Friday, May 21, 2010

Making The Best Better

I was excited that the International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare was held in Manhattan this week. It's not everyday you have an international conference on beef cattle issues in your backyard (figuratively).

It was great to see cattle producers working to make cattle welfare practices even better. The highlight for me was listening to Dr. Temple Grandin share her experiences and research, as well as the changes she has witnessed in recent years as part of her latest book and HBO movie tour.

Dr. Grandin has used her life experience with autism to revolutionize the way we once viewed cattle behavior and cattle handling systems. I had the opportunity to take a short course with her while in graduate school and loved that her straight-forward teaching style and passion for her subject.

In her recent travels to major cities across the country she has noted a changing tide in public concern and information about how our food is produced. She warned us that cattle producers were "not winning the communications battle."

One of my favorite parts of her opening speech was a remark about the handling of cattle within packing facilities. Grandin cited her work over many years in auditing animal harvesting facilities. What she reiterated though to the group was that "whether it's organic, natural, humane, or Mc Donald's it's all held to the same standard," in an animal welfare audit.
No matter what type of beef you choose, it's important to know that it was handled to minimize stress and prevent abuse. Those who are cruel to animals may rarely appear on the evening news, but it is my belief that these people are few and far between. This conference was a testament to the majority of cattle producers who are working to produce a safe, wholesome, and humane product. Cattle producers work tirelessly to ensure the welfare of animals, but are always looking for ways "to make the best better."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mama Cow

Our month began with a rather strange occurrence...

Please note: green grass, an uncomfortable looking cow, and a north facing hoof.

We generally finish calving out all of our cows in January and February. I'm not sure if you remember January, but it looked something like this.

Checking heifers in January generally involves every article of warm clothing one owns and a flashlight. As well as my own personal fantasies about adding a windshield to the Trekker to make our late night checks more tolerable. Yep, I'm a big whiner when it comes to winter. I'll do better. I just don't have Mr. O's steely resolve yet. So after acquiring a new heifer last spring that was a bit out of sync with the rest of our herd I was happy to be wearing these during my most recent heifer checks.

Forgive me for not appreciating the "miracle of birth" in the dead of winter. But unless a cow is having trouble or needs to come into the barn for a closer look, I'm not too interested in sticking around. I'll come back and check in two hours. If I don't bribe Mr. O to take my shift. A dozen Oatmeal Crisp Cookies = two night heifer checks.

This day in May however was different. Warm even. So I thought I'd stick around a bit and see what I was missing. I'll spare you those pictures. It's a family show. But as we gathered her in a smaller pen and hid in the shade of the barn, I could only wonder why the heck we don't do this every May.

I'm generally against delivery room photos...

This cow proves to be a great mom. She gets right up and begins to clean her calf. She also assumes a bit of an attitude. Something that reminds me of a story about my sister-in-law watching my two-year old nephew in the "Under Six-Year Old" ball pit at the museum.

Without any practical experience at motherhood, I'm not without a great deal of respect for the moms at our ranch. They are comforters, nourishers, and protectors. And clearly we couldn't run the place without them.

When I hear people far away from the farm talk about how we treat our cattle, I can't help but think of the cows we care for everyday and the work they do for us. We treat them ethically around the clock not because it's best for our bottom line, but because it's the right thing to do. After all ranchers are also comforters, nourishers, and protectors.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

At Last

I never knew there were so many shades of brown, until I moved to Kansas. After several months of this....

Words can't express how happy spring at the ranch makes me. So I'll spare you the rambling.... and hope you'll enjoy these instead!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meatful Monday

Mr. Optimistic frequently says I have the guilt of four catholics. I'd say it's more like five.

There is however one guilt trip I'm not taking. Lately, I've seen several articles that suggest eating meat is bad for the environment and touting Meatless Mondays. A good friend of mine (and very talented photographer) even found this display at the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

And yes, that's a cow in a gas mask encouraging you to lay off beef and dairy products (center right). Seriously.

My friend even overheard a mother say, "See, that is why you are helping the environment by becoming a vegan!" The little girl didn't look so convinced. But many adults are.

Most of the meatless claims center around a 2006 research report by the United Nations titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." The report claims that livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, this information continues to be recycled.

