Lessons learned from the farm to the dinner plate

by Lacey Schardt, NPPA Mentor Pigs at Watering Area

Growing up on a diversified farm has created many opportunities for life lessons to be learned.  Recently, as I was power-washing (cleaning the barns), I realized all the lessons that I have learned, but before sharing these, I will share a bit about my background. As I have already said, I have grown up on a diversified family farm where we currently raise hogs (Pork Production Terminology) and grow crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat.  In the past, we have had our feedlot full of feeder calves, but as of now our feedlot is empty.

There is nothing that I enjoy more than being out working with my dad, my uncle, a cousin or two of mine, and our farmhand.  Our farmhand has been on our farm for longer than I can remember so to me, I see him more as family than anything else. To me, this truly defines our operation.  We are a family farm.  My uncle and his family are the ones in charge of our wean-to-finish hog operation(Pork Production Housing Stages).  At one time we will have 2250 head of hogs between our nursery and finisher buildings.  Through the hog operation, there are jobs that no one wishes to do, and those that everyone wants to do.  But none the less, all of these jobs are important and essential to providing a safe and healthy product to our consumers.  I would say that the most enjoyable job is when we load hogs for them to be sent to market.  It is also the time that the most help is needed, but too much help would cause a rough and stressful time for the hogs.  As we work to get the hogs loaded this is a great place to learn lessons.  A lesson that I have learned is to understand who is in charge and listen to his instructions.  As we separate the hogs out of the individual pens, we must be aware of which are to be let out and which are to stay.  This can be a difficult job because the main focus is to not stress the hogs while getting them to do as we wish, so patience is learned through this job.  As the hogs are separated from their pens, they walk down the aisle to the door where they are loaded onto the truck.  The pigs are smart animals so patience is also needed here because this is a change for them from their usual routine.  Some hogs have no problem with this change and load well while others do not agree, and generally tend to be more stubborn. 

Looking at loading hogs, this is a life lesson in disguise.  When working in teams it is great to have a leader to listen to and keep everyone on the same page.  Along with this, everyone on the team must have patience and be willing to work together to create the finished product smoothly and with the least amount of stress.  Also, it teaches us to recognize that it is important to change our approach tactics when we are working with people who allow change to affect them differently.  Those who accept change easily can be very easy to work with and allowed to be nearly independent, while those who do not like change require more patience and an open mind to reason with them and be able to work towards a common understanding.

Before we can have any hogs to load onto the trailer, the most undesirable job on our farm must be done: power-washing the nursery.  This may be the most important job in our hog operation because it ensures a healthy environment for the arrival of the new iso-wean piglets.  This is a dreaded job because it is tedious along with a not so very fun environment to work in.  After the pigs are about 50 pounds, we move them out of the nursery and into the finishing buildings.  Then the empty nursery is left.  Power-washing is a lonely job while working in a hot and wet building.  Power-washing is just as it may sound, using extremely hot water and spraying it at a high pressure to wash the building.  To accomplish this job a certain pattern must be used in order to get the ceiling, walls, feeders, waterers, fences, and floors all clean without getting soaking wet and a face full of manure.  I may be the only person on the farm who enjoys this nasty job, because I have found it to be relaxing.  Repeating the same task in each pen has created a time for me to think.  But I cannot let myself get too deep in thought; otherwise I could be brought back to reality with the not-so-nice surprise of hog manure in my face.  Reflecting on this job, it is almost like baby proofing a home.  Everything is kept clean to keep the baby healthy along with keeping harmful things out of reach.  As I go through washing the ceiling, then the walls I make sure to get everything off so that the new arrivals will not have the opportunity to possibly infect themselves.  Then as I clean the feeders, I keep an eye for anything that may need fixing so it does not injure the hogs. 

I have not had a successful time yet, where I leave the nursery not more than 10 times dirtier than I began.  Working through the nursery, the focus is to clean the shed and not keep myself clean.   The new pigs to come are more important than me, because the money we make from them helps keep our family farm operating.  More importantly, these hogs will be providing food for not just my family, but also those throughout the world.  While power-washing is a dirty and tedious job, I realize the greater purpose, which all boils down to creating the best pork that we are able to feed the world. 

So through all the jobs I have on the farm, from the nursery to the dinner plate, I know that each job is important, and I can always let myself be surprised with the next life lesson I will learn.  Overall I have learned that not all lessons can be taught through school, sometimes we need to work and not be afraid to get a little bit dirty to learn the best lessons.

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