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

What is a farm?

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

What is a farm? What is a ranch? Virtually all dairy farmers would say they have farms, but when you really think about it there is a lot of leeway on these labels.

Our friends at Merriam-Webster have a lot of definitions for a farm. There are, of course, the definitions (as nouns) we all expect: a tract of land or water devoted to agricultural purposes, or a plot of land devoted to the raising of animals and especially domestic livestock.

But there are some dictionary definitions that would leave me with one eyebrow up in a quizzical expression, if my face were capable of that:

• a letting out of revenues or taxes for a fixed sum to one authorized to collect and retain them

• a district or division of a country leased out for the collection of government revenues

• a minor-league team (as in baseball) associated with a major-league team as a subsidiary

• an area containing a number of similar structures or objects (as radio antennas, windmills or storage tanks)

Hmm. Wind farms? Yep, that makes sense. Baseball? Not so much.

There are also, of course, the definitions of farming as a verb, and those side definitions we won't even go into such as fat farm, poor farm or funny farm. Okay, sorry, but I do need to mention the dictionary does actually define "funny farm" as a psychiatric hospital.

If we look up the definition of ranch, our friends at Merriam-Webster say: a large farm for raising horses, beef cattle or sheep, or a farm or area devoted to a particular specialty.

There are also listings under ranch such as ranch house (bi-level) and ranch dressing (a creamy salad dressing usually including milk or buttermilk).

Does size matter? Does the name of ranch dressing that includes milk imply a connection that dairies are ranches?

Our friends at the USDA say the following:

"The definition of a farm... for data collection purposes is 'any operation that sells at least $1,000 of agricultural commodities or that would have sold that amount of produce under normal circumstances...'"

Okay, I'm with them so far, even if I think this definition is kind of loose. This seems to be saying if I let my children and husband pursue their dreams of raising about 10 lambs a year and we sell them for $100 each at slaughter time, our 30 acres of rocks and trees and our log barn that is at least 140 years old becomes a farm.

The USDA definition further states, "For analytical purposes, one is not necessarily constrained by this definition of a farm, even when using data collected under this definition. One can effect and implement a different definition more appropriate to the particular issue to be studied or analyzed by segmenting the populations of farms into different groups. The size-class data presented here do just that based on the farm operation's total value of production. There are other ways to segment the farms represented in the data."

Okay, with that paragraph my eyes glazed over. My mind automatically said, "Not listening!" I'm not even going there.

Web searches cannot find a USDA definition of a farm. They refer to beginning farmers and ranches, but nothing on what a ranch is.

So all ranches are farms, but not all farms are ranches?

I tend to think of ranches as places were animals such as beef cattle, sheep or horses are eating grass, so does that make grazing farms ranches?

If the dictionary says a ranch is a specialized farm, aren't all farms concentrating on dairy ranches? Are just dairy farms that graze animals ranches? Are just the ones with a large amount of acres ranches?

Maybe I am wasting a whole lot of time thinking about his. I think I will go back to calling my family's 15 chickens, two bottle lambs, one rabbit, one guinea pig, one hamster, two dogs, two cats, two children and one husband a funny farm. I think that definition fits our place better than anything.

Kelli Boylen is the director of the Northeast Iowa Community Based Dairy Foundation and a former Dairy Star staff member. She lives in Northeast Iowa with her husband, Scott, and their two elementary-aged children. She can be reached at [email protected].[[In-content Ad]]


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.