The Wish of a Farmer

This is a photo taken on our farm early this spring, it captures the calmness on the farm as the day winds down.

This is a photo taken on our farm early this spring, it captures the calmness on the farm as the day winds down.

Many times I get asked what it’s like to live on a farm.  Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to others what it’s like, it’s hard to describe in words what is in my heart when it comes to farming.  I don’t feel like I can adequately describe what it’s like to watch my son follow his dad and grandpa to the shed to get the tractors and head to the fields.  My heart swells with pride in knowing the next generation will continue our legacy.

I love watching my kids work beside their grandparents, Kevin, and I.  I love watching my kids talk with excitement about the cow that just calved, or the sow that just had a litter of pigs.  I even enjoy hearing them discuss the not so exciting parts of being a farmer, like power washing equipment and barns, repairing broken equipment, scrubbing floors at the feed mill, or cleaning up the chicken house.

A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids' favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!

A new litter of pigs, one is nursing on the mother while the others discover the heat lamp and mat we use to keep them warm. This is one of my kids’ favorite places to be on the farm. They love watching pigs be born!

Some days life on the farm is exciting, and other days are more challenging.  Like the day it stormed while we were loading sows on a trailer.  Kevin was sick and didn’t feel up to working but life on the farm doesn’t slow down when you are sick. Something scared a few sows as they were walking on the trailer (probably the thunder or lightning) and the sows ran over my 165 pound husband, penning him down on the trailer floor.  His ankle was penned under the trailer gate and the sows were running over him.  Luckily he was not alone and one of our employees helped get the gate off his ankle and kept the sows off his body.  It’s pretty scary to have a 500 pound sow running over you.  Luckily his ankle wasn’t broke and he only sustained cuts and bruises.  Days like this are not fun but they are teaching opportunities…..when you deal with livestock, you have to remember they are animals and they can hurt you.

Conner proudly checking his newborn calf that his heifer delivered an hour earlier.

Conner proudly checking his newborn calf that his heifer delivered an hour earlier.

Farming is in a farmer’s blood, it has to be in order to deal with the changing weather (it never rains enough or it rains too much, and don’t forget the hard winters or high winds and tornadoes), the volatile markets (remember, farmers do not set the price for the products they raise, they are price takers), the daily breakdowns on equipment, the increased fuel and feed costs, the list goes on and on. Farmers are eternal optimists, but they are also people who refuse to retire.

Farmers normally work until their bodies will no longer allow them to work.  I saw a video today that reminded me of this reality; it brought me to tears because it sums up what farming is about! It put into pictures what I can’t always describe to others when it comes to what life is like on a farm. I see it in my husband’s eyes every day, as well as in the eyes of my in-laws and children.

I hope you enjoy the short video as much as I did.  This video captures the wish of every farmer when they are no longer able to farm.  You can see the love for farming in the farmers’ eyes; you can hear it in his voice.  And you can see in the eyes of the farmer’s son how much the son loved working beside his dad.  Words cannot always describe what this video captures!  White County farmer gets his final wish.

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“Let It Go” Parody Tells the EPA “That’s Enough,” Ditch the Rule!

My friends Andy & Kacey Clay farm in Central Missouri and they have been working really hard this spring on a very important project that will impact anyone who likes to eat.   The Clay’s are also the proud parents of three little kids who have also been helping on this important project.

Kacey has an amazing gift of being able to sing, something I wish I could do but God didn’t bless me with that talent, just ask my kids!  Andy & Kacey have been keeping a close eye on the EPA’s new proposed regulations for the Waters of the US.  You can learn more about this issue in my earlier blog post.

Thanks Andy & Kacey for taking the time out of your busy spring work to make this great video!

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Time to Ditch the Water Rule

My husband, Kevin, and I farm with his parents and brother.  We are the 5th generation of farmers in our family and we raise hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans, and rye.  We are also raising our children on our farm and clean water is important to us.  Regardless of whether EPA requires it, protecting our water is one of our priorities.  We want to pass our farm onto the next generation so it only makes sense that we care for our natural resources in a responsible manner. 

 

EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act rule will have a significant impact on our family farm.  The proposed rule will expand the scope of “navigable waters” subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating ditches, small and remote “waters” and ephemeral drains where water moves only when it rains.

