Category Archives: Ag-the-Culture

The Great Job Search…A Lesson in Preserverence


When I graduated in July 2010, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that had a job offer waiting for me. I knew I wanted to work with beef cattle. They fascinate me. They’re peaceful. They smell nicer than some livestock (and yes, this is important).

I also knew that I eventually wanted to work in Public Relations for the beef industry. It frustrated me that over the course of the last 3 years, my expanding knowledge of Agriculture was not shared by my peers or parents. I showed up home to find a pantry of organics, yet my family had a lot of misinformation that led them to reconstruct our food supply. Friends were turning vegetarian like dropping flies. People asked me why I thought abusing animals in the name of feeding America was ok?….WHAT? People think that? I didn’t know anyone in Agriculture who abused animals, or thought it was OK under any false pretense.

So I decided on feedlots. As I described in “I’m goin in!”, I picked feedlots because of all the parts of the beef industry, that’s the one that seemed to attract the most raised eyebrows. It had the most mystery, even to me. Because the east coast doesn’t have feedlots, our total coverage on the topic at VT was probably about 50 minutes worth of lecture, if you were to add it all together. That didn’t leave me prepared to defend them to anyone, including myself.

So I tried to Google them. Most results included something on “reasons not to eat meat” or “cow hell”. No addresses to be found. Well how was I going to apply to any of them? My stepmom had given me Temple Grandin’s book “Thinking In Pictures” and we had watched the the amazing HBO movie about her journey to feedlots. So my stepmom suggested I call her. Temple Grandin. World famous author, speaker, facilities designer, professor. And what do you know, she actually called me back!! At least twice! Do you have any idea how nerveracking it is to play phone-tag with a mini-celebrity?!

Temple Grandin's Thinking In Pictures

I expressed my worries of being a woman in a man’s world. I told her why I wanted to work on a feedyard, and bashfully admitted I had no idea what positions even existed at such a place. I needed to find out. And I also needed to find out where they hide out so I could send a resume and request a specific position. She told me the book Beefspotter would be helpful. It’s like a $50 feedlot phone book. I heard Colorado was pretty cool, so I flipped to that state and found zillions of listings–big, small, and everything in between.

I called a random feedlot in California to ask the manager some questions so I could have a somewhat educated cover letter. At first he was very suspicious of my curiosity. “Who are you with?” “Well, sir, I’m not really “with” anyone, but I graduated from Virginia Tech and I’d like to ask you about how a feedlot works because I think I’d like to work at one” Then he exploded into laughter.

After looking up some stats about them (it’s easier to google info about specific ones, they don’t hide as easily when you have more info), I mailed a resume and cover letter to any feedlot that had a-come personally recommended to me by someone I knew in VA raising commercial cattle or b-met the list of top 20 employers, etc.

I sent out 18 of these personalized letters and cover letters.  I patiently waited 2 weeks for them to arrive on people’s desk before calling to follow up. Most people never answered. One man called me back to say “Well little lady, I’m not hiring, but I thought you deserved a call back. Good luck to you” He was clearly amused, but nonetheless slightly encouraging.

No real call backs. I talked to a friend who had moved to Denver and expressed my frustrations. “I think if they met me, they’d see I was serious!” So, I saved money to go to Colorado. Which was quite a task, considering I was employed as a waitress only 1 day a week. But off to Colorado I went! I sent out another, slightly smaller pool of cover letters and resumes. I had narrowed down which Big Dog I wanted to work for. I wanted one of the biggest. And I wanted it bad. I told them I’d be in the area and available for interviews. And I went. And I waited. And I prayed. And nothing. I called to express some concern I had over the uploading of my cover letter when someone FINALLY actually read it, while I was on the phone, and offered to meet me for a tour. Halleluia! I had a great (4 hour long) interview/tour, and thought things were in the bag. Wrong. I played phone tag with this guy for weeks. He put in a referral. I waited. Nothing. Got a call from the specific yard and did a phone interview. Waited. I did a follow up call again. Waited. Got offered an internship. Very nonchalantly the guy on the other end says, “Oh, yeah. I did talk to my boss and uh, yeah I mean, if you want an internship, I guess you could come out here”.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I had ultimately told the recruiter I was interested in an internship with the possibility of promotion to MT (Management Trainee). Although I technically qualified for MT from the get-go, I thought it would be most beneficial for both parties to do internship first to get a feel for what really happened on a feedlot, and gain credibility before trying to manage people who knew (obviously) much more than I did. And in one very minor, off-hand sentence, this guy changed the direction of my life.

