“What do you do?” Sometimes I identify myself with a lengthy description of my career in Ag finance, but often I just leave it at, “We farm!”
I also find myself using “We farm” as an explanation as to why I am alone so often at gatherings. But the more people I talk to, the more I realize that not everyone knows what I mean when I say, “We farm”. So I am going to explain exactly what “farming” means to my family.
Our farm consists of our cows, our sheep, and our row crops. I will cover each of these over the next few posts, but will start with our cows.
One of my favorite parts of our farm is our cattle herd. We have what is commonly called a “Cow/Calf operation” – meaning we maintain a group of cows who will raise a baby calf each year, and then sell the baby at weaning time.
When Matt decided he wanted to come back to farm with his dad that meant he was going to have to find additional sources of income. For most farm families it simply isn’t feasible to take a farming operation that supported one family and suddenly expect the same income to support two families.
So for us, the decision was pretty easy to purchase cows! We both love livestock, we actually met at a sheep show! A cow is a fully mature female who has already had babies. We started with 20 older cows, which was considered a little safer investment because of their experience delivering and raising calves, or babies.
Once we became more experienced with our cows, we started adding heifers. A heifer is a young female who has never calved before. We like to purchase heifers because a younger animal can stay with us on our farm for a longer time and we will know more of her complete health history. But the risk is higher and labor greater, because heifers need more assistance in the beginning.
When we first started, we did not own any of our land so we had to rent the land our cows used. We have since been able to purchase a farm, but still have to rent some pasture to make sure we have enough for all of our cows.
The first step is to breed the cows and heifers. On our farm we live breed – meaning we use live bulls, or intact male cattle, that naturally breed the cows. Many farmers are taking advantage of other breeding methods like artificial insemination.
You might hear people refer to “spring calvers” and “fall calvers”. These terms describe the time of year the cow will have her baby. We actually have some of each, so we are typically having babies, or “calving”, in September and October and then again in February and March.
Our cows, like nearly all beef cattle in the United States, have their calves on pasture. They rarely need any help, but we do have to watch the heifers much more closely – remember heifers are the ones who have never had babies before. Usually after one or two calving seasons they have it figured out and will no longer need any help from us!
Once the calves are born, they graze and roam pastures right alongside their mamma for about 8 months. After the group reaches the point they no longer need milk as source of nutrition, they are ready to wean. Because we are a cow/calf operation, this is the time we sell our baby calves, who now weight about 550 pounds!
When our calves are ready, we sell them for the current market price. Prices fluctuate daily on cattle and it’s something we have no control over. Price changes is one of the greatest challenges for any farmer!
Our calves are purchased by other farm families that will “background” them. They will keep the calves, most often on pasture, until they reach 12-16 months of age. We typically separate our calves and sell the heifers (females) to a local farmer who will background them until they are ready to breed, and then sell them as bred heifers to other cow/calf farmers.
The steers (neutered males) then go onto yet another farm family who will finish them at a feedlot. A majority of feedlots are considered small feedlots, with 95% of them having less than 1000 head.
Regardless of size, the families that run feedlots are extremely dedicated to finishing out a high quality and safe product! Once the cattle reach market weight, they will be harvested with their beef sold in stores across the country.
Nearly all beef cattle in the US start on farms just like mine and spend a majority of their lives grazing pastures. The next time you purchase beef from the supermarket, know that you are supporting family farmers just like us!
The next time you purchase beef from the supermarket, know that you are supporting family farmers just like us!
I was asked by a longtime friend to talk to his high school business classes about the benefits of social media for business.
"It'll be six classes, 50 minutes each. You can give the same lecture each period."
Fifty minutes? Easy, I thought. I could talk for hours on the uncapped potential of social media.
I agreed and started to prepare. I put together my thoughts and found the data and sources to back it up. When I was almost done, it occurred to me I would be talking to kids. So maybe I should tweak it a little. That will take just a minute.
Hours later, I had created something that stood a chance at interesting the typical teenager. Or so I hoped.
Turns out I don't remember all that much about being a teenager and couldn't even really remember the last time I had talked to one.
I arrived a few minutes early and was introduced to some people in the office. Teachers were more laid than I remembered from my days as a student. It actually felt nearly the same as talking around the coffee pot at the office.
We walked down the hall towards Joe, I mean Mr. Basinger's, classroom. We set up and I sat down to finish my coffee, thinking to myself, “This is easier than I thought."
Before that coffee hit my lips and my mind finished that thought, a shrieking pitch poured into the room. "What the..." I jumped.
The bell! I had forgotten about bells. Ok so it had been a long time since I was in school.
The door opened and they sauntered in. They were talking to each other, a few glanced my way, but they mostly ignored me.
Suddenly, I was flashing back to high school speech class. It was like the sight, sound and smell of these teenagers had triggered something in me and I wanted to go home.
Before I realized it, Mr. Basinger was introducing me.
I looked out, and where I have grown pretty accustomed to seeing politely smiling faces of professionals, I was instead looking at half asleep, somewhat disheveled teenagers.
I spoke on and kept scanning the room. Finally, I spotted a friendly face. She was actually looking up, smiled at me, and then went back to reading the slide behind me. God bless that girl's parents! She was engaged, or at least faking it! At that point I didn't care.
One. One kid out of thirty. And she may have been just faking. Maybe this gig isn't quite that easy.
I was still droning on when the shriek returned, again catching me off guard. The students jumped to their feet and were halfway to the door before I realized it was that bell again and class was over.
That was fast.
Round 2. I was a little more comfortable and found another friendly face. I actually finished before the bell this time.
Round 3 was a little better. This set of kids was younger, and surprisingly, more engaged. They asked questions which I was really excited about! Until I called on them.
I quickly learned there is no way to prepare for what might come out of their mouths.
Before long, every time I called on a kid was I was nervous. I was either going to have to restrain a laugh at a kid attempting to be inappropriately funny (and usually was), hide my confusion at a kid who appeared to listening to a different lecture all together, or stumble through some kind of answer to a kid who asks me something I had no answer for.
A few times, a quiet voice would speak out with an idea or question that was exactly what I had hoped for! It was thought provoking, engaged and contributed to the conversation! In those seconds, I felt a little pride and could see why so many people are unforgivingly passionate about teaching our children. I also realized those same people are far better at getting those results than I am.
For a professional who is used to having dozens of significant accomplishments a day, it was hard to swallow the fact that I had only successfully completed my job a few times. This really wasn’t easy at all.
The day with students finally came to an end. I sat down and my body was physically exhausted. My mind was beat. In typical female character, I hung on to every lost look, every kid nodding off in the back of the room, every blank stare. I questioned how teachers stay so positive and passionate day after day.
I looked to Joe, who was smiling at me, almost laughing. I felt like I had been run over by a truck and I am sure I looked it too.
I didn't have to deal with parents, or social issues, or behavioral issues. I didn't have any meetings, I didn't have any before or after school activities. I didn't have to deal with the government, testing or counseling.
I only had one lesson plan. I only had to be there one day. And it was easier than I thought. Right up until the first student walked in the door.
Oddly enough, after a full day of rest, I find myself hoping to have the opportunity to do it again some time.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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