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What I Learned Working in a Beef Packinghouse

IMG_4244Last summer, I was fortunate to spend about a month working in a large-scale beef packing plant. I had the opportunity to experience and see almost every step in the process that takes live cattle and turns them into the steaks and hamburgers that I like to have on my plate. I have grown up around cattle for my entire life and experienced every phase from cow-calf to loading fat cattle on the truck for the packer, but didn’t really know what happened after that. It was awesome to be able to gain a little bit of perspective! Because not very many of us have the chance to hang out in a packing plant, I would love to share a few of the things that I learned.

Animals are treated humanely.

Considering that the purpose of a slaughterhouse is to end the life of an animal, you’d think that they wouldn’t care about them, right? WRONG. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Aside from the fact that packinghouses are regulated by several laws that call for the humane treatment of animals, the plant and its employees always went above and beyond. Cattle that are well taken care of and relaxed will handle better and produce a better product—plus the employees know that it’s simply the right thing to do. Cattle are kept cool with water sprinklers and there are very specific guidelines for how they are handled (no electric prods, etc.), plus the plant keeps cameras on animal handling facilities so they can keep an eye on those who are in contact with the animals.  I LOVE animals and was thoroughly impressed with the way they were cared for at the plant.

Great care is taken to ensure that the end product is high-quality and safe.

The plant themselves employee people whose sole job is Quality Control and the USDA employees people who work in the plant to ensure compliance and safety. If a carcass was deemed unworthy of entering the food supply, it was condemned. If there was every anything wrong with a carcass like something got on it or there was a question, it was always pulled aside until the problem was solved. In the time I was there, I never saw anything questionable.  The meat was constantly being examined, re-examined, and then examined again before it progressed down the line.

Employees that work in these facilities are incredibly skilled and intelligent.

In the plant where I worked, the carcasses never stopped moving on the conveyor-type chain they hung from. Workers along the chain have to think fast and know what they’re doing in order to safely and efficiently disassemble the carcass into the cuts of meat that we like to buy in the grocery store. They are good at their job—and with sharp knives and lots of beef money on the line, they have to be.

These types of facilities are incredibly clean.

To be honest with you, I had no idea what to expect when I first stepped foot into the plant. Taking into account what the function of the plant is, I found it to be incredibly clean and well kept. There are several employees whose job on the floor is to constantly be cleaning with hoses, brooms, and buckets. The plant also closed down for an entire shift each day and dedicated it to cleaning. Rest assured that your meat is being produced in clean facilities!

These are just a few nuggets of the knowledge I was able to gain. Working in a packinghouse is truly one of the most eye-opening and important experiences that I have ever had as a young person in agriculture. I left with a greater appreciation of all of the work that goes into producing meat and an assurance that the meat we are getting is high-quality, safe, and produced in the right way.

Questions? Comment—I’d love to give you a few answers.

For more information on Tyson and their practices, click here.

For more information about National Beef, click here.

For more information about JBS, click here.

For a video tour of a beef plant, click here.

For a video tour of a pork plant, click here.

For a video tour of a turkey plant, click here.


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A Letter to My Blue Jacket


Happy National FFA Week! It seems so weird to be spending this week at home in Manhattan, with the extent of my participation being Facebook statuses, Instagram posts, and a blog. For all of you out there celebrating, I have to admit that I’m a little jealous. This week I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting back on my time as an FFA member, and couldn’t think of any better way to sum up my experiences than by writing a letter to my dear old Blue Jacket.

To My FFA Jacket,

When I first put you on, I had no idea where you would end up taking me. Now, looking back six years later, I have no idea where I would be without you. If I were to replay the highlights of my twenty years of living, many of them would showcase you. You afforded me memories, relationships, opportunities, and experiences that I would not have had without you. I met amazing people, travelled near and far, learned life lessons like leadership, responsibility, service, and teamwork—all because of you.

In a society that is so focused on athletics, appearance, and superficial talents, you gave me a place to fit in and people to call my friends. Not only that—you gave me a place to shine. I may not have been a great singer, the most popular girl in school, or a world-class athlete (or any kind of athlete for that matter), but when I zipped you up, I was ready to take on the world. From public speaking contests to the National FFA stage, from a flighty high school freshman who dreamed of becoming a State Officer to a confident 19 year-old who became one, you taught me how to accept failure with graciousness and with humility meet success. Wearing you instilled in me the belief that I could dream as big as I wanted to—then work hard and achieve them.

I attribute my passion for agriculture to you. FFA opened my eyes to both the challenges and opportunities that exist in an industry responsible for feeding an ever-growing world population. From exploring career fairs to meeting with industry leaders to witnessing international agriculture firsthand in South Africa, you’ve never failed to convince me that agriculture is filled with the people, values, and way of living that I want for the rest of my life.

