More Than a Feed Mill: Nahunta Feed Supply Tour

DSC_9476Every week, just about, someone in our family drives to the Nahunta Feed Supply to buy feed for our livestock. It isn’t just a store where we pick up a few bags of feed, though.DSC_9415It is a place where we and everyone else are greeted with a smile, a “Hey!! How are you?!”, and maybe even a token word of friendly advice. The Nahunta Feed Supply is warm and inviting. The office is filled with homey touches and tons of pictures of friends, family, and youth who the feed mill supports. There is always a candle burning, so it smells more like a house than a mill. DSC_9416DSC_9421DSC_9417DSC_9423Most days, Mrs. Gale is at the counter to check you out. Somehow, she seems to make writing a check more enjoyable. Her husband, Roger, runs back and forth between their farm and the mill. DSC_9418My family and I have loved getting to know the Pittmans and those who work at Nahunta Feed Supply over the years. So, before I moved, I wanted to capture the mill, store, and the people behind it. In typical fashion, they were accommodating, gracious, and more than welcoming.

Nahunta Feed Supply used to be known as Pierce Farms Center, which is Mrs. Gale’s side of the family. It started as a cotton gin, and grew to be a lot more.DSC_9429“Daddy continued to grow with land and business and expanded into a feed mill, growing hay, and selling fertilizer. He would buy crops from the farmers too,” said Mrs. Gale. DSC_9501The feed mill is at least 60 years old and is filled with history and heritage. In January of 2007, Gale and her husband Roger took over the store and mill and renamed it Nahunta Feed Supply. DSC_9493Today Nahunta Feed Supply provides feed, hay, and other supplies to the local community. They also serve up smiles and joy. It is evident they love what they do.DSC_9427DSC_9424DSC_9428DSC_9468DSC_9454“I get so attached to my customers. I do really like it because I get to interact with people, and they become like your family. My customers are my family, and I love the country life,” said Mrs. Gale.DSC_9434DSC_9432DSC_9431You can find the Pittmans at local livestock shows, supporting their customers who enter the ring. They love to see how the kids take the feed they purchase from the mill, feed it to their animals, and then show those animals off, and sometimes win! Not only do the Pittmans like to watch, but they have also made it a point to support the shows financially. No one can say that they do not give back.

We (my brothers tagged along, because shouldn’t all good livestock showmen know where their feed comes from?) toured the mill and learned how the feed was made.DSC_9471DSC_9440DSC_9437DSC_9435DSC_9436DSC_9439DSC_9451DSC_9457We learned lots of interesting facts; for example, we discovered corn is ground more coarsely or more fine, depending on the type of feed and animal being fed. DSC_9447DSC_9444DSC_9445DSC_9450DSC_9446In addition to touring the mill, we also saw various types of equipment and the warehouse. A lot of the feed at Nahunta Feed Supply is made from crops grown by the Pittmans on their 687 acres they tend. They also grow and sell a large amount of hay for customers (182 of their 687 acres is hay). DSC_9458DSC_9496DSC_9497If I have come away with anything from my many visits to Nahunta Feed Supply, it is that it is much more than a feed mill. It is the people inside who run it, the passion in which they work, and the care in which they show to all of us who visit!DSC_9502

 

 

 

Do Farmers Deserve Praise or Condemnation?

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 Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.

— President JFK

How true these words are! However, you will hear a much different story in a Raleigh courtroom. There, lawyers will tell you that farmers deserve condemnation, and what they do on a daily basis should be penalized in the form of a huge lawsuit.

What did they do to deserve such condemnation? They existed.

These farms have been here for decades. The farmers, along with their families, raised and took care of pigs throughout the years.

And now… now, they stand to lose it all.

All because certain people made a judgement and condemned them.

Here is where I get confused. I thought we lived in a society that was promoting a judgement-free zone. But, I guess there is an exception to farmers.

It is OK to judge and condemn them.

It is OK to bully them and attack them.

