Why All the Beef About Beef?

Owen eating cheeseburger
We enjoy beef in all forms – including the $1 cheeseburgers at McDonalds. Don’t be fooled by foodie elites, all beef is safe and nutritious.

I’ve got a beef with today’s view of beef. Too many times – and it happened again yesterday while flipping through a food magazine – I found an article telling me that hamburger from the local butcher is trustworthy and safe, but beef from the grocery story, well, maybe not.

Sure, the local butcher is probably a good guy and takes great care of his cold cuts. But so too are the men and women of Tyson, Cargill, National Beef and others that process millions of pounds of hamburger every year and do so safely and without incident.

We raise beef cows – lots of them actually – and while our end goal is a healthy animal that produces steaks people would pay $1 million for (ok, that may be excessive but we make really, really good steaks), we know that many of our animals will likely end up in your next fast food cheeseburger. And that’s ok. We just want you to enjoy beef.  Our animals are sold to large beef companies that then distribute the beef to restaurants, food service companies and grocery store chains. We keep our animals healthy and trust the companies producing the end products will likewise keep the beef fresh and safe for consumption. How do we know? Because federal inspectors are in processing facilities daily and put their seal of approval on nearly everything that goes out the door to the public.

Likewise, the neighborhood butcher is inspected and overseen by state and/or federal inspectors. What’s the difference? The butcher’s beef stays in house while the other must be transported. But that extra step does not compromise the quality or safety of the beef you pick up from Wal-Mart or Costco or enjoy at Wendy’s and Burger King.

In fact, many fast food restaurants are also getting into the game and keep a close eye on the beef they serve. Yep, even Micky D’s (https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/quality-food.html) As a whole, the beef industry collectively spends more than $550 million each year on testing, interventions and other safety strategies.

Thousands of ranchers, just like us, take pride in our animals and the beef we produce. We trust the companies that package and deliver that beef to your favorite bar or drive-thru and know that your $1 cheeseburger was created with the same quality beef that can be found in the corner meat market. It’s all antibiotic-free, raised on grass and loaded with 10 essential vitamins and minerals.

 

Distance Distorts Understanding

Conveniences in food purchasing and preparation are leading to continued decline in connection to agriculture

Combine and grain cart

We Americans want it all. We want the big paychecks and the 40-hour work week. We want well behaved kids but don’t want to tell them no. We want big houses but little upkeep. And we want the trendiest, healthiest and riches foods but none of the input required to get it to the table.

Today’s culture has become obsessed with cooking and all things food. We have multiple television channels devoted to cooking and culinary trends. Food retails were responsible for more than $500 billion in sales in 2016 and just recently, retail giant Amazon jumped into the grocery market, buying Whole Foods and sending shock waves through the industry.

But like all things in our busy lives, we don’t seem to actually have time to shop for and prepare these amazing foods we are insisting be found on our dinner table. Heck, we hardly have time to sit down and enjoy a meal. Grocery stores now offer online ordering and curb side delivery and if you can’t possibly make it to the parking lot, a dozen or so new companies specialize in delivering meal kits directly to our homes.

While all of this convenience is nice, it’s also a bit worrisome. At a time when we have become so entrenched in dictating food policy and eating habits not just of ourselves but others – see article on school districts reducing meat consumption of its students – we are farther removed than ever from the people, places and systems that grow our food and deliver it to the table.

I’m certainly not one to point fingers. I just polished off a frozen microwave meal and handed my children Eggo waffles as they walked out the door this morning. But I still believe in cooking and making the weekly trek to the grocery store to personally pull the boxes and cans from the shelves and throw them into the back of my always dirty car. And being married to a farmer, I get to witness each part of the growing and harvesting process. Today less than 2% of the country’s population shares my experience and understanding of the food system and that’s too few.

That decline in direct connection to food has been in stark contrast to the uptick in regulations, proposals and pushes to label, stipulate and mandate ingredients, growing practices and preparation techniques. We want unblemished products from untreated seeds and unprotected plants. We want healthy and balanced ready in 30 minutes and for less than $5 per person. We want our farmers and ranchers to raise products using outdated and ineffective growing practices but want to use 21st century technology to deliver it the next day to our kitchen table.

