How would you describe a farmer or rancher?
This is a trick question, because the prejudices against working with your hands are still alive and well in the good old US of A. I think it’s particularly relevant in the aftermath of the 2016 election, because if you take a good hard look at a map of how each state’s counties voted, you’ll see that in the main, it was the rural, less populous areas that came down on the Republican side of the ticket. It’s also relevant because of the obvious (and sadly, very deep) divisions in this country between the elites and those who “work with their hands.” One of the things this election says to me is that many Americans were more interested in voting against than in choosing a top-notch, well-qualified, ethical and honest candidate (neither of the major candidates met those requirements, in my opinion). I strongly believe that if we as a people and the US as a country are going to survive, we have to get past the idea that certain kinds of people are better or worse because of their education, skin color, where they were born and the kind of work they do. Anyway, back to the main topic…
Ever heard these terms: hayseed, hick, redneck, hillbilly, sodbuster? Many people think that farmers just throw a few seeds at the soil and that growing your own food is plumb easy, or that ranchers spend their days sitting on a horse. All I can say is “Try it sometime.” Others think farming is back-breaking labor, day in and day out. The truth, however, lies somewhere in the middle, and far too few people acknowledge the intelligence, skills, knowledge, determination, sheer daily slog, instinct and art of being a farmer or rancher.
Let me just toss a few questions at you and we’ll see if you have what it takes to be a successful farmer or rancher (by which I do not mean someone who makes money, but someone who can consistently grow food, raise healthy animals and keep the land in good shape for the next generation).
Do you know how to tell if a cow has had enough to eat?
When the tie-down bolt on the trailer breaks, can you either replace it by drilling it out for a new one or weld the old one back together?
What’s the difference between white, Dutch, alsike, ladino and crimson clover?
Is it better to grow ryegrass, orchard grass, Bermuda grass or reed canary grass in the wet spots in the pasture?
What can you do with baling wire after you break open the bale?
How can you tell if those thunderheads are going to give you a sprinkle or a downpour?
Can you midwife a cow, sheep or horse?
Do you know how to milk a cow, ride a horse, rope a calf or shear a sheep?
Can you shoe a horse?
How can you tell if your cows have selenium deficiency?
How many different knots can you tie?
When can you expect to see swallows in your area each year?
What are the indications that a cow might need to be wormed?
How do you save seeds from biennial plants?
What widely available herb makes a good cough syrup?
Is it better to feed horses alfalfa, grass or alfalfa/grass mix hay?
How many of the following skills do you have: welder, plumber, veterinarian, electrician, cowboy, carpenter, logger, herbalist, hunter, cook, dairyman/woman, shepherd, naturalist, meteorologist, salesman/woman, poultry man/woman, accountant, blacksmith, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, harness maker, gardener.
A good farmer or rancher can probably answer all of those questions without having to think about it, has the skills to perform the tasks listed and knows what it means when migrating birds are either early or late. Let’s not be running down these highly-skilled artisans who put meat, bread and other goodies on your dinner table and while they’re at it, also find time to write novels, poetry and nonfiction, create music, paint or create other works of art from metal, fabrics and stone (such as Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Joel Salatin, Karl J. Kuerner and how many farm and ranch kids can you think of in country music?).
“We must all hang together or we shall – most assuredly – all hang separately.” The quote, attributed to Ben Franklin as the about-to-become-official rebels signed the Declaration of Independence also reminds me of the last line in that document: we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor. In other words, folks, we’re all in this together. So, how about a little more working together and a little less finger-pointing and name-calling?