August 28, 2012

Humane Treatment all the Way to Slaughter

I have been asked and have seen many times where people ask livestock owners how we can sell our animals knowing their fate is the "end".  Check out this video put out by Dr. Temple Grandin.

Dr. Grandin has dedicated her life to improving the humane handling of livestock and has had a HUGE lasting impression on improving cattle handling at the ranch, feedlot, and slaughter facilities.  If you have not watched her movie documenting her life I STRONGLY suggest you do.  It not only shows how she was able to "overcome" autism but how the way she sees and interacts in life has greatly benefited the livestock industry.  Her cattle handling facilities and designs are used all over the beef industry from small operations to the largest of feedlots and packers.  I have had the pleasure to listening to a lecture from her when I was in college.  Then just a few weeks ago I got to listen to her again and watch her help process (vaccinate and worm) 150 head of steers at a feedlot that she has never been to before.  With in 10 minutes and after a few small changes to the facility the crew worked 150 head of cattle in less time than it normally took to work 100, the cattle were calmer and the people actually had to work less "hard".  In fact the guy loading the cattle into the facility would shut the gate and stand in 1 spot and with little to no movement 15 steers would load themselves in the ally and walk toward the chute!

From our pastures and fields to your plate!!
 Anyway back to the subject at hand.  I know that our steers are in good hands and will be cared for with the same high standards we use at the ranch because we have picked the feedlot the steers go to and the harvest facility they will eventually be harvested at.  The feedlot and program that Mark and I sell our steer calves through has a contract with a large commercial packing plant for to provide a certain amount of finished cattle each week.  I know exactly which packing plant our steers will be harvested in.  I also know that Dr. Grandin has designed the facility that our steers will walk through and that this packer conducts 3rd party audits to make sure that their employees are doing things RIGHT and that their facilities are in proper working order.  They have state of the art camera and a someone monitoring the harvest process from begining to end to make sure employees are maintaining a high level of standard in animal handling, the facility is working properly, and that the final product (beef) is being handled to maintain food safety standards.  Through my work as a graduate student I have been in several slaughter plants.  I know what the unloading/holding pens look like, I have seen first hand the steps in producing beef from the stunning all the way to putting the meat into the boxes that are shipped to the grocery stores and restaurants.  Mark and I raise beef which comes from cattle.  When our calves our born, we know that they will one day be providing a nutritious and high quality eating experience for a consumer.  I can feel proud to know that our calves lives are not taken lightly and that those involved along the way will give them the care and respect they deserve all the way to the end result. 
I really like the virtual tour that Dr. Grandin has made available to the public.  The big reasons that packers, feedlots, and ranches don't give public tours are because of safety (cattle, vistor, employee), biosecurity, food safety, and to help keep the livestock calm through the whole process.  This is a great tool to allow those you want to know a tour through the humane handling of cattle slaughter and you don't even have to get out of your pajama's or travel many miles! 

August 24, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

It's rough when you get so big that you have to sprawl out to get a drink of milk!

Last drink of momma's milk before she was weaned and became a "big calf"

The kitten's are getting big enough to start earning their keep!

Brought the filly up from the pasture so she can go to Kansas for a month or 2!  She will come home a useful asset to the farm!!

August 20, 2012

The Results are in and the Winner is......

I blogged back in December about shipping our steers to the feedlot.  The day we deliver our steers (or sell any of our animals) is always bitter sweet.  We are excited and proud to send off the best set of calves that we have worked hard to keep healthy, safe, and provide a good environment for them to grow up in. 

The last load of steers waiting to get on
the trailer.

 We are also sad and a little heart broken because we have dedicated so much of our time, love and effort to give them everything they need.  Then there is the emotion of anxiety and nervousness.  We get back a report (we pay for this report card) card on how well or not well the calves did in the feedlot and at at packer.  Last week the report card was delivered.  Mine and Marks parents are not waiting anxiously at home to see if we need to be grounded or need to dedicate less time to gabbing on the phone and more time to homework but I was still very nervous and excited at the same time to open the e-mail and begin to look at the data.  We do have a banker who want to make sure that we make enough money to make our annual loan payments. 

Unloaded at the feedlot and waiting to go to there new
To tell the truth, I printed it very fast with out reading anything on it, then covered my eyes with 1 hand while peaking through my fingers to get a glimpse to see if my heart is going to sink or soar.  I was the kid at the pool who always tested the water with my toes before sliding in.  I approached the data with the same approach.  At first look things didn't look to bad.  My first stop was the number that got sick or died (mostly because it was at the top but also because the health and well being of our cattle is always #1 priority even if we no longer own them), all of the steers stayed healthy and there was not any steers that didn't make it to harvest....  Our health and nutrition programs were a success!!! Sigh of relief...  If we delivered cattle to the feedlot that were not healthy my buyer would not be willing to give me top dollar for my next set of calves.  Healthy Cattle produce Healthy Beef!!  Next stop was the ADG (average daily gain = how many pounds they gained each day)... it was better than last year... We want the steers to gain the most weight a day possible while converting the feed to meat as efficiently as possible.  Then it was on to the summary of the harvest data from the packer only because it was next in line on the page.  The steers quality grade (an estimate of eating quality, Select, Choice or Prime) was much better than the year before and the steers average was much better than the average of all the steers (from many other producers) enrolled in the program!!!  The rib eye area (the size of the prime rib or rib eye steak, an indicator of muscling), carcass weight (how much was left after hide and internals had been removed), Yield grade (how much "wasted" or "not wasted" excess fat was on the carcass), and dressing percent (an indication of total edible meat) all looked really good.  My excitement was building to see that our steers performed very close to the high standards that we expect.  The report card had passing grades on it, and we had made a huge step forward to meeting the long term goals for our cow herd. 
Here is where the data goes from summary to lots of detail.  Page 2 and 3 have all of data for each individual animal. 

