Editors' Notebook

One in the Herd

Greg D Horstmeier
By  Greg D Horstmeier , DTN Editor-in-Chief
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Farmers are less concerned about COVID-19 effects on their business in 2021. In 2020, more that 55% of respondents were extremely or very worried about the pandemic. (DTN graphic)

We do a lot of surveys and polls in the media business. Farmers are probably among the most over-surveyed bunch on the planet, and I understand and apologize for the hassle factor, but they're really one of the only ways to judge what's going on and what folks feel is important.

Three times a year, we hold our DTN/The Progressive Farmer Agriculture Confidence Index survey. That was featured in a story on April 19 where we noted farmers seem quite happy at the moment but are concerned about business prospects down the road. You can find the full story here:

https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Another touch point, conducted at almost the same time as the ACI, was a repeat of our 2020 partnership with Farm Market iD on your feelings about the unique coronavirus pandemic.

We worked with Farm Market iD a year ago on one of the first farm-focused polls about the then-new pandemic. So, it was natural to want to follow up with a second look. Side note, just after that second survey kicked off, DTN acquired Farm Market iD.

The full results of that survey, "2021 Farmer Survey Results: COVID-19 Response & Crop Year Outlook," can be found here:

https://blog.farmmarketid.com/….

One of the things Farm Market iD asked this year, which wasn't on the radar in March 2020, was about vaccines.

Some 52% of online farmer respondents said they would get vaccinated when the opportunity arose. Another 22% of people said they were planning to be vaccinated, but they were still looking for more information about the vaccines before doing so. Again, the survey was in mid-March, and we know more about the side effects of each of the three common vaccines every day. But that left about a quarter of farmers, 25.9% to be exact, saying they definitely would not be vaccinated.

At first glance, that's not a bad figure. While I hate generalities, I think we can all agree that farmers tend to be male and tend to be Republican by political affiliation. Many of the broad-population surveys on vaccine choice at the time were showing from 40% to 50% of GOP-identifying males saying "no" to being vaccinated. So, seeing the "no" group of farmers in our survey about half the level of the general population was a bit of a surprise.

The more I thought about that 25%, though, and about some of the reasons folks have for turning down the opportunity to be vaccinated, the more my thoughts went to a dusty, hot, smelly barn about 40-odd years ago.

I was working for a neighboring farmer, I'll call him Claude, on weekends and after school to earn gas and date-night money. This particular weekend, we were working up a group of newly purchased heifers, administering black leg shots, pushing dewormer boluses, and putting in ear tags -- the full "welcome to the herd" treatment.

It should be noted that this group of about 40 young ladies was not only new to the farm, I think they were pretty new to the notion of human beings.

Now, this was more than a decade before anyone had ever heard of Temple Grandin and animal behavior studies. So there was a lot of kicking, snorting, bawling and general mayhem -- and that was just from me and the boss -- as 800-pound hot, angry, fearful bodies pushed and shoved and slammed their way down the narrow wooden alley toward the working end of the catching chute.

I was working the head gate, a creaky, sticking, shop-made contraption bolted to two fence posts sunk in front of a rough-sawn oak wooden crate. While modern gates snap close around an animal's neck and head with the slightest pressure, this one needed a lot of human assistance or the squeeze section wouldn't close in time, and the animal -- especially lean, mean ones -- could get their shoulders in and slip through.

As we unloaded the unruly group from the shipping truck into the barn, I took notice of a particular cantankerous she-hooligan in the bunch. She butted her head at anything that moved and pirouetted like a freezer-sized ballet dancer to fling chin-high leg kicks. She was going to be a treat.

We'd worked up about three-quarters of the group when Claude yelled "Here she comes!" and I knew Little Miss Cantankerous was on deck. I opened the squeeze gate to barely the size of her broad, angry head, but she balked and stomped and blew snot through the thick August air, refusing to enter the crate. "Show her more daylight," Claude yelled and smacked her rear quarter with a gloved hand. I prepared to open the head gate a teensy bit more.

Michael Jordan couldn't have given a better double head fake, catching me on the opening motion just as she launched into the gate, shoving her shoulders into the gap I'd made. I instinctive stepped in front of the chute to try to scare her backward, but she burst through, head-butting me onto the dirt floor. She sent a hoof whizzing past my forehead on her way out of the barn, untreated and untagged, to saunter over to her besties in a far corner of the barn lot.

"Well, I guess there's our control in the experiment," I said, hoping to lighten the moment and divert attention from my botched effort. Claude was big on field test plots and was always testing various crop inputs.

"This is a cattle herd, not an experiment!" he shouted, adding, "We can't have one of them being a breeding ground for worms that can be transferred to others. And they'll be sharing fence lines with everyone in the neighborhood." This included my family's herd, I thought to myself.

There was no choice but to round up the whole bunch back into the barn to get Miss Cantankerous and as few of her BFFs as possible back toward the alleyway, sorting off the treated animals until she was back in line for a proper workup. The good news was she expended enough energy in that regrouping, including a few more well-placed head-butts, that she was worn down for her second attempt at the head chute. I was also more prepared -- or perhaps just more angrily determined -- to not fall for that Jordan-esque double fake.

I've learned similar lessons from plugged sprayer nozzles or insecticide boxes, creating unintended "control" areas that had to be dealt with under less-than-ideal conditions.

Now, I understand personal choice, and I am certainly wary to question one's religious tenets regarding various modern health methods.

But I also know I felt pretty good -- bloodied, bruised and dirty as I was -- when I crawled into the pickup seat late in the evening so many summers ago, knowing the whole herd was ready for whatever nature could throw at it.

Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at greg.horstmeier@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @greghorstmeier

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