Today, raising livestock on a farm or ranch is a dynamic, specialized profession that has proven one of the most successful in the world. Today?s animal husbandry, or care and feeding of livestock, is no accident.
Rather, it?s because of the dedicated men, women and children who raise and care for this state?s livestock. For generations, Kansas farmers and ranchers have watched over and nurtured cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens and other livestock from sunup to sunset?every day of the year.
Few consumers are aware of livestock producers? relationships with their animals. They don?t know how the meat, milk, eggs and other food products wind up on their dinner table. But today, more and more are becoming interested.
Amy Saunders raises cattle in Jefferson County and markets her family?s beef in nearby Lawrence and suburban Kansas City. Her customers want to know her and her family.
In the case of Saunders, when her customers buy her family?s beef, they?re also buying the complete package.
?They?re buying us,? Amy says. ?They?re buying a quality product, and they know exactly who produces it.?
On the open range in far southwestern Kansas, cattle have the right of way in Clark County. Here, rancher Roger Giles treats his cattle with care and respect. He understands to do so bolsters his bottom line and his reputation.
?We like what we do,? Giles says. ?Many people have a job and they recreate on weekends. We recreate every day because we like what we do.?
For this southwestern Kansas family, raising cattle is a profession and lifestyle they enjoy. Still, Roger realizes his generation may be the last to have direct ties to the land.
?My children?s generation and beyond? even in our local town, have no perception of production agriculture or the tradition of the family farm,? he says.
That?s why it?s so important livestock producers inform consumers about this relationship with their animals.
Another producer who understands this mission is Lee Borck. He manages cattle feed yards in Kansas and Nebraska. The Pawnee County livestockman knows a major part of any successful production plan includes caring for the animals.
?The more comfortable we make our animals, the more productive they?re going to be and the better opportunity we?ll have to make a profit,? Borck says. ?It starts when we load them on trucks and bring them into the feed yard. It ends when we load them back on the trucks to go to market.?
Borck?s feedlots have been totally rebuilt and redesigned so the animals move smoothly and comfortably. This keeps the livestock from being excited. They eat and perform better.
?I?d like to tell you we thought this up ourselves, but our business is consumer driven,? Borck says. ?Whatever the consumer wants, that?s what we?re obligated to provide as long as we can do it economically.?
In southeastern Kansas, Allen County dairyman Steve Strickler rises every morning before the crack of dawn. The health of his dairy herd trumps everything else on the farm, even his own comfort.
?One of the famous quotes in the dairy industry by W.D. Hoard says the dairy cow is the foster mother of the human race,? Strickler says.
?Cows are very gentle creatures?and should be treated with respect.?
Teenager LeaAnne Diederich cares for her horse and two Angus-cross steers on the family farm in Washington County. Through this experience she has learned what it means to take charge of a life.
?It is a lot of work, but it’s good to learn responsibility and to care for something more than just a pet,? LeaAnne says. ?I?ve learned to be there… or make arrangements to feed and water them daily. It?s a big commitment.?
These farmers and ranchers appear in the Kansas Farm Bureau television documentary ?The Care & Feeding of Farm Animals,? available at www.kfb.org. Portions of their interviews can also be seen at www.conversationsoncare.com.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.