When was the last time you walked down the grocery aisle and looked at food labels. I bet you probably look at the Nutritional Facts and maybe a few flashy labels for the latest trending buzz word. But have you looked at the manufacturer information on the label? Or even the country of origin label? There’s a reason that information is on there.
I come from an Arkansas ranching family. As a kid I had the responsibility of caring for animals around the house while my parents were busy working on a ranch they managed away from home. During the course of my childhood we had chickens, hogs, rabbits, cattle, donkeys, horses, dogs, cats, and even an orphan deer. I’d get up every morning and feed the calves and gather the show cattle into the barns for the day. I remember well carrying up to 4 bottles full of warm milk to the barn on very cold winter mornings and watching the sun rise while cleaning water tanks. During the summer I was sweating before 5:30 and boy was that ice thick in the winter. When I got home from school, I’d fire up the 4-wheeler and haul a few square bales and check for newborn calves in the pasture. There were several times when I had to assist a cow who had trouble calving. I didn’t know how good I had it.
The calves that I fed at the house, along with the thousands my family cared for at work all went to commercial feedyards in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. My vacations as a kid were spent on a trip to those arid regions to look at our cattle in the yards. We paid the feed bill and the people there would take care of our cattle for 120-150 days while on their finishing ration. After attending college for a few years I had the opportunity to work in these feedyards.
It was different changing from a family farm to one of the largest cattle feeding operations in the world. I worked in every single position in the feedyards. Each employee had a different story. Each had a strong passion for doing their job well. From the guy feeding hay every day, to the feed mill operators, I was amazed at their pride in doing a good job. The pen riders were a different breed, solemn cowboys who could tell you the attitude and history of every single pen of cattle. They rode every pen, every day, and saw every head of cattle on the yard. That takes dedication, yet they still had a passion for doing their job to the best of their ability. Every one of the employees had a vested financial interest in making sure the cattle were cared for and fed correctly. The managers tolerated my constant strain of questions, about health care and well-being of my cattle on the yard. It was pretty cool to see cattle from home after they had been on the yard for 90 or more days through the times they were finished and ready for harvest.
One day, the cattle buyer took me to the Tyson harvest plant in Amarillo. That place was so big! Every where you look, everyone was busy. I remember talking to the USDA inspectors. Their sole job was to make sure every animal that came into the facility was handled in a calm manner, was unconscious when bled out, and that all protocols were used to prevent contamination of our food product. From the harvest floor to the final boxing, everyone knew their job and how to do it well. I talked to many employees and they knew so much about the transition from live animal to the steak that ends up on my plate. It was truly a unique process to witness.
Well since I finished college in Oklahoma, I went back to work in the feedyards for a bit. Worked for the largest cattle feeding company in the world, and even learned that it is owned by a family. The family’s passion carried all the way down the chain, to the newest of employees. A pretty neat team to be a part of.
So what is my point to telling this story?
From my first-hand experience corporate food production doesn’t make up the entire agriculture chain. It may be the end-point for most food production, but MOST ALL FOOD has origins with family farmers and ranchers. People like my family who raise cattle for a living, work hard at it, and passionately care for the quality of food that ends up on our plates. That passion carries all the way from start to finish, from gate to plate. Less than 2% of Americans have the opportunity to experience raising food. I wish more had the opportunity.
The system we have works. Is there room for improvement? Sure, there always is. At least we still have a choice where we get our food. Some countries in this world don’t. Before you criticize those working hard to produce the food on our plates, take a moment to get to know them, and learn why they do their jobs. Agriculture, It’s more than part of life. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, a resilient community that works hard to feed the world!
Here’s some links to thoughts from others
- Fast Food Nation… (feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com)