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BEUSCHEL: Life on the farm is a hard way to live

• Feb 21, 2019 at 3:00 PM

I’m pretty much a city girl. I was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The closest I ever got to a farm was on the “drives” my parents would take on Sundays to either Michigan or Wisconsin. I saw cows from a distance and that was about it.

The last house I lived in with my parents was in a subdivision built in the middle of farmland. So, for a while, our backyard was up against a wheat field.

None of these experiences made me want to get into farming.

I got my first introduction to what life on a farm was actually like was when I met my husband, who was raised on a farm in Sparta. His family had moved to the Chicago suburbs due to his father’s work, but they kept the farm in Michigan. While I was in college and he was in the service, his family returned to the farm and started converting it to a fruit farm. At one point, I got to see the old farm house they lived in before they tore it down. I didn’t have any clue on what it would be like to live “out in the country” and farm.

Growing up, I was used to going to the Jewell with my mom for groceries, or during the spring and summer we would go to fruit stands to buy directly from a farmer. We always had food on the table, a nice house to live in and clothes that were store-bought. During my husband’s childhood, he had experienced churning butter, milking cows, raising chickens for meat and eggs, growing a garden for food to can, and being very poor. His allergies made the farm the worst place to be for him, so he never aspired to have his own farm.

Now, all these years later, my son and his family live on a ranch in Texas, and when I visit I get to experience what it is like to live out in the middle of farmland. I like it! I find it calm and relaxing. I enjoy walking around looking at the Angus cows and horses that roam the fields. Their four dogs are usually on the go and fun to be with. Sometimes I get to see new foals or calves wandering around with their moms.

Although it seems very idyllic for me, I know there’s a lot of work to keeping this lifestyle going when this is not your main occupation. At the end of their work days, they come home to feed livestock, fill water troughs, muck out stalls and watch over the well-being of all the animals. And this is where it gets to be not so idyllic.

There are predators to deal with — such as rattlesnakes, coyotes, wild boars and bobcats. Coyotes, bobcats and wild boars attack the herds, especially preying on the new-born colts and cows. The rattlesnakes usually tangle with the Jack Russell terriers as they like to go after the snakes in their hiding places. Losing livestock to predators is costly, not to mention the vet bills that add up trying to save their animals.

Behind the raising of farm animals is the process of choosing what breeds and bloodlines to breed. There is a lot of genetics to this process. Knowing and understanding this is part of the selection process of raising farm animals. When I attended an FFA (Future Farmers of America) hog show on my last visit, it became clear that hogs shown by the FFAers were being judged on confirmation, and this all depended on their breeding, which then related to the price of the hog they bought to raise and show. At the end of the showing season, the animals are sold. The meat from these animals is excellent in quality and taste, so there is no shortage of bidders for these animals.

Giving up an animal that you raised is not easy. My granddaughter struggled with giving up her hog after the last show of the year. She knew it was going to slaughter and that made it even harder. This is the backside of consumers being able to go to the grocery store and get quality meat. It has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is a farm.

Farmers don’t get days off or vacations. The only way they can leave their farms is if someone else comes in to take care of the farm. Among the farming community there is that “I’ve got your back” mentality. They watch over each other and are ready to lend a helping hand. I think this is the atmospheric vibe I experience when I go down there. It’s a sense of togetherness; a sense of a mutual goal — to farm.

I’m ready to get back down there and hang out with the family and critters. The fact that it’s warm and sunny down there isn’t bad either!

— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist

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