After 5.5 months of putting my all into this job search, I was insanely relieved the great hunt was over.

Food For Thought: When Words Mean Everything


What if it is really agriculture that is setting the tone for our negative press?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how Agriculture is perceived. I have joined Twitter, something I never thought I’d do, but I must admit it has really helped me re-vamp my desire to blog about my passion. Twitter has also made me very aware of how many groups are out there throwing around those buzz words “Factory Farms” “industrial food” and now even “Real food” which seems to think that conventionally raised food does not qualify. All of these phrases immediately conjure up negativity, fear, and even a bit of mystery.

It is proven that people fear the unknown. It is far more likely for people to fear a certain race of people, blacks for example, if they have few interactions with people of that race. It is common for people to fear pitbulls until they come to know one. So, reasonably, people seem to fear what farmers are really doing out there on those large stretches of land, all alone, raising something that will end up on their plate. Blacks make up 12.6% of America, according to the US Census Bureau, and an estimated 8 million Pitbulls in America. At a meek 2% of the population, we really can’t expect Americans to venture out of the metropolis and suburbia and knock on one of our doors and ask to see how we live to see if their fears are well-founded. And when we are self-proclaiming food “producers” of the beef (pork, poultry, etc) “industry”, I’m pretty sure we are further contributing to the notion that we operate as some sort of machine instead of as compassionate human beings.

Bear with me as I take you down a somewhat tedious road. I think this is a topic worth the scrutiny.

Let’s break down how “food producer” might be interpreted by someone on the outside. Dictionary.com provides us with 5 definitions for the verb “produce”

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/clip/dictnry.html

  • 1. to bring into existence. I wouldn’t really say we bring cattle into existence. Or bring meat into existence. Although if you use this definition, it would line up with some accusations that people in food production add things like “pink slime” and ammonia into meat, and THAT produce would definitely be something brought into existence by a human. Not very accurate to what we do.
  • 2. to bring into existence by creative or intellectual ability. Similar to definition 1.
  • 3. to make or manufacture. I don’t manufacture meat, and I certainly don’t want to be known as a meat manufacturer. Do you?
  • 4. to bring forth; give birth. Well, I don’t even need to explain why this definition doesn’t make me a food producer.
  • 5. to provide, furnish, or supply. Ahhh. Now this, this one fits. We definitely provide meat & other food products for Americans.

Okay, so we found a successful definition! But look how many definitions I had to look past in order to find one that maintained a positive mental image. The general public will NOT take any extra effort to prove our innocence or positive impact on the world.

Now, let’s brave the term “industry”

  • 1. the aggregate of manufacturing or technically productive enterprises in a particular field, often named after its principle product such as the automobile industry or steel industry. Not a terrible definition I suppose. It utilizes the word “produce” which leaves lots of room for negativity in itself, but it’s really the examples that make me weary. Automobile and steel industry creates a feel of cold & factory-like business. Not a great parallel for the hard work, dedication, and love we put into our herds & flocks.
  • 2. any general business activity; commercial enterprise. It is true that agriculture is a business like most everything these days. But everyone knows that businesses have one goal above all else: profit. And we know that more and more businesses in this country are putting aside ethics and morals to pick a more profitable decision. While we need to make a living from raising livestock, we do not have the option of picking profit as our sole goal. We also must incorporate ethical treatment & care.
  • 3. systematic work or labor. Again, agriculture is a business, and we need systems in place to keep things organized. But something about the phrasing still gives room for the interpretation of a factory-like, robotic, thoughtless process.