As American consumers, we have access to the most abundant, healthy and affordable food supply on the planet. Nowhere else can people enjoy so much for so little. But our push to move technology out of the field but onto our kitchen table has further distorted most consumers’ views and understanding of how food is raised and impacts our bodies and overall health. We want to see all Americans with equal access to all things healthy and gourmet but we don’t want to see farms grow or consolidate to realize the efficiencies necessary to produce affordable grains, beef and dairy products. People who have never in so much as peeled a potato want to tell others how and what to eat.

American consumers cannot continue to take a hands-off approach to purchasing and preparing food but insist on dictating how our farmers raise their crops and others get their nutrients. If consumers want to make decisions on meals, they need to be more involved in the growing of the food. But the more we walk away from buying and preparation, the most uneducated and uninformed we all become in regards to our food.

Beating the Heat, Part 1

We survived the drought of 2011. The heat crippled our crops and stifled our pastures and the lack of rain dried the ground and depleted our ponds.  We received some much-needed rain this spring but it seems the faucet has been turned off. We are in our third straight week of triple-digit temperatures and there is no rain forecasted for our farm.

As the summer progresses, we seem to be finding ourselves, again, analyzing shriveling crops and shrinking pasture ponds. We must now find alternatives and work daily to keep our animals safe. This week, I will detail our drought survival guide and what we do on our farm to keep our animals and our employees safe, hydrated and happy.

Monday: Cooling the Cattle

We provide nutritional supplements for our cattle – to replace what has been lost in our pastures. The ladies know the farm truck means new salt blocks.

The heat in Central Kansas has been unending. We’ve endured more than 10 days of triple-digit temperatures and there is no relief in site. We’re all hot and downright tired of the heat.

Since Mother Nature doesn’t give us an “off” switch for the natural furnace, we must – and have – learned to endure.

As animal owners, it is our duty to make sure our cows and horses have the water and environment necessary to survive the heat. Much attention is paid to our care for the cattle during the cold winter months but the hazards are just as real in the summer.

Heat and humidity can be lethal for cattle and horses. Those animals do not sweat like humans and the cooling process often takes more work and is dependent on outside factors such as air movement, access to water and shade.

When provided with food, water and shade, cattle and horses will do everything possible to keep themselves cool. The animals’ basic instincts will kick in to modify their behaviors so that they drink plenty of water, utilize the shade when possible and eat in the morning and evening hours, moving the effort of grazing and eating to the coolest parts of the day.

But we have to help and make sure we are providing anything and everything the animals may need to stay cool and healthy.

We check water levels – be it in ponds or water tanks – daily and provide new, fresh sources of water when needed.

We also spend time just watching our animals. We can tell a lot about their health by monitoring their behavior.

We also must be diligent in checking the conditions of our pastures and the grass our animals have access to. When grass conditions decline, we provide minerals to restore the nutritional balance our cattle need. Like pregnant human mothers, proper nutrition – especially in the second trimester – is critical for mother cows and the development of a healthy calf.  We have more than 400 pregnant cows and heifers on our farm right now so it is vital we are giving them everything they need to continue a healthy pregnancy.

A recent push for grass-fed beef has caused people to criticize cattle owners that provide their animals anything beyond the grass in the ground. For us, it’s a matter of ensuring a well-balanced diet. Pastures that have been damaged by heat and drought do not provide all of the nutrients cattle need for complete health. Cattle know when they are lacking a key nutrient, and allowing them the opportunity to take a few licks off the salt block means we are helping them monitor their diet.

Finally, we must watch for illness. The stress of the heat will affect health and sick cattle alike but is manageable with a healthy immune system. Cattle that are already battling an infection (i.e. pink eye) or a respiratory disorder will have a harder time dealing with the heat. That is one reason it is important we use antibiotics to treat illness in our animals. We want to do everything we can to help them improve their condition.

As the heat wears on, so will we. Our days will be spent watching for over animals and doing everything we can to keep them happy, healthy and hydrated. It’s all part of the responsibility that comes with owning animals and we are happy to do our part.