Monthly Archives: February 2011
From what I gather, if there were ever a job description typed out for a farmer, I think it would look something like this:
- To provide food for 155 people annually
- Provide food, shelter, water, health care, and attention to their livestock every day
- Be environmental stewards
- Ensure that America’s food is healthy, great-tasting, and safe, free of drugs or harmful chemicals or disease
Qualifications and Skills:
- Physical capabilities of lifting upwards of 100 lbs
- Mechanical skills to fix farm equipment without a shop
- Accounting skills to manage the operation’s funds
- Carpentry, Plumbing and Construction skills to build fences, repair water lines, etc to maintain animal facilities
- Record keeping, to great detail, to provide food traceability
- Basic veterinary skills to help birthing, give accurate dosages of vaccines and medications, minor surgical skills, etc
- Stay updated on laws passed in the areas of animal welfare, soil, waste management, fertilizers, vaccines, medications, withdrawl times, etc
- Your hours will be 7 days a week, an average of 10-12 hours a day
- Sundays you may be able to get by with 3-4 hours, just enough to feed and check up on the animals
- During calving/lambing/farrowing season, you may be sleeping in the barn or waking up every 2 hours to check on the mothers and babies
- No paid holidays or sick days. In fact, if you miss any days, you will lose pay. Even if you are sore, sick, or puking, you must take a few hours to at least feed the animals. Unless you can find someone else to do it for you. If you do not have family members who can fill in, you may be out of luck.
- If you would still like a day off, you are responsibly for finding your substitute and paying them if necessary. (If you think finding a pet-sitter for your 2 dogs is hard, imagine trying to find someone to go outside in -10°F weather and feed 500 animals)
- You will likely work outside most hours of your shifts. The temperatures will range from 110°F to -20ºF.
- You may come under fire from media who do not understand your lifestyle and practices.
- Unlike those who provide safety to our country (such as police, military, firemen), you may never get thanked for providing one of the biggest human necessities of life: Food.
- There are no health benefits, 401k matching programs, or company discounts. (unless you count the meat you keep instead of selling for profit)
- Your average net income will be less than $20,000/year, so please prepare to work a second job. This income is contingent upon the weather, prices of gasoline, corn, and other feedstuffs. Please note that if you manage to do all your work in just 60 hours a week, this averages to around $6.00/hour.
So, anyone still interested?
At the very least, I bet you’re no longer surprised that less than 2% of America loves their land and animals enough to sign up for this kind of work environment. That really says something about that 2% though, doesn’t it?
I came across this link through the Masters of Beef Advocacy Program website (It’s an online class aimed at beef producers to help them learn how to spread the word about how great what they do is, and how good beef really is!) 🙂
February is a month dedicated to healthy heart awareness, so if you thought eating beef would send you into a heart attack, you should check out this website and consider treating yourself to a wonderful steak 🙂
Spring of my sophomore year at VT I began one of the first courses for my major: the Introduction to Animal and Poultry Sciences course & lab. This course is designed to discuss basic principles and terms involved with animal husbandry of beef cattle, swine, sheep, poultry, and horses.
The terminology was the area I felt most disadvantaged. Who knew there were 4 genders, and none of the 4 includes “male” and “female”? Of course I had heard of pigs. They were pink with curly tails and adorable smushed up snouts. They said “oink”. You could have boy and girl pigs. It was simple, right? Wrong. Pigs are the young ones, and there are no “piglets”, except in Winnie the Pooh. Hogs are adults. “Swine” encompasses the entire species. Sows are the sexually mature females, usually mothers. Boars were the sexually mature males. Gilts were young females, and barrows were castrated males (G for girl, B for boy is how I remembered it). Each species of animal has their own set of 4 gender descriptions. I might have heard the word boar before, and been able to tell you it was the male, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell you if it had testicles or not…it wasn’t my business to look! Compared to the farm kids, my head was spinning just trying to keep them all straight, let alone how the feed rations and weight goals were different for each group.