I’m thinking it’s time for the people of Agriculture to start coining their own (accurate!) buzz words, in order to hold our own & be able to dis-spell misconceptions without even having to launch into a defensive paragraph. I don’t think it will be a single solution, but I do think it is something incredibly easy to overlook, yet so very important. Every word we use to describe agriculture is carefully weighed by concerned foodies. So let’s just give it chance. I’ll start:

I am a food provider of the beef community.

http://localism.com/neighbor/sondram?page=18

Cattle Community

Provide has very similar definitions to produce (to supply, make available). But while I do not want many things to be “produced” for me, I do think it sounds quite nice to be provided for. It gives me the warm & fuzzy feeling of security. And this case, I am feeling very confident & secure that I will not go hungry because of you, the food provider.

Community. A VERY different word than industry. It is a very disarming term, and among the best of dictionary.com’s definitions is as follows:

“an … occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists”

Now that seems accurate to me. As agriculturalists, we all share a slew of common characteristics and interests. And we are definitely distinct, in our 2%, from the larger society (the nation as a whole) in which we exist.

Community also creates an image of “kumbaya”…of teamwork & encouragement. In the case of the beef community, there are MANY compartments (seedstock, cow/calf, feedlot, packer) that need to work together as a team to provide the end product of safe & nutritious meat.

I know, I know, I’m asking for a lot. It will take a significant amount of effort to change your habits of using terms we’ve used for a long time to describe ourselves. And it will take even longer for our new terms to reach the ears of skeptics and consumers. But hopefully I have convinced you that this is worth our consideration. “Say what you mean and mean what you say” is a very popular quote among our culture. And FINALLY, I feel that I really mean what I say, without having to give further description, when I tell you I provide food for you from within the beef community.

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-select-a-facebook-community-manager/

What do you think? Do you think something so simple and fundamental (two words!!) can really help us change our negative image? Are there other terms we use daily that may be interpreted inaccurately by someone who doesn’t have an understanding of what we actually mean?

The Great Self-Pampering Conundrum


Have you ever had a day off where you decide to be lazy beyond reckless abandon? You set out to accomplish absolutely nothing, just like that song “Today I don’t feel like doing anything“? I bet there are several of you out there now, feeling wistful about the last (probably long, long ago) day that you spent all day in your PJs, woke up and went back to sleep 5 times, ordered food in or ate all the junk food in your cupboards, watched marathons of a TV show you had never even heard of 8 hours earlier when you first tuned in. Ahhh. How great…

photo courtesy of Colours And Joy Blogspot

I often find myself stressing about all the hours I pour into work, how much housework needs to be done, how the cat/dog/other dog is just as starving as me after a 12 hour day, but because they yap and yap they always manage to get fed before me (such manipulative fluff balls…), and I  just plead with the world for a day of lazy. Of doing everything in bed. Extra sleep, eating in bed, watching TV from bed…maybe I could also walk the dogs from bed?

The weird thing about all of this is, however, that I make time for these days on occasion. At least once every two months. And I’ve made a startling discovery. I wallow around among sheets & pillows & junk food, and all of the sudden, the sun is gone. I’m sort of hungry in a spot that junk food hasn’t hit after 3 bags of chips. My hair is greasy. And then this inching dread feeling creeps in…because tomorrow the ominous stresses return. And the day of high life is already over! And the dishes are still in the sink, the fur balls are still tumbleweeding around the wood floors, I still haven’t showered…and all of this seems to negate the peaceful day of rest I was fully embarked upon.

I have actually found, much to my dismay, that days relished by speed-scrubbing down the house, a nice, well-cooked hot lunch, and easy afternoon of reading or taking the dogs to hike at the state park seem to provide much more satisfaction then the coveted Day of Rest. I accomplished something. And more that, I accomplished something more than what I do at work.

I think that this discovery is the link to one of the reasons I have loved Agriculture. I get so much more self-worth out of doing things. And the physical labor often associated with agricultural jobs is plain evidence of things done. For example…Today I moved 300 cattle, sorted them by weight, began them on new feed, ear-tagged, fixed 3 fences, walked 8 miles, and fixed a tractor. That is a satisfying day. Something to be proud of. You come home physically exhausted, mentally worn, but you feel you have honestly worked for your place on this earth.

