I've done hard things in life. Had three kids. Learned to pull a horse trailer. Hiked through The Narrows in Zion National Park. You get the picture.
But cooking three meals a day while quarantined with my kids and husband has been a true test of my skills. There are lots of people out there who find great joy in cooking. I am not one of them. In order for me to be successful in the kitchen, I need recipes that are fast, easy, wholesome and will please all FIVE of my people.
Enter the easiest, cheesiest ground beef pasta you’ve ever made in your life. The base of this recipe is from The Midnight Baker, but I've made some minor adjustments along the way. Y'all, this recipe is soooo good yet so easy that I talked my nine-year-old into playing chef for all of us. Win. Win.
First things first - the ingredients. You will need a pound of ground beef. Ground beef is a staple in our house because it is affordable AND nutritious providing protein, zinc and iron. It's good for your brain and helps boost your immunity. You can buy it in bulk, break it up into 1 lb chunks and freeze it so you always have it on hand.
You'll also need cheese, pasta, a handful of seasonings and a great pot that can move easily from the stove to the oven. A pot like this will change your life. I took a pic of all the ingredients, but realized I left out the salt and the half & half because I'm crazy like that. You DO NOT want to forget the salt or the half & half.
Next, get your pot, put it on the stove, and turn it up to high. Then get a stool. Then bribe your kid to do the hard stuff. Any kid will do as long as they understand this is not a game. This is supper. It helps if they can do the dishes after.
Get that olive oil hot, then plop your pound of ground beef with caution and listen to it sizzle. I'm using 80/20 because it was the only thing at the store, but any fat ratio will do. Break that ground beef up and keep stirring until it is good and brown. Turn your heat down to medium. Make sure your nails are painted.
Add your salt, pepper, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire, tomato paste and pasta water. Give it a really good stir, put the lid on, turn your heat to low and let simmer for about 8-10 minutes.
Once it's simmered, take 1 cup of your cheese and toss it in. Add the half & half and pasta. Then mix gently until your cheese is melted and all gooey looking.
The final step is to sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and put the pot full of cheesy, beefy goodness right into a 350 degree oven just long enough to barely let the cheese melt on top. Keep a close eye as to not burn it. It usually takes less than five minutes.
That's not true. The final step is to serve it up and watch everyone devour it.
Carmen Fenton is the communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. She's also mom to Ella Jane (9), Hays (8) and Lane (2).
By Carmen Fenton, director of communications, TCFA
When I wrote this a few months ago, I had no idea what our nation, our world and our industry would be facing amid the coronavirus outbreak. Like many of you in agriculture, I’m not on the ranch, at the feedyard, the packing plant or the grocery store. I’m not on the front lines, and honestly, working from a computer screen feels so insignificant during a time like this.
So, what can I do to help the cause?
Well, to start, I can stay home. There are thousands in our industry who cannot stay home. America depends on them to do what is necessary for all of us. When you stay home, you are protecting them. Not everyone can stay home, but I can.
I can also remind everyone that beef is healthy and plentiful. The U.S. production chain is unmatched in terms of efficiency, and producers are working around the clock to get beef to you. I know there are empty meat cases in parts of the country, but rest assured that more is on the way.
Also, our beef supply is safe. Public health and food safety experts do not have any evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. However, we do know, that like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. This is why it is critical to practice good hygiene and properly cook meat. When cooking, be sure to use a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature. Additionally, always follow the 4 key steps of food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill.
Additionally, I can reassure you that feeding your family beef is a good decision. Beef provides nutrients we all need, particularly, protein, zinc and iron. These are key ingredients for a strong immune system, active lifestyle, brain development and are often lacking in diets of kids and teens. For older adults, getting the right amount of protein becomes even more important. Protein rich foods like beef help fight off diseases like sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), type-2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Here are a few more quick facts to remember about beef.
As we all try to figure out this temporary, new normal, please know that TCFA will continue to provide you with accurate, timely information so you can make the best decisions for your family.
