Want to be a farmer? You’d better know something about everything.

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?Ā 

Categories: Farming, Work | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Want to be a farmer? You’d better know something about everything.

  1. I would agree – I’ve only ever known one “farmer” (well, farming family) and my god did they work hard. Sunrise to sunset.

  2. deenadollars

    This was a really interesting post

    I grew up in a rural area as well, and was friends with a lot of kids whose families farmed. Then in high school, all the boys (and some of the girls!) who weren’t farm kids themselves started working on farms, because farms were the only places around that hired 14 or 15 year olds. I still remember some funny high school date mix-ups – my boyfriend called me and said, “one of the cows slipped in its own crap and fell in a ditch, and I’m late because I had to help pull it out.”

    I have always had a lot of respect for farming as a way of life and never had the impression that farmers were lazy or simple. I did not know so much about the business side of farming, though, because I left young to go to college and then could not get jobs in my field back home. More recently, though, my Mom started dating a man who runs a small dairy farm (200 cows or so). It’s been in the family hundreds of years, and he is super knowledgeable. I have seen firsthand what you are talking about in terms of the mix of skills and managerial responsibilities required; it is also crazy to hear how much things have changed from mostly a family-run system even 50 years ago, to being very factory-like now.

    I have also noticed that mom’s BF is very frugal indeed, because he is used to there being lean years and fat years, and he is very disciplined about putting money away when there is extra. Is your Dad like that as well? An awesome follow up to this post would be personal finances lessons you’ve incorporated from the farm life…. šŸ™‚

    Anyway, I wanted to tell you I really enjoyed reading this!

    From one country girl to another,

    $$ DEENA $$

    • Thanks for the great comment Deena. Oh yes, my Dad is very much like your Mom’s BF in terms of saving for the poorer times. I feel like most of my financial lessons and habits are a direct result of being raised on a farm and I will definitely write a follow up post. Actually, there’s going to be a series of posts about the farm and finances in the next little while.

      Thanks again, girl!

  3. I totally agree with you that being a farmer is probably one of the toughest jobs out there. No one in my family is a farmer anymore, but my grandparents’ parents I think were in Quebec back in the day. Seriously, thank you to all the people who are farmers because I definitely couldn’t do that job!

    • It’s definitely tough work, but really rewarding at the end of the day. It’s always really great to hear people appreciate the hard work farmers do in and out everyday.

  4. Great post! I love it when farmers get recognized for all of the hard work they put in. I live in a very rural area (my apartment looks out over a hayfield) with at least two dairies within jogging distance of my house, so farm life is ever present for me (especially when I get to follow a tractor all the way home from town…or manure spreading season). I grew up with around six horses, I was absolutely horse crazy, but that was a ton of work, and it was only a hobby farm!

    Growing up people often asked if I was going to become a horse trainer or a vet or something because of my love of animals and I always said “No, it looks like way too much back breaking work”. I’m happy someone does it, but I know it’s definitely not for me.

    • Haha, yeah, manure speading season is always fun isn’t it? Hopefully since you live near dairy farms you only have to smell cow manure. We have neighbours with pig barns and oh man, when they spread it’s pretty intense for the ole sniffer.

  5. Melissa

    I smiled throughout this whole post because it sounds exactly like my life growing up/my dad! I grew up on a dairy farm in south eastern Ontario, and it was an amazing experience, but the work just never stopped! I was always jealous of my non-farming friends whose biggest chore was to take the garbage out to the curb, and who frequently went on family vacations…a whole different world on the farm lol

    • I was pretty jealous of the kids who got to go to Florida or far away on vacation. We usually got a one week vacation to a cottage but it was never further than a couple hours from home in case we had to get back in a hurry. I’m not complaining though because really, living on the farm is really like one constant adventure whe you’re a kid.

  6. thisaggiesaves

    My grandparents were farmers and I agree with everything you said. Their lives were wrapped around farming and ranching, never getting much time to do other things that interested them

  7. Getting rid of the cows made a big change for my parents – for the first time ever, they were able to leave Canada and travel abroad. We still have trouble with some of the old habits from when we had the cows though. For example, we all still think we have to be home at 4:30 everyday for chores.

  8. amomsdime

    This post is so cool – I’m glad you thought to write it. Everything you say makes so much sense, yet it’s not anything I had thought about before. I have so much respect for farmers and from the sounds of it your dad – that’s way more knowledge than I think I have in my little finger. šŸ™‚

    • Thanks! Yeah, I really admire all the different skills my Dad has. Just don’t ask him to bake. Actually, it’s best to keep him as far away from the kitchen as possible.

  9. I grew up in a small town in upstate NY where there were several farms. I have the utmost respect and love for them and what they do. I remember when Jimmy brought one of the tractors to school for one of our school spirit days, he had the most expensive vehicle in the lot that day…by far! There are fond memories of the farm, but I never need to see another calf be born.

    • I completely understand, calving is…messy.

      • Well I guess I don’t have to spend the weekend finuirgg this one out!

      • Well we all have to start somewhere, I'm already cringing at my first quilt!I do love Summersville, and have some coming from Julie too :o) I also have one of those classes with Lu Summers (I do hope you're still speaking to us at the end of Retreat!)

  10. Pingback: Farm-Fresh Financial Lessons « Cents of a Country Girl

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