If you’re passionate about advocating for the beef industry, cooking or learning from a fellow rancher, wife and mom, then today’s episode is for you!
On this episode, I visit with Terryn Drieling, a Nebraska rancher, wife, mom and beef industry advocate, who launched her blog, Faith Family & Beef, in 2014. On her platform, Terryn shares about her family’s everyday life caring for cattle on a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, and she shares delicious recipes featuring beef and much more. Today, Terryn and I talk about ranch life, how she started her blog and how it has evolved over the years, ultimately becoming a platform where she openly shares about her life with readers.
Terryn’s passion for the beef industry and being open and genuine with her readers is very evident and I’m excited for you to hear her story.
Episode 7 Transcript
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jessie Topp-Becker: Hey, Trailblazers. It’s Jessie. Welcome to another episode of Trailblazing in Agriculture, a podcast for anyone interested in hearing the stories of the agriculture industries, pioneers and innovators. On today’s episode of the trailblazing podcast, I visit with Terryn Drieling, a Nebraska rancher, wife, mom and beef industry advocate. Terryn launched her blog, Faith Family & Beef, in 2014. On her platform, Terryn shares about her family’s everyday life caring for cattle on a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, and she shares delicious recipes featuring beef and much more. Today, Terryn and I talk about ranch life, how she started her blog and how it has evolved over the years, ultimately becoming a platform where she openly shares about her life with readers. Terryn’s passion for the beef industry and being open and genuine with her readers is very evident and I’m excited for you to hear her story.
Welcome to the Trailblazing in Agriculture podcast, Terryn. Agriculture and the beef industry specifically are in your blood, so to speak. As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Terryn: I grew up on a small feedyard in northeast Nebraska where my parents still live. My family has been raising beef for over 40 years, probably really close to 50, if not more years there. I went to high school and then I went to college. I wanted to be a veterinarian and ended up going into feedyard management. I got married, and my husband and I have three kids. We live and work on a large ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska.
Jessie: Your family has deep roots in agriculture. What was it like growing up on the feedyard, Terryn?
Terryn: I felt really fortunate getting to grow up on a feedyard, because I felt like I got a front row seat to something that a lot of people don’t get to see. And so that was really cool. I’ve always had a deep love for animals, and so getting to take care of them and raise them and know that they were going on for a greater purpose was just really cool to me as a kid.
Jessie: When you were growing up, were you active in some of those day-to-day operations on the feedyard, or what did your involvement look like Terryn?
Terryn: When I got into junior high, I was able to go and help out on the weekends when I wasn’t in school, or if we had snow days, and in the summertime. I didn’t help out maybe as much as I wanted to, but when I was there, I got to clean tanks and ride pens and help on processing days when we vaccinated cattle and things like that. If the vet was out doing anything, I was always right there watching because I was very interested in that.
Jessie: You mentioned that after high school, you attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and ultimately majored in animal science with a focus on feedlot management. As you thought about attending college, did you know you wanted to remain involved in the beef industry? How did you decide on your major?
Terryn: From the time I was probably a first grader, I really wanted to become a veterinarian, and I never wavered from that until I got to college and physics happened. Turns out I’m not really great at physics and you need to get a better grade than I did in physics in order to become a veterinarian. When I came to that realization, I talked to my advisor, and he’s like, “Have you ever considered feedyard management?” And I said “No, but that’s interesting.” The more I thought about it, the more I thought that it was the perfect option for me. I can specifically remember the phone call to my dad when I was in the midst of changing my major from pre-vet to animal science with an emphasis in feedyard management. I just felt like that was the right place for me and the right fit, and I was really excited. I can remember in the hall of my dorm telling my dad all about it.
Jessie: Given your dad’s involvement in the feedlot, was he excited?
Terryn: Yes. He was going to support me either way, but yes, he was excited too.
Jessie: What did life look like after you graduated college?
Terryn: As part of my degree, I had to do an internship, and I chose to do the feedlot management internship through UNL. It was six weeks of classroom work and then we went to our feedyards to intern. I went to a feedyard in the panhandle of Nebraska. They started me out in the feed truck, so I could learn the layout of the of the yard. I started out feeding cattle, then I learned about reading bunks, and then I moved over to the animal health crew. While I was there, a member of the animal health crew quit, so I ended up staying on at that feedyard. I never left until I did.
