Friday, January 23, 2015

Diary of a Dairy Wife: What's In My Stereotype

Picture this:
An older man in a pair of faded overalls wearing a straw hat and boots chewing on tobacco and a piece of straw with one foot up on the fence looking over the top at a bunch of hogs eating slop from a trough. 
He talks slow. He uses words like "fixin' to," "Over yonder," and "yaon-too?" (As in, "I'm fixin' to have lunch over yonder, yaon-too?" invite for you to join him.)
And if he's in "high cotton" y'all might be dining at the expensive joint in town. Hoping to avoid all "kin". Especially cousin Myrtle...because she "fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. "

You can see how uptown fancy talkin' folks might get the idea that farmers ain't got a lick of sense. 

Y'all....y'all is a word. Ain't is a word. Fixin is a word. We have our own version of our fine English language, especially here in the south. You can compare it to the jargon that you use in your job or place in the country you live in.

People don't like stereotypes. You don't want to be thrown in with a whole bunch of folks just because they might do the same job as you, or have the same beliefs as you, or wear the same jeans, talk the same, or any other reason we stereotype people. I get it. 

I want to shine some light on those of us who talk a little slower and say stuff that you just might not understand. 

Farmer's used to just be viewed as a little slower, less educated. Most of the old men that had farmed their whole lives were hard and gruff. They didn't always seem to care about much, but a hard life made them that way. Some people still put farmers in that box, but we have a new stereotype to break away from.

I saw the movie "Free Birds." It was cute...until that part where it shows the turkeys kept inside a industrial kind of building, in stacked cages. Being cared for by a man in a lab coat with a clipboard. I was with Milkmaid #1's class on a field trip. We were really enjoying ourselves until this part of the move. I'm pretty sure the smoke detectors in the theater were on the verge of going crazy from all the smoke coming from my ears. I was livid. 

Gone are the days of supporting a small group of people that feed America. It's so far gone that we subtly tell our children that all large scale farms are "factory farms" managed by unfeeling, evil men in lab coats counting their dollars. We put it in our movies, on our TVs, in literature. It's already out there. And they just keep making more propaganda. 

My #1 Milkmaid....a girl raised on a conventional farm....comes out of that theater and says, "That was a good movie, except for the part about the turkeys in those big cages. That part was kind of sad." More smoke. We had a calm and collected conversation about how that is NOT how our food is raised. And she said, "You're right, Mom. We don't do things like they say." But the fact that a cartoon could get to her, even knowing what she knows.... When I got home The Milkman and myself had a *not so* calm and collected conversation about it. And I had a not so calm conversation with everyone I knew. And a Facebook post about it. And a couple years later it still gets to me.

If you ask the people that believe large scale farming is "factory farming" what kind of parameters do they give you? 
Do they know that 97% of US farms are family farms?
I guess I'm not clear on what qualifies a farm a "factory farm."

The Milkman and I have been married for almost 12 years. I have slowly gotten closer to being a farmer. I have watched him be a real farmer for longer than that 12 years. 

Farmers don't walk around their farms in lab coats with clipboards taking down numbers and caring only for their bottom line. Farmers don't find new seeds that will make them a quick buck and the consequences be damned. 

Farmers are educated. They might not all have a degree hanging on the wall, but they have lived and breathed and learned from experiences that no class could teach. They see the world from a perspective that you can't understand until everything you have depends on faith and things you can't control. The year's outcome depends on what the weather does and where the prices go. Farmers are educated in the school of hard knocks...some years you might make a few dollars and some years you show that inevitable loss. Either way the bank account looks, we still make sure the cows are getting feed and water and milked twice a day.