I picked G11 because I had a picture of him from the day
he was born.  It was a very cold frosty March morning and
he got to spend a few minutes under the heater in the
blazer warming up while Mark got his momma and him
bedded down in the warm barn.
  Data Example - Steer #G11
In Weight (how much he weighed when he got to the feedlot) = 768 pounds
ADG - 4.21 pounds/day
Carcass Weight - 1047 pounds (2nd heaviest)
Yield Grade - 4 (he has a little more extra fat than we like that will be trimmed off)
Quality Grade - Choice (he should produce meat that is flavorful, tender, and juicy)
Rib Eye Area - 14.5 inches (a big beautiful prime rib roast or steaks)
His Total Value to the feedlot was the 2nd highest of all the steers - This is a steer the feedlots want to purchase due to his ability to gain weight efficiently in the feedlot and to yield high quality beef for your plate.

We keep track of which cows are meeting our goals and which are not.  So we link this data from each individual steer back to his momma.  This helps us to determine which cows are productively sustainable and are doing their job at improving the genetic potential of our calves.  If a cow repeatedly fails to make the grade she is subject to be culled (removed/sold from the herd) earlier than normal.  It cost a lot of money to raise beef and if a particular cow can not cover those costs we have to make a business decision and do what is best for the rest of the herd and to ensure we can remain in business.  It also used as another tool to help us select heifers that have a higher potential to becoming a productive member of our cow herd.  The better of job we do picking our replacement females the better our chances of long term sustainablity and improving the quality of the beef you feed your family.


August 16, 2012

Obama Administration Apparently Doesn't Support Beef Industry

President Obama in a campaign speech just announced that the Government as a step to assist ranchers and farmers facing one of the worst droughts in history is purchasing $170 million worth of meat products.  This food goes to food banks, the school lunch program, Indian Reservations, Summer Food Service Program, and other programs where the government provides for those in need of high quality foods.  The purchase was made to both help out the livestock industry during a time of struggle due to mother nature causing feed prices to increase by over 80% in the past few month and to allow the government to get in on making the purchase before the cost of these foods increase as expected in the next 12 months.  Here is where I have my "BEEF" with the action taken.  Beef was left out of the purchase.  Several times in the release above they mention that the USDA purchases High Quality, Nutritious Food.  The purchase included $100 million in pork products, $50 million in chicken products, $10 million in lamb products, and $10 million in catfish products.  So again why wasn't beef purchased if they were purchasing high quality nutrition food.  Beef is know to be one of the most nutrient dense food sources available and there are 29 cuts of beef that qualify by the USDA as being lean.  

If the name has "Loin" included it is one of the 29 Lean Cuts of Beef! 

Any beef product with "Round" in
the name is an indication of
a cut of Lean Beef
 One 3 ounce serving of beef provides:
51% of our daily recommended value (DRV) for protein
15% of the DRV for Iron (3rd most abundant food source for iron)
38% of the DRV for Zinc
37% of the DRV for Vitamin B12
15% of the DRV for Vitamin B6

Beef contains 8 times more more Vitamin B12 , 6 times more Zinc and 3 times more Iron than a boneless, skinless chicken thigh.

29 cuts of beef have fewer than 170 calories (including 95% lean ground beef).

A 3 ounce serving of lean beef also has less total fat than a boneless/skinless chicken breast.

50% of the fatty acids found in beef are monounsaturated fat.  The same fatty acids found in Olive Oil.  These fatty acids have been shown to increase good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease bad cholesterol (LDL)

95% Lean Ground Beef is 1 of the
29 cuts of Lean Beef

I am not saying that the purchase should have solely included beef.  I think there should have been 5 meat sources instead of just 4 purchased.  I feel that it was a huge blow to the beef industry when the Obama Administration didn't include beef in the purchase for 2 reasons.  First the talked heavily about purchasing high quality nutritious foods for the government food assistance programs.  Second the land facing the worst part of the drought includes the land and area where over 70% of our nations beef is produced.  Pastures do not have enough forage for the cattle, hay and other forages that feed the cattle in the winter are in short supply and are now needed to feed cattle in the summer and fall instead of just the winter time, and the grains and other supplements (protein and energy feeds) are also in very short supply and very high costs.  The beef industry lost 3% of the cow herd last year due to the drought in the southern part of the US.  We are on track right now to loose at least another 3% of our herd this year (Maybe more) in the rest of the high plains region not due to lack of demand for our safe, healthy, nutritious beef products, but because mother nature is putting up one heck of a fight.  These losses in the beef cow herd will not be regained overnight when the rains do come.  This is a loss that will never be completely recovered and what recovery does happen will take 5-10 years to accomplish.  This Administration has disappointed me many times over the past almost 4 years. 

