My Dad is a farmer, if you want to get specific he’s a former dairy farmer and now exclusively a cash cropper. Growing up on the farm, I quickly realized that the term farmer is basically a synonym for the phrase jack of all trades. Farming, or at least successful farming, requires a wide range of skills and abilities and many of those skills are often associated with other professions. Here’s just a few that come to mind:
- Animal Caretaker – this one is pretty obvious and covers everything from alpacas to water buffalo. I remember many a day spent trimming the hair on the ends of the cows’ tails to keep them neat and tidy, cleaning hooves, being an assistant midwife for a cow struggling with a big calf, tagging ears, rubbing in udder cream, and not to mention, bottle feeding calves.
- Pharmacist – the fridge in the barn wasn’t a beer fridge. Most farmers are adept at administering necessary drugs or treatments to their animals when required. I still remember the mix ration for the colostrum supplement for new calves.
- Soil Scientist – again, pretty obvious. Most farmers can identify soil composition (ever seen one rub the dirt on their teeth? It can roughly tell you how clayey the soil is) and have a really amazing understanding of nutrient cycles, nutrient deficiencies and soil moisture.
- Mechanic – do you know how often something breaks on the farm? Basically everytime you want to use it. You’d better have a good understanding of engines, hydraulics, and all things mechanical if you want to get that $50,000 tractor started.
- Carpenter – barns don’t repair themselves. Pens don’t make themselves. Bulls tend to break things.
- QA/QC Controller – I think this one is especially true for dairy farmers. The milk has to be at a certain temperature and free of antibiotics or other drugs for the milk truck to even pick it up. Before we even started milking cows, we checked all the milk machines and cows. Any cows with abrasions or cuts on their teats were separated and milked either by hand or at the end so their milk wasn’t put into the bulk tank. Same went for cows on antibiotics, their milk never came close to getting into the bulk tank.
- Heavy Equipment Operator – I am consistenly amazed by my Dad’s skill with his loader tractor. Whether he’s using it like a bulldzer, crane or high-hoe, there’s not much he can’t do with that machine. Other heavy equipment includes: combines, sprayers, tractor trailers and skidsteers.
- Custodian – after the cows were milked, we spent the next hour cleaning: sweeping stalls, cleaning out the manager, sanitizing the milking equipment, and dealing with manure.
- Nutritionist – our cows were fed a mixture of grass (ala the pasture), silage (corn), hay, and chop (grains). The feed changed depending on whether the cow was lactating or dry and what season it was. Fresh heifers were fed differently than older cows and calves.
- Welder – see Mechanic. Everything breaks and it’s much more cost-efficient to fix it yourself than wait for someone else to fix it.
- CEO – Every farmer is running a business. Some are big and some are small. Decisions have to made with respect to what crops to grow, what equipment to invest in, whether to grow the business or save for next year.
There’s more to farming than pitchforks and plaid ‘eh? Farming is stressful and hard work, and not just anyone can be a farmer. Most farmers are amazing problem solvers, inventive, and resourceful. I would argue that farming is one of the hardest professions out there, because there are no vacations from the farm, you’re never ‘off’ or ‘done work’, and it involves a lot of tough physical work. I think anyone who calls farmers slow, uneducated or dumb has obviously never met a farmer or had to work on a farm. Unfortunately, there’s still lots of people out there who assume farmers are simple country bumpkins, but I would like to challenge those folks to come out to the farm and try their hand at running a farm and see just how un-simple it is.
Does your job require you to be a jack of all trades or use skills associated with other professions?