Friday, March 18, 2011

My First NY Times Experience~ real life opinions from down on the farm

Recently I had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the Opinionator, a column in the New York Times.  The column was written by Mark Bittman and titled-

As I read the column I became anxious, I immediately wanted to respond. What would I say? So many people had already chimed in , in favor of the article and Bittmans thoughts.  I then took a deep breath and decided that I have preached to the choir continuously about telling their stories and sharing their experiences so I decided that is exactly what I needed to do in this case. And so I did and this is what I wrote.

First of all I would like to start off by saying that I appreciate this is called the Opinionator – meaning it is the opinion or thoughts of someone contributing.  All of us have thoughts or opinions on different topics; the way we farm in America or produce a wholesome, safe and affordable food supply is yet another and that is the opinion platform from which I would like to share.

My opinion is this – I have lived life on a cattle ranch going on 43 years. I was raised to respect the land and care for our livestock before really even caring for myself.  At a young age I was taught that we would wake early and by 630 am all of our livestock would be fed and watered before we came in for breakfast and in the evenings that no matter what was on the agenda that day whether a trip to the park or a school function that we would be home by 4 pm because the livestock needed to be fed.  Once nightly chores were complete we could finish up our day by having supper as a family.  Years later that has still not changed, there is a family member on our ranch 365 days a year and that routine still holds true.

However often times than not you don’t get to hear real life stories from the farm so I felt the need to share some. You never know what might happen at night especially during calving season.  Many nights I would climb into my truck to travel to our calving pasture to check first calf heifers that were about to calf, making sure all was well -  many times it was a- ok but sometimes it wasn’t and a baby calf might need extra colostrum milk or some extra care so they would be put on the floor of my warm truck and taken to the barn and sometimes even to the back porch of my own home where I would then wake every three hours to give them a bottle of milk.  Yes we have big baby bottle for calves too and a freezer full of colostrum that can be defrosted and used within minutes.  Or what about the heifer that prolapses in the pouring rain and not only is a calf born and needing attention but now the mama does too as her uterus and everything but the kitchen sink is lying on the wet hillside.  That cow is now a huge priority, taken to the corral, the vet called and hours later as I sit in the mud and with the assistance of my father and our handy veterinarian push her uterus back in along with everything else – sew her up and hope that what we have just done will now save her life – in many instances it has.  Or what about finding a cow with her head stuck in a pipe fence looking for a bit of greener grass on the other side. (with cows the grass always seems to be greener ! )   No matter what we do we cant get her head out so we call friends up the road with a torch, my father takes off his shirt and sweat shirt and soaks them in a water trough nearby and places it over the cows head so that the sparks don’t get in her eyes and hurt her as the neighbor quickly cuts the metal piping to free the cow so that she can be on her merry way.    Or the baby calf born with a broken leg because somehow when the mama gave birth something in the process went wrong and so we go to the hobby shop and get some flat wood and gauze and all the supplies needed to set the little leg, in time they are running around with the rest of the herd.

I can write story after story of my life on a farm and the compassion that I and fellow cattlemen have for our cattle operations. I guess I do take offense to some questioning my compassion for our livestock because they have not experienced my experiences and my life on a family farm. Folks can continue to post their opinions on the way we raise our animals, they can continue to say we pump them full of unnecessary antibiotics and that we don’t care.  But on my family ranch we care and we do everything in our power to make sure our cattle are cared for 24 /7, 365 days a year.  It is my life, it is what I do and I am proud to say that I love it and would have it no other way as well as the majority of farmers and ranchers in America.  Do we get a lot of bad press?  Sure seems so as of late but I am encouraging my fellow farmers and ranchers to share our stories to give all of you who read this as a glimpse into the world we live in each day, a world filled with compassion and commitment to our industry.    I don’t like to think of it as bad press but an opportunity for us to share our stories to the rest of America that has not had the tremendous opportunities such as myself to live the life we do and experience it first hand. 
I appreciate those reading for taking the time to do so and share their thoughts – I felt like I needed to do the same and just share my thoughts too !

I reviewed it a time or two and posted it . The next morning I read it again and I started to second guess what I had written. Was it too long? Did I use words the average American would not understand? Could I have worded it differently so it sounded a bit better and maybe more appealing? Thoughts raced through my head and then I took another deep breath and said to myself “ Celeste you have lived this experience and this is what it is like for you , stop second guessing yourself’ and I moved on.

Many times I find myself doing this and I will be the first to admit it , I wonder if what I am responding is good enough or wondering if the average American will relate but what I and many of you need to realize is our stories are just that – OUR stories and no one can tell us that  our experiences are wrong or right, we just need to share them.  When you speak from the heart and share your thoughts how can we go wrong? Really we cant.

My point with all of this – as many Americans have their opinions on the way we raise and care for our livestock we too have not only opinions but real life experiences!!  No one can take that away from us, so share them, you will be surprised how many actually embrace the thoughts you share and that is only the beginning in getting the conversation going.


  1. I loved this Celeste! So glad that you did not second guess yourself when submitting it!

  2. I think you did a fantastic job! Really! Your love and passion for what you do shines through what you write like a beacon. I'll bet you got some people thinking and as a farmer I thank you for actually writing a comment. I read the article too and didn't....but I should have.

  3. Thanks so much for your encouraging comments - really do appreciate it! Makes it all worthwhile!

  4. It can be scary to stretch your neck out sometimes, especially when it seems like you're just fighting an uphill battle. The first few times I put myself out there, I think I held my breath for a day or two before I realized that it feels better to share than to go quietly in the dark. Here's hoping you have empowered more Agvocates to share their story! Nicely done!

  5. Always appreciate the wonderful comments and encouragement!!