Samantha Bell did not grow up in agriculture. She grew up in town, only a short distance from the Texas Cattle Feeders Association office in Amarillo. That’s fitting, considering she’s held just about every job in the cattle feeding business.
She’s been an office manager, a feedyard manager and prides herself on being able to do every job on the yard — both in case she’s ever needed, and to make sure others know she understands the role they play and challenges they face.
But it wasn’t easy getting there. She recalls a time she didn’t know what she was doing.
“I remember early on, when I first realized I wanted this to be a career and not just a paycheck, I was weighing trucks, commodity clerking and doing feed cards,” Bell says. “The cattle clerk came out and showed me a closeout, and it was probably the first time I'd ever seen one done. I pretended I knew exactly what was happening, but I really had no idea what any of it meant.”
Bell asked if she could make a copy of the closeout, took it back to her desk and proceeded to break it down line by line. That’s when she realized how much she loved the numbers side of the business.
Today, Samantha serves as the Controller of Double D Feedyard in Dimmitt where she oversees every aspect of the company’s finances including payroll and accounting.
A woman’s work at a feedyard isn’t limited to just office jobs, Bell says. The fact that more women are serving in various roles within the industry makes her proud.
“When I first started, there were hardly any women outside of office manager or administrative-type jobs,” she says. “Those roles are important, but today there are women riding pens, managing feedyards, doing just about every job on the payroll.”
She says the cattle feeding industry is a great place to work, and she would absolutely recommend it to other women, with the following advice:
“Know what you know and own it. Do not be afraid to voice it, but also don’t be afraid to admit a mistake,” she says. “Just be real, and work hard. The industry may not be the right fit for every woman, but it’s a great fit for some.”
“If my daughter came up to me today and said, ‘Mom, show me the ropes,’ I would say, ‘Let's go!’” she adds. “Because it is kind of fun as a woman to say, ‘I can do that.’”
By: Katrina Huffstutler
Raised by parents who worked in information technology and education, Alyssa Word didn’t grow up with a strong connection to agriculture. That changed when she joined a friend at a 4-H steer show and became fascinated.
Fast forward a few years, and she was a biomedical science major at Texas A&M University. She always wanted to be a scientist, so it was a logical choice. The only problem?
“It was not a very fun major,” Word says with a laugh. “I hated it.”
Two years in, she transferred her scientific basics to an animal science degree and started taking production classes. She was hooked — and even more so after completing a research internship with Cactus Feeders.
“The cattle industry has the greatest people,” Word says. “That is a part of what drove me to want to work in this business. They are the kindest people and so willing to teach someone. I loved that from day one. I didn't grow up understanding how feedyards work, and so coming in and sitting down with a feedyard general manager and asking hard questions — even though it’s intimidating, seeing their kindness and their willingness to help as long as I’m willing to learn, has been remarkable.”
And learn she did. Today, Word serves as the research scientist for Cactus Feeders, the very place where she started her career. Word spends two days a week at Wrangler Feedyard, the research arm of Cactus Feeders. She manages the day-to-day processes that include data quality control, process execution and data analysis. She works alongside Ben Holland, director of research, on protocol development that helps the organization work more efficiently.
“Our mission at Cactus is to produce more food using fewer resources so that safe, quality beef is available to anyone who wants to consume it,” Word said. “Research helps us make informed decisions to best execute that mission.”
Her advice to others in her position? Be pointed with your questions (because cattle feeders are busy), but also be willing to sit down and ask questions.
“Because,” Word says, “I think the more that the men in the industry get to see the women interested and excited about this industry, and that they want to learn and see proficiency in those areas, the more it becomes an everybody is working together thing instead of a here’s a woman in a male-dominated field thing.”
By: Katrina Huffstutler
Jayme Fankhouser doesn’t remember a time in her life before she was horseback. But unlike most little girls who learn to ride, she made a career out of it.
