When a livestock farmer is called for jury duty, anxiety sets in. This happened to my husband last night. Kevin came in from working at 9:30 p.m. and he found the letter requesting his presence at the county court house next Monday for jury duty at 8 a.m. Panic set in, actually chest pains set in and his head began to throb. Why? Kevin has no one to help him on our farming operation but me, my dad, and our kids, who are both back in school. My dad is scheduled to be at the hospital next Monday for surgery to remove cancer from his body. (I HATE CANCER!) We found out very recently and we are still trying to cope with the news and determine what the future may hold for him. Not only do we have the added concern for my dad’s health, but Kevin and I are losing a valuable member of our farm for an indefinite amount of time.
We are losing our most dependable coworker. This means Kevin has no one to help transport pigs, no one to help him check cows as they give birth, no one to help him move cattle to the new pasture, no one to help wash and sanitize the trailers, no one to help fix fences and no one to help during harvest.
When a farmer gets called to jury duty, it’s more than just a civic duty. It’s a big challenge for us. Why is jury duty such a big deal to farmers? Well for starters, we rarely know when we might be called to serve. Yes, you are given a week’s notice, but on a livestock farm, that’s not enough time to prepare to be gone for one or more days, especially in the spring or fall of the year, or in the dead of winter when snow is on the ground. These are the times of the year when our work load increases immensely. For Kevin to take off more than one day at a time, it takes multiple months’ worth of planning to organize. We have to coordinate feed deliveries and livestock movements, we have to change breeding days and weaning days, we have to make sure my dad can be around to do Kevin’s normal chores and we have to make sure dad can still get his work done too. These are just a few of the daily tasks that have to be changed in order for Kevin to have a day off. Our animals care always comes first!
Many farmers have no one to fill in for them when they can’t be at work on the farm. We have no extra help ready to step in and take over our responsibilities. That’s why you see farmers working when they are sick. This is why you see farmers working with a limp from the cow that kicked them yesterday. This why you see farmers working while their daughter is playing an important softball game or their son is playing their last football game of the season. Our job has no set hours; we work as long as we have daylight, and most days long after the sun goes down. If we don’t work, we have no one to feed the livestock for us, no one to drive the livestock trailer, no one to move the animals from one field to another, no one to move pigs from one barn to the other, no one to assist in a birth, no one to fix that broken fence or wash out the trailer and disinfect it.
You might ask, “Why don’t you hire someone?” I would LOVE to hire someone to help us. The problem is, not everyone wants to work at a job that takes more than 40 hours a week. Not everyone wants to work at a job where they will be dirty most days. Not everyone wants to work at a job that requires working on Saturday and/or Sunday. Very few people want the responsibility that comes with caring for livestock. More importantly, we can’t just hire anyone to work on a farm. To transport pigs, you need a TQA (Transport Quality Assurance) certification and a CDL license. To care for our pigs, you need a PQA+ (Pork Quality Assurance Plus) certification and our veterinarian has to also approve of your animal husbandry skills. Knowledge of how to operate farm equipment is necessary as well, including computers. And most importantly, you have to show up every day because our animal’s health depends on it. We can’t choose what day we want to feed our livestock; we have to do it daily!
After many discussions, Kevin decided to call the Judge’s office and ask if they would grant a release for Kevin from jury duty on Monday. Request denied! More chest pains ensued, only this time it was my chest, not Kevin’s. My dad felt horribly responsible, this isn’t his fault though. Dad wanted to cancel his surgery that he has been waiting for 3 weeks to have. We vetoed that idea very quickly. I want my dad to put his health first, not me or the farm! We’ve had three weeks of anxiety waiting for this surgery; I don’t think I can endure another three weeks. I turned to an attorney for advice because I had no idea what we would do on Monday. Dad needed the surgery, Kevin needed to haul pigs, we have cows calving, a trailer to be washed after the pigs are hauled, cows that need to be moved after calving and beans that need hauled to market. The attorney immediately understood how heavy of a load we already had on our shoulders. I told him I would be happy to sit in for Kevin on jury duty; I just couldn’t do all of Kevin’s jobs on the farm, plus mine and my dad’s. (I can do many things but backing up a trailer is not a skill I possess and the thought of having to do this alone sent me into a panic attack because trailers and trucks are not cheap!)
After many prayers were said, this afternoon we received word that the Judge would release Kevin this one time due to our special circumstance. He didn’t understand why we didn’t hire someone else to help us but the attorney explained to him the situation. The take away of this is to never assume people understand what your responsibility as a livestock farmer entails because you live in a rural community. This Judge was kind enough to ask more questions and learn the depth of our responsibilities on the farm and I will be forever grateful to him, and the attorney who helped us share our story.