Far from “uneducated”

If you watched any of the recent presidential election results, you may have noticed a recurring theme.  As traditionally blue states turned red, a common phrase heard among reporters was that the “uneducated rural community” had made a larger turnout than what was expected.  As a member of the rural community, which is quite educated might I add, I saw a few things wrong with this statement.

First, the political affiliations of a certain group of people should in no way merit the assumption of education, or lack thereof.  In a society that claims to be open to all walks of life and discourages the labeling of cultural groups, I felt that the way rural voters were viewed was quite misguided.

Secondly, the definition of “uneducated” is the lack of education.  Nowhere in that definition do I see that the lack of an Ivy League education or a formal college education counts as “uneducated”.  Education takes place in so many other places besides a classroom.  Early mornings and late nights spent in the barn, long tractor rides through open fields, and a walk through the woods gives you a real life education, and is something no four walls and a desk will ever give.

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Rural life would not be possible for the “uneducated”. For many situations, like pulling a calf in the middle of the night, fixing a tractor in the middle of a field, or simply raising animals and crops, a step by step guide is not provided.  Of course there are words of wisdom that are passed down through generations, but for this generation specifically, rural life requires a vast understanding of science, business management, production efficiency, and technology.

As someone with a degree in agricultural science, I am constantly reminded that it will be this generation’s job to feed the world with less land and with more efficiency than any generation before us.  This isn’t something we take lightly.  This is something we are preparing for, with every ounce of science, technology, and information we can grasp.  But yet, we are the “uneducated” ones.

Well, I have a message for anyone who believes in the phrase that was so overused a night ago.  We are far from “uneducated”.  Rural Americans are the backbone of this country, they are the ones who endure the cold nights, the long summer days, and quite literally put their blood, sweat and tears into their business.   They are people who truly love what they do, and have a deep desire to be successful at it, and that success wouldn’t come without education.

Rural America is a place I am proud to call my home, and is a group that I am proud to be associated with.  So please, before you call us “uneducated”, remember that just because our walls aren’t covered with Ivy League degrees, doesn’t mean that our education means any less.

Food Labels: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Maybe it’s just me, but today it seems as though there’s a label for everything.  Want grass fed beef?  We’ve got that.  Want “All Natural”?  We’ve got that too.  Want products from only “Happy Cows”?  We can get you that (well, maybe only from California).  My point is that today’s consumers have a vast array of food preferences, and their inquiries about their food is ever-growing.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when marketing tools such as labels start to sway consumers opinions and thoughts about the agricultural community, things can start to get murky.

What’s in a label?

If you’ve ever walked into a grocery store, scrolled through Facebook, or turned on your TV, you’ve probably been bombarded with food labels.  At every turn, there’s someone trying to sell you the latest and greatest product, usually having something to do with “take your pick” free or anything along those lines.  The problem with this is, as more and more labels come about, it gets harder and harder to determine which labels are for real and which are there simply to scare you into buying a product.  To give you an idea of some labels that are more fear based than fact based, here’s a list:

  • Antibiotic Free: NO meat that is available to consumers has antibiotics present.  If a farmer has to use antibiotics to treat an animal, that animal cannot be harvested for a certain amount of time (withdrawal time) in order to ensure that any residue of the antibiotic is gone.  These regulations are very strict and must be followed if the farmer plans on having a successful operation.
  • Hormone Free: Livestock naturally have hormones (just like you and me).  If there’s a label that claims “Hormone Free”, think twice.  If you’re going for the “No Hormones Added”, just remember, a 3 oz. serving of beef with hormone supplements still has less hormones present than a 3 oz. serving of peas or cabbage.  (For an illustration on this, visit https://nefb.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/whats-the-beef-mms-and-hormones/)
  • Natural: This term has become pretty popular, but the problem is that it is very broad and can sometimes be misleading.  Many people often confuse the term “Natural” with “Organic”, but Organic products are actually much more strictly regulated than any Natural product.