The problem is that it is a global estimate for all of agriculture, not just livestock. Agriculture across the globe is quite varied. In addition, the study included transportation of livestock products...something you'd also have to do for vegetables unless you live in a greenhouse.

A 2008 U.S. EPA report says, methane from livestock accounts for only 2.4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That's relatively small considering transportation accounts for 26%.

What's more, many Americans are actually not meeting the food guide pyramids requirements for lean protein. Beef is the number one food source of zinc (essential for your immune system), as well as an excellent source of iron and protein that will help meet the pyramid's guide. More great news - there are 29 lean cuts to choose from.

Farmers and ranchers work hard to maintain our earth's natural resources everyday. It's our livelihood. So feel guilty about eating too much triple chocolate layer cake (or not calling your mom), but don't feel bad about eating beef.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mo vs. Mo in Food Inc.

As an agriculturalist, I have never criticized Food Inc. In fact I didn’t even have my pitchfork sharpened last night when I flew (figuratively) through the door at 8:45 p.m. after a meeting and turned on PBS. I did not see the first 45 minutes but I spent the next hour asking….can that be?

I’ve heard a lot about Food Inc, if not through the beef industry then via the Academy Awards list of Best Documentary Nominees. But I have been slow to criticize, because I simply had not seen it for myself.

One thing really surprised me. Although I’ve been in production agriculture all my life and spent several summers testing grain at the Co-op, I had no idea what a bunch of "jerks" worked at Monsanto. Wait a minute…my brother (who I find quite likable) works there. The portion of the movie that I watched (which was technically part two), didn’t spare any expense at providing Monsanto a one-sided fight. Especially, when all of the talking is done by those "poor farmers.” I couldn’t wait to hear what my brother had to say when I texted him while watching. Fortunately, this email arrived from him this morning:

"How dare Monsanto patent the seed that they put billions of dollars of research into? Why shouldn’t farmers get the technology for free?

To give you an idea it is estimated that Monsanto spends $2.6 million a DAY on seed research.

What they fail to tell you is that Monsanto isn’t out to destroy poor innocent farmers by taking them for all they are worth. Rather they are out to protect the patents of their products that they have worked to develop. One thing they also forgot to mention in the movie is Monsanto doesn’t collect a dime from the lawsuits. Anything that is awarded to Monsanto either through lawsuit or settlement is immediately donated back to youth scholarships and agriculture education groups within the area that the farmer is from. Click here for their side of the story.

As far as poor Maurice (Mo) Parr the seed cleaner from Indiana. No one stated he had to quit cleaning seed. He simply has to quit cleaning seed with Monsanto’s genetic traits in it. It was sad how the movie portrayed Monsanto squashing poor Mo. Read Mo here.

Then there is Troy Roush. Never mind the fact that Monsanto should sue him again for confidentiality violations as was determined per his settlement. The guy still buys seed from the company he hates."

I assure you my big brother is not a company spokesman, just someone who offers another side to the story. While he's not unbiased, he did mention he needed a raise. No one's totally satisfied with company policy.

However, while watching the video in my home, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Mo and the gang. I have a real soft spot for elderly men, especially elderly farmers. I’m a prime example of one more person watching this film without all the facts.

Unfortunately, anyone watching this movie was doing it without all the facts. I was saddened and shocked by the blanket statements about dishonest people in the food industry. As a chronic perfectionist I’m open to a discussion about how I can do anything better, including raising food. I’m a firm believer that anything can be done better. But don't attack the hardworking men and women racing to keep up with the challenges of feeding a dramatically increasing population, that is demanding affordable food.

I believe there's a place at our tables for all types of production including organic, grass-fed, and conventional. I do however have a serious problem with one producer disparaging anothers product without true scientific evidence.

What this video misses is that we have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world that is the envy of our neighbors. Daily we walk into clean, brightly lit stores to purchase, affordable, wholesome, and (when prepared properly) safe foods. How lucky we are as a nation to have this much time on our hands to complain about it….it’s probably because we aren’t cleaning our own chickens in the backyard.

My lunch break is over and an hour isn't nearly enough time to dispel all of the myths in this film. Visit Safe Food Inc. to learn more about the films inaccuracies.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Fell In To A....