It is OK to assume who they are—greedy, careless villains.

It is OK to blindly believe what other people say about them—polluters and bad neighbors.

No, it is not OK!

It isn’t OK to give false and misleading facts.

It isn’t OK to sue farmers and take their entire livelihood.

It isn’t OK to judge them when you haven’t even tried to get to know them or understand their practices.

It isn’t OK!

I don’t know why farmers have a bullseye on their backs. I don’t know when it will stop. I don’t know how all the lies got started. What I do know is these farmers don’t deserve it. And I know that I, for one, will stand by them, praise them, and thank them for all they do!

 

 

 

My Agriculture

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There on your plate–the corn and porkchop and potatoes…

That’s my agriculture.

There on your back, the shirt made from cotton dyed into a brilliant color…

That’s my agriculture.

That medicine you take and the perfume you wear and the lipstick you put on…

That’s my agriculture.

The brilliant sunset over a field of wheat…

That’s my agriculture.

Calloused hands, dirty clothes, and a gentle touch…

That’s my agriculture.

Cows, sows, and plows with drones and tractors and technology in there too…

That’s my agriculture.

My agriculture is men and women filled with a love for the land and a love for livestock.

It is passion and love mixed with heartache and frustration. It is hard but worth it. My agriculture is the birth of calf and also the loss of a lamb. It is floods and droughts, cold and hot, feast and famine.

It is a 24/7 job filled with dedication, responsibility and lots of hope with no guarantee.

My agriculture is in the barns, the fields, the forests and beyond.

It provides food, clothes, jobs, and more.

My agriculture is your agriculture.

Celebrate it, appreciate it, and get to know it.

My agriculture isn’t perfect and is often misunderstood. But in the midst of manure and dirt and long hours and sleepless nights is something truly special–people with a passion.

Agriculture is everywhere, and you don’t have to be a farmer to be involved or to celebrate it. Look no farther than your fork and your shirt.

There you will find my agriculture. And there, you will find me.

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Farmers are Hiding the Truth: 5 Reasons Why That’s Wrong

If you have nothing to hide, then why do you have Ag-Gag laws?

If you have nothing to hide, then let the public in to inspect your farm?

If you have nothing to hide….

The thing is, farmers have nothing to hide.

In today’s world farming looks different. We have a lot more technology and things don’t look quite the same as when grandpa did it. One example of this is how we raise animals like pigs and poultry. They are kept in large enclosed barns. The purpose of these enclosed barns is to protect the animals from weather, predators, and diseases. It also allows farmers to provide better care to these animals.

It also tends to “hide” the animals from the public, and many are outraged by this fact. It isn’t that farmers are wanting to hide practices, treatment, or the animals, rather they want to protect them. Unfortunately, many don’t see it like this. There are many statements I have heard over the years by outraged individuals who think farmers have something to hide, but they are wrong. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Here are 5 common statements, and why they are wrong.

1. Biosecurity is just an excuse to prevent the public from seeing the inside of your operation.

It isn’t an excuse. It’s serious business. Ignoring biosecurity will kill hundreds of animals. Biosecurity is the process of preventing diseases from entering a farm. There are many steps taken regarding biosecurity practices. For example, disposable coveralls, hairnets, and boots are often required when visiting a farm. On some farms (those with babies), you even have to shower in and out. Let me tell you, this isn’t done because I think it’s fun,  I do it because I care about the health of the animals. That’s why I will gladly strip all my clothes, hop in a farm shower, and put on oversized coveralls with sopping wet hair to check on and care for those pigs. When a farmer says you can’t come visit because of biosecurity reasons, they are not making excuses. They are protecting their animals. One or two people may not hurt, but if you open the gates it could make a lot of animals sick. If you have a baby, you don’t let everyone and their mother hold it, do you? No. You are careful because you want to protect your child. It is no different on the farm.

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Don’t you just love my marshmallow suit? It is so very fashionable.

2.Ag-Gag laws were created to keep people out and hide things.

