In a world where you can be anything, why choose to be a farmer?
I can’t remember when I decided I wanted to be a farmer, it was just something I always knew, something ingrained deep within me.
August 8th (today) is “24 Hours in Farming,” one of the biggest online events in agriculture. Today, people in the industry are encouraged to use social media to share about their working day using the hashtag #Farm24, to give consumers an insight into the level of care and passion which goes into producing the food they eat. As part of this, I thought I’d share with you what entwines me with this wonderful and diverse industry…
From the start
Growing up on a farm, you’d be hard-pressed not to catch a bit of the farming bug, but I always knew there was no place else for me.
When I was a child, I loved helping out around the farm, especially with our handful of mule ewes. Like all children, I loved bottle-feeding any lambs who needed it; however, unlike most children, I watched in awe whilst making mental notes, as my Granny demonstrated how to skin a dead lamb and tie the skin onto the foster lamb, so the ewe was less likely to notice the difference and would mother the replacement without any qualms. And so began my love affair with sheep.
Our small sheep flock was disbanded when, after one too many breaks for freedom, they were herded back from villagers’ front gardens straight into a trailer; it was one 6am wake-up call too many as far as my dad was concerned. I did try to convince him to let me reinvest the money into some other ewes, which were also being sold at the market, but it was like asking a newly released prisoner to choose to extend their stay at Her Majesties’ Pleasure! Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, therefore I spent the following years daydreaming about being a shepherdess, making business plans, costing everything out, and researching breeds. Just your average teenage pastime really! (Still not realised this dream yet, but one day…)
My infatuation with cows took a little longer to develop- Just a little note for future fathers, don’t use a hay feeder as a makeshift playpen, cows’ heads eating around you looks quite frightening to tiny humans, and especially don’t sit said tiny human on top of a bale of straw and tell them to shout if the cows try to tip it over… Understandably, for the early years of my life, I was happy to appreciate the bovine species from the other side of the fence. Thankfully, my curiosity for these magnificent creatures got the better of me (and as I grew, they became less scary looking!) and fear gave way to admiration and a healthy respect for their space and natural instincts.
You see, I’ve been an animal person from the start. My childhood was shaped by the many horses, dogs and various cats which entered it. I remember being about 6 and proudly announcing I was going to be a farmer (on a ranch, in Australia- no idea where that came from!), and a vet on the side… I soon realised being a vet would entail more than just treating my own animals, but it was a nice idea, for a while. Thankfully, I was a bit more committed to the farmer part!
I would be lying if I said I haven’t felt the air of judgement surrounding farming, and especially as a woman. I mostly kept my head down throughout high school and didn’t draw attention to my farming background or future dreams. My school was mainly populated by children who had no connection to rural life; farms meant places smelling of manure and populated by stereotypical “ger’off my land,” middle aged males who had dropped out of school. Even some teachers, when I answered their questions about my future plans, replied with “you’re too clever to be a farmer” or words to that effect.
The divide between urban and rural was very clear to me, and is something I’d like to help bridge in the future. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost some of the connection to the provenance of the food we’re eating.
There’s such a mass of misinformation surrounding agriculture, not helped by the fact that, with the help of the internet, everybody has the power at their fingertips to share information with millions, no matter how factually incorrect. Of course, those platforms also give us the chance to put the other side across, as demonstrated with #Farm24, and it’s an avenue I’d like to delve deeper into with this blog.
I have an idea bumbling around in my head, to interview other young farmers and have them answer this question of why, in a world where you can be anything, they chose to be a farmer? I still need to figure out how to put that idea into practice, which is why I thought I’d give my answer first.
Personally, I love that with agriculture every day is different. You work with the seasons and Mother Nature herself, you have to be adaptable and flex and bend your plans to suit the conditions of the day- something that, as a habitual planner and perfectionist, challenges me constantly. Although I’m not able to work in the industry as I’d intended to, I love the fact that there are so many components which go into being a farmer, we are able to adapt roles to suit my disability.
It’s often assumed that farmers just sit on a tractor all day, but there’s much more to the job than your driving skills (or like me, lack of!).
From plant diseases and soil analyses, to working with the land to put back everything you take out, trying to leave it in a better state than you found it. From picking genetics in the livestock to improve certain traits with each generation and measuring performance, to working out diets to match nutrient requirements for each animal, at each stage of growth; my data loving brain has more than enough to keep it occupied.
I’ve already covered my love of working with animals. I can’t ever picture a life without livestock, they calm something deep inside of me and provide countless opportunities to learn more about both life and myself. I have the upmost respect for them; and seeing new life come into the world is something I truly treasure every single time, it never gets old and I hope it never will.
Many wonder how we can eat the animals we have cared for and built relationships with. My answer, and I expect the answer of many others in this industry, will always be because we’ve cared for them and built those relationships, and can’t think of anything more sustainable than eating something which was produced a matter of yards from our front door.
We know we’ve given them a good life, free from pain, hunger, and suffering, to the best of our abilities. We respect the animal and the products they’ve provided us as much in death as in life, which is why seeing them killed prematurely due to disease or dying through any kind of suffering pains us. Yes, they were ultimately for consumption and therefore would have died anyway, they wouldn’t have even entered this world if they weren’t, but their death would be for a purpose, and had that purpose been fulfilled, they wouldn’t have died in pain or their lives gone to waste.
Temple Grandin, a professor in animal science, put it perfectly when she said (when talking about farm animals) “Looking at those animals, I realised that none of them would even exist if humans hadn’t bred them into being… We brought these animals here, so we’re responsible for them. We owe them a decent life and a decent death, and their lives should be as low stress as possible.”
These are just a handful of the reasons why agriculture will always be at the centre of what I do.
I’ve been immensely lucky to have had a childhood interlaced with farming, and family and friends who have never been anything but supportive, but a lack of any of those components shouldn’t ever put anybody off from pursuing their dreams within this industry. There are many different roles which make up a working farm, and new ideas and perspectives are always needed.
At its core, agriculture is the same as it was centuries ago, and that in itself is a comforting thought. The techniques and technology are constantly advancing, but there’s still enough room for a dog, a stick, and a notepad to be your only tools, something that in another life, would have been right up my street. Take a look at the #Farm24 hashtag on social media to see some examples of how truly diverse this industry is.