When it comes to jobs at the ranch, I'm generally not too picky. After dwelling in an office most of the day, I'm thankful for anything that doesn't involve heels.

There is however, one job that will make me immediately want to find somewhere else to be: Burning.

I really was never aware of my fear of fire until I went to my first burn with Mr. Optimistic seven years ago. I got clotheslined by an overzealous, hose-wielding college boy while holding a drip torch. Both I and my pride were singed.

After marrying the Flint Hills however, disappearing to the mall during burning season seems a little wrong. So I've learned to adjust, adapt, and of course take pictures.

If you are a stray to the area like me, you may wonder why this is done. For one, good stewards of the land have a saying to "take half and leave half." In other words, when grazing a pasture, one would like to graze until half the grass production for that year is used, and then move the cows to another pasture. What is left behind, though, is lots and lots of mature, dead grass. When pastures are burned at the right time, it gives new nutrient-rich and efficient grass the opportunity to grow. And become the most incredibly beautiful green color imaginable.

Also, burning helps control invasive plant species like cedar trees and different types of brush that can overrun grazing land. Want to get Mr. Optimistic ruffled? Tell him you love cedar trees. Our neighbors love them, and we don't speak to them anymore.

There are many other reasons why rangeland burning is important for the Flint Hills, even including a cow's picky palette. Apparently to her, the grass is greener (and more delectable) on the other side of the hill. Cows will sometimes return to their favorite spot too often, shortening the grass and allowing invasive plants to take hold. I have a similar problem with McDonald's french fries, so I'm not judging.

In short, Mr. Optimistic is not a pyro, but a conservationist seeking to find the best way to efficiently manage and maintain the resources that we have. By keeping our pastures viable, we are able to efficiently feed cattle and a growing human population without increasing the land needed for agriculture. Which I'm sure makes all of our cedar tree loving neighbors very happy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Keepin' it Real

The McDonald's "Gimme back that filet-o-fish" commercial has officially been in my head periodically for a year. I'm so glad they brought that sad mounted fish back for another Lenten season.

Recently the screaming fish in my head was replaced by a smoother jingle. "When it's real. You know when it's real." Ironically when I saw this commercial today it was for a competing less-catchy fish sandwich at Wendy's. The commercial touted fish that was "Real without question."

This all seemed pretty trivial until one commercial later a K.F.C. commercial cited their chicken was prepared in their kitchens...."by a REAL cook." Really Colonel?

I even saw a mayonnaise commercial recently touting real ingredients with a maternal figure (who was way too happy about mayo) encouraging me to, "say yes to real."

This past week, while enjoying some chicken nuggets I noticed the container they were in said they too were made with "Real Chicken." And we all know that same joint serves 100% real beef in their burgers.

Apparently, real-ity is all around me.

"Real" seems to be the favorite word of food marketing companies nationwide. Is it the new green? But, what does it really mean? I just had some Chicken flavored Ramen for dinner. Did I imagine that? Tasted real.

I can't help but wonder what all of this advertising says about consumers. While I consider the beef we produce and eat in our home to be real...I'm not sure what constitutes this marketing sanction. As a beef producer I'm convinced I better figure it out, because judging by the work of market researchers this is a real priority.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When I Lived Here

Mr. Optimistic and I both grew up in homes where a vacation was a trip to the State Fair. While I learned a lot about Midwestern culture, I was always a little jealous of my friend's Yellowstone and Florida stories. Thus, before Mr. Optimistic and I were engaged I made him promise me two non-cattle related vacations a year. Nothing personal, cows. While I felt a bit high maintenance at the time, I knew I wanted to see and understand things beyond a cattle show. Blasphemy?

So after calving and sale season and before burning and breeding season we took a quick spring break trip to Washington, D.C.

In college, I interned with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Public Policy Office in D.C. I loved the excitement of politics and the opportunities of the city. After a fast ten weeks, I was certain I would return and live out my days as a lobbyist. That didn't exactly happen. By exactly I mean at all. Somewhere between the summer of my junior year and graduation I fell in love with a few things outside of the Beltway. Namely Mr. Optimistic, Kansas, and regularly seeing actual cows.

To say that I've glamorized D.C. in the past seven years would be an understatement. I've missed everything from my morning walk past the White House to the bagels at Au Bon Pain. Finally, last week it was time to satisfy my craving for museums, monuments, and spooning strangers on the Metro.