The latest label…

If you haven’t already heard, there’s a new label in our midst, known as “Certified Humane Beef”.  When I heard of this, I just had to sigh and shake my head.  A company known as Earls Restaurant is now sourcing their beef from only “Certified Humane” producers, which I see as purely a marketing move, and a sly one at that.  The “Certified Humane” label creates a problem for me; it is indicating that producers not labeled as such are in some way less humane, and that is simply not true.  The program standards dictate that livestock should, in short, have access to food and water, have clean living areas, receive antibiotics therapeutically (to treat illness), and many other necessities that any farmer already provides.  These standards are nothing new or ground-breaking.  If a farmer wants to raise live, healthy animals, clean food and water is kind of a no-brainer.  But, with this label, it gives consumers the idea that farmers who are “Certified Humane” are doing something new and different than any other farmer, when in reality, they are doing the same thing that any farmer and livestock producer does every day.

Don’t be fooled

When deciding what food to buy, decide responsibly.  Don’t be fooled by labels sporting the latest fad.  Research labels if you’re not sure what they mean, and when you research, use non-biased sites.  Better yet, talk to a farmer, they usually have a better understanding about the food they produce than the internet does.

 

-Haley

A Calf’s Life: A Day in the Life of a Newborn Calf

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Ahh spring, it’s an amazing time of year isn’t it?  It’s time for flowers, mud puddles, and Easter egg hunts, chirping Blue Birds on tree branches, and best of all, new life everywhere! Every year, I, along with many other farmers, look forward to spring with anticipation because new calves mean that we were yet again blessed with the opportunity to care for a life.

So how did that life begin?

A lot has to happen before there’s a calf on the ground, and it takes a great amount of prior planning and research on the farmers part to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth.  A farmer can choose to have their cows bred by a bull or by Artificial Insemination (AI), which is a very common practice.  Which practice the farmer chooses mostly depends on preference, and also whether the farmer is able to facilitate a bull (bulls can be dangerous and quite destructive).  After the cow is bred, she is checked in about 45-60 days to ensure that all is going well with the pregnancy.  A cow’s gestation period is typically about 283 days, and can vary slightly depending on breed.

The big event!

Now that we’ve gone through how the calf comes to be, it’s time for the main event.  When a cow is getting ready to have her calf, there’s usually some tell-tale signs.  First, she will separate herself from the rest of the herd (if she’s not in a separate pen already), she’ll probably hold her tail up, and she’ll start looking uneasy, meaning that she shifts her weight a lot.  When she’s really ready, she will lay down and start to push, and if the calf is in normal presentation, you will see two feet (pointed down) and a little calf head.  If you don’t see this, then that’s usually a sign that something is wrong in the way the calf is positioned inside, and sometimes requires a little help from the farmer in getting the calf out safely.  In just a matter of time, there will be a new bouncing baby calf!

A calf’s life

Once the calf is born, it is up and running within a few hours.  In only the first few days, it will be running circles around mamma, jumping and playing, and just enjoying life.  A typical day for the newborn and growing calf will probably begin and end with a nice hearty dose of milk, and some calf napping and fun in between (they eat a bunch throughout the day too).  All that nursing and playing makes for a fast growing calf.  In just a few months, the calf weighs a few hundred pounds and continues to grow faster every day.

A calf’s life is one of adventure and curiosity, and watching them grow is sure to put a smile on your face🙂

 

-Haley

Showcation: The Stock-man’s Vacation

 

Growing up with cattle, vacations came few and far between.  For me, and many of my friends, our yearly “vacation” was the county fair.  There, we would all catch up with each other’s lives, have our yearly water fight, play some cards on someone’s show box, and of course show the animals that we had worked so hard all year on.  None of us cared that we didn’t travel to the Bahama’s like the rest of our friends, we were right where we wanted to be, with our animals, and with the people we loved.

