As a senior in high school, the season of college visits, applications, scholarships and making decisions has arrived. It’s almost a daily occurrence for me to be asked, “What are you going to do after high school?” While this question causes anxiety for some of my peers, I answer it with confidence. Fortunately, I know the passion I want to pursue following graduation: agriculture. My love for agriculture began when I was old enough to say cow and only intensified by my involvement in 4-H and eventually FFA. However, as I provide my solid answer to the frequently asked question about what my major is going to be in college, my reply is often received with surprise. “You’re going to go into agriculture? Really? Don’t you want to do something else? You’re so smart, don’t you want to do more with your life?” I just smile, shake my head, and reassure them that agriculture is the field I desire to work in. Most people don’t understand why my decision to seek a career in agriculture was such an easy one to make. Here are the four biggest reasons why I choose to be the future of agriculture: Continue reading
The U.S. trade deficit with the rest of the world has been getting a lot of attention lately. In January, the deficit was estimated to be $56.6 billion, the highest level in nearly a decade. President Trump believes the trade deficit is bad and argues the U.S. is losing to other countries with which it trades. Accordingly, he believes the U.S. must renegotiate trade agreements and enact tariffs on imported goods to rectify the large deficits. The President’s arguments raise two questions: Are trade deficits inherently bad? And, is the U.S. losing to the rest of the world by having such large trade deficits? Continue reading
When you think of cattle what do you think of? Most might say something along the lines of steak or hamburger, but have you ever thought about the everyday products that may use some other less obvious parts of the beef animal? By-products are secondary items that are produced in addition to the main product. For as long as humans have used animals as a food source, their by-products have been just as important. For cattle-the obvious main product is meat, but cattle provide numerous byproducts that we use daily. Through manufacturing processes, parts of the animals such as the hide, bones, hair, and fatty acids can be made into important industrial, household and health products. In fact, 99% of the beef animal is utilized!
The other day I decided to treat myself to a large bowl of ice cream. I was feeling like it needed a little extra something, so I decided to add some chocolate syrup and whipped cream. When I looked at the can of whipped cream, I had somewhat of an epiphany when I saw a bold label that said, “No Artificial Growth Hormones.” I stared at the label as an agriculturalist and an advocate for the industry and began to understand why there is such a distrust between consumers and producers.
We are often told to choose our words carefully. Sometimes we don’t pay any attention to the words that aren’t inappropriate or hurtful but in reality they are just as important. When attending Nebraska Agriculture Youth Institute a speaker gave us a chart of words to use when talking about agriculture to the consumers who are unaware of who we are as an industry. There was one group of words that really stuck out at me, the usage of operation compared to family farm or ranch. I’ve always considered our ranch as our family’s, but professionally speaking I have always referred to it as an operation. When thinking about Keystone Cattle Company and O-C Livestock I realized that it isn’t an operation but really my family’s home.
The reasoning behind my agriculture influence. Both sides of my grandparents have given me the opportunity to grow up in the most amazing industry and I have learned so much about their lives through doing the same activities that they have enjoyed in their lifetimes. My Grandpa and Grandma O’Connor have blessed me to grow up in God’s Country. It seems as if I can’t go anywhere without hearing crazy stories about Grandpa. Some of my favorite time with family is spent talking about the older generations. One of my most memorable brandings was this year when my grandpa crawled onto my brothers rope horse and heeled two legs on his first loop. I have been beyond blessed to be apart of the Keystone Cattle Company. However my blessings don’t stop there. My love for 4-H might just come from the Merritt’s. I love to hear the story of my grandparents meeting on the steps of the White House as they represented Nebraska as the 4-H Four Square Winners. Still to this day my family will go through my grandfather’s old papers on his registered Maines and his long line of show quarter horses. I love hearing people talk about how successful my Grandpa was in this tough industry, and even to this day my family and I wish we had his good eye to help us pick out our stock for the year. I love learning more about my family and am blessed to learn about the lives of my loved ones.
Perhaps the biggest influence of agriculture in my lifetime. If anyone knows my Mom you know that pigs won’t be far behind. Growing up, raised by Nebraska 4-H’s Queen and King,she fell in love with the organization and has passed that down to my brothers and I. Her father, having a variety of operations, presented her with a chance to work on their feedlot growing up, show some awesome show horses, and be involved with showing livestock competitively. Her love for agriculture met her profession when she traded out special education for a job at the local grain elevator. Though she was just wanting to help out during the harvest season, her love for ag lead her to being the commodity trader for a feedlot and now a manager for a feed store. I have seen my mother put much time and money into spoiling my brothers and I with some awesome livestock, hotels for shows, and of course a fair amount of carnival food. I wouldn’t be as successful in FFA, 4-H or any other activities if it wasn’t for her support. Her ability to network with everyone in the industry shows me how important relationships are. I love sitting in the show barn doing nothing with her and aspire to be such as great of female agriculturalist as she is.
