Stockmanship for 'two-leggeds'
By Kelli Loos
Editor's note: Trent's wife, Kelli, writes this week's column while Trent is traveling.
Years ago a retired college professor and livestock judging coach made the comment that it didn't really matter if you were a pig guy or a cattleman, good stockmanship skills were something that transferred across species. And while you could certainly improve your stockmanship skills through training, mentoring or experience, some people were just naturally born with the talent to see and care for livestock.
I was thinking about those comments as I strolled through a nursery full of pigs the other day. You never just wean the pigs and throw them in a pen with some feed and water and come back 30 days later to move them to a finisher. Those post-weaning days are critical to their lifelong performance. As important as it is to spend the time making sure they get their lungs cleaned out and nurse soon after they are born, it is equally critical to continue to monitor and assess their needs every couple of hours for the first few days after weaning.
Stockmanship requires a lot of observation. Are the pigs lying in a pile because they are cold or are they snuggled neatly, side-by-side under the heat lamp? Maybe they are lying away from the heat because the lamp needs to be raised. What about calves at weaning--do they come to the bunk or hang by themselves? Are their ears drooping or do they act lethargic? We "read" these animals and try to determine what they need.
We spend a lot of time looking, watching and comparing day-to-day changes. And every good stockman will tell you, you also have to look at what's coming out the back end. Not a real romantic notion but feces can tell a lot about the gut function and health of an animal. So when you hear the phrase "You don't know s#&!" it might mean somebody's evaluation of organic matter isn't up to speed!
Good stockmen spend a lot of time looking. Maybe that is a practice we need to apply to our two-legged companions as well. Think about it. How often do we rush through life without stopping to notice the status of a friend (I'm not talking about Facebook status), or even more likely, a family member? We tend to take for granted that everything is fine unless they tell us otherwise. What if we took that extra time just to look at them, to read their body language, to see the expressions on their face when we rattle off a list of projects that needs to get done? What if we really listen to what they are saying and share in their enthusiasm or their pain?
We often take for granted that friends will still be friends even if we don't take the time to show them how much they mean to us. And because we are all so busy, perhaps that is a two-way street. But taking the time to show those important people that we value them is what living is all about. We are all guilty of spending too much time in the barn and not enough quality time with our kids, unless we are fortunate enough to have our kids in the barn with us.
There will always be another job that could get done, but what's wrong with calling it a day early, having a sit-down family dinner and playing a fun board game now and then? It's a great chance to get to know your kids and just relax and have a good laugh. Sitting in front of the TV or going to a movie doesn't offer that interaction that is necessary to build these critical relationships.
Life on a farm and ranch is 24/7/365. Something always comes up that tries to interfere with the plans we make with family and friends. Perhaps by planning ahead and anticipating potential "issues" we can sidestep some of those pitfalls to good human relationships. There will always be that time when you have to cancel dinner reservations or miss your child's ballgame because "stuff" happened that just couldn't wait until you got home, but if we make the effort to plan activities and stick to them as often as we can, it will improve those critical human relationships we have and bring us closer to those that matter most.
Those cattle will all eventually leave the operation and the pigs will be bacon before you know it, but those two-legged critters are so critical to our livelihood and happiness that we must use our good stockmanship skills to keep them near and dear!
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at email@example.com.