I generally try to keep passing strangers out of my
pictures but this girl is a definite exception.

By the last day of our trip I'd eaten my weight in crab cakes and walked the length of a couple marathons. Vowing to buy more comfortable shoes. I'd cozied up to new friends on the Metro, gotten my museum fix, and thoroughly annoyed Mr. O with my "When I lived here..." stories.

Surprisingly though I was done. I wondered how my 20-year-old self didn't notice the noise, the crowds and the near-death cab experiences. Perhaps I'm getting old or perhaps the best kind of vacation is the one where you realize how great your home is.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Remember When

This morning I received an email from my favorite (and only) brother. It was short and to the point, "Remember that time you had a blog. That was awesome." Ah, one of the few people I know who doesn't need a sarcasm emoticon.

Yes, it's been awhile. But I have a decent excuse. It's called Sale Season. I swear something tightened in my stomach when I wrote that, and realized that Sale Season is only 354 days away.

Side note: Each year we help with Mr. Optimistic's family's cattle production sale the third Tuesday in February. They usually sell about 150 head of Hereford and Angus cattle. Then the first Friday in March Mr. Optimistic hosts the production sale of the operation he manages. Here they sell about 100 Hereford, Angus, and Simmental cattle, and a few horses. One year the two sales fell in the same week. It was the first year we were married. Luckily we were still so very much in love. Otherwise someone could have been killed.

Sales are stressful. One year my father-in-law was called to jury duty the day of his production sale. I remember him telling me the story. He said I told her, "Lady, I get paid one day a year, and that's Tuesday." I doubt he called her "lady." It's a pretty small town and this was probably the same lady that cut his hair or runs the gas station...but you get the idea. The point is - I've never had to worry about making the majority of my salary on one day of the year. And I take a lot of comfort in direct deposit. Ranchers however don't have this option. The risk involved is enough to make anyone go a little crazy.

So it wasn't until midway through the sales or perhaps right at the end that I realized how much I love this time of year.


1) We see old friends with like-minded interests.

2) The cattle are "right." A lot of effort goes into preparing cattle for sale, especially during a hard winter like this one. I can't believe I just said hard winter. All of that effort has finally come to a head. When it comes to cattle, the work is done.

3) It's almost over! Spring is a couple weeks away and it's time to grow more cows.

Mostly though, it's because we pull together. We get things done as a family. Sometimes out of necessity, but mostly because we like each other and the work. If my husband was a surgeon I couldn't show up at the ER to lend a hand. How lucky I am to work in an industry where everyone in the family can get involved. I'm thankful to have a Sale Season that reminds me of that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thankful Thursday

On mornings when Mr. Optimistic beats me out of bed (which is most of them) he opens the kennel door on our dog Bear. When I hear the metal latch, I know I have exactly 17 seconds to get out of bed or be Bear’s trampoline. This morning I took my chances with the fur ball. I’ve been travelling a lot lately and sincerely miss....everything. It rendered me useless.

But travelling has also made me thankful for everything that resembles home.

Here’s what I’ve been missing…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Finishing my MBA

In 2007 I asked God to never put me through another master’s program. But this time we both made an exception.

The NCBA’s Master’s of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program is an excellent way for producers and beef enthusiasts to become better prepared to communicate with the public about beef issues. While I have always had a passion for all things bovine, I had often been afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s not unusual for me to spend a good portion of my evening replaying conversations in my head and torturing myself over what I should have said. Occasionally, I like to torture Mr. Optimistic with my faux conversations as well.

So I was a little torn between wanting to advocate for my industry and not wanting to do us all more harm than good. Enter: NCBA’s MBA. The great part about this training program is that you get a broad overview of the beef industry, as well as specific talking points for everyday situations, or if you’re feeling brave presentations. Growing up in the cow-calf sector, this program especially helped me learn more about other phases of production. It also helped me better understand consumer concerns and the best ways to share information.

Even better…Once you complete your degree you’ll be connected to producers from across the country in the MBA alumni program. Like Facebook for cattle people, they have helpful tools to keep you updated on issues occurring within the media.

I must say I feel a bit guilty referring to my Master’s of Beef Advocacy as an MBA.