I also had no clue about what the animals are fed. Straw right? Anything in a big round bale or a small square bale was the interchangable: Straw = hay. “Hay is for horses”, so then was straw. It all was the stuff you could put in your scarecrows, long pieces of dried up grass…or something like that. Man, did I get laughed at for that idea. Straw wasn’t really edible, it was a source of bedding. Feeding straw would be like feeding a hamster wood shavings.
And I thought the Southern accents were the language barrier.
This is my first blog. All the information below will also be on the “About” page for easy reference for those who may join this blog later, but to get things rolling, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to also use it as my first post. I welcome any comments, feedback, or questions from anyone (beef/ag side or average grocery store Joe). This is a learning process, and there’s no reason you can’t learn with me.
I grew up in cities from North Carolina all the way to Asia, and although I believe I’ve become very well-rounded and culturally sound, I had never really interacted with farm animals or farmers until I began college at Virginia Tech as an Animal & Poultry Sciences Major.
I thought I would become a vet for small animals. Little did I know what I would learn, or the love I’d find for the lifestyle, practices, people and animals involved in food production.
I have always been an animal lover. When I was 2, I asked my mom for my first pet. I wanted a “baby cow”. My mother was baffled. “Why not a kitten or a puppy, Valerie?” “Because Mama, they are all alone in the rain and no one takes care of them to bring them inside”. Since we moved a lot when I was little, I was never allowed to have real pets. So instead, I collected snails after it rained and named them all. I saved turtles from the middle of the road. I would send half of my 50¢/month allowance to the Save the Tiger Foundation. I have always been dead set on taking care of every animal I’ve ever come across, even the worms.
So you can imagine my family’s surprise when I came home one semester and announced that not only did I no longer wish to be a veterinarian, but I wanted to work with the animals that were raised to be killed; to be put on my plate. (At this point in time, I didn’t even eat pork products, because after seeing the movie Babe, I didn’t want to eat a piglet. EVER).
But I had come to realize something. Well, a lot of somethings. There was nothing ill-willed about raising animals for food. In fact, everyone I’ve met who is involved in raising livestock is completely dedicated to their animals. The “blood and guts” part of animal science- sickness, disease, slaughter: all of that was no surprise. I had been dissecting roadkill with long sticks for years trying to figure out how everything worked. While it was a big change to think of Bessie the Cow as my hamburger, that part was far less of an adjustment for my mind to wrap around. It is the people that really strike me. Even more than that, it’s the lifestyle. It is the realization that bringing up animals you know will become a meal for someone does not mean you are heartless, or even indifferent to the animal’s well-being. It is the knowledge that animal practices are done for scientific reason instead of cutting financial corners.
People seem to think that the more you find out about your food source, the more disgusted you will become. It seems that recently everything I hear on the news or from people in coffee shops is how horrible farmers are to their animals, or how unhappy and unhealthy farm animals are in their living conditions. That farmers and large cooperations are just pumping animals, milk products, and meat full of drugs and hormones to make a quick buck. Well, let me tell you something: There is no quick buck to be made in farming. These people are not outside every day to make money, or to poison your food. It is so much more than that.
In this blog, I will attempt to share an “outsider-going-insider” insight to the many fascinating aspects of raising our food in America today. It will be a compilation of known facts as well as my thoughts, pictures, observations, and questions. Agriculture and animal husbandry are not perfect practices. But there are so many things about it that even I was completely oblivious to until 3 years ago. I am not an expert. I come from good ol’ rich Suburbia, with our nice cars and manicured lawns. I have no financial incentive for changing people’s minds about how they view Agriculture. I just simply have fallen in love with it all. So if you don’t believe what you hear from someone who does make a living off this stuff, maybe you’ll take it from me. Because I’m leaving my cushy lifestyle and big-money-making career goals to fight my way into this industry. I’m looking for jobs on those dreaded feedlots. My animal-loving, fluffy-hearted self could not dream of a better life than raising cattle and being outside in some of the most beautiful landscapes on this Earth, providing a great food option for people worldwide.
So let’s look at food production in a different way. Not through a cowboy’s eyes, who couldn’t think of it any other way, but instead… “farm” the start.