Growing up, people always compared me to my mom because of my love for animals. It seemed I always had a kitten in my arms or was infatuated with watching the cattle or anything with hooves, fur, or feathers. I had the chance to be involved in 4-H where I got the opportunity to have livestock projects, anything from chickens to rabbits to cattle. Although I still love working with all species, I have fallen in love with cattle. I believe my passion for cattle stems from my late grandfather. He was a skilled cattlemen who absolutely loved what he did, and couldn’t stand not being busy out on the farm constantly making new improvements. To this day while I am working cattle, I think of him frequently believing he is watching over me and has steered me in the direction my education has taken me.
You acquire a wide range of skills when raising livestock. By being involved in 4-H and showing livestock you learn important communication and leadership skills that follow you to college, into a career, but most importantly shape the type of person you are in life. If you are involved in judging livestock, you understand the importance of fast paced decision-making skills along with being able to pay very close attention to detail; being able to decipher those small differences between livestock. Being involved with livestock you learn patience while doing just about anything. From administering important vaccines, loading and transporting, halter-breaking, even to calving, farrowing, lambing, and kidding; patience is key when working with any species.
Technical, species-specific skills are also acquired with experience, time, and effort. Taking opportunities to learn new skills or techniques is the most important way of showing your versatility and open-minded nature. While I was attending junior college, I was given so many great hands-on learning experiences. From learning how to castrate hogs and cattle, to pelvic measuring heifer calves, freeze branding cattle, implanting feedlot calves, and so much more. Being open to learning new skills is essential to having a successful career, regardless of your industry.
You don’t get days off.
The old farmers back home always poke fun at each other about what type of farmer they are. If they vacation in Florida during the winter they’re only a “part-time” farmer, otherwise known as a grain farmer. Then apparently there’s the “real” farmer, in other words, the livestock farmer who can’t leave for vacation because there’s daily chores to do. Growing up, our family rarely got to go on vacations because we had cattle. It must be one of the trade-offs for livin’ the dream.
You don’t get holidays off and you surely don’t get to call in sick. As if kids aren’t already impatient for Christmas morning, wait until you own livestock. Growing up my siblings and I didn’t get to beeline to the presents and go nuts. We had to do our own morning chores and wait for dad to get back in from feeding cattle before we got to open presents.
It’s a family affair.
As I have gotten older and a bit wiser I understand the importance of family support and the great blessing it has been to be the fifth generation of our farm. Whether it is with the show cattle, the feedlot cattle, the commercial cows, or even the grain aspect of the farm, having family to support one another and pitch in when help is needed gives some peace of mind.
Thinking about my family and where we each fit in the show cattle aspect, I have found all of this to be true. Inevitably, dad will always be there with the truck and trailer ready to take on summer shows and he never fails to be standing ring side making odd hand gestures at you, letting you know how your animal is set up. Big brothers will always be there when an extra set of hands is needed fitting on show day or helping load and unload a trailer. Mom will always come with food and extra clothes in tow. Grandparents will always come (after making a Casey’s stop to pick up sprinkle doughnuts, of course) to watch the youngest generation do what they are so very passionate about, soon realizing it didn’t seem that long ago when they were in the mom and dad role supporting their own children.
Family support definitely doesn’t stop in the show barn or at shows. When the cows break fence and run amuck through the cornfield the whole family takes their position, whether its offense or defense it only matters that you tackle the task as a family. It seems to me that something is always bound to go wrong, so having the support of family when life gets turned upside down means more than one could ever explain.
It’s an expensive endeavor.
Parents pay an outrageous expense on 4-H projects as a way of teaching their children life lessons. However the expense is not always in dollars, instead it’s in their time and other personal sacrifices they make as a parent. But how does a parent even begin to put a price on their child’s character development? Parents are not paying for that Kodak moment or that banner hanging in the show barn. They are paying for their children to learn responsibility, discipline, and commitment. They are paying for the opportunity it gives their children to make lasting friendships and industry connections. They are paying for these expensive projects to teach their children how to set and accomplish goals, how to work with others, how to deal with disappointment, and how it takes time and hard work to achieve success. You can’t buy the life experiences that shape character, but allowing kids to have livestock projects gives young kids a solid foundation of knowledge, understanding, compassion and skills that will provide them with endless opportunities as they get older. Those Kodak moments, banners, trophies, and memories are the rewards of hard work and sacrifices made by both parents and children.