1) Most master’s degree programs I’m familiar with require a minimum of 30 hours coursework. The MBA requires only six online modules.
2) My MBA was free! No monthly payment to the Dept. of Ed.
3) It can be completed from the comfort of your own home. In your cow pajamas.

Check it out for yourself:

No really do it now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Love Online

I Love Beef!

Let’s be real….all 8 of my followers probably knew that.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m trying to do more to promote beef in my daily life. Mostly the result of a concept presented by Daren Williams, Executive Director of Communications for NCBA. If 48 people spend 10 minutes per day on beef advocacy, it's the full-time equivalent of one employee working to preserve your way of life.

As a rule my non-confrontational nature and low tolerance for BS (other than my own) has caused me to skip engaging in any online debate. You just don’t know who you’re debating or if they care to learn. Today however, I side-stepped my natural inclination and responded to an online article about E. coli, featured in USA Today.

On the positive the article highlighted some of the great research going on at K-State to fight E. coli problems (Go State!), but it had a concerning lead. As a journalism major (many years ago), I appreciate the need for an eye-catching introduction.

The author reported eating beef in the winter would be better than the summer because researchers have found higher rates of E. coli among cattle in the summer- conjuring images of questionable summer burgers on the grill.

I understand why the woman did this. The author’s work would have seemed less alarming, if she would have immediately (or ever) pointed out a basic in food safety. Cook your ground beef to 160 degrees and there’s no problem.

I added a short comment that said as much after reading what others had to say. As I read the remaining comments I realized I was the only pro-beef voice on the page. One out of 25. And I got scared. The misconceptions were alarming.

It may be only a small example, but Daren is right we need more voices and from the looks of the comment section the lack of knowledge can be scary….maybe even overwhelming. But please don’t be like me. Don’t assume someone else is responding to articles and false information on your behalf.

Perhaps you have ten minutes?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

First Calf!

We have a bit of a yours, mine, and ours situation at the ranch. Technically a yours and ours situation, as my husband manages a ranch for a living and we have our own operation as well. It began with a small herd of Angus cattle from Illinois when we got married. My mom said it was part of my dowry. I had to Google dowry. We've since grown to a herd of Hereford and Angus cattle that we enjoy developing and growing.

While Mr. Optimistic has been calving cows since January as part of his job managing the ranch.

It was finally "our" turn for the first calf of the season last week.

Too Close!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Optimistic?

If you knew me, we’d agree that optimism isn’t totally my thing. Mr. Optimistic tells me I'm a realist. Shortly after we got married he said, “Some people wonder if the glass is half empty or half full. You say, ‘Who cares? When you’re done with it put it in the dishwasher.” (A nod to my compulsive organization?)

Today however, I’m quite optimistic. Like many, I was surprised by [yellow tail]’s donation to HSUS (The Humane Society of the United States). Please don’t confuse this organization with your local humane society. While these folks capitalize on a conveniently similar name, they have no real intention of aiding any pets at all. Take it from their ringleader Wayne Pacelle, "We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding." Please don’t tell that to our Corgi.

What’s more they were recently found to be capitalizing on the tragedy in Haiti. “Raising money to help nonexistent animals is the lowest kind of fundraising scam. Sadly, it's just the latest in a string of phony HSUS fundraising schemes,” said David Martosko, Director of Research at the Center for Consumer Freedom.

One thing HSUS is committed to is abolishing meat consumption in the U.S. HSUS’s accusations about how we feed and care for our cattle contain such gross misrepresentations; one wonders if they know which end the feed goes in. Perhaps they don’t know or care that ninety-eight percent of all farms in the US are family owned. Not corporate, not factory, but FAMILY farms. Families like mine that eat the beef we produce.

So last night, I did my agriculturalist duty and signed on to the Facebook [yellow tail] Fan page and asked them to research and reconsider. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t going to be one of a handful of people who took the time. It continues today as hundreds of people voice their opinion about the dangerous and misleading “Tails for Tails” program. Yesterday an acknowledgement came from the company that they were reviewing the proposal.

What’s more? I learned I’m not alone. There are hundreds of people on the page and thousands in our industry who are taking the time to not only share their story but their science. After plenty of social media workshops, it was exciting to watch the real thing!
And it’s reason to be optimistic!