Jessie: You worked there then for seven years, right?
Terryn: Yes, I did work there for seven years.
Jessie: And were you on the animal health crew? Or what did your work there look like?
Terryn: I was on the animal health crew primarily. I learned how to grind corn, which I did on my internship, too. I ran the payloader that loaded the feed for the cattle or mixed the feed for the cattle. animal health care was definitely my favorite part.
Jessie: When you left the feedyard, was that when you and your husband went to work on on the ranch that you’re currently on?
Terryn: Yes. In the summer of 2013, the feedyard where I worked sold our location. At the same time, my husband had an offer to come to work on this ranch where we’re at now. We had kind of made the decision that he was going to stay where he was, and I was going to stay where I was. And we were just going to go that route for a while. But then the ranch where he was working, eliminated his position, so he accepted the position at this ranch. I ended up staying on for a couple of months at the feedyard under the new owner, but the drive time was a lot longer. We had to switch daycare providers and I had to leave our house at 5:30 a.m. By the time I got home, it was like 6:30 at night and it was exhausting. I ultimately decided that I was going to stop resisting what I now know was God’s plan for me and resigned my position at the feedlot. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I definitely don’t regret it, knowing what I know now.
Jessie: Those sound like very long days, especially with little ones around, especially with the type of work that you do. I can imagine how exhausting that would be, but also when you love your job, I’m sure it was a difficult decision to make.
Terryn: Yes, it was not easy. It was several weeks of agonizing over what to do because I knew I wasn’t a very nice person to be around because I was just so exhausted. But at the same time, it was really hard letting go.
Jessie: It’s amazing what can happen when you do let go and life takes those different journeys, and I’m excited to dive into that in just a little bit. Ranch life obviously doesn’t have a typical day per se; every day is different. But for you and your husband and your kids, what does a typical day maybe look like for you and your family on the ranch?
Terryn: It kind of depends on the season. Right now, all of our kids are in school. It’s weird, because this is the first year that all of them have been in school all day. It’s strange because I feel like I’m forgetting something all the time. We get ready for school in the morning. We live on a road with several families that have kids, so we have a carpool. Once I get back from taking the kids out for bus stop carpool, then we chore. This time of year, it’s caking the heifers or supplementing with cubed protein, feeding hay or moving the cattle. We have a rotational grazing plan, so we’re moving the herd every three to five days pretty much year round. In the wintertime, when it’s the dormant season, we have a little more leeway than we do in the growing season. That’s what the school year kind of looks like. In May we start calving, so for those first couple of weeks of May, it’s kind of a challenge because we want to be out in the calving pasture just as soon as the sun rises, but one of us has to take the kids up to the bus stop. When school lets out that second or third week in May, it’s up and at ’em before the sun, and everybody is out in the calving pasture. Then all summer long, the kids are with us and we’re moving cows and doing our thing.
Jessie: What a neat experience for them to be able to grow up and be immersed in that, getting to experience that lifestyle.
Terryn: I’ve been asked before what my favorite part of ranching is, and hands down 110 percent it’s raising our kids in this lifestyle. I just think that it’s so cool watching them and teaching them what we do and why we do it, but also watching them learn and grow in their passion for what we do. It’s one of the coolest things that I’ve ever been a part of.
Jessie: How many head do you manage on your operation?
Terryn: We take care of several hundred head of cows and then, depending on the year, we’ll have another herd of a few hundred head of replacement heifers.
Jessie: A large portion of the country has been experiencing very cold temperatures and not such ideal weather conditions. This year, as someone who works with livestock you’ve obviously experienced that firsthand. What has life looked like on the ranch lately as you’ve dealt with the current weather conditions, Terryn?
Terryn: Anytime that we’re expecting a winter storm or really cold temperatures, it’s kind of a prep and pray situation. We do everything that we can for the cattle in our care. During this last 10-day cold snap, we moved our herd into more protected pasture and then we fed them a lot of hay within the protection of the hills. We were out there caking and every day making sure that they had water. This cold snap for us here in Nebraska was nothing like the storm of March 2019, and thankfully we weren’t calving through that. But we did everything that we could leading up to that. We just prayed through it and things for us didn’t end up quite as poor as they did for some of our other friends and neighbors. Prep and pray.