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Most of these areas look more like land than like “waters” and they are dry most of the year.  This proposed rule means any ditch on your land will be regulated by the EPA, even if it only holds water one day a year.  This will prohibit farmers from using land that is in or near a ditch unless they have a Clean Water Act permit.     

 

Congress writes the laws of the land, not federal agencies.  When Congress created the Clean Water Act, it clearly limited federal regulatory power to “navigable” waters.  Congress did not intend to allow EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to regulate farmland just because water occasionally flows across it.  EPA should respect the limits set by Congress. 

 

Some people are saying farmers and ranchers should have no concerns because we are “exempted” from the rule but this is not the case.  The “normal farming and ranching” exemption only applies to a specific type of Clean Water Act permit for “dredge and fill” materials.  There is also no farm or ranch exemption from Clean Water Act permit requirements for what the EPA would call “pollutants,” but I would call plant nutrients and protection products. This means under the proposed rule, many common and important practices like weed control and fertilizer spreading will be prohibited in or near so-called “waters” unless you have a Clean Water Act permit.  This further complicates our situation due to the fact we frequently use recycled fertilizer from our hog barns.

 

Another startling fact is the EPA & the Corps of Engineers have interpreted the word “normal” to mean only long-standing operations in place since the 1970′s – not newer or expanded farming and ranching.  Does this mean when we pass our farm onto the next generation’s hands that they will no longer be able to farm that land? This rule would appear to me to be detrimental to new and beginning farmers – exactly the type of farmer that many of us in agriculture have been working hard to support. That just makes no sense.   

 

The proposed Waters of the U.S. ruling is a bad idea and it will cripple the ability of farmers and ranchers to continue to produce food.  If the proposed rule prevails, it will be illegal for a farmer to spray for weeds or apply fertilizer to their ground unless they have a permit.  Routine tasks like building fences will even require permits if they will be built in or near a ditch.   Many farming practices are time sensitive and farmers cannot afford to wait on a government agency to process a permit.

 

Common sense goes a long way and it is desperately needed when looking at this proposed ruling.  If dry farm fields and ordinary farm ditches and ponds are allowed to be regulated as “waters of the U.S.,” farming and ranching will suffer and so will those who depend on agriculture for food. 

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We need to make our voices heard. It is time to ditch the water rule. 

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PEDV – Here’s Your Sign!

This sign greets visitors to our farm.  We want to PROTECT our hogs from germs so we ask visitors to not go near our barns.

This sign greets visitors to our farm. We want to PROTECT our hogs from germs so we ask visitors to not go near our barns.

I am pretty aggravated tonight so forgive me now if I am a little blunt in this post.  I’ve had a long day, and I know many other moms are feeling tired just like I am tonight.  When I came in the house tonight it was after 6:30 and I had supper to cook, laundry and dishes to do, and Conner had a headache and homework that needed completed.   Homework with Conner means ‘mean ole mom’ has to stand watch over him and remind him every five minutes to do his homework.  As a farm kid, the last place he wants to be on a nice night is inside the house doing homework.

The last thing I wanted to do tonight was chase down a strange vehicle that was trespassing on my farm.   I wasn’t chasing down this truck just because they were trespassing, I was trying to stop them from going near our hog barns.

There is a terrible disease running through the hog industry and it’s called PEDV.  PEDV is a four letter word in our home, as it is in many other homes of hog farmers across the United States and Canada.  PEDV stands for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (porcine means swine and is just another name for hogs).

PEDV is deadly to newborn pigs from birth until about three weeks of age, and infected swine herds can suffer a 75-100% loss of baby pigs for a four to five week period. PEDV poses no threat to humans, or has no food safety impact on retail pork supplies.  The causes and spread of PEDV are still largely unknown, and there are currently no known vaccines to prevent the initial occurrence of PEDV virus.

On our farm, we have increased our bio-security and we are praying every day that our farm doesn’t get this virus.  I think twice before I go anywhere now, I don’t go inside the bank because I don’t know who might have been in there prior to me that may have hogs.  I don’t go into a grocery store or convenience store unless absolutely necessary through the week because I don’t know who has been in the store previously that might have been around hogs.  If I go to the grocery store, I try to make sure I can stay away from our barns and feed mill or any supplies that need to go inside our barns.  Our family and our dedicated employees have become even more meticulous in trying to protect the sows and pigs on our farm.  I freak out when I see a strange vehicle pull into our driveway because I have no idea where they have been.  I instantly think, “Have they been around hogs?  I hope they read our sign and stop!”

