Friday, February 8, 2013
Friday at the Farm--The Circle of Life
Babies, regardless of the species, remind us that life goes on. There's always hope to be found in tomorrow. This end of the cycle or circle of life is mostly pleasant. Watching animals grow, change and mature is a satisfying thing that we are always thankful to witness.
Most of the time, we don't see the end of the cycle with the livestock we produce. As the producers, we simply grow the animal, we aren't the processors, that's a whole other cycle (and whole other blog story) Our job as producers is to feed and care properly for the animals to ensure the consistent high quality product that you, the consumer, has come to expect.
As our kids grew and joined 4H, we began teaching them this circle. It began with their first heifer. They each showed a heifer in their first year of 4H. It was the beginning of their own herd and the beginning of the cycle. When the cow was the proper age, we let the kids research and pick a donor bull and we then AI-ed (artificially insemenated) the heifer. When she delivered her calf, based on its sex, we decide what role it will play, a male could be raised as a bull, or a steer, and if its a steer of the right age, could be next years' show steer. A female, if her structure is something that we find suitable, she will likely be retained as a brood cow, and may or may not be shown.
At our farm, we breed about 40% to AI and 60% natural service. My sister and brother in law are dealers for ABS, so the farm is their 'research' area where they try new semen available and we can have better field tests for what works best for us. We generally sync the cows that will be AI-ed, so that they all come into heat at the same time. Some of the semen we use, is from bulls known to throw good 'club calves' that way the kids have several options for next years show string and we sometimes have a few extras to sell to other 4hers. Our bulls for the natural service cows are all registered Angus.
When the kids' cows start producing more calves than what the kids show in a year, this is when they start doing a couple of things, first 'paying' the farm for the feed that their cattle eat, by allowing the farm to retain a percentage of the profits from their yearly calf crop. They also get to put some money in their college funds.
As kids growing up on the farm, our kids have seen calves born, in fact it seems as toddlers and little children they are fascinated by it, so they have never be 'grossed out' by, it's something that they have always been around. They've seen both AI and natural service happen. As they've grown their ever evolving and maturing questions have made the official 'birds and bees' talk kind of barely necessary, (at least the basics!) When we have sold cattle, either at the sale barn, or as butcher beef to the locker, we've explained thoroughly what the next steps in the process are. They've seen most of those steps happen. They know where their food comes from and are proud to be a part of feeding the world. Now, do we ourselves eat their show steers? No, not usually and the kids would prefer not to. But they know that if the love and pampering those steers get has anything to do with the final product, they are proud to say, that they likely taste wonderful!
Having a fairly vast knowledge of the circle of life with animals is a great tool when we have to share parts of it with them as far as the two legged world is concerned. It doesn't make accepting it, especially the end of the cycle any easier. Moments like losing a friend or family member is just as hard for us as well. But I am kind of thankful to have the farming analogies to teach them that the cycle continues.
I think that raising kids on the farm is almost like having a cheat sheet to parenting. They learn a lot about life, assume responsibility in the care of their animals, and develop work ethic. Being a visual learner myself and living in the Show Me state, its reassuring to be able to teach the Circle of Life (and many other lessons) with LIVE PROPS at any given time.
Waiting for the farmer to return from the Sale Barn, after completing our part in the circle,