In January, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Calving Corner, which is Pennsylvania’s live dairy cow birthing center at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. More than 100,000 people come through the exhibit during the eight-day event, giving our dairy community an opportunity to share an up close and personal look at what happens on the dairy farm. One day I got to narrate an assisted birth. While the veterinarian and others assisted using birthing chains, I answered questions from an audience of probably over 2,000 spectators.
At first it was intimidating to be put in that position. I had no idea what questions were going to be thrown my way, but about a minute or two into the discussion, I could tell that the audience was genuinely interested about how the veterinarian and barn manager were providing for the well-being of both the cow and the calf in that process. There were no mean-spirited questions – just ones about why the cow needed assistance and what the process involves. Some expressed concerns about the cow and calf’s pain levels, but when I explained what the vet and others were doing to minimize pain and protect both animals, they nodded with understanding. In the end, when the calf was born healthy, there was a loud roar from the crowd cheering with excitement.
Earlier in the week, I heard a farmer talking about how the miracle of birth happens every day on the dairy farm, and it’s something we as farmers often take for granted. You don’t realize until you are in a setting like the Calving Corner and you have the opportunity to talk to so many people who are so fascinated by the process what a blessing it is to witness that every day on the farm. It made me think of all the other everyday occurrences that we as dairy farmers may take for granted sometimes.
Here are just a few of many that came to my mind.
- Sprouting seeds. Just like the miracle of birth, watching the seeds that we plant grow to maturity is something we often take for granted. Last summer I took pictures of the plants growing in the corn field below our barn each week just so I could capture their growth over the summer. When you scrolled back through all the pictures, it was amazing to see the difference in the crop from one month to the next and to watch how it changed in the fall. When you think of everything that could have gone wrong to prevent that seed from sprouting, growing, and maturing – poor fertility, lack of moisture, weather damage, and so on – it’s nothing short of a miracle. In classrooms all over our country, children plant seeds to witness this miracle, but it’s one we don’t always think that much about on the farm.
- Open skies. The other day on the news, they were talking about a comet that was coming close to earth. It was the first time that comet was near the earth in 50,000 years. They said the best place to see the comet is in rural areas where there are no buildings or lights competing with the view. On our farm, like many across the US, you can see for miles when you look across the sky. Each morning you can watch the sunrise to the East, and every night you can see it set over the hill. At night it’s like you can see the whole galaxy above you. Have you ever thought about what it is like to live in a town, or especially in a city, where you can’t see that view? For me, working outside under that sky is one of the best parts about living on a farm.
- Time with family. Another aspect of farming we don’t always consider a blessing is the opportunity we have to work alongside family. That’s because working with family can often be very hard. However, when you think about it, most Americans go to work every day away from their families. Some of us on farms do have someone else watch our children when they are little to keep them safe. But as they grow older, we get more and more opportunities to have them work alongside of us, whether that is working with us in the barn or riding along on a buddy seat in the tractor. We can also create jobs, like helping to feed calves and pick stones, that teach them responsibility at a very young age. And as the next generation grows, farms can evolve and create new enterprises to capture their passions and incorporate them into the business. You couldn’t do that if you were working at a job away somewhere. Some of my favorite memories of the boys growing up were when we were working together in the barn.
- Trust in a hungry world. It seems like in the dairy community, we spend a lot of time complaining about the folks out there who are negative about our products or those who seem to be fighting against us. But a national survey shows that farmers are one of the most highly trusted professions. We also have a growing population that is going to continue to demand more and higher quality proteins than they ever did before, and 95 percent of the stomachs in this world are overseas. Globally, people are demanding more high-quality proteins, and dairy is the best positioned to fill that need. We just need to be willing to continue to share our story and rise to meet the challenge.
More than anything, I walked away from that experience at the Calving Corner with a renewed sense of faith in our consumers and in our ability to share our story. When you think about how stressful and intense an assisted birth can be, it was amazing to see only trust and awe in the eyes of those spectators watching the process. We don’t always think about the things we do day in and day out on the farm to care for our animals, to grow our crops, and to keep our farming legacies alive. But seeing it through the eyes of a consumer, it makes you realize how much we take for granted.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and was originally published in Progressive Dairy.