Ag-gag laws encourage honesty in employees and protect businesses. These laws are not only poorly named, but they get a bad rap. First of all, the law (in NC at least) covers more than agricultural entities. Nursing homes, daycares, and other businesses are also included. So take out the Ag part. Secondly, they aren’t really gagging anyone. They were put in place to prevent individuals from seeking employment under false pretenses. In other words, you can’t say “hey, I want a job at your turkey farm. I need a job to support myself.” When in reality your motive is “hey I want to get inside your turkey farm, film for months, and then leave.” The law prevents that from happening. It also prevents employees from filming or photographing without the employer’s consent. The thing is, there has been a lot of shady business regarding photos and videos. So many times footage has been edited to make a situation look heinous. The law just helps folks be more honest. So… what if there is abuse on a farm? You report it. As an employee or employer, you need to report immediately. Most larger farms have hotlines available, and employees are trained and encouraged to alert about any abuse. Any good farmer is just as outraged about the abuse of animals as the next person.

3.The public has a right to know what’s going on in those barns.

You’re right. You do have a right to know how your food is raised. We have a duty as farmers to let you know what is going on too. What you do NOT have a right to is waltzing in to a barn and checking it out. You have a right to know how your food is being prepared in a McDonalds, but you don’t just walk to the back and go to inspecting. The same principle applies to a farm. It matters even more on a farm because a lot of times, farm families live right there. You see, a barn is an extension of a home. You don’t go peeping in people’s windows and taking photos without permission at their house, so you shouldn’t do it at their home away from home either. Plain and simple. Finally, a farm is not a petting zoo. So, no you do not have the right to come inspect or pet or play with the animals on a farm. You do have the right to know what is going on though….which brings me to my next point.

4.If what you say is true, then show me a picture or video that isn’t some pretty PR piece.

I’m never sure how to react to this one. Typically, that pretty PR piece referred to is the truth. If you won’t believe the truth, then I don’t know what to tell you. There are so many farmers and organizations that are so transparent with day to day life on the farm because they know farms can’t really have physical visitors, but they can have virtual visitors. What is so frustrating, though are those that refuse to believe what is right in front of them. They only want to look at the negative pictures taken from who knows where. Does abuse happen? Yes, and that makes me sick, but know that most farmers are not that way. Those “PR pieces” are the real deal and are not staged. If I lead you to the water, please drink it.

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5.If you aren’t hiding anything, then why put the farm way down a dirt path and put the animals in confinement?

The simple answer to this, is we like to be neighborly and to protect our animals. No matter what type of farm it is, it can smell. Farms just smell like, well farms. So, every effort is made to put farms away from people. As for the confinement bit, as has already been stated, the animals need protecting. The larger barns they stay in are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. They are cleaner, encourage better biosecurity, and allow for more individualized care to the animals. It’s not hiding, it’s protecting.

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Farmers have good reasons for not letting just anyone into their barns. They are not in the entertainment or tourist business. If you have concerns or are just curious, then find a farmer and talk to them. Be respectful and listen to what they have to say. Do farm tours happen? Yes, but a farm’s purpose is to raise animals well…not to give guided tours. Beyond that, there are serious reasons why farmers do not allow the public to come into the farm. Primary reason is to protect the animals. I wish with all my heart the world could experience the life of a farmer, but alas, it cannot be. I promise, though, farmers aren’t hiding. They love their work, and want to share it. Open dialogue coupled with faith and trust goes a long way.

When Did Farmers Become Villains?

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The picture of that little girl is me. I was about 9 years old and had just shown my first goat. I enjoyed playing dress-up, creating adventures with my Barbies, and watching Disney movies. In all my days as a child, I imagined many things for myself, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

In a world of princesses, I was Belle and Cinderella, but never the Beast or the evil queen. I was the Wendy, soaring with Peter Pan, but never was I Captain Hook. As a young girl, I imagined so many scenarios and plots that took me to distant lands and allowed me to be a princess, heroine, adventurer, explorer, or president, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

Yet, here I am at 23, and somehow, I with so many others that I hold dear, have become villains. Why? It wasn’t because of the want of power or greed. No, it was because I…we are farmers.