Jessie: That’s a good philosophy. And I think that’s something that for those who aren’t involved in agriculture may take for granted. Or maybe they just don’t even realize the work that goes into making sure that those animals are cared for and that you’re doing everything, like you said, that you can to make sure that they have protection, feed and water to do the best that you can to care for them through very challenging circumstances that you have no control over.
Terryn: Yes. What happened earlier this winter in the South. It sounds very insensitive, probably to other people and it definitely does to me, but I have to stop looking at the news, stop watching my news feed, because I just see that devastation and it just breaks my heart. I have to step away for a minute and remember to look for the light and the good. All this to say my heart goes out to everyone who struggled through the past 10 days, because it was winter where it’s not ever winter. And when you’re not used to dealing with that, it’s devastating.
Jessie: Yes. And like you said, they have nothing really to compare it to. I’m in North Dakota and you’re in Nebraska, so we know that we could experience some of this, but for those people in the South, they haven’t ever really had to experience and navigate dealing with the snow, frozen waters and all of that stuff; things that they’ve never had to really do before.
Terryn: And here we kind of expect it or we can be ready for it and our infrastructure and things like that are built knowing that that could happen. I don’t even remember the last time we had cold like we had the last 10 days, two weeks. But in the South, it doesn’t happen, so they’re not built for it. We can handle it, because we can kind of expect it and we’re built for it. It’s just heartbreaking.
Jessie: Absolutely. Like you said, definitely sending good vibes and thoughts and prayers to everyone as they navigate through all of the things that Mother Nature is throwing their way. I want to transition a little bit, Terryn. In addition to the work that you do on the ranch with your husband, you started blogging in 2014. Through your blog, Faith Family & Beef, you have the opportunity to connect with readers as you share about raising your family and raising beef in the Nebraska Sandhills on the ranch and what that all looks like. What made you want to start a blog?
Terryn: When I was still at the feedyard, Facebook was around, but it was kind of in its infancy and Instagram hadn’t been born quite yet. It came while I was still working at the feedyard, but social media was in the baby stages. Already then just being on Facebook, I could see there was a disconnect between the people growing the food and the people eating the food who don’t grow the food. I wanted to do more to help bridge that gap so to speak. We know that the average person is at least two generations removed from the farm, and so you don’t know what you don’t know. I just wanted to help people see what we do every day. I wanted to do more. But honestly, when I was working at the feedlot, I did not have the time nor the bandwidth to do as much as I would have liked to do in that way of talking to people about what we do raising beef, where their beef comes from, how its raised and all of that.
Jessie: What are some of the things that you write about on the blog? And what are some of those topics that are most popular and resonate most with your readers, Terryn?
Terryn: The name of my blog is really original, because it’s what I write about: faith, family and beef. Honestly, one of my more popular topics within those categories is marriage. Whenever I talk about marriage, a lot of people are interested and a lot of people come read what I have to say about it. I’m not really quite sure why that is, but I’m glad that they’re coming.
Jessie: I was just going to ask what you think makes that topic so popular. How long have you and your husband been married?
Terryn: We have been married 14 years in July.
Jessie: So you have lots of experiences to draw on. Sometimes I feel like people just want to learn from other people or are curious about what works for them. It’s neat that you say that is one of your most popular topics.
Terryn: I think maybe what draws people in is that I’m very honest about how much we struggled. I did not realize when we had our son, what a change that would be, and I sort of got my priorities out of order. And I’m not taking on all the fault – my husband has some fault in this too – but we were in basically roommate mode, and not friendly roommates. We lived in the same house, but we were not anywhere near close to husband and wife. Then a wife of a co-worker and friend of Tom’s was like, “Hey, we’re gonna have this group Bible study. Do you guys want to come?” She kind of laid it out there and was like, “I think it could really help you and Terryn.” So Tom asked me about it. And I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” We didn’t know it until we got there the first night, but it wasn’t just Bible study, it was the Love Dare. And we did it. We did the Love Dare and that is what turned our marriage around. I’ve just candidly talked about that on my blog and every so often I bring marriage back up and I suspect it’s that honesty and not sugarcoating it. Because before that, before we went through our struggle, I kind of just thought that the person that you’re supposed to be with, it should just be easy, you know, like a fairy tale, but it’s not. It’s hard. It’s work. It’s work worth doing. But it’s work.