On the other hand, my current job has that indoor environment. I spend days going to Chamber Meetings. Seminars. I spend hours speaking with people to coordinate with on event planning. It’s not that I don’t accomplish anything, I actually accomplish quite a bit. I mean, I reduced my emails today from 577 to 498 today, for heavens sake! But I go home mentally tired and physically a little larger from having sat in a chair or car all day. Mental exhaustion sometimes turns instead into a racing mind. Tossing and turning. Forgetfullness. Physical exhaustion, on the other hand, improves focus, builds body structure and function, and at a certain point, forces you to slow down long enough to charge your batteries. And there are plenty of problem-solving opportunities for your mind to engage in as well. And whether for work or leisure, I find the physically & mentally challenging days to be far more relaxing than the mind-numbing days spent staring at a computer monitor or zombied to the TV.

I guess it kind of makes sense. I mean, in all of the Kourtney & Kloe marathons I’ve watched on lazy days, I never once have seen an episode where I have watched either Kardasian stay in bed or even turn on a TV. I certainly don’t watch them facebook stalk. Because obviously that is BORING. So I wonder why I think putting myself through those activities would be instead rejuvenating? I want to watch them Take Miami! Conquer, explore! Why? Well, because silly, that gives them something to talk about. Regardless of whether its enough to deserve a TV series, it does give them much more adventure and award them many more bragging rights than anything I accomplish on lazy days. Even on days off with cattle, I’d still have to get out of bed early to feed & check fences. And by the time I get back, I usually don’t really want to go back to sleep. It’s only 10am and you have all day to enjoy! I’m already out of bed, breakfast fed, and dressed, so I may as well get to the good stuff now!

Does anyone else find this conflict: desiring a day of lazy and in reality needing a day of doing (even though the day of doing must require the “doing” to be different from your “daily doing” schedule)? How do you spend your days away from the job?

Food, Inc…A critique


So, FINALLY, after years of being in the Ag world/business, I had the opportunity to watch the infamous “Food, Inc” documentary/movie that is out and popular amongst millions of Americans. There were a few major things that stuck out to me in particular as I watched. And after hearing so many stories of people who became vegetarians because of this documentary, I had some pretty high expectations. I tried very hard to go in to this viewing with an open mind. But honestly, after about 5 minutes, this video started losing my confidence–fast. Even still, I like to find the positive in things, and this documentary was no exception.

The Good:

  • The soybeans.

I have to agree that the whole idea of “owning” a seed is really problematic to Agriculture in America. I have heard many stories similar to those in the documentary of farmers losing battles with companies like Monsanto because the genetics have ended up on the farmer’s land. It is amazing to me that many of these cases are won by the big companies. Any person who has taken a basic Biology class should recall that “Tree Sperm” or seeds are spread and fertilized through a variety of methods…but almost all of them require the seeds to travel across long distances of land. Tumbleweeds, wind, birds, etc are all responsible for spreading new plants to different areas. It is absolutely impossible for neighboring farms to keep their particular strains entirely separate. It has nothing to do with being a theif and everything to do with the laws of nature. I hope that farmers and cooperations can come to an understanding and allow for everyone to exist and compete in the market. We do not allow monopolies in this country and I sure hope as we move forward in all areas of business that we enforce the right to a competitive market. I plan to do more research about the truths of this issue and I’ll get back to you.

  • The push for people to take interest in what they are eating.

Just in the last 50 years or so, America has become more removed from its sources of food. My great-uncle and great-grandparents (? or some family far in the past) had their own little farm. Not enough to avoid the grocery store altogether, but a few chickens, goats, and vegetables. Even as a younger child, every summer we grew our own vegetables and herbs (I can’t say we still do, but I hope to return to that soon). Nowadays, the thought of picking your own warm eggs or drinking milk fresh off the cow with the cream on the top is just so…old-fashioned. Or even…dirty. What I like about the “hippies” of this country, and documentaries such as Food, Inc. is the idea that maybe the “old-fashioned” had some great wisdom. They had such rich, tasty, homemade foods. “Preserves” were made yearly in recycled glass jars, and “preservatives” had not even a hint of similarity in meaning to today’s food additives. This idea of really taking the time to learn how and where food comes from is still at the very core of today’s agriculturalist/Farmer, and I do think it’s great that more and more everyday American’s are “circling back”, in a way, to become once again familiar with their nourishment.

 

  •  Urging people to demand more than just cheap prices.