Well tonight, a traveling salesman saw our sign and he didn’t stop.  I doubt he intentionally ignored it, he probably just didn’t realize how important the sign is.  I saw it happening like a bad car wreck, I tried to stop him but I had just taken my shoes off and come inside the house to start cooking supper.  Conner came running through the house and said, “Mom, someone is ignoring our sign, quick, we have to stop them.”  But we were too late.  All of our hard work was put at risk in the blink of an eye, and by someone who paid no attention to our signs.

Does this mean we will get PEDV?  I sure hope not but there is no way of knowing exactly where this truck had been or if they had been on another farm that had hogs.  I only hope that people may read this blog and think twice the next time they see a sign that says, ““STOP Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point.”  Livestock farms don’t display signs like this because it’s dangerous for you to go beyond a certain area.  They display these signs to protect their livestock, in our case our hogs, from diseases and germs you may be tracking in on you unknowingly.  We don’t display our sign because we are rude or mean, we want to PREVENT our animals from getting exposed to germs, we want to keep them healthy.

So the next time you see a sign that says, “STOP Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point” or “Biosecure Area – Do Not Enter,” please be considerate and stop.  The health of our hogs is at risk if you ignore the signs.  And this doesn’t just impact my family, it impacts all the families my farm supports – this includes the families of our employee’s, the family of the propane delivery driver who delivers our propane, the family of the packing plant employee who packages the pork I raise, even the family of the grocery store owner and the clerk who rings up your groceries.   This list could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

One of my kids’ favorite meals is pork burgers on the grill and it’s something they look forward to every summer – I want my kids to enjoy pork burgers this summer raised on our farm!   For this to happen though, I may have to remain the CRAZY lady who chases people around my farm if they cross the bio-security sign.  I’m willing to be this crazy lady if it means my kids have their pork burgers this summer!  Life would be easier though if people would just read the SIGNS!  As the old saying goes, “Here’s Your Sign!”

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I’m Sorry We Don’t Have a Normal Life

Our kids are like other kids, they love to build snowmen when it snows.  This picture was taken in 2010.

Our kids are like other kids, they love to build snowmen when it snows. This picture was taken in 2010.

Every once in a while Kevin will tell me, “I’m sorry we don’t have a normal family life.”  I always smile when he says that because I don’t think anyone has a ‘normal’ family life.  On days like today our kids would rather we spend the entire day playing in the snow but we can’t because of our responsibilities to care for our livestock.  Our family may not take long vacations or spend snowy weekends outside building snowmen but the one thing we do know how to do is laugh while we work!  And on cold snowy nights like tonight, right before we come inside, we make time for a quick snowball fight in the dark!  And as Kevin launches a snowball my direction he lovingly yells, “Look out Michelin Man!”  I love our life, Kevin, even if it’s not normal!

When I was in high school, I had dreams of going to college and living in a city.  I wanted nothing to do with living in the country, I wanted the bright lights of city life!  It took about 6 months of college to make me realize how much I valued my life in a rural community.  I grew up in a community where everyone waves at you when you drive down the street (even if you are a stranger) and most everyone knows your name.  When I went to college, I realized very quickly that waving at strangers resulted in strange looks and sometimes even stranger comments.  It was an eye opening experience for me, and it was an experience I am grateful for.

My heart belonged to my high school sweetheart and we both knew his life was on the farm.  It didn’t take long before I realized I wanted to be there too and a few years later we were married.  It’s hasn’t been an easy road but I know it was the right path for us both.  We have spent many late nights working with the livestock or in the fields but we’ve had many great laughs along the way!  The laughter is what keeps us going, especially on cold and snowy days like today or during the endless heat of the summer.

This is very similar to what our chore truck looked like!

This is very similar to what our chore truck looked like!