Farmers care for their animals. Our cows have numbers and not names. Record keeping is much simpler that way, but their number becomes their name. The Milkman knows each of their numbers to go along with the description of their udders, coloring, how long it takes them to milk, if they are bred, how many days in milk they are, etc. He can pick one of the mommas out of the field and tell you just about anything you could ask about her. He cares for these cows every day. He doesn't like all of them...just like you don't like everyone you meet. But he still takes the same quality care of the ones that he doesn't like as the ones he does. Sometimes he says things like, "281...I oughtta put her on a truck to the sale barn this week." Because she likes to kick the milker off as well as your hand when you try putting the milker on. Not because it hurts...but because cows have personalities too...and sometimes their personalities are hateful.

The Milkman really hates selling cows, though. He has a familiarity with each one of them. Around our area most diary cows that go to the sale barn are called "killer cows." They go to slaughter. The Milkman isn't overly fond of the animals that he has cared for going to be hamburger, but it is part of life. We all know it. We have one or two butchered a year to eat. It is usually a blind heifer or a barren one. We give her a good quality of life, feed her, keep her in a barn, but she can't be useful on the farm, so she goes for what God intended her to be used for. That doesn't mean that it's always easy or that we don't have any feeling about it. You just learn to be thankful that God provided the meat on the table.

We raise our calves. Heifers and bulls. Contrary to what some of these crazy extreme animal rights groups would have you think....the bulls are useful. They may be raised and sent to the sale barn or sold to an individual that needs a bull on their farm, but they aren't discarded because they weren't born a heifer. They are also taken care of. Fed, watered, kept in a barn or pastured. Sometimes the calves don't make it. This isn't taken lightly either. We vaccinate our calves after they are born and give them medicine when they need it. Sometimes it just isn't enough. 

When we lose animals on the farm we don't just mark a number off of our list and that's it. We don't have funerals for each of them, by any means, but they are all known for however long their lives are...they are cared for. 

All the cows are vaccinated and given antibiotics when needed. They see a vet when they are sick. They get their hooves worked on when they have feet problems. It isn't that much different than a human when you put it into perspective. We see a doctor when we are sick, get our flu shots and vaccines (at least we all should...but that's another post), we get pedicures, clip our nails. You get the idea. The cows don't just get turned out to fend for themselves. We take our responsibility to them very seriously.

Farms are businesses, just like any job, but farmers don't put their bottom line before anything and everything. We have lost money on cows that we have kept just because The Milkman had some sentiment about it. We have kept cull cows longer than we should have because she might have been here longer than any of the others. Farmers aren't cold and unfeeling. Farming is our business. It is our livelihood. It is how we feed our family, keep a roof over our head, and live just like the rest of the world. That doesn't mean we don't care about what we are responsible for.

We don't have crops, other than forages to feed our own herd, so I don't talk much about crop farmers. But I know many of them. They aren't uneducated or evil folks either. They don't put people in danger for their bottom line the way that some of the anti-GMO movement would have you think. Agriculture has to grow with the technology. 

This isn't a anti/pro-GMO post, this is for thought....if I expected you, Mr. Accountant, to continue to use technology from 1943 how efficient and effective would you be in todays world? How about you, Dr. So'n'so? Move backwards to how we treated everyone medically in 1937. Would that be okay for anyone? I think not. 

Farmers are smart enough to use technology. They feed their families exactly what you are feeding yours. We go to the store. We buy milk, corn, peanuts, beans, beef, chicken, turkey, etc. We don't have our own special stash so we don't expose ourselves to something awful. Would it be a good idea to kill off our customer base? Probably not. Lets be realistic. 

Even if the comment that farmers are only in it for the money were true...we wouldn't put our products at risk for us or anyone else....there wouldn't be a dime in it. It's a good thing it isn't true, though....we do what we do for the money, yes (even though there isn't always much of that), but also for the lifestyle. For the ability to watch our kids grow and to teach them work ethic and responsibility. We teach them that you reap what you sow in a more literal way than you can imagine. 

Even if America sees me as "Maw" with my apron on feeding my yard birds, raisin' kids, whippin' up the corn bread and beans while The Milkmaids run around barefoot and the Milkman wears his overalls talking in farm-speak, chewing on straw....I'd still want to be a farmer (or at least his wife). Because you know, and I know that a stereotype is just that.