The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Cattle Farmer

Cattle Farmer

From the Farmer's Tractor

August 30, 2009

Anne Burkholder is a cattle farmer in Cozad, Nebraska. Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, Burkholder met her husband – a third generation farmer – at Dartmouth College, and moved with him to join the family business in 1997. Burkholder’s 3,000-acre farm focuses on the last part of the cattle segment, preparing them for harvest.

Why this business for you?
It is a tremendous honor for me to be a part of this business. The people that I have met in the last 12 years have been absolutely outstanding. Cattlemen in general, and especially in Nebraska where we are, are true animal stewards. They do an exemplary job of caring for their animals and taking the time to do the little things right.  

How has your business practices changed in the last 10 years?

The beef industry, like every other industry, is constantly evolving. One of the exciting things about animal agriculture is that we continue to have great science behind animal handling, animal care, and animal stewardship. We’re involved in the beef quality assurance program. We are also interested in a concept called low stress handling. Bud Williams is kind of the grandfather of low stress handling, and he’s trained veterinarians throughout the Midwest to understand that a calf, as a prey animal, has specific needs and requirements, and they have a specific communication system. We’re trying very hard to truly understand that calf so that we can handle them with the lowest amount of possible stress.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?  
As cattle producers we are gaining more and more management tools everyday in order to enable us to be more efficient and consequently make our industry more sustainable. We try very hard to match producers with their consulting veterinarian and consulting nutritionist so that we can put together a comprehensive animal care protocol to enable us to take the best care of our animals and help our animals to be as efficient as possible.

What is the greatest challenge that you have in your business today?

I think the absolute greatest challenge that we have in the beef industry today is matching the producers with the consumers of our end product. We go out every morning to the feed yard, feed our cattle twice a day, take care of them in blizzards, and do everything that we can to set them up for success so that they stay healthy, happy animals and can become a safe end product that’s a great source of protein for consumers. Our challenge: how do we get our story to the consumer? That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about the farmer goes to market program from National Grocers Association and Food Service Communications. As agriculture continues to be more and more separate from the consumer, programs like this are going to enable us, as producers, to get our message out.  

Is sustainability important specifically to your business?  
The cattle industry – and agriculture in general – is intrinsically tied to nature. There’s nothing more sustainable then that. My husband and I run an operation that’s been in his family for three generations. We have three children of our own that we are hoping to pass our farm legacy down to. When we look at sustainability, we look at long-term issues. We want to be able to give back to the environment equal doses of what we use from the environment so that we can continue to produce safe wholesome and nutritious beef without depleting natural resources. 

How does a finishing feed yard function?
We have a 3,000 head finishing feed yard. One of the things that we focus on is completing the quality assurance circle. After the calf is weaned, between six and eight months of age, we acclimate those calves to the feed yard, teach them how to be handled by someone on foot, teach them to trust us, and work on communication. We also exercise our calves. We feed them anywhere from 110 to 200 days, depending on how big they are when they come into the facility. When they’re ready for harvest, they go to a packing plant that isn’t very far away, and they enter the beef supply. The packing plant would then market the materials to retailers or to food service.

How can we help educate the consumer?
I think one of the things we’re working on in the beef industry in particular is how to open those communication channels. A consumer needs to be both educated and know where to get accurate information. I want to be able to tell the consumer about how I care for my animals and how I can ensure that my animal stewardship practices are good. I want to be able to have a relationship with my consumer because I think that is important for consumer confidence. I really encourage consumers to get involved, and, if possible, to get involved at the local level. 

Anne Burkholder will be just one of the many farmers featured in our upcoming Public Television special, Phil Lempert’s Food Sense, now in production. This interview is an excerpt from her story that is scheduled to air Winter 2009.