As a little girl, I LOVED living on a farm. For me there was no better life. I learned values like hard work, honesty, good sportsmanship, responsibility, compassion, grit, and dedication. When I looked to the other farmers I knew, I saw that in them too. So, it would come as a shock when I, along with other farmers, were grouped together and villianized.

As I grew older, I began to hear the ripples of people who condemned the farmer. And so, I decided to share with others what I knew about farming. I decided to share my passion, and my love for it. I had no idea how HARD it would be.

I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I don’t think I expected people to attack me and farming with such awful accusations. All of a sudden, I was a murderer for eating bacon. I was a rapist for allowing animals to be bred. I tortured animals, had no heart, and was even a cannibal. I was compared to Hitler, told I was participating in slavery, and destroying the environment without a care. I was a villain.

But the truth was, I was just a farmer. I was a girl who had dreamed of flying with Peter Pan, and had become a farmer. Somewhere in there, though, activist groups, individuals, and the media deemed me and so many others as the villain.

When did the farmer become a villain?

How could the farmer become a villain?

Perhaps it is because only 2% of the population are farmers, and many no longer understand agriculture. Or maybe, it is because media coverage of farming drastically diminished at the same time people were becoming farther removed from farms. So, when the media did turn their attention back to farmers, they looked much different than Old McDonald. Perhaps farmers are villains simply because social media allows people to be more bold and say horrible things.

Whatever the reason, the farmer is a villain.

But, are they truly  villains?

No.

How do I know? Because I am a farmer, and I know my heart. This is not the heart of a villain. This heart has mourned the loss of an animal, broken for the ruined crop, and toiled day in and day out, all while being told it was a murderer.

More than a farmer, though, I am a person. The other farmers–they are people too. And those names that we are called and the accusations thrown our way do not fall on deaf ears. They hurt. Because farming is not just a job or career. Farming is a way of life, and if people took the time to understand and get to know us farmers, they’d find out we are far from villains. They’d find that they have us all wrong. We are so much more.

When did farmers become villains?

They didn’t. They have always been a resilient community with large hearts and a passion for the land, food, animals, people, and their families.

So, I will hold my head high. I am not a villain or even a princess or a girl who flies with pixie dust. I will hold my head high because I am a farmer.

Green Beans–Behind the Scenes

As I was driving home, I noticed a field of what looked like soybeans, being harvested. I was quite confused at the sight (and the leaves all over the road) because soybeans aren’t harvested when they are green. Dad noticed the field too and stopped to investigate. He determined that they were green beans!

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When I learned this, I grabbed my camera and asked Mom to drive. My plan was to just take pictures out the window, but there were workers standing right by the road. I quickly put the camera away to avoid being super awkward. Mom suggested that I should just go up to them and ask to take pictures. First of all, I was in purple stretchy shorts. Second, I had chicken shoes on (yard shoes with chickens on them and maybe even chicken poop). Unfortunately, Mom, in all her motherly wisdom, decided that I should go home to change. Now, I had absolutely no excuse.

I changed my shorts, but left the shoes (I was feeling bold). I asked Alec to go with me this time. I’m not sure that was the greatest idea because he was absolutely no nonsense about it all. All of a sudden, we were parked on the side of the road, and he was out of the truck telling me to come on. He walked up to the men, and said, “hey, my sister likes to take pictures, do you mind?” That was not the eloquent introduction I was going for, but it was something. I introduced myself and started shooting.

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After talking to the guys there, I learned that they were from Pennsylvania and were with Hanover Foods. They had been working their way up from Florida picking beans on contract. This allowed for a longer growing season.

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The current field they were working on was 147 acres, and they would harvest 41 million pounds of beans.