While no two days are the same for the pen rider, they always start early (she gets to work at 3:30 a.m. every Monday to prepare to ship cattle, closer to daylight the remaining days). By daylight, she’s riding the high-risk cattle, a responsibility she does not take lightly.
“After the cattle leave my section, they will have been straightened out and ready for their new home,” she says.
It’s an honor to look after the most fragile cattle in the yard, and even more impressive considering she’s one of very few females filling the role as pen rider. But she’s worked hard her whole career to be taken seriously, and never forgotten that the cattle come first.
Even when it was scary starting out, she refused to give up on her dream.
“My father told me a long time ago, ‘You work in a male world, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to be noticed,’” Fankhouser says. “So I’ve gone those extra miles and I guess maybe I’ve established myself to the point where others take me seriously.”
She says intuition, coupled with a natural nurturing side, make women a great choice as cattle caretakers. But the work is not easy.
“You have to have thick skin, and you can’t be afraid of hard work or the elements,” Fankhouser says.
Despite the challenges, she’s the first to encourage other women to go for their dreams, no matter how unconventional.
“Women aren’t limited in the industry. We can be as successful as we want,” says Fankhouser, whose daughter also rides pens. “Whatever you set your mind to, if that's what you want to do, you can go do it.”
Legislation to codify the definition of beef and uphold truthful labeling on alternative protein products has now been introduced in both chambers of Congress. On Wednesday, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska introduced the Real MEAT (Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully) Act as a companion bill to H.R. 4881, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in October.
"Consumers want to know what is in their food, and rightfully so," said Paul Defoor, TCFA chairman. "There are a number of fake products on the market that claim to be meat, when in fact, they are the furthest thing from real meat.
"Americans love beef, so it's not surprising that fake products would try to ride the coattails of beef's popularity, but consumers deserve more than deceptive labels. They should be confident that, when they buy a product labeled meat, it's actually meat. Furthermore, food labels should be honest and accurate, and these bills will ensure that consumers have the right information to make their own decisions."
The bills would establish a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels. They also preserve the congressional intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act that was signed into law as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. Section (3) of that bill clearly defined the terms "beef" and "beef products," and although these terms were codified in 1985, they don't apply for labeling purposes. The Real MEAT Act would fix that.
Second, the bills affirm the misbranding provisions that are already on the books. These provisions were put in place over 50 years ago to prevent consumer confusion, and that intent has not changed.
Third, the bills strengthen enforcement of mislabeling laws. Currently FDA, the agency that oversees plant-based proteins, does not enforce mislabeling until a product has already come to market. This is, in-part, because FDA does not require the approval of labels on foods under their jurisdiction before they hit the shelves. The Real MEAT Act would change that by requiring FDA to notify USDA, in writing, when they determine a product is mislabeled. If FDA does not take enforcement action within 30 days, the Secretary of Agriculture can step in and take action.
“Beef is derived from cattle — period," Senator Fischer said. "Under USDA, beef undergoes a rigorous inspection and labeling process, but plant-based protein products that mimic beef and are sometimes labeled as beef are overseen by the FDA instead. These products are not held to the same food safety and labeling standards as beef. The NCBA has been a leader on this issue, and I am thankful for their strong support of the Real MEAT Act, which will protect consumers from deceptive marketing practices and bring transparency to the grocery store."
Fisher wrote about the motivation behind the bill in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.
Thank you Sen. Fischer. We could not agree more.
A bill was introduced in Congress last week that would codify the definition of beef and uphold truthful labeling on alternative protein products that currently refer to themselves as meat (even though there is ZERO meat in them). TCFA strongly supports this bill, H.R. 4881, and urges Members of Congress to sponsor and support it.
The bill is pretty simple.
First, it establishes a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels. It also preserves the congressional intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act that was signed into law as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. Section (3) of that bill clearly defined the terms "beef" and "beef products," and although these terms were codified in 1985, they don't apply for labeling purposes. The Real MEAT Act would fix that.
Second, the bill affirms the misbranding provisions that are already on the books. These provisions were put in place over 50 years ago to prevent consumer confusion, and that intent has not changed.