I feel that there is a great push in this nation and across the globe for people to become more aware of not only what they eat, but how their lifestyle affects everything from business to the environment to international relations. As the Agricultural Revolution has continued, humanity has continued to strive for “more on less”. Let’s look at the invention of the cotton gin. This machine allowed us to produce more cotton on less labor, therefore allowing it to be sold cheaper. The result that was not necessarily foreseen, however, is the effect on required slaves. Instead of reducing the number of slaves needed by having a machine that worked quicker, it provided the opportunity to sell cotton to more of the globe. This, in turn, actually increased the number of slaves needed, to keep up with the new demand. (You can Google this phenomenon, but it is also explained here). Similarly, we have learned how to raise more meat on fewer resources. Instead of only being able to afford meat once a week, you can have meat in your diet once a meal. While this has a great opportunity to have a balanced diet of meat, fruits, vegetables, etc year-round, day or night, wealthy or poor, it also raises new concerns. Are cheap prices and “availability to all!” really the best choice for America? or the Earth? Are we willing to research whether organic or free range or [insert any food buzzword] really is better for not just the environment, but everything else too? It is hard to argue that producing more veggies and meat on less land is the wrong choice, simply because…aren’t we feeding the world?! Aren’t we saving other countries from starvation because we can produce enough food to not only provide for Americans, but for other nations in need? I believe the point is to continue researching, continue studying cause-effect, and continue improving our system so that it is well-rounded, and not just all about making food so incredibly affordable. As we [humankind] are coming to realize, no matter how ingenious we are, we will not be able to sustain and exponential expand in population. How that relatively new realization affects our decisions on Agriculture (and even decisions on human life) should be very interesting to see. Let’s not make it into a war between one side or the other. It is not environmentalist against humanitarian against farmer. It needs to be a collective decision that evaluates each concern. The world is not black and white evil vs good. It is a bunch of grey area compromises.

The Bad and the Ugly:

  • “The Farm Fantasy”.

The beginning of this film shows images used in packaging of fields and pastures, dotted with silhouettes of seemingly delighted livestock.  And then it uses the phrase “farm fantasy”, and goes on to explain how this is an untruth about Agriculture. I had to laugh out loud. How is this a fantasy? I understand their intention of pointing out that there are “factory farms”, but the existence of such things does not negate the existence of down-home lush green pastures. Do people really buy that? I mean, are there really people in suburbia or metropolitans who have not, on some drastically long and painful family road trip, passed such a beautiful farm as the ones I see daily? These “fantasy” farms absolutely do exist.

www.benzinga.com

This scenic picture is absolutely real.

Little pieces of paradise dotted around the nation. And let me share something else with you. If you’ve noticed them becoming few and farther between, you can probably blame your own neighborhood just as equally as a large company like Smithfield. Because your need (and mine, for that matter…I grew up in suburbia too you know) for a nice lawn and 3 car garage and 4 bedrooms for 2 people type of home has grown some fabulous neighborhoods. And at least in North Carolina/Virginia, many of these neighborhoods are called things like “Fairfield Farm”. Do you know why that is? Because your pretty little brick house was built by a contractor who bought out that little all-American farming family and put a row of mailboxes on what USED to be Fairfield Farm. It’s tough cookies for any small business, and that includes small farmers. There’s a buy-out price for everything, and unfortunately, that includes “fantasy” farms. But they haven’t all been bought out yet, and don’t forget that.

  • Very Talented Editing 

This is something that is in no way new to the world of journalism, sensationalism, book-writing, etc. Call it “persuasive writing”, call it whatever. The idea is to show bits of truths to create a specific effect and achieve a certain goal. While it is very successful at accomplishing the goal at hand, the viewer/reader/audience must be very careful before assuming that these bits of truths are the whole. entire. truth. As I watched Food, Inc, I noticed that I was feeling a rising sense of injustice. I kept looking over to my brother and friend and saying, “Feedlots don’t LOOK like that!” “It isn’t LIKE that!”. I didn’t mean to say “they staged all of this and nothing about it is true”. What I mean is, the way the documentary is filmed, you walk away feeling a certain way. Because I have experience in feedlots, I shall focus on that part because I can promise and give my word, 100%, that I know what I’m talking about. The movie  never REALLY go into great discussion about the overcrowding and inhumane conditions of a feedlot. But didn’t you walk away feeling that? Didn’t you think to yourself, “Ew. Look, they can’t even move. They’re like little sardines. How dreadful”. The editing was very clever. This is similar to what you saw:

Lots of cattle. Shoulder to shoulder. Barely enough space to turn around. This picture is small and not of great quality, but the point is still obvious: overcrowded and miserable. Who would want to live on one of those? How do we allow food to be grown that way? Poor cows. This is a picture of a small truth of feedlots, as shown by documentaries such as Food, Inc, that lead you to believe an untruth.

Now let’s look at the whole truth of this image:

courtesy of google image: feedlot

True, they are still on dirt. But they absolutely have the space to leave each other’s sides. They could certainly get to the feed by spreading down the bunks on that entire side of the pen, instead of bunching in that corner. They have friends (cattle are a herding species, and they naturally aggregate), they have a nice view of green, they have readily available food and water. And they definitely, definitely are not packed shoulder to shoulder. I’m sure you can see which part of the 2nd picture I cropped in order to make the first. Similarly, I’m sure Food, Inc cameramen used a close-up of the cattle to silently depict a crowded, awful cow hell. They neglected to show you images of their open surroundings. They left out the visual information that these cattle could clump and unclump on their own accord at any point in time. While the documentary claims to want to expose the whole truth to you, it really doesn’t do that, does it? It does a great job of showing you bits of the true story. It does a great job of opening your mind to the possibility that food production is not what you once thought. And now I aim to do the same. Perhaps food production is also not what you believed it to be after watching this film. Does this second image change your opinion of the first?

  • The poor mother who lost her child to a hamburger
There is an absolutely heart-wrenching and traumatic story throughout the film about a mother who loses her young son to E.Coli. She wages a war against the food industry and we watch her struggles. The film shows how unfair it is that the large company won a case, and has made it difficult for her to publicly discuss her own food choices. I absolutely agree with her that her son’s death is a tragedy and something should be done about it. What I don’t agree with is her proposed solution. If you were to witness a slaughtering, there are endless precautions taken to avoid foodborne disease. The animals are skinned in such a careful manner that it is highly unlikely for disease-carrying fecal matter from the hide to turn inside out and contaminate the meat. In this particular case, I do believe the meat was recalled after her son contracted the disease, which of course makes it a more complicated scenario. I do not mean to sound unsympathetic or cruel, but the reality is that this boy’s death was likely preventable…even with contaminated meat. It was, I’m sure, a terrible accident.
But every meat has an internal cooking temperature that destroys possible foodborne disease. These diseases (salmonella, E. Coli, etc) are largely passed to humans by consumer error. It is highly likely that either 1) the beef that the mother bought was not properly refrigerated or frozen when she took it home from the store or 2) she did not cook it to the safe 160° (each meat’s magical temperature varies). If both of these very simple but crucial items were done correctly, I am confident her son would be very alive and well.

“Any foods likely to be contaminated with pathogens should be heated to 160°F; at this temperature, most pathogens are killed very quickly. Check the temperature with a thermometer to be certain the food is fully cooked.”

You Can Prevent Foodborne Illness – [a very detailed and helpful resource released by Washington State University, Oregon State University, and University of Idaho that can be found here ]

Now of course, a large company pointing this out to a grieving mother would seem outrageous and unethical. Of course it would be enraging and devastating to hear advice on proper cooking temperatures or food safety precautions after such a horrific loss. Instead of campaigning against meat industries, I wish this mom was out promoting safe cooking. She could save a lot more lives and a lot more hospitalizations by pleading mothers, fathers, cooks of any kind, to please cook the meat thoroughly! Restaurants have the disclaimer at the bottom of every menu these days. It does not read “if we buy contaminated meat from the wrong factory, you may come down with food poisoning”. It reads “Uncooked meat is highly discouraged because it can cause foodborne illness”. And it reads this way for a very good reason.

Documentary on Cattle Farming in WV, VA, PN


While I’m sharing interesting and informational views, here is a video provided by explorebeef.org and the Beef Check Off. Katie Griffith works hard to explore the passion behind family farming, and she does a great job.

