The Importance Of Mentorship In Agriculture
Updated: Feb 7
It's never easy to learn things on your own and having a great mentor can make all the difference. However, not every mentor is the same and not all mentorships are a match made in Heaven. That's why it's so important to choose the right mentor for your needs.
Making Connections Matters (Getty Images)
A mentor means many things to different people but a mentor should simply be an experienced and trusted adviser. Someone who has the background in whatever pursuit that you are attempting to learn, to be able to give you advice based on their previous historical experience.
In agriculture this is an often overlooked, and yet integral part of a successful program. Whether you are growing a seed crop or raising livestock, each offers it's own unique challenges. Challenges that are much easier to overcome with the knowledge to do so. You could spend the afternoon throwing your tools in an attempt at practice for the upcoming Olympics, or you could find yourself a mentor.
However, just as experiences are unique to an individual, so too are mentors.
Let's use Kunekune pigs as our example for the scope of this installation.
Socializing Kunekunes (Patricia Saunders)
Kunekunes are a pig that tend to serve several different purposes; pets, conservation breeding, exhibition or meat production are the most common. Depending what your goals are the approach may be different, as each market has its own means to an end, so they aren't necessarily symbiotic. Sure, the best practices are likely quite similar, but the breeding match ups and conformations expected will be vastly different.
Pet breeders will no doubt breed down for size, conservation breeders tend to prefer a more traditional looking pig, and production breeders tend to breed up in size, while selecting for higher weights and faster growth rates. All things that Kunekunes are quite capable of. In fact, going by the recognized breed standard there is plenty of differing acceptable traits - nose length and overall size are just two examples, among which there are many.
Happy Piglet At Silver Prairie Farm (Shaman Crowe)
That's just it though, with such a spread of acceptable traits, that means there are going to be breeders who concentrate on certain aspects over others, with specific end goals that could be incredibly different and even unique to their program. If you don't at first admire the results they are seeing, then you aren't likely to enjoy their advice, or similar results, in your program either.
Look for likeminded people and cultivate those relationships. Don't be shy to ask outright if they are willing to be your mentor if it isn't obvious. Sometimes people seem to fill the role simply because they are knowledgeable and not because they are a mentor. Not everyone makes a good mentor and not everyone is a good mentee.
Learning About Teat Lines (Leilani Lesley Simmons)
A production breeder might not think to mention to a buyer that there is a change in the registry disallowing for the lack of wattles, because to them it isn't a deciding factor in their production program. Someone with a more traditional viewpoint might disagree. Neither of them is necessarily wrong, they just have different perspectives based on the outcomes and goals that they have set to achieve. That's why it is so important that your goals and that of your mentor match up. If you are on two different pages it doesn't matter what kind of advice you are being given. The results will not be what you are looking for if you are following the advice of someone who is achieving results that vastly differ from your expectations.
As a mentee however, you have a role to play as well. You have to be open to both advice and criticism about your program. The role of a good mentor isn't just to scratch your back and answer your endless list of questions, it's also to point out areas where you may be making a mistake, or try to help you mitigate issues prior to their occurrence. You are leaning on their expertise and experience because of their expertise and experience, you have to be open to accepting the information. If a mentor should give you advice that you choose not to follow, you can't blame them for undesirable outcomes later.
Let Sleeping Hogs Lay... (Shaman Crowe)
Furthermore, even if your end goals do meet, if every piece of advice or information given on behalf of the mentor is ignored or cast aside, you can bet that the mentor isn't going to keep answering your questions and giving you advice. It takes time and effort out of their day to help you. Chances are they are also helping others, or have jobs or matters of their own to contend with. You can't get upset if they can't answer your text right away or you have to wait a day or two to get an email back. If you don't appreciate the effort that they are putting forth, you can rest assured that they will direct that energy elsewhere.
Plus, you likely aren't the only mentee they work with. Imagine if everyone else they are working with is asking as many questions as you are. Have patience. If it is so troubling that you need an immediate answer, it is probably likely a call to the vet you should be making, and not your mentor in the first place.
Running An IV For Calcium Gluconate (Michelle Geiger)
Mentors also need to accept the incredible importance of this most valuable position. Not just as a mentor, but as a general ward of your trade and a steward of best practices. If you see something that is troubling, you are near obligated to speak up. If you notice an animal that is not fit for breeding being bred by your mentee, you need to be comfortable having a conversation with them about it. For the sake of the breed as a whole alone, it is a respectable thing to do. From a mentorship perspective it provides a great opportunity to pass on knowledge and information to your mentee.
Show them the reasons that would lead to your decision not to breed the animal. Give them all the information that you can so that they may make the most educated decision they are capable of.
You certainly wouldn't want someone steering you off course in your own program by giving you faulty information or setting you up for future ramifications within your herd. It's only fair that your mentee should be able to trust in your information. To that end, maintain their respect, and your integrity, by being transparent and openly honest at all times.
On Farm Neuter And Hernia Surgery With Observers (Natalie Warren)
As a mentor you should be authentic and follow through on your word and you shouldn't have higher expectations of your mentee than you would have for yourself. You should be striving to be the lead that others desire to follow. If you are breeding stock for profit at the expense of the health or the conformation of the breed, or inclined to provide only enough information that you can maintain your own market share, then you might not be a very good candidate for a role as a mentor.
Not everyone is. Just because you sell something, or have experience in something, doesn't make you a great mentor. Lots of people know great scads of knowledge but aren't teachers, just as plenty of people with lots of experience are not good at sharing those experiences. Should you find yourself in a position where you feel that someone may be leaning on you as a mentor and you are not comfortable with that role, you need to tell them. Maybe even suggest some people who you know are mentors to people, so they might find a good resource elsewhere. If you do take on the role of someone's mentor, it is an incredibly important position that should not be taken lightly.
Pig Playtime (Americans For Medical Progress)
Great mentorships create great results. By avoiding the mistakes of others, it is to the benefit of all, but most importantly for the breed. A good mentor will put what is best for your program before their wallet and often offer advice that may result in their losing a sale, for the benefit of your herd as a whole. They will put you in a position of assured confidence and set you up for success, independent of their inputs. A good mentor will look for gaps, or areas of improvement in your program, communicate them to you and advise you on how to move forward.
An ineffective mentor will look at gaps in your program and communicate them to others, they may be inclined to give you advice that would leave you dependent on their program for the benefit of their own future sales, or discuss your shortcomings with potential buyers to the detriment of your own.
Always Time For Attention (Shaman Crowe)
That's why it is so important to find a mentor that suits not only your goals, but your values as well. It's much more beneficial should those goals and values run parallel to, if not directly in line with your own.
Choosing a mentor shouldn't be difficult but it should take some of the guesswork out of a new pursuit, and anything that can make things easier on your farm should not be overlooked. There are already enough things to struggle with every day. Why not make things a bit less worrisome with some help, even if that help is simply advice?
Foster Healthy And Cooperative Relationships With Likeminded People (Thinkstock)
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