Tag Archives: Farm Life

“Who will stay with the sheep?”

It’s Christmas time in our small, mountain town. The trees are flocked and you can see the breath of our horses as you drive by, their coats warm and thick against the cold. Just last night our little town performed a Christmas pageant celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. My Mom and I were the directors, she in charge of the narration and I the music. It was a chaotic event with Mary, Joseph, angels and of course the beloved shepherds. They, along with their woolly counterparts brought back memories of a Christmas not too many years past. A Christmas that I will never forget, not because of the presents or the lights or the caroling, but a Christmas remembered because of a simple story.

Who Will Stay with the Sheep - Photo 1

It was a Sunday, and like all Sundays we attended church in our little town. My friend had been asked to speak this Sunday, and she shared a personal story by Sheralee Bills Hardy. Sheralee told of taking her four young sons to watch the dress rehearsal of the area production of “Savior of the World: His Birth.” Her husband was playing the important role of Joseph, and he had spent months preparing for the performance. The weeks leading up to Christmas had been intensely involved for her husband, and the family had felt the absence of their husband and father. Sheralee told how, as she watched her husband perform, she felt envious of his important role. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” she thought, “to be in the spotlight rather than the designated behind-the-scenes babysitter?”

Not proud of her feelings, Sheralee had prayed for strength to overcome her self-pity and the desire for a more glamorous and visible role. The play continued, the shepherds hastening to meet The Messiah. The shepherds had waited all their lives, dreaming of the day when The Savior would appear. Now the Angel of The Lord had come, hastening them to Bethlehem to behold the wondrous event. The shepherds hurried from the stage, all but one, an old man remained motionless. A young boy, his grandson, returned to the stage and asked, “Grandfather, aren’t you coming?” In his reply, was the answer to Sheralee’s prayer, and a great lesson to us all: “I’ll stay with the sheep.”

Sheralee felt the love of the Savior at that moment, and she now understood. Her role as mother had seemed menial, but now it took on a greater significance. She would care for the spirits entrusted her. While bedtime stories didn’t end with an applause, she knew her role was important. She would “stay with the sheep” so others could see the babe in Bethlehem.

This story has stayed with me and I have thought of it often since. At the time of hearing the story, I had a three-week-old baby, and Dustin and I were newly-elected as our state’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Commitee chair. Although the position is filled as a couple, only one serves on the board of directors. So, often times I would stay home and take care of our five daughters and the ranch while he was traveling for board meetings. Dustin and I are partners in every sense of the word. We ranch together, we run our hay business together. Dustin is the best dish-doer in the business! He really does more than his share of housework. The Utah Farm Bureau Board of Directors was really the first time in our married life that we were, in a sense, going our separate ways. Ashamed, I admit, there were times I was envious of his “spotlight.”

YFR Orientation

Being involved in Farm Bureau, I often get the opportunity to attend various conferences. More than once, when a keynote speaker has been addressing the audience, have I wondered, “Who stays with their sheep?”

I have looked at the past and present national YF&R Committee chairs. The current chair, Zach Hunnicutt, has an amazing wife. Just recently, he attended the National FFA Convention with the rest of the committee while his wife, Anna, stayed home with their three children, one of them a new baby. She stayed with the sheep. Past YF&R Chairwoman Chris Chinn has really taken ag advocacy to a new level. She has children and a hog farm at home. Is her husband the sheep tender? What about AFBF President Bob Stallman, who tends his sheep while he is away? Our state Farm Bureau president is very good to recognize his brother and partner as the reason he is able to serve in that capacity. I have never met his brother and wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the street, but my hat goes off to him.

All of us have people we need to thank – husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, men and women – who stay with the sheep so we have the opportunity to be in the spotlight from time to time. We know that having good agricultural people in positions of leadership is important, but crops don’t water themselves and livestock need daily care. Make sure this Christmas you remember to thank the one who stays with your sheep.

As we say in the West: From our Outfit to Yours, Merry Christmas and may you have a prosperous New Year!

Lucky Man

By Jeff VanderWerff

On Sunday, the upper Midwest saw some of the most severe storms we’ve ever seen this late in the year. While the damage was nothing like what the folks in places like Illinois saw, it was still significant around our area in Michigan, and my family was affected.

