You ever take the time to plan a long car trip, making sure you have a map and a route planned out ahead of time, only to get caught in an unexpected backup, ruining your schedule? Well, I imagine that's a little how Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) is feeling these days. It was cruising along, making good time. Then, one little mad cow stood in the road, bringing Tyson to a screeching halt.

The largest U.S. meat company reported results for its fiscal first quarter yesterday that were pretty hard to swallow. Tyson blamed the mad cow disease scare, higher pork prices, and its own ill-advised grain purchases.

Tyson's earnings were $48 million, or $0.14 per share, down 16% from $57 million, or $0.16 per share a year ago, and well below the estimates of $0.25 per share.

Each segment was down from last year's numbers. Tyson's beef business lost $16 million, compared with a year-ago loss of $29 million. I know I just said each segment performed worse this year and the first one I mention contradicts that. Well, when settlement gains are excluded, the loss plummets to $58 million versus last year. Its profit from pork was trimmed to $15 million from $49 million in the prior period. The company's chicken business should have been its one bright spot, but its grain-buying strategies cost it $23 million, dropping profits from $116 million to $104 million this year.

As a result of the disappointing start and tight cow supply, Tyson lowered its fiscal year forecast to a range of $1.05 to $1.30 per share. Previously, the company expected to earn $1.15 to $1.40 per share.

So with the plethora of bad news, why do I still like Tyson? Well, for a few reasons, actually. U.S. authorities are expected to lift a ban, which blocks Canadian cattle from U.S. markets, on March 7. Lower feed costs will benefit its chicken business. And its price is reasonable, if not cheap, compared with its competitors. After dropping more than 3% yesterday, Tyson has a forward P/E in the range of 13 to 16. SmithfieldFoods (NYSE:SFD) falls in that range at 13, while Spam king Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) comes in high at 18. Finally, the company generated $312 million in free cash flow in the quarter, significantly ahead of the $137 million it generated in last year's first quarter.

You'll probably need patience with this one, since it expects to continue struggling through the first half of the year. But if you stick with it, it looks like open road ahead.

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Fool contributor Mike Cianciolo welcomes feedback and doesn't own any of the companies in this article.