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The neat part was we have bought Hanover green beans before from the store. Now, I know that someone had to grow those beans that I got from a can, but actually putting a face to the name and seeing the process was pretty special. I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look too. Special thanks to the guys for letting me take pictures and answering questions.

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Stop & Smell the Sage: A Look into NC Clary Sage Industry

Driving home from NC beaches, you may come across a sea of purple. Beautiful fields filled with flowering plants dot the sides of roads headed to the coast. These fields of flowers are not simply to look pretty, nor are they volunteer wildflowers. Rather, they are an upcoming crop for NC farmers. The flowering crop is clary sage.

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Clary sage has roots (no pun intended) dating back to the Middle Ages. Used for its calming properties and benefits to the skin, it is not to be confused with the sage you may find in your kitchen spice rack. Clary sage, also known as salvia sclarea, is an herb that is found in many household items for its fragrance. Think dish soap, perfume, and detergent. It first must be extracted, though.

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This is where a company in Bertie County comes in. Avoca Inc. is the largest extraction facility in North America for sclareol. They have been in the business since the 1960’s.  They take clary sage and produce sclareol  which helps fragrances have a longer life in items like soap and perfume. Avoca contracts with many farmers to grow a certain amount of acres. This is appealing for many  farmers because so many other crops have huge swings in prices. Clary sage is more stable.

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Planted at the end of summer (August) the perennial grows until winter. At this point it becomes dormant until warmer weather hits again. By Late May, early June, the blooms are in full force. Blooms can be purple, pink, or white, depending on the variety. Harvesting begins mid to late June.

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The smell the crop produces is obvious. It makes sense, since it is in the fragrance industry.  A special harvester is used that cuts up the plants into 1 inch cubes much like silage. The flowers have the highest oil content, but the entire plant is used. The harvest is sent to Avoca where they will extract throughout the year. Here is a video of harvesting:

Avoca contracts with over 120 farms, there are over 25,000 acres being devoted to growing clary sage in eastern North Carolina. North Carolina is definitely a major player in growing clary sage.

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I was super excited to see all of the purple fields on the way home from the beach. So excited, I made Alec pull over on the side of the road so I could jump a ditch and take pictures of sage in the setting sun.

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If you happen to see the purple (or white/pink) fields in North Carolina, know that they are much more than flowers. They are a farmer’s crop. So, roll down the windows to stop and smell the sage.

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Resources:

Avoca Inc.

NC Field & Family

Mary Dunn & Alan Johnson||Prom 2016

I was so excited when Mary asked me to help her get ready for her prom (I’ve secretly been dying to get my hands on her gorgeous locks) and take pictures. This girl is my neighbor and like a little sister. I’ve watched her grow into a beautiful young lady who is accomplished and stays super busy with 4-H, livestock, school, and the community. Accompanying Mary to her prom was fellow showman, Alan. My first memory of Alan was him as probably a cloverbud asking a ton of livestock questions. Today, he’s mentoring the cloverbuds.

I couldn’t be more proud of either of these two, and was so glad I got to have a part in their evening!

Although there was rain, with rain comes rainbows, and that is exactly what we got. I hope ya’ll enjoy these!

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It takes a village

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Ya’ll looked wonderful! Thank you for letting me be a part in your lives today and all the other days too.

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Lambing Season- 2016-

When it comes to animals being born on the farm, I think I get the most giddy over the lambs. There is something about those little wooly babies and their over attentive mommas.

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Aspen was the first ewe to go. We walked outside to 2 little black girl lambs.

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Meet Lace….

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and Silver…

I just knew it would be a short time before the next lamb would arrive. I checked several times a day and through the night. Alas, it was like watching a pot boil. Finally, Aspen’s sister, Fiona, had a super splashy baby girl that is all diva. Meet Paisley…

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We now had 3 more mommas to lamb. I made my predictions as to who would go next. Of course, they decided to spite me and go in all sorts of orders. Our old girl Duff, was the third one to lamb. Once again, we had another little girl, but this one was white! Meet Eve…

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We were down to our southdown sisters. Sybil went first and had a super black little girl. I’m somewhat partial to Sybil, so this baby was really exciting for me. Meet Georgette…

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The last arrival was Edith’s little white lamb. Once again, we had a girl. While we just missed her birth, we caught her right after, so she was still getting cleaned off by mom. Meet Evelyn…

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We are so in love with our 6 little girls. They are all very different, and have way cool wool. We can’t wait to show them at State Fair. They have already been on several field trips to visit kids and tell everybody about wool.

