Today is National Farmer’s Day! Sometimes we don’t think about all the people involved in producing that juicy burger as you chomp down on it, or the turkey that centers your well-decorated Thanksgiving table. And as I took the time to think of all the reasons I’m grateful for farmers, I realized most of them centered around the sacrifices farmers make in putting others – especially their livestock – before themselves.
The pig farmer who trudges out to the barn in four feet of snow to fuel up the generator so his hogs don’t freeze while the power is out. The cattle rancher who moves his cow-calf herd to a higher field so an approaching hurricane won’t drown them in the flood waters. These are just a few stories of many, and they are all examples of the tough decisions farmers must make every day.
Thank them for their hard work.
It’s easy to forget, and we so often look at farming and say: “I bet I could do that, easy.” But farming is not as simple as just feeding the pigs once a day, weeding the garden weekly, or collecting a few eggs every morning. Farming takes dedication, responsibility, care, and patience. Patience in dealing with animals, in waiting for the harvest to come in, and in pushing through the tough times that make you question your decision to ever start farming.
I had one of those instances this past spring, which started with a heifer who struggled to deliver a calf. I first noticed her in what looked to be the early stages of labor as I headed out of the driveway to run errands, figuring she’d have the calf on the ground by the time I returned. No such luck. I came back to see the calf’s hoof exposed and the heifer still pushing, looking exhausted. I jumped in our Kawasaki mule and raced to the field where she lay, carrying a set of calf chains and prepared to do as much as I could by myself. Sloshing over to my heifer, my boots filled with rainwater from the raging thunderstorm, because cows are nothing if not timely in their deliveries. My dad came out to help and together we spent about twenty minutes working to get the calf out, but to no avail. It eventually took three of us (after calling the vet) to pull the large bull calf, giving relief to the momma, who was so exhausted from the ordeal she just lay still and let us administer antibiotics and pain medication to help her heal over the next few days.
Afterwards, I sat on the couch at home, feeling frustrated with myself for not thoroughly doing my research on the bull we put with the cows the previous year, or for not having intervened sooner when I saw her in labor before I left. The large size of the calf had left my heifer paralyzed for a few hours (a relatively common occurrence during long labors when the calf is pushing on nerves in the hips). Though the vet assured me that the heifer would make a full recovery, I felt as though I had let myself down. I was a better cattlewoman than this, and needed to hold myself to a higher standard. In that moment it would have been easy to throw my hands up in defeat, and it was tempting, but remembering that the time I gave to get the calf out in turn helped save my heifer helped me see the positive side of my work.
Thank them for not giving up.
One of my favorite stories that my dad tells from his younger days as a farmer is of a cow in a similar situation. After attempting to deliver a calf much too large for her frame, she was paralyzed in her rear legs; and unsure that the cow could make a full recovery, the vet advised my dad to euthanize her. My dad, unwilling to give up on the cow, drove out into the field twice a day with heavy duty straps on the forks of his tractor, and hoisted the cow up on all four feet for a period of about 20 minutes. He made sure she had water and feed at all times, and slowly encouraged her to stand on her own. He worked with this cow for over two weeks until she was fully able to walk on her own, when she went on to become fully readjusted back into the herd and continue producing calves for years afterwards.
Deciding when to take a chance in farming is always difficult, never knowing whether it will turn out in your favor or completely devastate production that year. Farmers make these decisions daily. Decisions that, whether or not we realize, impact us every day. Enjoying the bounty of corn in late summer? Thank the crop farmer who just spent weeks harvesting every day from sunup to sundown. Savoring that delicious Easter ham? Thank the hog producer who hooked up the generator for his barns during a power outage to ensure the pigs didn’t freeze in negative temperatures. A farmer’s sacrifice in these situations is to benefit consumers, and we are grateful for the care and time they give so selflessly.
Thank them for putting others – people and animals – before themselves.
In everything in life there is a give and take. However, farming contains some of the largest swings between positive and negative outcomes. There are few jobs in which circumstances out of one’s control, such as natural disasters, can completely devastate society on the vast scale that occurs in agriculture. Farming is difficult, and it is not always rewarding. Yet because of farming in America today, we can sleep knowing that we will always have access to an abundance of food. This is why it is important to remember to thank farmers every day, not only on National Farmer’s Day. So before you bite down on that BBQ sandwich, or post a picture of your delicious meal on Instagram, take a moment to thank a farmer and remember what they sacrificed to get you that food.