Sarah Nielsen – Plano, Texas
Sarah Nielsen grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in Rowan, Iowa and incorporates many of those life lessons and insights in her profession as a physical education and health educator and middle-school volleyball, basketball and track coach in Texas today. She was in the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) for 18 years, lastly at Canyon Vista Middle School, and is now finishing her first year at Frankford Middle School in Plano.
Sarah and her brother Corey are the third generation of ranchers in a small, tight-knit family that runs Angus cattle and raises other agricultural products including corn, soybeans, alfalfa and hay. They make their own silage, or forage usually made from chopped grass or corn stalks, for the cattle’s diet. “We joke with our parents, Kathy and Gary Nielsen, telling them they should have had more than two kids if they wanted a big farm!”
That being said, Sarah always stepped up to do her fair share or more of bailing hay, feeding cattle, helping cows deliver calves, and tending to the young ones that need bottles, pail feeding or other special attention. “Corey is the ‘Cow Whisper,’ she says with fondness and respect. “He scratches their backs, talks to them, spends lots of time spoiling them, ensures none are struggling, and is constantly taking “roll” to make sure they are all accounted for.” Sounds similar to how a teacher takes care of her students.
She also grew up understanding the importance of a balanced diet and getting enough protein spread out through the day. As a teacher to middle-schoolers, Sarah shares the importance of nutrition and using food to fuel brains and bodies. “Between social media, COVID routine upheaval, not having the right information, and just being young, these kids don’t know how to eat properly anymore,” she laments. “Their eating habits are messed up and I show them how to make better choices, like eating a good breakfast packed with enough protein.”
During her tenure in RRISD, Sarah was active in implementing the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) program which was designed to promote physical activity, healthy food choices, and prevent tobacco use in school aged children. Since moving to Plano, she has been on a mission to spread the same positive health messages. She believes eating healthy and being physically active every day can be fun and helps establish healthy habits early on that can be carried into adulthood.
Sarah isn’t just a role model to her students; even fellow teachers seek out her health and fitness advice. She encourages her peers to eat lean meats (like beef) and “what can be grown,” rather than processed, packaged foods. She also tells people to get up and move. Sarah exercises six days a week and enjoys hiking, walking, biking, swimming and more. Before a series of surgery-requiring knee injuries, she was long-time runner and triathlete who was on the Texas Beef Team.
Read on to learn more:
Type of Beef Operation: 150 head of Angus cattle on 1800 acres plus additional agricultural products. Prior to 2008, we were in the hog business but transitioned to cattle.
Year of Founding: Founded in 1947 by Julia and Lloyd Gordon, my mother’s parents.
Family Involvement: My whole family is responsible for caring for our crops during spring season and harvest season which involves, working the ground, planting seed, treating to prevent any pests or weeds, combining, working ground, cutting hay, raking hay, making haybales, and ongoing field/grain farming. As for livestock, we start in the fall breeding with our four bulls and cows start having calves from March to May. We feed our adult cattle once a day in the morning, freshly made silage (from ground up cornstalks) that is made in the fall. We pack our own silage pile, which stores the feed for future use, and the cows absolutely love it.
Hardest Aspect of Ranch Life: Calving in the spring. The weather, and other issues, can create complications and stress and so sometimes we have to step in to help. Also, you just can’t take off for vacation until an experienced person can be found to help out during the absence.
Most Rewarding Part of Ranch Life: The best reward is the end product, the delicious, lean beef we get to eat and provide to consumers.
Favorite Beef Cut: Ribeye steaks.
Preferred Prep: On my steaks, I use a bit of meat tenderizer, a rub called “Chupacabra” which I get from Amazon, ground pepper, and a tiny bit of BBQ sauce. Then, I thaw out steaks, marinate over night with the BBQ sauce and rub, and grill them until medium.