Last October, I took you off for what was probably the last time. I couldn’t help but shed a silent tear, because I was losing something that had been such a big part of my identity for so long. Now, I realize that I will always carry a little piece of my Blue Jacket inside of me. While you may hang in my closet now, the skills, people, and experiences you gave me will always be close to my heart. Thank you for an amazing few years.

       Living to serve,
       Lindy BilberryScreen Shot 2015-02-22 at 8.28.40 PM

Let me leave you with a little snippet from my State President’s Retiring address and a few pictures of some of my FFA highlights.

“When I think about what makes this Organization—this blue jacket—so special it’s the moments that we get to savor while we wear our National Blue corduroy. From when we zip up our jacket for the first time until the moment we hang it up for the last, we spend some of the most pivotal moments of our lives in them—we laugh in these jackets, we cry in these jackets. Our members serve communities, step up as leaders, and make a difference in these blue jackets. We win—we lose—we work hard—we grow up—we find ourselves all while wearing the blue jacket. In these jackets we are a family… in these jackets we stand together for a common cause—it’s in these jackets that we ‘believe in the future of agriculture’ and ‘practice brotherhood and honor agricultural opportunities and responsibilities’ in these blue jackets we ‘develop those qualities of leadership which an FFA member should possess.’ We learn to ‘be courteous to everyone, just in our dealings, and above all, honest and fair in the game of life’ all while wearing the blue jacket. In these jackets, we get to savor some of the best memories and moments that we will ever know. Wearing this jacket gave me moments that changed my life—and I hope that the same is true for you.”

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Learning Patience… The Story of SWK and Rain

Not exactly an 'Oasis on the Plains' but my front yard is greening up!

Not exactly an ‘Oasis on the Plains’ but my front yard is greening up!

Over the past week or so, the attitude of Southwest Kansas agriculturists has done a complete 180.  Frowns and worry lines have given way to the smallest of smiles and typical coffee shop complaining has transformed into conversations comparing rain gauges.  That’s right… it’s rained out here.  The drought that has long plagued our area is by no means over, but the relief that the much-needed rain has provided is evident.  The once-brown scenery that could be seen for miles has been replaced by a greener, fresher landscape, and for that, we couldn’t be more thankful.

It is so easy to be thankful whenever our prayers have been answered.  I, too, found myself thanking God for sending the rain, even to the extent of tweeting about it.  And we should be thankful, He did answer our prayers.  But, the more that I think about it, the more that I think we should remember to be thankful all of the time, not just whenever things go our way.  You see, God answers all things in His own time.  And, in not answering our prayers in exactly the way that we want, He gives us other things to instead be thankful for.

In Numbers, God makes the Israelites wait 40 years before He allows them into the Promised Land because they became impatient with His timing.  But, eventually they were let in.  In Genesis 12, God promises Abram (later renamed Abraham) and Sarah a child, but waits 25 years to fulfill His end of the deal (Genesis 21).  There are countless times throughout the Scripture that people pray fervently for things and God makes a promise, but He makes them wait until the promise is fulfilled.

Sometimes, waiting for the fulfilled promise stinks.  Sometimes, it seems like our prayers aren’t even being heard, let alone will they be answered.  But what can we take away from these biblical accounts?  God is all-powerful.  God hears our prayers.  When God makes a promise, we can take it to the bank.  And, when God provides, it is all at the perfect time.

So while we have been questioning God for the past several years- wondering when the rain would finally come- God has been waiting to provide it at the perfect time, in the perfect way, in such a way as to bring glory to His name.  Sometimes, we just need to be patient enough to wait for His timing and trust in the fact that He will fulfill His end of the deal.

The rains of this week have been wonderful, but we all know that they aren’t enough to solve all of the problems our area is facing.  I, for one, will still continue to pray for rain.  But, as I pray for the rain, I will also pray for patience for myself and others involved in agriculture, and that we will all be able to trust in God’s plan.  Hopefully, we can all remain thankful, whether it rains or not, for the lessons of faith and patience that He is teaching us.

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Welcome to itsLindyLou

Over the past year, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to blog as a part of my year of service as the Kansas FFA President.  Until I had the chance to do it myself, I didn’t really understand what blogs were all about and honestly thought they were a little ridiculous.  I mean, who puts their diary online for everyone to see?!  But the more that I wrote, the more that I realized that I loved it.

If you know me, you know I’m opinionated (almost to a fault) and I always have a lot to say.  My hope is that through my writing, I will be able to share some of those opinions, as well as telling my story of agriculture, college and sorority life, life lessons I’ve picked up along the way, rants about things happening around the world, and an unfiltered depiction of the people and things going on around me.  If that type of thing interests you, then you’ve come to the right place.  Anything particular you would like to hear about? Let me know.

For now, that’s all I’ve got.  Until next time.