Jessie: It’s work every day, that’s for sure. And I think, like you said, people appreciate when you’re genuine with them, right? And you don’t sugarcoat it, you are truthful and upfront with them, and I think that they can relate to that. How has your blog evolved since you started it in 2014, Terryn?
Terryn: The reason I was able to start it is because we moved to the ranch and I was now a full-time stay-at-home mom and ranch wife. I had a lot of learning to do back then because feedlots and ranches are not the same, but it afforded me more time to do what I wanted to do: talking to people and sharing the story of agriculture and beef. When I started, I subscribed to the belief that if I built it, they would come. I knew enough to know that people were interested in learning where their food came from. So I just thought, I’ll start telling people how we do things here on the ranch, and they’ll just show up and want to read my blog, because they’re seeking this information out. Boy, was I wrong. I was writing about things that they might have wanted to know, but they didn’t really care about, that wasn’t at the front of their mind. So over the last six years, I have kind of shifted how I do things. One of my first blogs was the joy of caking. Well, if you don’t know what caking is, you’re probably not going to click on that link to read that article. And that was pretty much all of the things that I was writing – things about our grazing plan, caking and moving cows – nothing really relating to people outside of agriculture. Sure, my friends, family and my peers showed up and read my stuff, and I appreciated that, but I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do. Over the last six years, I’ve kind of shifted, and I write more about motherhood, marriage and my faith. My faith has really grown over the last six to eight years, and I feel way more comfortable sharing about that. I think that is a better way for me to connect with people outside of agriculture, so then I can sprinkle in the caking, the moving cows, the grazing plans and things like that.
Jessie: Once you have their ear and you have built that trust and they get to really see the authentic Terryn, then they’re probably more willing to read about some of those other topics that are more related to the beef industry and things like that, I would guess. And I think that’s what people are seeking, even though it’s digitally, they are still seeking that connection to someone and that information.
Terryn: Yeah, I mean, if I’m being honest, that’s why I’m on social media is for connections. So I would be silly to think that that would be different for others.
Jessie: You write about faith, family and beef, so beef is one of those pillars that you write about. And you don’t really shy away from topics that aren’t always easy to talk about with consumers. Hard topics like antibiotic and growth hormone use, sustainability and even other questions consumers have about beef. Why is it important to address these topics that are so important to the beef industry on your platform, Terryn?
Terryn: Well, a lot of these topics that are maybe a little bit harder for me to write about. I will say it’s harder to write about them, and it’s harder because these topics are so often misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s important for me to talk about them because I want to provide the backstory or the other side of the story, another perspective than what people might be getting elsewhere. I want to give them a real life look at ranch life and raising beef. And it’s important that I do that because I do feel like these topics are misunderstood and misrepresented a lot.
Jessie: I imagine that as you write about some of those more difficult topics that you receive feedback from readers or consumers who maybe think differently about some of those topics. How do you respond when you receive criticism on some of that information that you’ve shared?
Terryn: With kindness, always with kindness. Because here’s the thing, when I was a new mom, maybe even before when I was pregnant with our first son, I had no idea about a lot of things. That was my perspective and that’s the only thing that I had to go on was what I knew or what friends or my mom or grandma shared with me. So I’ve got to think that the person who’s giving the criticism or making the comment, they’re only going off of what they know, and they’ve never seen another perspective. And if I can offer that to them, then I’m going to. I won’t lie, sometimes it’s hard to respond with kindness, especially if it’s very harsh criticism. But I think that I get a lot further, or that we as humans in general can get a lot further if we respond always with kindness, and give people the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just don’t know. And so that’s kind of where I come from when I’m responding to comments and criticism like that.
Jessie: On the flip side of that, I wonder if you’d be willing to share about an experience where you’ve been able to address misinformation with a consumer or a reader on your blog, that ultimately maybe changed their perspective on the beef industry.