It might be a “Showcation” if…

  1. Instead of sleeping in on your “vacation”, you wake up as early as possible to be first on the wash rack, feed your animals, and clean your pens.
  2. Your best “vacation” outfits mainly consist of rinsing pants, rubber boots, old t-shirts, and some added manure.  You only get to shower and change into nice clothes after all the animals are clean and taken care of.  And even after that, you’re still gonna get dirty.
  3. For your “vacation”, you only relax for small amounts of time.  This is the moment you’ve been waiting for all year, so you work as hard you can to keep your animals clean, happy, and show-ready.
  4. It may be a “showcation” if your downtime is spent sitting at someone’s stall on lawn chairs, show boxes, and buckets.
  5. When it comes time for food, you find a friend whose mom has a crock-pot and chow down!  Fair food is fine, but nothing beats a good crock-pot sandwich.
  6. Speaking of fair food, just about every fair/show has a good ice cream stand.  Besides the main event itself, grabbing a milkshake is usually on the list of things to do on your “showcation”.
  7. Your hotel getaway is typically a camper shared with multiple other people or maybe a sleeping bag in the straw next to the cows.
  8. Instead of spending lots of money on your “vacation”, you actually make money ( or hope you do ).  Whether at the county fair or a winter jackpot show, one of the main goals is to win and hopefully make a little money.
  9. On your “showcation”, you make the best memories of your life; memories that simply can’t be made on a beach.  The memories you make are with the people that share your passion, and the animals that you have put so much hard work into and learned from along the way.  Each show and fair comes with it’s own experiences, and each experience helps make us who we are.

A “showcation” is truly unlike a typical trip to the beach, but for many people like myself, it’s the best vacation they could imagine.

 

-Haley

The Unspoken Language

This week as I sat down to write this post, my mind was filled with great ideas, that is, until I put them onto paper.  With every attempt at a post, I read the final product and wasn’t satisfied, and I really couldn’t think of a way to fix it either.  So, I did what every writer does when they encounter writer’s block, and just up and left my computer.  Sometimes, the best way to write is to clear your head and just not think about it, and by George it worked!

Quesadillas and conversation

To help clear my head (and fill my stomach), I made my way to a little family owned Mexican place that never fails to put a smile on my face.  As I waited in line, the man in front of me turned around and started a conversation.  From the minute we started talking, I knew he was a farmer.  He never told me he was, it was just in his nature.  During our wait, we talked about the weather, the upcoming calving season, and how ready we were for spring to arrive.

The farmer’s eyes

So you might be thinking, how did you know that he was a farmer?  Well my friend, it’s simple.  When you spot a farmer, you’ll see callused hands, rough from all the years of working outdoors.  When they walk, they walk heavy from all the years of wearing work boots.  When they smile, you feel like you’ve known them for years.  And when you see their eyes, you will never see anything more honest.

The language

The language is unspoken, but it’s there nonetheless.  It’s an ongoing trust that says no matter when you need me, I will be there.  It’s the bond that allows farmers to pick up on a conversation in the middle of the city and talk as if they’d known each other for years.

Writing this made me think of my Great Grandpa; even if you didn’t know him, there was no doubt that he was a farmer.  His back was one that had labored many days in the hot sun and cold winter, and his hands wore the many calluses of long work days.  His smile made you smile, and in his eyes you could see the years of memories of caring for the crops, the animals, and his family.

There’s a lot to be said for this unspoken language, it truly is what brings so much life to a simple smile, a handshake, and a glimpse into someone’s eyes.

 

-Haley

Sound of a million dreams

Maybe you have heard the song “The Sound of a Million Dreams” by country singer David Nail (if you haven’t, I highly suggest you go listen to it).  What’s great about this song is that it doesn’t matter if you love music or not, this song just speaks to you and takes you to a place where you can really ‘hear’ your dreams happening.  As we tiptoe out of winter and slowly make our way into springtime, there are many sounds slowly making their way back into our lives.  Singing birds in the morning, the light pitter-patter of raindrops on the barn roof, boots sloshing around in the mud, and that newborn calf mooing and playing in the field.