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Now that lambing season is over, shearing season is about to begin, so stay tuned! For now, enjoy all of the cuteness.

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You Have to be Brave to Raise Livestock

Two weeks ago was a tough week on the farm. We lost 3 animals in the span of 3 days, and that…. that was really hard.

I’ve been raising livestock for 13 years, and have had animals since the day I was born. And, throughout that time, there has been loss. It comes with the territory. Some of those losses have impacted me more than others, but no matter what animal it is, it never gets easier.

The other week we lost two goats- Tres and Nala, and our barn cat- Sassy. Tres was unexpected. She was fine one day, and gone the next.

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Nala, lost her battle to a raging infection, despite 3 visits to the vet, several antibiotics, and meds to control the fever.

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Sassy was 13 years old, and we knew his time was drawing near. He lived his last days as a house cat.

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Nala was the the third one to go, and at that point, I was ready to throw up my hands. It was entirely frustrating and emotional. You work so hard to keep these animals healthy. When they get sick, you do everything you can to make them better, and sometimes it isn’t good enough. When your best isn’t good enough, that can cut deep.

Nala went into premature labor. Not only that, but the baby was not in the proper position. After trying for 40 minutes to realign the baby, we decided that we couldn’t do it. We knew the baby was already dead, so we loaded Nala up to go to the vet. Those vets worked for more than an hour to deliver that fetus. Everyone was tired, especially Nala. She was registering a temperature of 105. The next few days was a series of banamine for the fever, antibiotics for the infection, oxytocin for a retained placenta, and more trips to the vet. We were hoping that it would clear up. We were hoping that we could try again for a baby next year, but it wasn’t meant to be. Nala was my best doe. I was the most excited for her baby. It would be her first and the first off our new buck. I put a lot of hopes and dreams into them, and it went up in smoke.

When you raise livestock, they have a purpose. It may be for breeding stock; it may be for showing; it may just be to go to market. Whatever the purpose, you put hopes into that animal. Sometimes you get your hopes up.

Losing an animal isn’t about the money spent at the vet. It isn’t about the money lost in the investment of the animal. It isn’t about having to dig a hole. It is about heart. I may not shed a tear for every animal that dies, but they all hit me. They all are a life, and that affects my heart. It doesn’t matter how many animals you have, or the scale of your farm.

I recently heard a story of a hog farm that had the PED virus. This virus caused 100% mortality in baby pigs. Although there are thousands of pigs in those barns, the farmers wept. Not because they were losing dollars, but because that life was gone, and that was devastating. The hope and potential of that animal was gone. Their best efforts weren’t always good enough.

After hearing that story and thinking of my week last week, one word came to mind-bravery. Raising animals takes bravery. You have to be brave to put hope and dreams into an animal that does not have a 100% guarantee. Even if it has a totally healthy life, the lifespan of animals is not the same as ours. You are choosing to love and care for a ticking time bomb. When that animal does pass away, it takes bravery to continue. You have to be brave to care for another animal.

When I was on the third day of losing an animal, I wanted to walk away. I didn’t want to put expectations or hopes into yet another animal that might not make it, but then… then I saw the other side of the spectrum. I saw little Pluto, only a week old, braving the cold weather to explore his world, and I smiled.

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Raising livestock is hard. It is frustrating. There are tears. There are also smiles, joy, and heart. Raising livestock takes bravery. In spite of loss, in spite of sadness, I choose bravery and to hope once more in an animal, because that is what it is all about.

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