The problem is that many consumers believe plant-based meat is healthier, less processed and overall better for the environment. A quick comparison of the ingredient labels of both products indicates those beliefs couldn't be further from the truth.
Third, the bill strengthens enforcement of mislabeling laws. Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that oversees plant-based proteins, does not enforce mislabeling until a product has already come to market. This is, in-part, because FDA does not require the approval of labels on foods under their jurisdiction before they hit the shelves. The Real MEAT Act would change that by requiring FDA to notify USDA, in writing, when they determine a product is mislabeled. If FDA does not take enforcement action within 30 days, the Secretary of Agriculture can step in and take action.
The bottom line is this: Consumers want to know what is in their food, and rightfully so. The beef community has worked for decades to establish beef's strong reputation among consumers, so it is not surprising that imitation products would try to ride the coattails of beef's popularity. But consumers deserve more than deceptive labels, and this bill would give them the factual information they need to make their own purchasing decisions.
We are pleased to announce that you can now reserve ad space for the 2020 Cattle Feeders Resource Guide. We invite you to support this award-winning publication by reserving your ad space today. You can view, download and fill out the 2020 Rate Card here. Please return completed Rate Cards to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to: 5501 Interstate 40 West, Amarillo, Texas 79106.
Since 1971, the Texas Cattle Feeders has issued an annual publication to serve TCFA members and supporting sponsors. The Resource Guide is an exclusive publication distributed to approximately 5,000 professional cattlemen and women throughout the country.
Every TCFA member, including feedyard managers, general managers, owners and customers receive a copy of the Resource Guide. These individuals are the decision makers in the multibillion-dollar cattle feeding industry.
The Resource Guide is more than just a magazine. It is a high-quality publication that serves as a snapshot of the cattle feeding industry for that year. Venture into any feedyard office, and you are likely to see Resource Guides from years past on the bookshelves and coffee tables.
What began in 1971 as an association magazine has transformed into a historical record of the industry. Your organization is a part of that history and its future.
We appreciate your support and continued partnership as we look to make the 2020 Resource Guide the best yet.
For questions, please call Carmen Fenton or Maddy Bezner at (806) 358-3681 or email email@example.com.
The TCFA 2019 Annual Convention has come and gone, and we wish we could go back. The Convention was a success with an estimated 450 in attendance.
The Opening General Session, sponsored by Farm Credit, kicked off with Levi Berry’s chairman’s address. Berry opened by sharing his appreciation for the opportunity to serve as chairman and commended TCFA members for their hard work, passion and dedication to the industry over the years.
“The day-in and day-out work of each of you is what provides people across the world with beef,” Berry said. “This is no small accomplishment.”
Berry talked about partnerships TCFA has with NCBA, the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Texas Beef Council, and how those partnerships have benefited the entire beef industry.
“I can’t tell you enough what your investment in the beef checkoff does for our product,” he said. “Your investment helps promote the beef industry, not just here in Texas or in the United States, but all over the world. Every dollar you invest in the national checkoff returns almost $12. Couple that with the dollar invested into the state checkoff, and that is significant added value to beef.”
Berry thanked his family, volunteer leaders, the TCFA staff and membership for all they do to for the industry.
“I could go on and on about the good and bad challenges facing the cattle feeding industry in 2019 — what we’ve accomplished and overcome this year alone could fill hours,” he said in closing. “What I can say is that you have remained focused and determined, and it’s those characteristics that will carry our industry successfully into the future.”
NCBA President Jennifer Houston followed with an update on federal legislative and regulatory challenges the industry will face in the coming year, and how TCFA’s partnership with NCBA is crucial to successfully navigate policy changes in the future.
Karl Rove and Jim Messina followed and spoke about how new-day media effects today’s politics. An expert consumer panel moderated by Shalene McNeill addressed red meat in a healthy diet in conjunction with nutrition improvement and weight management.