Ahh Springtime…

Yes it’s just the beginning of March, and here in Ohio, that could mean another month of snow, but it never hurts to dream right?  In the world of agriculture, prep for the spring season comes long before those April showers and May flowers.  So when we see glimpses of spring, we get pretty excited!  Spring is the season for planting, new life, and hope for the seasons to come.

The Dreams

Undoubtedly, when we in agriculture start thinking about springtime, our minds ponder over all the amazing possibilities and opportunities that could come our way.  What will the weather bring this year, will our crops grow?  How about that new calf, I think she could be a winner!  Of course, we also get to dreaming about those summer nights with lightning bugs and bonfires, but the point is that those spring sounds just get the dreams rolling!

The Sound

I’m sure you all have some memories associated with a certain sound, whether it be a song or something else.  In farming, there are many sounds we hear every day (some associated with smells), but some of those sounds just make us smile and remember why we do what we do.  That newborn lamb or calf or foal making it’s first sound is one of the most precious things a farmer will ever hear, it means that they have been blessed with the opportunity to take care of a new life.  The sound of the wind blowing through a corn field, rustling the growing leaves, or the sound of a tractor turning up soil.  Whatever sound it may be, there’s just something special about those spring sounds, they really are the sounds of a million dreams.

 

-Haley

 

And if you haven’t heard “The Sound of a Million Dreams” yet, here’s a link!

 

Who are your farmers?

Who are your farmers?  Do they live down the road?  Are they your family or friends?  Even if you live in the city with no farms for miles, you, my friend have a farmer.

A bit of background

Many times, when people think of farmers and agriculture in general, their mind travels back to the times of their great-grandparents when the fields were lush and green and the times were much simpler.  Though this picturesque view of things is definitely something to hold on to, reality is that with time comes change, and with change comes the need to adapt.  The farming community has done this very well, and though today’s farms aren’t the farms of our grandparents days, they still operate under the same love for the land and for the love of agriculture.

So who are they?

Contrary to popular media, farmers are not the antibiotic-happy,  hormone-toting people that certain groups tend to portray them as.  Farmers are people who have been given the responsibility of caring for the life of their animals and crops, and they take it very seriously.  So, now that we have that straight, lets get to the meat and potatoes.  Your farmers are much like you, they have interests, hobbies, and believe it or not, they do have a life outside of farming (even though that life may be taking a night out to visit with other farmers).  These farmers are hard-working men and women that don’t see their farms as just a job, they see them as a way of life not only themselves but for generations to come as well.  Farmers are a special kind of people.  They will stay up all night to help a newborn calf, work all day and do it all over again the next day.  There are no sick days or snow days, because there are lives depending on you.

Some fun facts…

Now that you know a little bit more about who your farmers are, let’s look into some facts about what they do.

  • There are many types of farmers!  Including: Dairy farmers, beef farmers, poultry farmers, sheep farmers, swine farmers, crop farmers, and so much more.
  • These farms can be Conventional or Organic (the “Natural”  label leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation, and an actual definition hasn’t been determined yet by the FDA).
  • Today, 1 U.S. farmer feeds 155 people.   Yep, you read that right.  In 1960, 1 farmer fed 25.8 people.
  • Beyond food, farmers help supply some of the fun things in life too.  For example, one acre of soybeans can supply 82,368 crayons!

We all know that farmers grow food and raise animals, but what they do and who they are is so much more important than that.  They feed the world, not just you and me, and they do it with a willingness and grace not found in any other industry.  So who are your farmers?  They’re so much more than people who grow food, they’re the people who grow the world.

 

-Haley

 

In case you want to check out the sources of the information found in this post, follow these links!