At Food Dialogues: Dairy Forum, Mike Reidy (senior vice president, corporate affairs, Leprino Foods Company) said, “character is what you do when no one is watching.” Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

In today’s digital age, a lapse in judgment, training or behavior can revoke a farm’s social license. A farm’s reputation is crucial, and it’s part of its legacy.

Mike was nearly accurate in his statement of character. However, in my case, character is not what you do when no one is watching, but rather character is what you do when your three-year-old is watching.

For me, character is always developing and evolving as my surroundings, farm and family change. Recently, that meant the addition of another beautiful little girl, Lakin. I have been very blessed to be able to share with my two children, Reagan and now Lakin, what it means to be a farmer and the character it takes to be an animal caretaker. Whether I am farrowing (assisting in the birth of piglets) sows (momma pigs), grinding feed (mixing and making food for all the pigs), or working in our show pig barn, Reagan, and soon Lakin, follows in nearly each of my footsteps around the farm, repeating and learning everything that she sees. Though only three, Reagan is like a sponge, soaking it all in and becoming the next caretaker of our land and our animals. It’s a pretty important task.

When working with our animals, it may be frustrating when something unexpectedly happens. It is those times when I reflect on what I would do if Reagan were by my side. Would I react the same way? It takes a great deal of resolve to respond accordingly when problems happen like they sometimes do in farming.

As a pig farmer I have the moral responsibility to care for our animals. Most days, I spend more time ensuring that our animals are well fed, healthy and cared for than I spend time with my own girls. I make those sacrifices because it’s part of the job. As my own father instilled in me at a very young age, “our animals, before ourselves.”   

Jim Mulhern (president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation) also stated during the forum, “our consumers want to trust we’re doing the right things, and we need to do that.”

As a family farm with 52+ years of legacy, if we don’t take good care of our animals we will not be in business long. By continually improving our farm, whether by reducing the use of antibiotics by utilizing essential oils, improving animal care by remodeling our pig barns, or constantly educating our employees to ensure we are strictly following the good production practice set forth by the National Pork Board, we are putting our farm in a position where that next generation can return to the farm.

If we aren’t using good science and evidence-based animal care practices, as Robin Ganzert (president and CEO, American Humane Association) talked about, there will not be an opportunity for that sixth generation to follow in steps left before by each generation. For some, an 8-to-5 job is how food is put on the table. For us, farming is part of who we are. It is our character.

Thomas Titus, a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching, is a pig farmer from Illinois.