There are paths to pursue in agriculture


“The shortage of large-animal veterinarians coincides with the reduction of small family farms and rural life in America. Traditionally, large-animal veterinarians grew up on farms and around livestock. Today, only 1 percent of the United States’ population lives on farms.”

— from Help Wanted by Paul A. Canada,

published in The American Quarter

Horse Journal, May 2009

I was sitting with a group of young pre-schoolers and listening to their dreams of what each child wants to be when he grows up was an eye-opening experience.

When I was young, many of my friends aspired to be farmers or astronauts. While the vast majority of my young classmates were being raised on traditional family farms at that time, the space race was in full swing, and we were exposed to the enormous and mind-boggling NASA astronaut dreams on an almost daily basis.

I still have a book I filled out in my grade school years and in it I made note of the fact that I wanted to be a farmer, a nurse, a teacher and an astronaut. I remember a boy who constantly bombarded my dreams, telling me girls could not become farmers or astronauts. He also told me I was never going to get in to heaven because I was not Catholic. That boy gave me on-going nightmares of a doomed life and after-life!

Specific ideas

These little people I talked to had more specific ideas. One, a sweet little girl, most definitely aspires to be a doctor. “I will be a nice doctor who never gives shots,” she said with conviction. Another little girl said she is going to be the girl who rides in the back of the cars (“the kind of cars with no rooftops on them”) and waves to the people. She said she has to have a tiara on her head before she can get this job, so she is going to ask Santa for that real soon when Christmas time gets here again.

One little boy said he is going to be the boss. I asked, “What will you do all day if you are the boss?” and he didn’t hesitate before answering, “Tell everybody to be quiet. I’m gonna be the only boy who can talk all the time.”

I decided all of those jobs sound like great gigs. What in the world ever made me think I wanted to be an astronaut farmer? These kids have much better plans!

Varied career paths

On a serious note, I am amazed when I think of the varied career paths kids have to follow now and while many of Cort and Caroline’s peers have followed ag-related studies, so very few of them expect to land full-time on American farms as many of my classmates did.

One of my daughter’s best friends is in the Ohio State University school of veterinary sciences and her field of choice is in large animal practice. Lindsey is part of a trend in which the gender breakdown shows more females than males studying to become large-animal vets.

Four decades ago, men dominated vet schools, while the current statistics show women make up about 75 percent of veterinary graduates nationwide.

The article by Paul Canada quotes William Moyer, head of the department of veterinary large-animal clinical sciences at Texas A & M University, who worries about the shortfall of veterinarians living in areas where large-animal vets are needed. “An enterprising student with a dream to work with livestock has watched ranches, farms and dairies disappear at an alarming rate in his own lifetime. When you’re getting ready to invest in a veterinary career, that trend becomes a major consideration.”

Increasingly difficult to replace

Moyer has watched many of his peers, those who are nearing their mid-60s, retiring from large-animal practice. As those professionals retire, it is becoming increasingly difficult to replace them in many sections of this country.

Another classmate and friend of my daughter has taken some time away from college to pursue a dream. Travis has signed up for six months on a ranch out west, running some of the monster grain equipment.

He told us that he has always wanted a farm of his own, but he knows that farming for others is more likely to be his best way of making a living in agriculture. He has spent several years working for my sister and brother-in-law, helping in the milking parlor, while working his way through Ohio State University’s agricultural technical institute.

A classmate of my son studied agriculture and forestry and recently landed a dream job within the state’s forestry and game protection division. He considers himself one lucky young man.

The days of stepping out of school and on to the family farm have become a rarity in this country, but there are still a number of wonderful paths to pursue to remain in agriculture.

Be the boss

Or you could just become the boss who gets to be the only one who talks all the time.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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