Miss Texas 2019 Chandler Foreman presented awards during the annual TCFA award lunch. That evening, the Lindsey Lane Band kicked off the Cattle Feeders Get Together. The successful BEEF-PAC live auction was a highlight of the evening followed by the announcement of the first Sweepstakes winner.
Tuesday’s Closing General Session covered everything from demographics and politics to an entertaining perspective on perfecting your skill for the greater good of a team. Ken Gronbach discussed how demographics impact America’s buying decisions and political choices, and Kenny Aronoff closed the session with an exciting and interesting view of individual perfection.
Thank you to everyone for attending and making the 2019 Convention a huge success. Mark your calendars for the 2020 Convention, October 4-6 in Grapevine. To see pictures from TCFA Convention, visit our Facebook or Instagram (@txcattlefeeders).
For a chance to win a new TCFA cap, take this short survey.
Getting from There to Here
For Paul Defoor, the 2020 TCFA Chairman, the cattle business is a life-long passion.
“I never seriously considered doing much else outside of working with cattle and horses,” he says.
That resolve for the cattle industry goes back to his childhood. Growing up in southeast Texas, he spent his days either working with horses and cattle or alongside his dad and grandad at the sale barn.
“I would watch calves being loaded onto trucks at the sale barns when I was a kid and wonder where they would end up,” he says. “Probably somewhere up on the High Plains where everything, it seemed to me, was bigger and better.”
Defoor’s upbringing instilled in him a love for taking care of cattle. He is quick to credit both his dad and grandad for making sure he had the skills and experience to follow that passion.
Upon graduating high school, Defoor took some basic college courses at Sam Houston State University. He spent that year roping and shoeing horses, but it wasn’t long before he made the trip out West.
“The following year I loaded up my head horse, moved to Lubbock, and began studying animal science at Texas Tech University.”
While at Tech, Defoor worked at area feedyards, took care of wheat pasture cattle and continued to shoe horses.
“It made more money in the shortest period of time working than anything else a college kid with my background could do,” he says.
While at Tech, Defoor became acquainted with a couple of feedyard nutritionists. “Their work fascinated me and really encompassed many of the things I loved,” he says.
Defoor went on to graduate first in his class at Tech, and then on to West Texas A&M where he earned a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition and later, an MBA. He returned to Tech to complete a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition working under Dr. Mike Galyean.
“Dr. Galyean, who is now the Provost at Texas Tech, was a great mentor and is a great friend. He really shaped the way I think and the way I approach data,” Defoor says.
Much of Defoor’s graduate work involved studying the interchangeability of roughage sources in feedyard rations — a topic that would play a major role in how feedyards would adapt to the most severe drought on record in the High Plains over a decade later.
“The cattle I used in my doctoral studies were provided by Cactus Feeders,” he recalls. “That allowed me to get to know Cactus a little better — a connection I relished, and one from which I would later benefit immensely.”
The Cactus Call
The years that followed Defoor’s doctoral studies were filled with opportunities. He spent time as a professor, a technical services manager for a pharmaceutical company, and a nutritionist for several great feedyards on the High Plains.
The opportunity with Cactus came in 2005 when he was doing some business analytics work for them on a project with beta agonists — a topic that framed his early years at Cactus as they hired him full time.
“It didn’t take much thought to drop everything and go to Cactus full time,” he says. “They were, and still are, the epitome of the High Plains cattle feeding culture, and the Engler family offered something that had remained elusive to me — ownership in a feedyard.”
“Not just one in this case but 10 yards feeding over a million head per year and the brand and culture that went along with it,” Defoor says. “This was where I wanted to be.”
In 2000, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association named Cactus the “Cattle Business of the Century.” Additionally, the organization was complete with the largest beef cattle research operation in the world.
“Cactus Research is the industry leader in beef production science and has influenced many of our business decisions over the years,” he says.
