler hours of the night.  Some feedyards have sprinkler systems or water trucks to soak the cattle & try to cool them in the heat of the day.  Everyone makes sure there is plenty of fresh, clean water available for drinking at all times!

Ranchers, or cow-calf producers, don’t have the opportunity to soak cattle with cool water.  However, I guarantee – as much as you love finding a shade tree on a  hot day, so do the cows!  If pastures have ponds, you will often find a swimming party going on.  The cows will do their grazing during the evening and early morning when it’s cooler and hang out either in the water or the shade during the heat of the day.  The rancher can be considered the cows’  “cabana boy” bringing them salt, mineral, and cubes as they are needed.  In some of the seriously drought stricken areas, water has to be hauled to the pastures every day, as ponds are  completely dried up.  The “Ladies” definitely appreciate all the attention and tender loving care!

I think when it is really hot out is the time a few of the cows at our place really appreciate being Kaydee and Emmet’s 4-H and FFA projects.  They get ALL KINDS of attention!  They are rinsed EVERY day, sometimes TWICE!  They get to lie under big fans & have their favorite feed provided twice a day.  They are so spoiled!  All they need now is, well, nothing – they have it all!  For them, it’s like being on a luxury vacation!

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I know it’s only mid-July, but our county fair is already done…and was it a HOT one!  We checked in cattle and projects last Thursday morning.  As soon as we had the cattle there, Emmet had to go to a football camp.  He came back to the fair and helped keep stalls clean and cattle watered.  At 4:30 we had to have him to a baseball game.  Needless to say, he was more than a little tired the next day:

Recently, I’ve heard that 4-H could desensitize our kids; that we are harming them in some way by allowing them to participate in livestock projects & county fair premium auctions.  I could not disagree more & I would like to address each of the H’s with observations from this year’s fair.

Head:  I saw kids all over the fairgrounds using their heads in any number of creative ways.  It was really hot during our fair & 4-H’ers found all kinds of ways to try to stay cool – from water fights to fans to cold lemonade-they were thingking!  I also saw 4-H’ers who know exactly how to feed their animals (and most 4-H beef rations are not totally simple), clip and groom the animals, and explain their projects to fair-goers walking through the barn.  There were kids who know exactly how to show their horses, sheep, goats, and pigs.  Of course, many kids are bright enough to talk their parents into giving them a few dollars to spend as they wish, too.  4-H members are very bright young people!

Heart:  This is probably my favorite “H”.  I saw kids helping each other in all kinds of ways from chores to fitting and clipping.  I watched young people serve customers at the 4-H food stand with the utmost politeness and respect.  I also saw many kids who were completely dedicated to the care and presentation of their animals and knew that their animal was a food animal – even though they loved it, they were willing to let it go for it’s intended purpose.  During the auction there are almost as many parents with lumps in their throats and a tear in their eye as there are sad kids.  Even more importantly – I saw displays of great sportsmanship.  There is only one winner in each class.  Nothing makes me more proud than when those who got anything other than first congratulate and shake the hand of the champion.  4-H kids are top-notch!  4-H is the heart of the fair – if it weren’t for the kids’ projects and livestock shows, it just wouldn’t feel like a fair!

Hands:  Many hands make lighter work for all.  Showing livestock at a county fair is hard work.  Everyone has more responsibilities than just taking care of their own animals in order to make the whole event happen; there are grandstand shows to put on, trash to be hauled, bathrooms to clean, and the list goes on.  “Hands for larger service..” can be seen in every corner of the fairgrounds.  People were serving food, putting up displays, cleaning pens and stalls, judging projects, and attaching ribbons to exhibits.  And everyone has a great time working together!

Health:  We all know that fair food is the best…for a few days!  Our fair is doesn’t have all of the traditional items – in fact, nothing on a stick.  So – it really is healthy, darn it!  But, we do have homemade pie donated by the 4-H families served at the 4-H foodstand every day!  Other than lack of sleep, fair can be really healthy.  I’m pretty sure that I sweated off at least 5 pounds last week…now to keep it off!