I am forever grateful that my parents saw the importance of raising livestock. It was an investment well worth making. I surely would not be where I am in my education today without the support of my parents and their generosity.
Responsibility. Responsibility. Responsibility.
From a young age my parents instilled responsibility and accountability in my siblings and myself. Not only did we have typical house chores, but we also had livestock chores. The biggest difference between these chores is the fact that if you forget to make your bed, mom might get frustrated and remind you for the third time, but if you forget to go feed the calves, they go hungry.
Commitment was the other factor that coincides with responsibility and accountability. This was also something my parents drilled into my mind. It taught me that once I committed to a project I would have to stick with it, no matter the circumstances.
On those -20 degree mornings with bone chilling winds and thigh high snow, most sane people stay indoors wrapped up in blankets and schools get cancelled. Well morning chores don’t get cancelled, if anything it’s more important to go check on livestock multiple times a day when weather is that extreme.
Frozen automatic waterers are not fun, nor does anyone want to stand outside in January thawing them out. However, when livestock’s well-being is on the line we will do just about anything to keep food and water in front of our stock. Unless you have livestock of your own, you will never fully understand the struggles and hoops livestock owners have to go through during the winter in order to keep their animals as comfortable and healthy as possible.
You have to explain yourself, a lot.
People that are not involved in agriculture do not understand why we chose this as our career and make a life out of it. Why waste your time on something that seems so difficult when you could just go get a “normal” job? The answer to that is simple and straightforward, Passion is what drives us. People who own livestock are passionate about what they do, if they were not, they would go get a “normal” job. Certainly I wouldn’t be sharing my story if I wasn’t passionate about raising livestock and grateful for the experiences it has given me.
Another reason I have to explain myself a lot is due to the fact that people are so far removed from the farm. When I talk about the farm or livestock in terms that I use on a daily basis I get a lot of ruffled brows, looking clueless. Those that are not involved in livestock typically do not understand what I mean when I throw livestock terms out so loosely. It is important to not assume what others know and do not know, but instead always be ready to educate and share the reality of life on the farm.
There is not always a happy ending.
Spring means calving season and typically is one of the most exhausting times of the year. Although we may lose sleep by going to check cows late at night and early in the morning, it’s rewarding and so worth it to see all the adorable fuzzy newborns wobbling around their momma’s. That’s the happy side of the story, unfortunately Mother Nature can completely turn life upside down with not so happy endings. Reproductive issues and postpartum difficulties can become life or death situations for both mom and baby faster than you may ever realize.
Last year was a particularly difficult calving season at our farm. My favorite old show heifer (named Nelly) was due to calve during my spring break and I couldn’t wait to get home. A few days before she was ready to calve, her uterus prolapsed due to excessive pressure from what would have been twin calves. We had our veterinarian come out to the farm and check her out. He put a few stitches in to prevent her from another prolapse because she was not ready to calve. A few days of persistent checking on Nelly, she still wasn’t quite ready. Unfortunately, when the time came to calve (about 3 or 4 am) no one was around to assist her. When my dad went to the farm for morning chores he found one calf was born dead, and a healthy red heifer calf alongside Nelly. As if that wasn’t hard enough, Nelly herself was not in good shape after such a difficult birth. Once again we called the vet, and the news wasn’t anything I wanted to hear. My favorite old show heifer had a uterine tear and would not make it. To this day I get emotional talking about it, but it reminds me that life itself is fragile and there is not always a happy ending. People who are involved in raising livestock encounter this daily which absolutely reinforces a respect for life.
Raising livestock has taught me so much more than any class at any school could ever teach me. It forces you to be a lifelong learner, to expect the unexpected, and to never say never. Because of this, your opportunities are truly endless as a passionate stockman or stockwoman, in my case.
My name is Rachel Hill, I am originally from Northern Illinois where I call our family farm located in Dixon, IL, my home. We farm approximately 1100 acres of corn and soybeans. In addition, we manage our commercial cow herd of about 40-50 Angus and Simmental based cows, along with a small beef cattle feedlot of approximately 75 head. I attended junior college at Black Hawk East, where I graduated with my Associates degree and Beef Production Certificate in May of 2015. I then transferred to Western Illinois University where I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science with double minors in Animal Science and Ag Business. On campus I am actively involved in the Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and Hoof’n’Horn. I appreciate you taking time to read my blog and hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to talk with me further about my livestock and agriculture background. Rfirstname.lastname@example.org