Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Anything but Lazy Days of Summer

The lazy, hazy days of summer. Well, that is not quite true at our house this summer. It may be hazy but summer, for my kids, is anything but lazy. In fact, my kids will tell you that going back to school seems like a vacation.

Now before you call child services on me, let me explain that they chose to be this busy, and I am proud of them because of that choice. You see while summer means sleeping in for some of their classmates, at our house, summer means 4-H livestock projects and early morning chores before it gets hot.

My kids realize that their animals would rather eat in the cool morning hours. Yes, I am sure that they would rather be asleep themselves but they have learned that farmers and ranchers put the needs of their livestock ahead of their own comfort. The rest of the morning routine includes washing, exercising, and watering their animals before they (the kids) ever eat breakfast. The rest of the day is spent checking on those same animals at regular intervals to make sure they have water and are staying cool.

That is why I have to chuckle every time I hear another parent complain about their kids spending the whole summer sleeping in and playing video games. I guess it also makes me proud to know that my kids (who are no different than any other farm kid I know) realize that as farmers and ranchers we always put our animals first. Now don't get me wrong, my kids are far from perfect and I am not bragging. However, I wish that every child could have that same responsibility of caring for livestock, I really think it would change our society.

My kids also have no illusions about the purpose of those same animals. They realize that their livestock's main purpose is to provide a safe, wholesome source of protein. But they also realize that while those animals are in their care, the safety, comfort and health of those animals are their number one concern. So as your alarm goes off at 7:00, rest assured that some 4-Her has been out caring for their livestock during these busy, hazy days of summer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Rich" Farmers

In the period of just a few minutes this afternoon I got two calls from my Dad. The first wast to tell me that the creek was most definitely flooding out some of our crops. The second was to tell me that the big truck we haul grain (the same grain we would have raised on those flooded acres) to the elevator in needed a new rear end and it would cost as much as we had paid for the truck. That folks is the joys of farming and ranching and why I get my hackles up when I hear about those "rich" farmers.

I have relegated myself to being able to accept that I can do nothing about the weather. The same rain that makes my crops grow is the same rain that makes the creeks flood. Dealing with weather is just part of this job, there is nothing I can do about it, but that makes it no less frustrating. Hard work and more importantly, my paycheck, can be gone in just a matter of minutes.

The equipment repairs, herbicide costs, fuel costs and other bills are also just part of the cost of doing business. Farming and ranching may look like a lucrative business at first blush but it is a high capital, low return enterprise. Quite frankly it defies many of the principles I studied in economics.

As farmers and ranchers we cannot control the cost of our inputs (fuel, fertilizer, herbicides, etc..), we have huge fixed costs (land payments, machinery costs, taxes, etc..) and we have no control over the price we receive for our production (grain and livestock are commodities and driven by supply and demand). All of this would leave even the most daring of entrepreneurs to question our sanity.

Why do we farm and ranch if we have no control over our costs, prices and at best have a slim profit margin. Well, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I do it out of a love for the land, my heritage and my chosen way of life. If I were worried about becoming rich I would pick another profession. I choose to farm because I take great pride in continuing on my family farm, in feeding the world and a love for living close to the land. So yes, I guess I am a "rich" farmer but not in terms of money, but in terms of fulfillment. Much like this storm there will always be sunshine after the dark clouds.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Deep Rural Roots

Most people in this world work a job that is merely an occupation and live in a place out of necessity but that is not the case for those of us in agriculture. Our chosen vocation is a way of life that happens to provide us with a living wage. I was reminded of this over the weekend.

My family and I traveled to the Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City. This town is nestled in the middle of the Flint Hills and steeped in the tradition of ranching. Not only is it an opportunity for the hardworking families on the nearby ranches to relax, it is an chance for those outside of the Flint Hills to get a taste of the tradition and heritage that drives many of us.

The announcer talked about the rich heritage of ranching in the Flint Hills, with the green native hillsides serving as a backdrop. He talked about how many of us had worked the same land for generations and it struck me that he might have hit upon something the rest of the population is missing.

Those of us farming and ranching are probably living on the land that our families have lived on for several generations. I am the fifth generation on our family farm and it is very hard for me to fathom not having my roots planted in my families land. We have worked that patch of ground for over 100 years and we know every inch, every corner and every hilltop. We have no greater wish than to protect that land and heritage and make it available for the next generation.

The rest of the population merely moves from one location to another following one job to the next. They never get to put down roots and are not tied to any particular place. That leads to a loss of community, no ties among families in those communities and no pride of being from "somewhere". I find that really sad and wonder if that is not the root of many of our problems.

I wish that those of you who live where you are out of necessity and not out of pride or love for your home and community could experience our small, rural towns. Spend time with us on our family farms, see our love of the land and for our heritage. I wish you could spend time in our communities and experience our celebrations. If we all had the opportunity to love the place we live in, the land we live on and the people we live with, I think we would all be more understanding of others around us. Maybe, that would lead to more people understanding that farmers and ranchers try hard to protect that heritage and the land that is so much a part of who we are.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Care About Our Livestock

I work with livestock because I like working with animals. I enjoy taking care of them in all conditions and would never intentionally harm an animal. The care and well-being of my livestock is first and foremost in my thoughts at all times. The safety, comfort and health of my animals on my ranch come first, period.

I make this statement because recently an undercover video of animal abuse on a dairy farm has surfaced. I do not know how long it took to get the several minutes of footage, the circumstances it was shot in or how it was obtained. What I do know is that kind of treatment is not acceptable anytime or anyplace.

Every occupation has its bad people and that is exactly what you see in the video. Let me assure you that 99.9999% of all producers are good, decent people who respect the animals they spend their life raising. I don't know how many thousands of producers that Mercy for Animals had to go to and how many years they spent looking for someone like this but the abuse documented in this video is certainly extreme and unacceptable. It breaks my heart to watch it.

The only person I can speak for is me, but I would never, under any circumstances abuse one of my animals. While I know that the purpose of the livestock I raise is ultimately for food, I also believe that their health, comfort and safety is my number one job. The livestock I own depend on my care for their every need. I strive each and every day to make their time with me as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

I hope you will take the video at its face value. It is one or two bad people doing bad things and it certainly does not represent the vast majority of the hardworking men and women who work on family livestock farms. This is another reminder that we as farmers and ranchers need to reach out to our customers. I promise as you get to know us personally, you will realize that we care about our animals and treat them with dignity and respect.