Pig Farming: Life Lessons and a "Vacation Fund"
I once had somebody ask why I love agriculture so much. They told me that my money was spent on feed and equipment. They wondered if I could ever leave the farm for a vacation. My answer was simple. I love agriculture because my passion is feeding the world through this healthy and safe food system. The lessons learned behind the barn door will last for a lifetime. I could write pages on the life lessons of pig farming. For now, I will stick with the three lessons of competition, passion, and teamwork that I have learned with my “vacation fund.”
Growing up, my brother Austin and I were always competitive. Between sports, showing pigs and school, we were so competitive with each other, we usually ended up bickering. Being the younger sister, I always wanted to be up to par with him. Through this process, I continuously learned new skills, met new people and developed passion. I learned to respect my authorities because I needed them to trust me for whatever task I am about to master. Competition is not a bad thing. It is healthy when used correctly to set benchmarks. For pigs, farmers set goal to be below certain percentage of pre-wean mortality. Just like me completing steps to learn the strategy to compete with Austin, farmers strive to complete certain steps each day to accomplish an overall goal.
Passion is contagious. Farmers are the most passionate people I know. Whether it be caring for a newborn piglet, or power washing the barns, a farmer will express the same amount of overwhelming passion for his job. My brother Austin is the most passionate person I know. I remember one pig show where I fully saw his passion for the industry and the show ring. It happened to be his first year being eligible for the Minnesota State Fair. The day started off at 6:00 am. Feeding and washing occurred for both the pigs and the kids within the first hour before the show. During the show, mom stayed in the ring to take pictures and hold the snacks, while Dad was a ring man. So, it was Austin, my sister, and me left in the barns. Austin had plans. He knew exactly what to do for the morning routine, he strategized the technique to impress the judge, and he coached my sister and me to maximize our potential.
Even with all his work and his excitement, the show that he had worked so hard for, fell short in the ring. That day, the judge did not place my big brother very high in the class. Austin was crushed and embarrassed. Thankfully, his passion for the industry was not compromised. He did get a trip with his Duroc breeding gilt. He took the information the judge told him to improve what he could change. He developed a relationship with his gilt. As a result, he received Overall Grand Champion Breeding Gilt at the Minnesota State Fair. My parents were proud of his accomplishment. I was proud of his passion.
Pig farming is a 24/7/365 job. Technically, farmers are always on call in case something happens. Farmers balance work, life, and family. Part of this balance is other activities such as traveling to conferences, visiting the in-laws for the holidays, or taking your young child to Disney World. So, what do you do with the hungry pigs in the barns that need to be cared for while you are gone? You rely on your team.
Teamwork is stressed by parents, teachers and employers; but cannot be taught on paper, rather practiced and critiqued. In pig farming, teams specialize in all phases of operation. All people know the ins and outs of production to cover one another when life happens. Teamwork makes the dream work when you can depend on others. Teams share values and ethics. Teams help balance your weakness as you contribute your strengths. The skills I have learned in the barn have transpired to my daily life.
I am currently a senior at the University of Minnesota, 136 miles away from home. Without my parents, we would not be able to keep the daily barn operations afloat. Without my brothers, the business side would suffer. Without my sister, moral support and late-night talks would not make me feel better when times are tough. Our family balances together to mold one operation, a farm that will provide a safe and nutritious product.
So why do I love agriculture? The answer is simple. Farmers are competitive to improve their herd and accomplish further goals. Their passion drives their purpose. The famous quote “life happens when you are busy making other plans” holds true in pig farming. Instead of saving up to take a yearly vacation, farmers cherish the day to day memories with their teammates and their animals.