• Visitors On The Farm, Oh My!

    Posted on November 30, 2011 by Mike Haley in #AgChat, Agvocate, Cattle, Farm, farm photos, livestock care

    Recently a good friend I met online, Ryan Goodman, asked an interesting question on his popular blog Agriculture Proud:

    “How would you farm differently if a total stranger (non-farmer/rancher) followed you around all day?”

    I found this an interesting question. My first response was that I would do nothing different but after thinking about how I responded to finding out about visitors stopping over in the past, I began to ponder whether this was entirely accurate.  No different than most individuals expecting house guests over when guests are expected on the farm I normally tidy things up a bit to make sure they are presentable.  It’s also common for me to think about what places and tasks I definitely want visitors to see and of course…. what places and tasks are best left until after visitors leave.  Most importantly I think about the worst, this is a working farm and what if something happens as a cow could slip and break its leg, go down, or who know what else!

    Thomas Song and Pam Haley

    Thomas Song and Pam Haley

    That is what normally happens, but while driving home from a Thanksgiving feast at the in-laws on Thursday Pam suddenly remembered that a college photography student from Kent State University had scheduled a visit on our farm in the morning for a project in one of his classes.  Immediately I started to think about everything that had to be done before Thomas Song arrived in the morning as the steers needed to be bedded, the cement feeding pad was due to have the manure scraped, the dogs latest hunting prize needed buried and of course there was bale twine and feed bags needing picked up and taken to the trash.  Of course it was Thanksgiving and there was little time for all of this and after thinking it through (as in Pam informing me) I realized that Thomas was visiting our farm to see and document these very activities, therefore I could relax and wait till he arrived to get to business!

     

    Thomas arrived as planned in the morning, on the list of things to do for the morning were

    Ear tagging a calf

    Tagging in a new heifer calf. Photo courtesy of Thomas Song

    to feed, add  straw bedding for the steers, scrape the pad, tag in and give vitamins to a newborn heifer calf, load our bull, Laredo, into the trailer and move him to a new group of cows and deliver Dharma (a bred heifer)  to a neighbor who recently purchased her.  We quickly got started on our day and explained what we were doing along the way only pausing briefly a few times to explain a little more of why we were doing a few things.  Things moved along great, and all that was left was to unload Laredo from the trailer and load Dharma into the trailer.

    So we separated Dharma into a holding pen as we unloaded Laredo off the trailer. This is when one of my fears happened, a what if, what else, an OH NO! Dharma decided she wanted to be with Laredo and all the other cows and somehow she squeezed her head between a wooden gate and a post turning  the space into a giant Chinese puzzle and making it nearly impossible to get her head free.  Pam and I immediately ran over

    Trapped cow

    Pam trying to free Dharma from the gate. Photo courtesy of Thomas Song

    and tried to assist Dharma in getting her head loose, but it was too tight and I could not unhook the chain from the post.  Logically next thought was to lower Dharma’s head to relieve some of the tension on the chain, knowing all my actions were being photographed I hesitantly began to push down, trying to force her to lower her head but it was useless as she was much stronger than me.  I then remembered I had some tools around the corner, and I could perhaps use them to break the chain that was immobilizing Dharma, and after a little work I was able to split the chain and Dharma was free and other than a little mental grief she was unharmed.

    This experience taught me a valuable lesson, no matter how much you plan and prepare things can and will go wrong.  At the end of the day we have to be willing to except this, invite others onto our farms to share farm life experiences.  We have to be able to read our guests motives and do things to insure they understand why we do certain things and what motivates our actions. In this case, I feel like Thomas could see that Pam and I were very concerned about what was happening and that we were trying to help Dharma as quickly as possible.

    I am sure next time I learn of a farm visitor I will think of everything that needs to be done before they show up, and despite past lessons learned, I will do what needs to be done and welcome my guests when they arrive!

    At the end of the day I am thankful that Thomas took the time to seek out a farmer to learn more about beef production, and I am thankful that we were able to take the time to show him around.

     

     

     

     

     

  • http://www.durrerce.blogspot.com/ Ellen @ Real CA Dairy

    Excellent post and great food for thought. There is always tidy-ing up to be done, but to have the capability to operate a normal day just as you would with someone peering over your shoulder is a true lesson. We in ag always need to be more transparent, and often the fear of whom we are allowing onto our farms (and into our lives) and the chance of having our passions twisted in some horrible way will cause us to shudder and turn cheek. It is no wonder that we are perceived to have something to hide. Starting with our youth and students absolutely helps create a much more solid foundation on the future of production ag.

  • http://www.durrerce.blogspot.com/ Ellen @ Real CA Dairy

    Excellent post and great food for thought. There is always tidy-ing up to be done, but to have the capability to operate a normal day just as you would with someone peering over your shoulder is a true lesson. We in ag always need to be more transparent, and often the fear of whom we are allowing onto our farms (and into our lives) and the chance of having our passions twisted in some horrible way will cause us to shudder and turn cheek. It is no wonder that we are perceived to have something to hide. Starting with our youth and students absolutely helps create a much more solid foundation on the future of production ag.

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  • Kelly Rivard

    Great post, Mike. When I saw Ryan prompting folks to consider this question, I was curious how folks would respond. A lot of people would say, “Well, we wouldn’t do anything different!” The thing is, we all would. Back when we had the rabbits, it was pretty normal for people to ask to see them because they’re cute and cuddly…so, even something so simple as hosting a bonfire had me wondering if the rabbit barn was decent, if any of the rabbits had hutch stains, did we need to move the manure to the compost pile…

    I think the important thing is self-consciousness, and having the proper degree of it. If there is something that you would change because of a visitor, you have to ask yourself, “Why?” If it’s simply for aesthetic value, is the value of the appearance greater than that of a learning experience or conversation that could be brought up because of what you change? If someone questions your methods when visiting your farm, are you confident enough in your approaches and strategies to explain the why and how of the situation? If you can’t do that, then maybe a change is needed, and maybe longer-term than the duration of the visit. There’s this desire to appear perfect to outsiders, and I can understand that. At the same time, it isn’t always practical to be pretty and well-polished. The best you can do in that case is know your facts and have a conversation about what may or may not look perfect.

    Glad Dharma’s okay! Thanks for sharing, Mike.

    • http://haley-farms.com Mike Haley

      Thanks Kelly, you bring up a good point about making changes purely for aesthetics or to hide something. I agree, us in agriculture should have nothing to hide and need to work to increase transparency about what is happening within agriculture before we can expect the public to have more trust in us.

  • http://twitter.com/celestelaurent Celeste Laurent

    Great post Mike!
    Even though I grew up on a farm and had a second major in animal science, I had so many farmers refuse to let me come to their farm as a student journalist.
    Since these student journalists and photographers are the ones who will someday be working in the news media our consumers get their information from, they’re some of the people most in need of first hand experience on a modern farm.
    Thanks for being an example of how even when something goes “wrong” its still a great opportunity to teach your guest just how hard farmers work to care for their animals. 

    • http://haley-farms.com Mike Haley

      Thanks for the reply Celest, I think it’s sad that farmers would not allow you on their farms to help share with others what they do. Attitudes like this will only decrease public trust and increase the amount of regulations that we as farmers will be forced to comply with.