“I had several great mentors in my early years at Cactus. Paul Engler and Jack Rhoades were major influencers, and I still draw on many of their lessons,” he recalls. “They represented one side of my passion and romance for this business, while Dr. Mike Engler and Dr. Spencer Swingle, both scientists of the highest caliber, represented the other.”
Early in his career, Defoor led the organization’s efforts to integrate research and business analytics for several years before being promoted to Chief Operating Officer, and later to Co-CEO and a member of its board of directors.
In these roles, Defoor has had the privilege of hiring, placing, or helping develop some of the best cattle talent in the industry.
“Cactus employees are cattle and customer focused both on and off the feedyard,” he says.
Having customer-focused employees is key to Cactus’ success.
“Our cattle feeding customers are the core of our business,” Defoor says. “Our identity is wrapped up in them and always has been. Our roots are in custom cattle feeding, and our future is there as well.”
A saying around Cactus is “The Cattle Come First” meaning caring for cattle comes before our comfort and rest. Another saying is, “It takes more than concrete and steel to build a feedyard,” meaning the operation only works when you have the right people, Defoor explains.
“These things (Customer Focus, Cattle Care, Right People) are the foundations of our culture, and that has not changed,” he says.
What has changed is the amount of time and energy the organization spends in self-evaluation of various aspects of their business.
Cactus Research plays a major role in that process on topics such as antibiotic resistance, greenhouse gas production, animal wellbeing and several others. This research routinely influences many organization and industry positions.
“The confidence I have from our research efforts allows me to state strongly to anyone that U.S. beef producers can be proud of this business and the beef they produce,” he says. “We are part of the solution for the environment and a growing world population.
“However, we can’t be content to sustain. We must advance and continue to improve. That’s what got us here,” he says.
Defoor first became involved with TCFA after he received a scholarship from the group’s education foundation. In later years he served on the TCFA Research Committee, and as he moved up in leadership at Cactus, he began serving on the TCFA board of directors and then the executive committee.
When I ask what the biggest challenges are for the cattle feeding industry, he answers boldly.
“We are blessed in this country with the highest standards of living that have ever been experienced by any society. We must be students of how we achieved that if we are to keep it and keep improving it.”
Defoor points out that the industry must continue to make strong, simple and direct rebuttals to myths about beef production.
“Take for example, the concerns about greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “The simple truth is that cattle merely return carbon to the atmosphere where it originated literally only months prior. There is no ‘net new’ carbon emitted by cattle into the atmosphere. Cattle, plants, and carbon are in a healthy, steady-state, long-term relationship with one another, and we humans are the beneficiaries. It is just that simple.”
“Industry associations such as TCFA are critical in dispelling misconceptions and bringing to bear the full collective resolve of its members around these basic truths,” he says. “We must ensure that the political process and its outcomes reflect those realities.”
While the industry must continue to advocate about current issues including atmospheric carbon, alternative proteins, trade, and technologies that affect efficiency, Defoor says, we must also focus on the viability of the Texas cattle feeding region over the long haul and provide leadership in critical areas that will contribute to that future.
“Farming choices and water use will be among the most critical of factors,” he says. “There is tremendous untapped potential to further integrate farming and grazing in the region to create greater returns per acre for landowners while drawing more cattle to the region to graze.”
“We can do this while also allowing for a material recharge of the groundwater that is so critical to our future.”
Undoubtedly, his analytical skills and passion for the industry and the region will serve Defoor well as he embarks on his position as TCFA Chairman.
“To say Paul Defoor loves what he does would be a vast understatement,” says Ross Wilson, TCFA president & CEO. “He is a big picture thinker, who can also distill complex, scientific issues and communicate them in a way that people, not only understand, but also relate to.”
At the highest level, Defoor’s life’s work is centered on improving standards of living through advancements in food production. He has dedicated years to the science of cattle nutrition and producing food for a growing population. There is no questioning his commitment to the industry and region he loves.
However, spend time with him, and you’ll see that the scientist is also a husband, father and true cowboy who has a deep connection and relentless focus on the cattle, the success of his customers, and making beef accessible to families all over the world.