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What's It Like to Work on a Cattle Ranch?

In the second episode of our Faces of Farming series, we talk to Dr. Tera Barnhardt, coordinator of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, about the care and technology that goes into the beef you feed your family. 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #502
image of cows at cattle ranch

Welcome to the second installment in our Faces of Farming series, an idea that grew out of the desire that many of us have to know more about where our food comes from. Few of us have the opportunity to visit a working ranch, farm, or field and see for ourselves what goes on there on a day-to-day basis. What does it take to get our food from the field to our table, and who are the people that are doing this vital work?

Each week, I'm talking to someone from a different part of the agricultural community about what drives them, their hopes and fears for the future of farming, how their industry is working to improve conditions for animals and workers, protect the environment, increase sustainability, and so on.

Last week, we talked to vegetable grower Dale Huss, who manages hundreds of fields for Ocean Mist, a company that grows over a dozen types of conventional and organic vegetables and delivers millions of pounds of fresh produce to grocery stores all over the country each week.

This week, we’re talking to Dr. Tera Barnhardt, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, proud daughter of the sunflower state (Kansas), and coordinator of animal health and welfare for a company called Cattle Empire in Kansas

I’ve talked in past podcasts about the various issues and concerns related to beef and red meat, in general. There have been some high-profile studies over the years linking red meat to increased risk of disease. This has led many to consider eliminating red meat from their diet.

However, as I have pointed out, the health risks associated with red meat consumption are only seen in those eating two or three servings of red meat per day. Those who are only eating two or three servings per week, on the other hand, tend to have the same risks as those who never eat red meat. Meanwhile, lean beef is a superior source of certain nutrients including protein, iron and B12.

Other studies have demonstrated that when red meat is consumed in the context of a healthy diet, it can actually improve heart health.  When you consider that red meat is often higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats than chicken or turkey, that doesn’t seem surprising.

But health and nutrition are not the only concerns. Some people choose not to consume meat for moral, ethical, or religious reasons. Others want to be assured that animals that we raise for food are treated humanely. Like you, I have heard some very disturbing stories about poor treatment of livestock. But I’ve also visited a fair number of feed yards and cattle ranches and I have to tell you that the reality that I have observed is much different than what I’ve seen portrayed in some of these sources.

And that’s part of what I hope to accomplish with this series: to give you an opportunity to virtually visit some of the places where your food is produced and talk to the people that are engaged in that work on a daily basis. They may live far from us and have lives that are very different from ours but these are our neighbors. More importantly, without these neighbors, there would be no food on our plates!

Tera (Rooney) Barnhardt grew up on a family farm and ranch in southwest Kansas and has always been a proud resident of the Sunflower State. Dr. Barnhardt earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 2014 and during her tenure as a Wildcat, completed a Master’s degree under Dr. Dan Thomson. Her graduate research involved implementing an industry‐oriented beef quality assurance and animal welfare assessment in 56 Kansas feedyards. It is through that research project that she first worked with the Cattle Empire team. Dr. Barnhardt now serves as the coordinator of Animal Health and Welfare for Cattle Empire. Dr. Barnhardt and her husband, Sheldon, own a residential construction business and an upland game hunting service. They have their hearts and hands full with their son, Archie, and daughter, Jolee.

To hear my full interview with Tera, use the audio player embedded in this article.

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