September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Chickens, family farms... and farewell

By Jennifer [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

What a fall. At least I think we're still in fall. I can't really remember having a summer, so maybe fall hasn't hit yet.
Wishful thinking.
I do really enjoy the fall - the cooler weather, the colors, leaves crunching under my feet - all telltale signs of the coming winter. Hopefully this winter will bring some much-needed moisture.
It's been a little busier than usual around the Burggraff farm this fall. Aside from the regular chaos of fall harvest, Ryan and I decided to expand our farm a little by adding a rather large chicken coop - 60-by-624 feet to be exact.
That's right; we are going to be chicken farmers.
Last spring, Ryan and I applied for a Gold'n Plump chicken barn and were one chosen for a broiler barn. We're currently in the middle of construction phase - the dirt work is done, the cement has been poured and the building is shelled. By mid-winter - if things go as planned - we'll be the official caretakers of between 46,000 and 51,000 birds. How life changes. But some changes are good, and I think this will be a good move looking at the future of our family farm.
Speaking of family farms, that has been a very common topic of late. From talking with non-farming family friends and dairy farmers alike, there seems to be a great misconception - or stereotype - of what a family farm is.
To me, this is very troubling, especially in a time when media does little to portray agriculture in a good light. The last thing we - as farmers in any sector of agriculture - need is for the public thinking that the family farm is becoming obsolete.
This question first came up during the Minnesota State Fair. My brother, who attended the state fair as a 4-Her, volunteered in the Moo Booth. A non-farming family friend of ours was doing a survey in the Moo Booth, and one of the questions regarded the percent of farms that are family-operated in Minnesota. The answer (which I don't have in front of me at the moment) is upwards of 90 percent, and our friend exploded. She said that was simply not true and that by saying that, the Moo Booth was presenting false information to the public.
Our friend is of the mind that to be a family farm, it must be small and run solely by family members, and she is not alone in her thinking.
I grew up on my family's family farm - a 300-acre, 55-cow dairy where all the laborers are family members. This is the ideal picture of what our friend considers a family farm.
As a youngster, I was of similar mind as our friend. I couldn't see how any large operation (at that time, I considered a farm large if it had anything over 100 cows) that required hired help to complete daily chores could be considered a family farm. I've since been enlightened - in more ways than one.
What is a family farm?
Nearly everyone would agree a family farm is one that is owned and operated by a family, with family members providing much of the labor. That's fine and dandy, and it fits perfectly with the schematic of the single-family, 50-cow dairy farm. But what about a 300-cow dairy farm, or - for that matter - a 2,000-cow dairy farm? Can farms of this size be family farms?
The answer is a resounding, yes. In my time with the Dairy Star - with all of the people and farmers I have talked to - I have met less than a handful that would not be considered family farmers. Whether a farm is small in size and run by a single family or large and run by three siblings and their families, both could be considered family farms.
As an industry, I think we need to be better at uniting together on this issue - for the good of everyone. Division does nothing to help consumers see agriculture as it is today - and that is a very diverse picture.
I could go on, but there's one more thing I want to talk about.
As November approaches, my time as a Dairy Star staff writer is ending. After much thought, prayer and conversation with my husband, I've decided to accept another position. While it was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, I look forward to the new challenges and new opportunities.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who has shared their time - and their stories - with me over the last four years. I've truly enjoyed it and will always be thankful for my time with the Dairy Star.
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