Terryn: I also have written for a group blog, it’s called Her View From Home. A few summers ago, Her View From Home had a writer’s retreat, so a bunch of the writers from all across the country got together and met for the first time and visited and connected. We have a group on Facebook, where we all kind of connected, so when we went to the writers retreat, it was, like meeting your friends in real life. We were sitting around the table having lunch and one of the other writers was talking about her son and how he has some diagnosis that his doctor suggests that he eats a certain kind of diet. And she was talking about how it was really expensive to buy organic beef, but that’s what their doctor had recommended. And I was like, “Can I help you out?” And she was all about listening. She even asked, “Can you tell me what the difference between organic and conventional beef is?” And I said, “Yes, yes, I can. Organic is a way of raising the beef where you don’t use any antibiotics or growth hormones or things like that, all the feed has to be organic. And conventional beef is raised where the producer can use those things. That doesn’t mean they do, but they can. And at the end of the day, the end product is essentially the same, like it’s statistically the same. Both are safe, wholesome and nutritious products. They’re the same.” She gave me the biggest hug and she’s like, “You have single handedly saved my family’s grocery budget, because I thought I had to buy organic.” Simple little conversations like that they make me feel like I’m making a difference.
Jessie: And it sounds so simple, right? Like you said, that simple conversation of being able to honestly answer that question and tell them the truth. I’m sure you have many more stories like that, that you could talk about for hours of just the opportunity for you to use your platform in a way to address some of that and make a difference.
Terryn: Knowing that I’m helping people is what makes it all worth it. Like that’s my No. 1 goal is to help people.
Jessie: You mentioned earlier that you were one of the original participants of the Masters of Beef Advocacy program in 2009. Talk about what that experience was like, Terryn? And did your participation in that program have anything to do with jumpstarting your desire to be an advocate for the beef industry?
Terryn: Yes, it did have a lot to do with jumpstarting my desire to advocate for the beef industry. The experience was really, really great. I actually learned of the Masters of Beef Advocacy when I was at the Nebraska Young Cattlemen’s Conference in 2009. We had a media training and Daren Williams was the media trainer from NCBA [National Cattlemen’s Beef Association]. He mentioned that they were having this program coming out that was going to help producers. The beef industry is segmented; we don’t all pasture-to-plate raise beef. There’s the cow-calf person, the seedstock person, the feedyard and all the variations in between, so not all of us do all of the things. This program was going to take us from pasture to plate so we could learn all the different segments and then help us learn how to talk to people outside of the beef community about beef. I was all about it, because like I said, I had seen this disconnect growing just from being on social media, and I really, really wanted to do more. So as soon as that program was available, I jumped on it, and I encouraged a few of the people in my local cattleman’s affiliate to take it with me. It was just a really great experience.
Jessie: You’ve also participated in the Masters of Beef Advocacy Top of the Class. How are those two different, Terryn?
Terryn: In order to be part of the Top of the Class, you have to have taken the Masters of Beef Advocacy class. And Top of the Class is like the next level. Once you’ve taken Masters of Beef Advocacy and you’ve kind of started on social media or a blog, talking about beef, then the next step is Top of the Class. When I took Top of the Class, which was several years ago, we did more media training, we did like a mock-cooking segment, we got more in depth on how to use social media and some hot topics of the day and how to talk about them. Taking the Masters of Beef Advocacy and Top of the Class program and being present online has given me the opportunity to travel around and talk to different groups about beef and what we do on the ranch, so I’m really just thankful that I was involved in those and had the opportunity to do all of that.
Jessie: For producers who maybe don’t have a platform or maybe don’t share about some of the topics related to beef and advocacy on social media, things like that, is there still a benefit to them to participate in the Masters of Beef Advocacy program?
Terryn: Oh, for sure. Just because you’re not online doesn’t mean you can’t talk about what you do. I mean, even if you raise your own beef and eat the beef you raise, you still have to go to the grocery store for things and you can hang out at the beef case and talk to people as they come by and help them out. There are opportunities everywhere in everyday life to tell your story. It doesn’t have to be online. And so yeah, I would say that the Masters of Beef Advocacy is really beneficial to every producer.
