Welcome back to RamZone’s Year of the Farmer guest blogger series, where stories of life on the American farm are offered up by the people most qualified to tell them—American farmers. The goal of the series, of course, is to raise awareness in the Year of the Farmer for the values, ideals and simple pleasures associated with the farming life.
Last month, guest blogger Kelsey Pope wrote an especially poignant piece concerning the role of weather and how the farmer must respond to it. This month, guest blogger Debbie Lyons-Blythe, from the popular blog Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch, discusses the roles of family in farming.
Farming Is a Family Business
By Debbie Lyons-Blythe
Basketball camp, summer school, baseball games and chores at home…such is the life of a typical American teenager in the summer. Even if your kids are old enough to drive, parents still get involved in all the hot-weather experiences as well—serving as chauffeur, chef or cheerleader. The biggest trick is to keep them busy during the day with productive experiences instead of daytime TV or video games for three months. Believe me. I know. I have five kids!
My farm kids like to chill out in front of a TV in the summer, too, but they rarely get the opportunity. Kids are a vital part of the year-round workforce on a farm. My kids have been helping me with our cattle and farm since they were born. Of course, they weren’t much help when strapped in a car seat, but I took all five of our kids with me to check cattle in pastures during the summer. I strapped them all into car seats or with seat belts, stocked up on graham crackers and juice boxes and headed to the pasture to count cows and calves, check for any injured or sick cattle, and put out free-choice minerals. Some of my favorite memories are of the impromptu picnics in the back of a pickup, watching the cattle graze or the kids fish in farm ponds.
Today, our kids are fixing the tractor, cutting the grass to make hay, checking cows in the pasture, building fences and generally taking care of the day-to-day workings on our farm, with me being merely the overseer. That is pretty typical on an American farm/ranch. More than 97% of America’s farms and ranches are family owned and have been for many generations.
We have a sign on one of our barns that says the farm was homesteaded in 1890 by my husband’s great grandfather. That first section of ground has been owned by a family member ever since—more than 120 years. We are proud of that fact, and we work hard every day to continue to make the land better. If we were to abuse the land or animals, there wouldn’t be a farm to pass down through the generations.
You know, just a few decades ago, most kids wanted to grow up and do what their parents did. They often took over the “family business” and learned the ropes from their parents or grandparents. Today, a very small percentage of kids end up in the same business as their parents, let alone inherit a profitable business. Farming is unique. It relies on the continuity of each generation learning from the previous one to care for the land, as well as care about the land. By leaving our farm to our kids, we ensure the land will be maintained as farm ground and not divided into housing lots or shopping malls. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a house in the suburbs or a new mall nearby—but we need the farmland we have today to continue to raise food. Land is not something you can create when you run out. The land we have today is what we hope to continue to have in the future, and by caring for it in sustainable ways and teaching our kids to care about the land, we can have a safe, abundant supply of food.
One of the best jobs for farm kids learning to drive is to cut hay. They drive a tractor with a special mower attached at a fairly slow pace (between 5–15 miles per hour) through a field of grass. As they drive around in a pattern through the field, they look behind them and see the progress they have made. The field changes from a field of standing grass to rows and rows of cut grass lying in the sun to dry. They see how straight their rows are (or aren’t) and places where they may have driven too fast and the grass wasn’t cut clean. They can evaluate their own success and feel pride in a job well done.
I also think that cutting hay connects a kid to the land. As they drive through the field, they see the valleys and hills of the ground, they might get a glimpse of wildlife, and they know that through their labor that day, we will have feed for the cows when the winter snow covers the field. Farmers truly care about their land, at the same time they care for it, and it is imperative we teach that to our kids. You can’t learn that playing video games—it is a hands-on, get-dirty lesson that farm kids learn early.
For more stories of farming as a family, please see my blog: Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch.
Tune in next month for another installment of RamZone’s Year of the Farmer guest blogger series.