On Monday morning, I arrived at the “main farm,” where my grandparents live, and saw for myself what had happened: one post frame building destroyed, debris around the yard and no power. We spent most of the morning and afternoon removing building pieces so we could get equipment out, hooking up generators, and trying to get things up and running again. When the power went out, we’d had the grain dryers running, so on Monday we still had thousands of bushels of wet corn in trucks and bins that would start molding quickly if we couldn’t get it dried, and fast. As I worked around throughout the day, one thought kept creeping into my head:

I’m a lucky man.

My family is safe. My farm buildings and home are (for the most part) still standing. I didn’t lose any equipment. Compared to many farm friends south of me, I’m extremely lucky.

Lucky Man - Photo 1When I took to social media with pictures and stories, it wasn’t about looking for pity or a “hey, look at how bad this is” moment. I’ve decided that I’m going to share my farming life with the world via social media, and this was part of that. The good, the bad, everything.

Then, something even more humbling than I can put into words started happening.

First, it was text messages.

Then, the Facebook postings.

Finally, the phone calls.

Other farmers and ranchers all over the country were reaching out, contacting me, wondering how we were doing, how bad the damage was and asking if there was anything they could do to help out.

Then it struck me.

Compared to having a town leveled or losing half your cattle in a blizzard or having an entire crop lost to flooding, this was a minor inconvenience. And these people, these wonderful friends, many of whom I know only on Facebook and Twitter, were asking if we were OK and telling me they were praying for us.

I was beyond words.

And then, it hit me:

This is farming. This is what I do. And this – and they – are why I do it.

I am truly, a very lucky man.


Jeff VanderWerff is a 4th generation farmer from Sparta, Mich. and a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. Learn more about his family farm at www.youtube.com/agsalesman.

A Farmer’s Sacrifice

By Glen Cope, Former AFBF YF&R Chair

Three Generations

When I was a young man, my father and I took our old farm truck to visit one of our relatives. He was an old man who had been a farmer his whole life, and my father liked to stop in from time to time to check up on him. The old man always did most of the talking which was fine by me. I loved to listen to his stories of days gone by.

It was hot the day we visited, very much like the day he recollected for us. He told of being a young boy when his father, his brother and he were hoeing corn in a field next to the dirt road where he lived.

He recalled that it was a Saturday afternoon in the 1930s, and like most farming of those days, much of the work in the fields was done by hand. While they were working, neighbors began to pass by one by one on their way to the local one-room schoolhouse for a community picnic.

He and his family were planning to attend the event, but his father seemed to be in no hurry to leave their work to go to what he considered something less important than the task at hand.

The two boys, however, were eager to quit for the day and join their friends for the activities and the good food that would be awaiting them. After listening to his boys complain, their father calmly stated, “Boys, those folks may beat us to the picnic but they won’t beat us out of bed of a morning.”

I laughed as his father’s words reminded me of my own father, who is a workaholic in his own right and always prioritizes tending to the cattle and improving the condition of the farm before any recreational activity.

This is the mantra of all farmers. Our responsibilities are centered on making sure things are taken care of on the farm before anything else is attended to. Livestock require adequate feed and forage as well as clean water. Cows that are calving need to be checked regularly to prevent potential calving problems.

Fences must be maintained to prevent livestock from getting into the hayfield. Weeds and pests must be reduced as much as possible to maximize yields for the crops.

I am six foot, five inches tall, so when I started the ninth grade, the high school basketball coach was persistent in trying to recruit me for the sport. I attended a very small school, so a boy of my stature was a coveted prize for the basketball team, though my skills were more developed in the realm of farm work than handling a basketball.

When I finally had the blessing of my parents to join the team, my father explained to me that he would not be able to attend many of my games because duties on the farm came first. So at my games, many times the seat next to my mother was empty. Yet, I appreciated and respected his sacrifice because I knew he wanted to be there.

This is the sacrifice many farmers must make in order to make a living on the land as well as to feed a growing nation. The spring-time planting season requires long hours to get the seeds in the ground before a rain that would make field conditions too muddy. The cows on a dairy farm must be milked twice a day regardless of inclement weather, children’s school activities or even the farmer’s desire for a day off.

Since I’ve returned to our family farm and have a son involved in school activities, I now understand how my father felt missing out on my activities because of the requirements of the farm.

My sweet wife has been understanding on more than one occasion when we would have to postpone our anniversary dinner date because hay needed to be baled and put away safely in the barn before the rain.

Now, I’m not complaining. I chose this life and am content to live with the restrictions that are a part of the lives of all farmers. I am, however, grateful for all my fellow farmers and their spouses and children who, without complaint, continue to sacrifice every day on behalf of all Americans who depend on them to provide sustenance and the necessity of food and fiber.