Even the pets have chores


The end of my freshman year, I adopted a dog from a shelter. Liberty is my pride and joy, my roommate, my buddy.  So of course I brought her up a lot in talks of home before a class. And I started getting the weirdest question from my classmates: “What’s your dog do?”

My dog, Liberty

Confused, I asked for clarification. “You know, huntin’ dog, guard dog, herdin’ dog…”. My reply, “Well, nothing I guess, she’s just my pet”, usually got a small chuckle and a false look of understanding. At this point, I was beginning to grasp the depth of a farmer’s work ethic. But I had never thought of their non-livestock animals.

Over time, I began to realize that all people and creatures are an important working aspect to farm life. For instance, many farmers in my part of country do not own horses because the farms aren’t big enough to utilize them in cattle work, and therefore they would just be “expensive hobbies”. I was told a 4-wheeler works just as great, never has a bad day, and runs on much less cost.

Just the same, dogs are purchased for such purposes as to guard the sheep from coyotes. These dogs are usually obedient, but are not exactly what I’d classify as tame. I had great difficulty understanding how it was acceptable that a friend’s pack of White Pyrenees dogs had killed a new puppy. The puppy was bought off the farm to introduce new genes into their pack, but the alpha male did not want any part of another male’s offspring.

And yet these animals were mans best friend? In my “previous life”, it wasn’t even acceptable that my cat bit my favorite teddy bear. If he had killed the fish, it would have been an even worser fate. Some people even get rid of a 2nd dog because it got into a fight with the 1st one. And then I learn that there are places of non-abusive animal homes where killing the fluffy new puppy is a disappointment, but by no means harped on for longer than a few minutes. It’s not the absence of emotion, but the acceptance that everything is on this earth for a reason, and the circle of life will continue with or without human interruption. Of course they wished the puppy had lived. But it was crucial for these dogs to maintain their wild, instinctive behavior in order to successfully keep away predators from the flock. If they were really “pets”, they’d try to make peace with the coyotes as well as the puppies. So they couldn’t scold or punish the dogs for carrying out what instincts instructed had them to do. That’s the whole reason the dogs are on the farm in the first place.

It’s sort of a revolutionary thought, in a very old fashioned sort of way. I mean, centuries ago, these standards for animals were worldwide. Horses pulled plows, and acted as cars and freight trains. Dogs protected livestock and families. Cats killed household pests. The only cost of labor was the price of feed, and most of these animals could find it themselves because they all lived outside. Nowadays, we have designer dogs who are genetically bred in a way that is only beneficial to a human’s emotional side (pugs are adorable, but to breed something with a facial structure that causes so many breathing problems is not exactly doing a favor to them).  But this agricultural view, it was so…sustainable.

Think about all the resources your pet may use. I’ll use mine as an example. Every day, we use one plastic bag to clean up the lawn, instead of utilizing it as fertilizer and letting nature biodegrade it.  I pay $30 for un-exceptional dog food, when most farm dogs receive the leftover food that I put into my garbage disposal, or hunt their own meat. I don’t personally buy clothing for my dog, but if I did that would use many textiles and while that may be great for “Fru Fru Dog Do’s”, its probably not worth the environmental cost of producing cottons, nylons, and other materials for a dog with a built-in fur coat. The list goes on. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have pets. I could never turn my fluffy-tailed pal outside. It just blows my mind how environmentally/resourcefully genius farmers can be.

Farms who do run horses instead of 4-wheelers save fuel, and therefore emissions. They can sell the manure as a natural fertilizer, which keeps the option open for consumers not to need all-chemical fertilizers. It also provides income for the farm. Yes, they may not be able to afford to bond as closely with their furry workers, but their utilization of nature’s laws and bounty is really quite impressive. They really are stewards of the land in ways we don’t even consider daily.

Maybe I will designate a spot on my yard for dog poop. Even if the neighbors scowl, at least I’ll be greening my grass while not wasting plastic.

Job Description


From what I gather, if there were ever a job description typed out for a farmer, I think it would look something like this:

Responsibilities:

  • 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

Work Conditions

  • 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?