Jessie: What a good reminder. Like you said, you don’t have to be online to be able to share your story, and to maybe correct some of that misinformation or just answer questions that consumers might have about the beef that they consume. Never underestimate your own platform, whatever that might be, digital or not. In addition to general beef and ag advocacy topics on your blog, you also create and share beef recipes and recipes in general. Have you always enjoyed spending time in the kitchen creating new recipes?
Terryn: Well, I’ve always been enjoyed spending time in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I got married and started cooking more that I really enjoyed creating new recipes. It’s almost like a game for me. You know that that show Chopped where they get mystery ingredients. and then they have to make something? That’s kind of how I feel when I’m in the kitchen because I suppose we live in a place that would be considered a food desert. It’s 25 miles to the nearest grocery store, and it takes us 40 minutes to get there. And it’s a really small grocery store. If we want to go to a grocery store that has a bigger selection, it’s at least an hour to get there. One of my favorite things is taking a recipe and making it with the things I have. One of the recipes that I have on my blog is Sandhills Ground Beef Chowder, which is a play on New England clam chowder. We can’t get really good clams here because we’re landlocked, and I mean you can get clams in a can but it’s not the same thing. But I like clam chowder. but I can’t get good clams, so I used ground beef and reworked the recipe, and now we eat Sandhills Ground Beef Chowder.
Jessie: That’s awesome. I’m one of those by-the-book cooks, so I’m always impressed by people who can create new recipes or play around with new ideas and ingredients. I watch Chopped, and I’m like “I would never even think of that.” I wouldn’t even know what to do. So I’m totally inspired by your ability to do that. Where do you get your inspiration for new recipes, Terryn?
Terryn: Mostly my inspiration comes out of necessity, because I like I said, we live in what some might consider a food desert. And so I very seldom have everything that a recipe calls for, so I’ll just play around with whatever I have. Sometimes it turns out to be really, really good. I will say though, if I was ever on Chopped, I would probably not do well, because of that time pressure. I can do okay if I’ve got all the time in the world to make something up, but that time pressure would kill me.
Jessie: Yeah, for sure. An added element of pressure, like you said. Do your do your kids like to be in the kitchen with you as well?
Terryn: Yes, they do. I am not a very organized person and I’m pretty chill about most things, but I have a hard time with the kids in the kitchen, so I’m working on that.
Jessie: I can relate to that. You learn a new level of patience.
Terryn: But yes, they like to be in the kitchen. In fact, they really like to play Chopped. So sometimes I’ll give them mystery ingredients and just let them go to town, and you know, sometimes they come up with some pretty cool stuff.
Jessie: That’s fun, a cool way to spend time together. The name of the podcast, as you know, is Trailblazing in Agriculture. It’s so fun getting to highlight trailblazers like yourself who are doing remarkable things in the ag industry. I’ve enjoyed visiting about the work that you do on your ranch and also how you use your blog as a platform for many things, to talk about your faith and your family, but also just to promote beef and the beef industry. I’m curious Terryn, can you tell me about a trailblazer in your life, someone who has inspired you?
Terryn: I find inspiration in a lot of places. But to answer this question more specifically, my parents are the most influential people or have been the most influential people in my life. I mean, by most standards, those two are probably pretty ordinary, and my childhood was probably pretty ordinary. But I feel like they did a really extraordinary job of raising my brothers and myself. They instilled in us a work ethic and showed us the value of hard work and perseverance. They did a really good job parenting. And they definitely blazed a trail for me in who I am as a person and a spouse and a parent. I am really grateful for those two.
Jessie: Terryn, thank you so much for sharing your story and taking time to visit with me. I have enjoyed getting to learn more about you, your platform, the work that you’re doing and your genuine desire and passion for sharing about the ag industry and the things that you get to experience. Thank you so much for taking time to join us on this episode of the podcast.
Terryn: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really had fun in our conversation, and I’m so thankful that you invited me on.
Jessie: Terryn’s passion for the beef industry and willingness to share openly about ranch life and other things she faces as a wife and mom is so inspiring. I hope you enjoyed hearing her story as much as I did. Thanks again for joining me for today’s episode of Trailblazing in Agriculture featuring Terryn Drieling. Join me again next time as our journey to highlight more trailblazing women in agriculture continues.