Well here I am, still on the ranch, without an official "new job", and yet I'm reminded daily as I witness my family scurrying around like ants with a plan, this is the place that taught me the true meaning of work. I'm getting muscles again from gardening and lifting corn seed bags, and also remembering just how tired you can be after an entire day in the sun chasing cattle with pea size brains around in circles.
I think back to my college days, when my teammates were so impressed with how well I could hang clean in the weight room. I remember thinking, "I learned to hang clean at 8 years old when I wasn't tall enough to easily swing the saddle over a horse's back". I had to muster up all my scrawny little strength to hang clean it, (even though I had no idea that was a weight room term) and then actually lift it over my head and push entirely way too hard with my pathetic toothpick legs and arms to get the saddle up on the horse. The blanket was usually hanging off of the other side, so a few minutes were spent getting it back in the right place, but even though it may have taken me twenty minutes to saddle a horse, I thought I had conquered an amazing feat.
"Farm kid strength", that's what my best friend said I had. Indeed, throwing 200 pound calves to the ground and holding them down for three to five minutes when you weighed 120 pounds in junior high was a super power. But was it? Or is being a farm kid more about mind over matter? I'm thinking a little of both, but now that I'm no longer a "kid", even though I had a little extra kick in my step then, I'm beginning to believe my mind had a lot more to do with what I could accomplish from sun up to sun down as a teenager than my body.
Yesterday, as I was driving, I was thinking about all the things my younger two siblings could potentially put on their resume as they will be applying for jobs in the coming years. They've both mentioned to me at one time or another, "My resume is lame, I've never actually had a job besides working for dad." To them I say, "You're a freaking gold mine of a candidate!" When an 18-21 year old puts down "hired hand on the family farm" on their resume, it's something to seriously admire. Here's why:
1) They're trustworthy. If you can stick a teenager in a piece of $300,000 dollar equipment and turn them loose in a field, you've either gone mad, you're rich, and that amount of money doesn't really bother you if it's lost (laugh here because banks own much of farmers equipment anyway), or you trust them in a big piece of machinery and know if they don't quite understand what to do they will eventually figure it out or ask you; which will lead me to my next point, because a farm kid has to do a lot more problem solving than they'd like to most of the time. My siblings run everything from pay loaders, tractors, combines, semis, to driving 20 head of cattle down a highway, and neither of them are old enough to enjoy a beer at the end of the day (legally). It takes a lot of trust to be willing to say goodbye to a wad of one thousand dollar bills if they should happen to drive into the ditch or put the combine header in the dirt.
2) They're problem solvers. Now, in our family, sometimes communication is lacking, so problem solving is a must. For instance, you may hear something like this, "Go get me that thing I set on the ground over by the pickup." First you realize, there are three pickups in sight, next you realize there are several "things" on the ground beside each of them. It is up to you to determine which thing is most necessary in the situation. Every day can be like solving a mystery. I've been told to go open the green gate and then when I went to open the green gate, I realized there were two green gates. I recall the feeling in that moment as a young kid as my heart suddenly raced; I walked, I jogged, I took off in full panicky sprint mode, then stopped in my tracks, scratched my head, yelled back at dad, saw the cattle running toward me, and used my best judgement. I was wrong. (And I had to accept criticism, which will lead me to my next point), but I sure tried. Problem solving happens ALL THE TIME. And not just from lack of communication, when you work on the farm, THINGS GO WRONG.
There are rarely days when they lay their head down at night and think, "wow, today was smooth". I would love to read a farmer's diary, if he had the time to write it, about all the problem solving he does each day. What a testimony of perseverance you'd find in those pages. I did a lot of problem solving as a twelve year old driving the swather through the hay field. The alfalfa would be so thick it would plug up my header and some days I'd spend more time outside the cab pulling bundles of alfalfa from the header, than inside the cab actually cutting it down. It was just what you did because calling dad to come do it for you would mean he'd have to drive fifteen minutes to the field you were in, take another twenty to help you unplug it, and then drive back home to do whatever he was doing. Taking initiative and trying to solve the problem yourself, is always the first option. You don't count on someone else to do it for you.
3) They learn to accept criticism well. Accepting that you're wrong is hard. But when a kid let a cow get out, ran the pickup into the barn door, or forgot to turn the water off in the pasture, criticism is surely going to come their way. And sometimes it doesn't come in the most loving way. A screw up means a loss of time and or a loss of money. Every farm kid has made a mistake they wish they could take back, but they learned from it. They want to do things the right way the first time so that they don't hear about it later. There's nothing worse than hearing about (in the PG version) how you've attempted something half heartedly and you could have done better, or that you left your brain at home and were better off to stay in bed that morning. Talk to any farm kid and they'll have a story of a time they had to take a painful dose of criticism.
4) They take commands well and show respect. In a society that pushes "do it what ever way suits you", and "you are entitled to your own opinion", there is sadly a loss of respect for our elders, parents, and bosses. It doesn't mean a farm kid can't think for themselves, it just means, they know who their boss is and they respect them; especially when the boss is their dad. The orders may not come out right, there may be times when disagreements arise, and they'd like to say, "I told you so", but they don't dare. It's disrespectful. After all, the people they are working for are their parents, and so respecting their parents is essential to having a good family and working relationship.
5) They are a jack of all trades which makes them a well rounded candidate. Sure, you may be hiring this kid for something that has nothing to do with farming, but these kids have way more experience to talk about than what they write on their resume by simply stating "farm hand", which makes them responsible. I'll use my 19 year old brother as an example. I'm completely blown away by his skill set. The kid will wake up to rake hay early in the morning, then get in the feed truck to go feed the cows, which involves using a pay loader, then go do some welding on the corrals behind the barn, then go swath alfalfa in a hay field for 6 hours. If we listed out possible job duties they'd include something like this to name a few:
- Tire Serviceman
- Lawn mower and landscaper
- Cut, rake, and bale hay fields
- Machine operator in harvest crew
- Truck Driver
- Fence fixer
- Cattle operator and owner - Feed, vaccinate, castrate, preg check
- Horse operator and owner - Ride, rope, gather cattle
7) They're mentally tough. This one goes without explaining really. Tell me it's not physically draining to pound posts into the ground all day, and I'll tell you to join my siblings for a day and see if you think otherwise. In order to do something physically straining, quite a bit of mental toughness is required to persevere. Summer days are hot, and although many hours are spent in a cab driving equipment, the same amount of hours are also spent outside doing physical labor. Usually, the word "can't" just isn't in the farm kid's vocabulary. They find a way. They may run on little sleep, feel exhausted when they wake up in the morning, have a list of things to do that should be distributed to more than one person, but the will power they have seems to be of a genetic nature; it comes naturally to push through because that is all they've known.
So if you are a farm and ranch kid, be proud of your accomplishments and never discredit the amount of experience you have as you walk into your first job interview. Your experience is one in which much of the world has never even had a glimpse of. And if you're hiring the up and coming generation of young adults, don't be too quick to look over the farm and ranch kid, they are an asset that every career could surely use more of.