August 13, 2012

HSUS is after Cattlemen and Cattlewomans Beef Checkoff Program

If you have followed this blog for very long you know that I am not a big fan of HSUS or any other group who tries to dictate what happens on American Farms without using the experts to say what is in the best interest of the animal or the land.  Well HSUS has now teamed up (provided the $$ for a law suit) with the Organization of Competitive Markets (OCM) to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.  Basically they are after the Beef Check Off Program.  See this article.

The Beef Checkoff was created by congress under the 1985 farm bill as the "Beef Promotion and Research Act.  In 1988 the beef industry made the Beef Checkoff Program mandatory in a 79% in favor vote.  In several recent polls results show the program is still supported today by well over 80% of the beef industry.  All producers (both American Producers and Importers) pay $1 every time a beef animal is sold throughout it's lifetime.  I pay this $1/head every time I sell a cow or bull at the sale barn or sell a feeder calf the feedlot.  If I purchase an animal the seller then pays the $1 at that time and if i re-sell the animal I pay another $1 so that animal has earned the checkoff program $2 total.  The money is then split 50% to the national program and 50% to the state program.  The National Program is run/budgeted/evaluated by the Cattleman's Beef Board where it's members are nominated by checkoff paying producers and approved by the US Secretary of Agriculture (Right now that would be Tom Vilsack).  Both the National and State levels are overseen by beef producing volunteers to ensure that those who are paying the dollars are choosing where we spend our money.  The money can be spent in several categories including Promotion, Research, Customer Information, Foreign Marketing, and Producer Information.  By law the Checkoff dollars CAN NOT be spent on influencing Government Policy or action including lobbying.

Here are some Highlights Funded by the Beef Producers Through the Beef Checkoff Program
1 - Annual Investment of $4 MILLION in Beef Safety and Product-Technology Research - 
         - The Flat Iron Steak or the Petite Tender - the research to discover and     develop both new lean cuts of beef steaks were funded by Checkoff       
2 - National Radio Ads (the voice of Sam Elliott and Mathew McConaughey), print advertisements in magazines, and TV/Online Commercials.
Here are 2 of the new online advertisements
Advertisement with the Famous Sam Elliott!!
Personally I think Sam Elliott always looked better sitting a horse back with a cowboy hat on!!!

We don't discriminate against the vegetable either.  Every Ad has a beautifully prepared piece of beef neatly laying beside some tasty looking vibrant vegetables
3 - Identifies management practices through the Beef Quality Assurance Program to strengthen Consumer Confidence in beef as being a Healthy, Wholesome, and Safe Product
4 - Funded Product Enhancement and Beef Safety research programs to both SAFETY and QUALITY issues
5 - Works to promote the beef industry both domestically and internationally.

So it would be no surprise that an organization that wants to END animal agriculture all together would not like a program like the Beef Checkoff Program which works to improve the safety, welfare and promote the product that we produce and be more than eager to spend the money collected from those cute puppy/kitty ads on TV claiming to help abused pets.  Personally we are proud to donate $1 for every cow, calf, or bull that we sell to a program to promote our products and give money to improve the safety and eating quality for the consumer.  In fact my opinion is we should increase it to $2 as the cost of research and advertising has increased significantly since 1988 and the number of beef animals in the US has decreased in that same time.  By pooling our money together beef producers have said that we stand behind the product we are producing and we seek to only make it better for future generations. 


For more information on the Beef Checkoff Program go to

August 3, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

It is no secret that this year the US has endured 1 of the worst droughts in history.  It is hitting the agriculture industry hard both those raising crops and livestock.  Feed is in short supply, crops are withering and dying thanks to the lack of rain and scorching temps, and water sources are decreasing.  We have been busy trying to keep up with the irrigation on the corn and hay to ensure we will have feed for the winter and corn to sell to pay the bills.  Our stock ponds (man made ponds than hold rain water for the cattle to drink) have dried up and we are hauling water every few days to 2 of our 4 pastures.  This time of year is normally busy but the extra work is making for really long days and nights. 

1 of our younger calves still growing good even though the grass is dormant and brown.  Normally the grass is still green this time of year.  Our pastures look like they do in October on a "normal" year.

Some of our irrigated corn, still green and growing.  The ears seem to be filling out with corn kernels so far, we just need to keep up with meeting the corns water requirements for about another 30 days.

Cows lounging around the irrigation canal that runs through 1 of the pastures.  The canal provides them with a fresh supply of water all summer and a place to cool off when temps spike well over 100 degrees!