We still laugh about the time I was seven months pregnant with Rachelle and while doing chores one morning I fell through the floorboard of the chore truck.  If you have ever been inside a chore truck, you know it’s the oldest truck on the farm and its body is pretty rough.  Many times the windows are cracked and door latches are missing and there are holes in the seat.  This particular truck had more rust than paint on the body and the floorboard was very thin!  Only one door worked on the truck and it was missing the tail gate.

Our hogs were outside back then and we had about twenty head get out of a pen and they were headed towards the neighbor’s field.  At seven months pregnant I couldn’t run quick enough to get in front of them and turn them around so I hopped in the truck.  I managed to cut the hogs off and get them back in the pen but I had nothing to fix the fence with.  I parked the truck next to the hole in the fence to keep them inside, I thought this was a great idea.

The only problem with this idea was the passenger door didn’t work on this truck and I had the driver’s door next to the fence.  I was stuck, literally.  My only way out was to climb out the window…..now remember I was seven months pregnant and it was 100 degrees outside.  When I tried to stand up, my foot went straight through the floorboard.  I’m sure if anyone had been around they would have died from laughter.  I managed to get my foot back inside the truck and crawl through the window and over the hood of the truck but my leg was pretty scraped up and bleeding.  Kevin was at the other hog lot which was about a half-mile away so I took out walking because we didn’t have cell phones yet and I needed his help.

Michelin ManIt was August and it was hot and humid in Missouri and I felt like I was a marshmallow being held over a campfire.  When Kevin saw me walking his way, I was covered in manure, my leg was bleeding, and I had sweat pouring off me.  When he asked me what was wrong, I broke into tears and told him I had ruined the floorboard of his truck.  He burst into laughter (because the truck was already junk or it wouldn’t have been used as the chore truck) but once he was able to regain is composure, he said he was ready to hear the entire story of how I ‘ruined’ his truck.  Between sobs I managed to describe my situation but this only resulted in even more laughter once I shared with him how I crawled out of the window.  Later he revealed to me why he was laughing so hard, he thought I probably looked like the Michelin Man trying to squeeze through the window.  And for the rest of my pregnancy, he lovingly called me the Michelin Man.   He’s so romantic!  (I wouldn’t trade him for the world though.)

We may not have a normal family life but I’m thankful for the time we have with each other, even if it’s spent working.  I hope one day my kids will look back on these late night snow fights and laugh!

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The Food Knowledge Gap

This last week I heard someone talking about a recent hospital visit a family member had.  A nurse, who was providing care for the person, told them they needed to eat only organic food because it was healthier.  The nurse also went on to tell them that ‘farmers feed their livestock lots of salt which results in salty food products and that they shouldn’t eat any animal products because farmers weren’t taking care of their animals correctly.’

Luckily this person had a connection to agriculture and knew this nurse was just repeating propaganda that is easily found on the internet by groups who are against eating meat or eating any animal products.  This person tried to help the nurse understand how farmers really do care for their livestock.  When the doctor found out what the nurse had said he wasn’t happy.  The doctor’s orders had not been followed out correctly by this nurse.

When I heard this story it really concerned me.  How many other patients has this nurse been misinforming?  And how many of these patients trust this nurse to have correct knowledge based on facts and not personal opinion or agendas?

My first reaction to this story was that I wanted to gather up all of the information I could get my hands on and go talk to this nurse and share with her how food is produced by farmers and ranchers.  I wanted her to know our nutritionist designs our livestock diets to meet the needs of our animals at every stage of their growth.  I wanted her to understand that the term organic simply defined HOW something was raised; it doesn’t mean it is healthier.  There is no nutritional difference between organic food and non-organic food.  I knew I couldn’t find this nurse and it would be impossible to get my information to her, let alone talk to her.

This story once again reminded me of the need for farmers and ranchers to reach out to people who don’t farm and share our stories.  It’s especially important to reach out to the medical community.  I’ve decided the next time I have a doctor appointment I’m going to talk to my doctor and ask if they know how food is produced on farms and ranches.   Maybe this will open a door for me to help share the facts about how livestock are cared for.  I know doctors and nurses are busy and they don’t have time to make farm visits or gather facts about food production.  I want to make it easier for them to be connected to a farmer.

