Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Part 3: How a cow changed my life

Continued from Part 2 ...

I took a class at Purdue on applied animal management better known to my fellow Boilers as "Pet-a-Cow." Part of the class included on-site laboratories at each of the university farms - beef-sheep-poultry-swine-dairy. So er "pet-a-cow, pet-a-pig" ... you get the picture.

I remember distinctly the class lab at the swine farm when we processed baby pigs. My brother raised feeder hogs in FFA, but aside from that, I had VERY little experience with hogs. Each student was asked to step forward and process AT LEAST one baby pig. This included snipping their tail to only nubs (to limit tail biting and aggression), castrating the males and ear notching (for identification). I was so nervous. But I wanted an A, so I grabbed a baby pig notched his ears, snipped his tail and castrated him (I won't go into vivid detail with that last one).


As I finished "processing" my second pig, the farm manager turned to me and said "You are really good at this, perhaps you should marry a hog farmer someday."

Ha! I laughed it off ...

Little did either of us know that in fact, someday, that shy, dairy girl from Ohio would MARRY a hog farmer after all. Legit!

When I first saw Big D from across the room, I thought he was out of my league and honestly I could've cared less if he grew up on a farm at all. I don't believe in love at first sight. But I was definitely interested in getting to know this guy. That was the fall of 2003.

We spent the next several months getting to know each other and sharing our dreams and aspirations. We quickly found that we both shared similar ambitions and hoped to one day own and operate a farm.

Nine months later ... Big D proposed.

A year and two months later, we were married.

We started our own farm operation just a year after we were married. Big D grew up on a small hog operation, but his family liquidated the hog herd shortly after we were married. We saw an opportunity to start farming through a partnership with the farmer Big D worked for. We didn't have a whole lot to lose, so we ventured in the world of farm business. It was tough. I think most people thought we were crazy, insane.


But through all the ups and downs, our farm was able to grow to the point where we were marketing thousands of hogs a year.

We are still small relative to the industry, but to me, it was an adjustment to be raising more than like 50 pigs at a time. Raising hogs in general took a little getting used to and I still have so much to learn. But it's been an adventure and while I don't work in the hog barns, I'm happy to support Big D and help in any way that I can. Sometimes I'm just the ear that he bends and I'm ok with that.

I could've never imagined that I would sometime be a farmwife and co-owner to a hog operation marketing over 12,000 pigs a year. But the industry is growing and to stay competitive and support our family, we had to grow. And it's ok. We are very much your typical family-owned business.

We are independent so there are no other parties aside from the government telling us how to raise our hogs. Good animal care practices are absolutely a number one priority on the operation. We're not perfect, but we are constantly improving and re-evaluating our operation for areas that can be fine-tuned.

Expansion, sure it's always a possibility. I want to give my girls an opportunity to come home and farm someday and raise their families on the farm, so to do so, we may need to consider new opportunities in the future.

Despite the fact that we own and operate a large farm now, I'm very proud of my small town, small time dairy roots. But I'm also appreciative of the fact that now I have a broader understanding of modern agriculture systems and that it truly takes all kinds and all sized farms to feed our world. There are still plenty of 36-cow dairies still running strong and there are a few multi-thousand cows dairies as well.

So today, I'm not just a voice for small family farms, but also mid-sized farms and I'd be glad to stand up and support larger farms as well, because we're all on the same team. A team working together to feed the world and there is no other team that I'd rather be a part of.




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