Now that our fair is over, we will take in several area fairs evening events & look at other counties’ 4-H project exhibits & just enjoy being there without all of the work to do.  I wish everyone could know the enjoyment of a county fair like 4-H livestock exhibitors know the fair.  The best memories, friendships, and learning lessons can come from one quick week each summer growing up.

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Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital.  I was there for the U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors Meeting.  Everything about the meeting was great – the information presented, the networking, the hotel, the food…  The group was as professional and amitious as could be regarding the exportation of beef, pork, and lamb.  I was extremely impressed!

However, as well as my presentation about CommonGound went, and as beneficial as the professional relationship building may have been, the stand-out event for the trip was the first leg of my air travel to D.C.  I, the beef producing, poultry disliking, red meat eating, dirt farming, protestant girl from Nebraska got seated beside a philosophy and environmental ethics college instructor who was a lifetime vegetarian and Buddhist.  Cool!!!!  I can imagine, this is the time many farmers would have taken out the ipod, inserted the headphones and pretended to be asleep.  Not me – here was my chance to learn and listen and defend!  Game on!

We talked about everything from why cows are on pasture part of the year and not all year to feedlot nutrition and health.  We talked about GMO’s, different tillage practices, hormones, antibiotics, economics, a touch of scripture, and her teaching methods.  By the time we reached Detroit from Omaha, she had taken my card to contact me to sit on a discussion panel in her class and I was really thankful I had listened as much or more than I talked.  I appreciated her maturity and respect for differences among people.  Neither of us tried to convince the other they were wrong.  I felt this woman made a great point in that everyone needs to be able to back up their beliefs and values.  Interpretation can be different for different folks and that’s o.k. – but be able to justify your particular interpretation.  Too bad more of the world doesn’t think that way.

As we stood to gather our carry-on items and deboard the plane, the gentlemen infront of me turned around and asked if I had sold her some beef.  Of course, I had not, but I also told her that I would not deplete the tofu supply on her grocery shelf.  When we got inside, I found out the man in the seat ahead of me sells livestock insurance and he was thrilled I got seated where I did – he always gets to sit by the vegetarian when he flies.  HA – Luck of the draw; I was the winner this time!

As my Grandma Ruby told me many, many times:  “The world would sure be a boring place if we were all alike.”

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Animal care is the number 1 priority on nearly all farms and ranches around the country.  It sickens and saddens me that I had to use the word, “nearly” in that sentence.  Once again, there is an animal owner and their employees who do not uphold the same animal welfare standards as everyone I know personally; and, has made their way to the limelight casting a negative image for dairy calf farms all around the country.

In one article I read this morning, the calf ranch owner was quoted as taking full responsibility for the actions of the employees and had terminated those employees.  That is great, but, where was the oversight and direction for these employees prior to and during the undercover investigation?  We all have to take responsibility to make sure proper practices are being followed on our own farms and ranches at all times.

My family has been following Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) practices for as long as the program has been around.  If we have a neighbor helping work with the cattle, and they seem to have a different idea as to how things should be done, we quickly and thoroughly teach them the way we want them to proceed.  That “correct way” may apply to giving injections, coaxing animals in a given direction, putting in ear tags, giving pills, and so on. 

The farmers and ranchers I know truly care about the health and well-being of the animals they raise.  Yes, it is true, healthier animals are more productive animals.  And yes, it is true, we are in it to earn a living.  However, there comes a point, sometimes, when it isn’t about money or even science, but it’s about just doing the right thing.  Whether it’s putting down an animal that is suffering so horribly it isn’t going to survive or nursing one back to health or transporting animals to be harvested, it all is done with the utmost respect and appreciation for the animal and it’s life.

If you are a fellow producer reading this, I urge you to be proactive in making sure your farm and all those you know are using the best possible practices for handling animals.  If you are not a livestock owner, please be assured that there are hundreds of thousands of livestock owners who take very good care of their animals and they are just as frustrated as me when they find out there is a “bad one” out there.

Now, with that off of my chest….I will certainly try to write something much more fun tonight.  Thanks for reading and have a good afternoon.

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