This may not make a huge impact but if I can help even one person understand how livestock are raised and what some of the terms (like organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, etc.) really mean it will help bridge the information gap.  I’m not sure if this nurse had a personal agenda or if she truly thought she was sharing factual information.  With 98% of our population living off the farm it’s important for each of the 2% involved in farming/ranching to reach out and share our stories.  I hope other farmers and ranchers will join me in reaching out to the medical community to share the facts about how we raise food!

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Farming Differences – It’s OK to be Different!

In the last two weeks I have had a couple of my farming friends contact me about some issues in agriculture.  The issues have been a little different but the overall theme was the same.  I was reluctant to write about this issue because it’s one that really puzzles me and frustrates me to be honest.

So what is the issue?  It is farmers (or ranchers) criticizing other farmers (or ranchers) due to their methods of production.  I am a huge supporter of diversity in agriculture.  We need all types of farming practices and all shapes and sizes when it comes to farms.  Not everyone agrees with me when it comes to diversity in farming and ranching though.  I firmly believe quality of care is not dependent upon farm size.  There are small farms and big farms that do a great job caring for their land and livestock.

Some farmers prefer to produce farm products for a niche market (organic, all natural, etc.).  This allows them to capture a premium for their product and sometimes it means they can produce less product and charge more money for this product.  These niche farmers look for ways to preserve their market; they don’t want every farmer duplicating their efforts because then they would lose their market premium.  Niche farming works especially well for farmers who live near urban areas.

Rachelle checking nursery pigs when she was younger.

Rachelle checking nursery pigs when she was younger.

Some farmers prefer to implement technology on their farms.  Some prefer to raise their crops or livestock using conventional methods.  Other farmers may try to market all of their products to local people living within a certain radius of their farm.  The list goes on and on and I think each type of farming is needed to produce food.

The challenge is how to coexist with each other without attacking different methods of production when it comes time to market your products.  I don’t understand why some people feel the need to bash one style of food production over another.  Sure, I have my preferences based off my farm and family but that is the great thing about CHOICE.  We can all choose how we want to eat.  The important thing to remember is to respect everyone’s opinion regarding how they want to eat and how they want to farm.

There are a lot of great farmers who raise organic products.  Several of the organic producers I know are simply trying to meet a demand for people who choose to eat organic food.  Most of these organic farmers do not think their style of farming is the only way to farm or the better way to farm.  The same is true for conventional (or non-organic or non-niche) farmers, they are meeting a demand and trying to remain on their family farm full time.

The challenge to coexist isn’t in how a farmer farms, the challenge usually occurs in how farmers choose to market their products.  I don’t think it is always intentional, but sometimes farmers will attack products that are not raised in the same way their products are raised.  One of my friends experienced someone marketing their organic veggies at a farmer’s market as being “cleaner” than veggies that weren’t organic.  She was upset that this farmer was pitting one method against the other by inferring conventional products were less clean.

One example I witnessed a few months ago was someone who said their pork was ‘healthier’ to eat because it was grass fed on pastures.  They also claimed their pork was hormone-free unlike pork that wasn’t pasture raised. Hogs are not like cattle; their nutritional needs cannot be met from a grass diet.  There are also no added hormones in ANY pork today, it doesn’t matter how it is raised because there are no approved hormones for hogs.  Claims like these are confusing and can cause fear.

I asked the farmer about their marketing strategy, they told me they knew it might be misleading but they had to find a way to make people want to pay more for their product because their cost of production was higher.

It doesn’t matter if you raise your livestock inside barns or out on pastures, if you care for your livestock you will produce a healthy product.  That is why I support both pasture raised pork and pork raised inside hog barns.  Both methods are successful; you just have to take care of your animals.    Each method can offer protection for the animals and great care, the only difference is HOW the method works.  What works well on one farm may not work well on another farm and that is perfectly fine.

Diversity is a good thing in agriculture.  No two farms are exactly alike and that means they operate in different manners.  This doesn’t mean one farm is better than the other, it just means they are different.  As farmers I think we have a responsibility to help people understand how food is produced and that all methods are safe.

In my opinion food choice is a personal issue but fear isn’t necessary to promote your products or methods of production.  More than anything I think people are just interested in hearing your farm story and how you care for your crops or livestock.  And for many people, they really just want to know the farmer who raises their food.

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