Teen greenhorns in Kentucky, recipients of Rural Youth Loans from the Farm Service Agency.
Working hard for the moo-la
By Katheran Wasson
July 19, 2009
published in The State Journal
Leaning against a green metal farm gate, Tyler Grimes, 16, and Evan Sandlin, 17, looked over the cattle-filled field that rolled in front of them.
Seven of the Angus heifers that grazed on the Franklin County farm belonged to Grimes, who bought them and a calf in February with a federal loan for young farmers.
A few miles away on his parents’ land, Sandlin keeps eight steers he got with an identical loan, along with a heifer and two cows with calves.
In the U.S., the average farmer is 57 years old.
“I’m the only one in my family that farms,” said Grimes, who will be a Franklin County High School junior in the fall.
“Just being around people with them (cattle), and helping people, I just wanted to have my own.”
Sandlin, on the other hand, grew up on a farm. His father used to raise tobacco, but later switched to soybeans and cattle.
“He gave me a calf when I was 4 or 5 years old,” said Sandlin, an incoming senior at FCHS. “I bottle fed it, and kept on getting into it (farming) after that.”
He shares a bull with his dad, who helps him buy feed and lets his son’s cattle roam for free on the family land.
In January, Grimes and Sandlin received $5,000 federal Rural Youth Loans from the Farm Service Agency. They used the money to start their own cattle operations, sharing fields with other farmers.
FSA makes loans of up to $5,000 to farmers between 10 and 20 years old for income-producing agricultural projects. The funds can go toward livestock, seed, equipment and supplies, or operating expenses.
According to the agency, the projects must be of modest size, educational and initiated, developed and carried out by members of FFA, 4-H clubs and similar organizations.
Both Sandlin and Grimes are members of FFA at FCHS.
According to a 2007 census collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics service, the number of farm operators age 75 and older grew 20 percent over the previous census in 2002.
The number of operators under the age of 25 dropped by 30 percent, and the average age has increased steadily since 1978, when it was around 50.
But the young men say they like the freedom of working on the farm. They get to be outside, choose their own hours – and there’s no boss to listen to.
“I like messing around with animals and being outdoors,” Sandlin said. “You really work for yourself. You don’t work for somebody else.”
Sandlin bought eight steers with his loan. He plans to wait until they reach 800 pounds and sell them for $1,200 to $1,400 each.
His goal is to sell them by the fall, pay back the loan, and take out another one. The deal could yield between $9,000 and $11,000 before he pays the loan.
Sandlin plans to stick with cattle farming, but he has other interests. He’s involved with the welding program at Franklin County Career and Technical Center.
“I’d like to have the money to buy my own land,” he said. “I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it would be nice.”
He says agriculture class taught him about cattle breeds, but growing up on a farm gave him hands-on experience. He’s cared for one of his cows for six or seven years, he said.
“I’d go out there at a young age and help them,” he said.
He watched last week as his steers pushed each other out of the way to get to the food trough. They wore yellow tags marked with numbers on their ears, but Sandlin says he knows each one anyway.
“I can look at them and tell them apart,” he said. “If he didn’t have a number, I could still tell who he was.”
Grimes focuses on breeding his cows and selling the calves for about $600 each. When they reach 600 pounds, he plans to sell them at auction.
A few weeks ago, one of his calves died during birth. Grimes says he was on vacation, and when he returned, saw it lying in the field.
“I walked up to it, and it was dead,” he said. “She was still cleaning it off.”
It was the first time he’d lost an animal. He says it was tough from a business standpoint, but he and Sandlin both say they don’t get attached to their cattle.
“It’s hard losing that much money,” Grimes said.
Soon after, coyotes took a 2-week-old calf he was raising. He plans to try again - cows stay in heat for 21 days after giving birth, he says.
Grimes didn’t own any livestock before his February purchase. He says the hardest part about starting up was learning how their bodies work, and what kind of shots they need.
He does other work too, installing vinyl siding, windows and doors for his grandfather’s business. He says he spends 30 to 45 minutes a day on the farm.
But Sandlin says cattle farming takes more time in the winter, because the animals have to be fed a grain and molasses mixture every day.
“I like working with them and being around them,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun.”