The passing of my father last year has allowed me to learn so much about him in such a short time. Hearing stories about his success in high school and college rodeo inspires me to chase after my dreams. My father served as a regional director for both high school and college rodeo, which gives me a sense of where my strong leadership skills come from. Also the amount of support and friends he had, shows me that the all the relationships built in the agriculture family are those of gold.
My oldest brother is completely responsible for my future in agriculture. The year he left me to do my own chores had me worried, but being forced to be in the barn by myself made me realize his love spending time with his livestock. After chasing his dreams of judging livestock in college it has made me work hard to be more like him. From Casper College to South Dakota State, he has grown as an agriculturalist and man as he prepares to be in the workforce in agriculture. I can’t wait to see where this industry takes him.
Lastly my brother Rhett. Yep, you guessed it, Rhett is “that brother.” The one that is so close to home, but we don’t ever see him because he is busy experiencing new things, but mostly you can’t get him out of the roping arena. Rhett has demonstrated the importance of finding your perfect place while at school where he has excelled in his rodeoing and academics. Rhett’s good work ethic, love for talking, and positive attitude will make him do great things while running the Keystone Cattle Company in the future.
After thinking long and hard about how the words “family ranches” are more appealing than operations it made me think about how my operation would differ if it weren’t for my family. Agriculture is one of the fastest advancing industries yet it sits strong on a foundation of tradition and family. The closeness of family operations prove to be than producing goods but instead making a living worth loving. The future of agriculture will continue to grow but the tradition of the family farms and ranches will stand strong for ever.
In the midst of mud from the freshly melted six inches of snow, miles of pens, and the hum of generators, I stand above the ground and take in my surroundings. The catwalk in the Denver stock yards is one of my favorite places in the world. On it, I am able to look over a place that has historic value, as well as significance to my family.
One of my favorite memories was this past January, seeing my photo on the Wall of Champions in the Yards as National Hereford Queen, since my parents and grandparents are on the wall, too. I am the fourth generation of both sides of my family to exhibit cattle at the National Western Stock Show, and the fifth generation on both sides to raise Hereford cattle.
While these two traditions have uniquely influenced my life, the broader traditions of agriculture run deep in many families, such as my own. There are technical traditions, such as branding cattle with the brand (and sometimes the same branding irons!) that have been in a family for years. There are also traditions of agricultural life that are more so associated with values and soft skills. For example, when I think of integrity, I think of a cowboy, because the image that most people have of a cowboy is a kind person who always helps and does the right thing. Other traditions of agricultural life include grit, courage, and passion. These are a handful of the reasons that I am proud of the traditions that I keep as part of an agricultural family.
Everywhere I turn, I seem to be faced with advertisements encouraging me to eat antibiotic-free meat. While one beauty of being an American is that we have the freedom to choose how we raise our livestock and what products we buy. In no way am I shaming antibiotic-free producers. However, I understand that fear of antibiotic resistance and concern for animal well-being.
As a sixth generation beef producer from the Nebraska Sandhills, I have firsthand experience with raising livestock. When cattle get sick with a bacterial infection, my family chooses to treat them with an antibiotic. We don’t do this because a sick calf would mean a loss in profit. I can speak for most if not all livestock producers when I say that our livestock are our way of life. We put our heart and soul into caring for these animals, and it pains us to see them suffer.
To acknowledge the fear of antibiotic-treated meat animals, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind. As producers, we develop herd health programs with our veterinarians, and receive training on proper dosage and withdrawal procedures. Relative to the topic of antibiotic resistance, many of the compounds used to treat animals are ionophores, which are actually antimicrobials that serve no purpose in human medicine, and do not impact antibiotic resistance whatsoever. While there are the few drugs that are utilized by both species, they are used to different degrees, as in the case of tetracycline, which accounts for only four percent of human antibiotic prescription, but comprise forty-one percent in animals. Producers feed the meat that we raise to our own families, so we would absolutely never taint the food supply.
As the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) goes into effect in January 2017, the use of antibiotics for growth promotion will no longer be allowed. Antibiotic use will be more closely monitored by requiring a VFD or prescription for the use of medically important (those also used in humans) antibiotics. The VFD, which is the result of an FDA Guidance for Industry, is part of the livestock industry’s effort to reduce antibiotic resistance.
If there are further questions about the VFD, livestock use of antibiotics, or livestock production in animals, the best solution is to contact a veterinarian or livestock producer. While we may seem far away, we are more than happy to answer whatever questions about our way of life that you have!