Yep, I’m headed back to school this week, just as I have done for 17 years of my life (geeze… that makes it sound like forever). This time around I’m in Knoxville, Tennessee working on my Master’s in Animal Science, studying Reproduction Physiology – in short, mostly cattle reproduction. Living in a town apartment isn’t exactly on the list of my favorite places, and I’m willing to bet my visits to the gym increase sharply over the next 4 months. There’s no place better than looking over cattle in the pasture from horseback, and until that time comes, I’ll just enjoy being an #agnerd.

I’ll give ya more insight on what grad school is like as the semester progresses. For now, I catch myself reflecting on previous years in the classroom. At both Arkansas and Oklahoma State, I caught myself working on the University farms or for local farmers. It was mostly for filling time, stress relief, and paying a few bills with classes. Farm work is something I have done my entire life, so it’s nothing new and to be honest, I sometimes catch myself forgetting it is something unique.

You’d think that being surrounded by Animal Science undergraduate students meant they’d all be Aggies, familiar with livestock and farm life, ready for a deeper understanding after getting their hands dirty in the work. Well, that’s not so much the case. Understanding the fact that most of my peers had little to no previous experiences with livestock or farming was a bit of a shocker for me. Things I thought common sense, or learned from the school of hard knocks, were new concepts to most of my classmates. Tasks like milking a cow, pitching hay, or building a fire were¬†extracurricular¬†fun to these folks. Forget things like pulling calves, fixing hay equipment, or identifying sick livestock. I was puzzled that students didn’t know the difference between stocker and feeder cattle or even how to build fence. What were these kids doing in Animal Science?!?

I’ve learned a bit in the last 5 years. Sure I have learned a ton, that I didn’t know squat about cattle production, but can you imagine having all of this material dumped on you with no image of what we’re discussing? I am a visual learner and I can’t imagine having to learn the anatomy of the reproductive systems or how they work without having known how it feels, looks, and works in the pasture. This is where I realize something. I should really, really, really appreciate the life I had growing up and the opportunities to continue working in the field where I am studying. I can’t imagine what I would have done without it.

Last week I was talking with my banker back home, telling him about my work with cattle and how much I love sharing that with others. He grew up in town and his only farm experience was his in-laws’ row crop operation. He told me about a weekend where he had to drive the tractor out in the field and pull his father-in-law’s backhoe out of the mud. He got excited telling how the gears worked and having to dodge cars and mailboxes on the highway in that big, wide tractor. Then I told him “Thank You. Thank you for working at the bank and making sure farmers like my family have financial resources to run our businesses. If it weren’t for the people behind the desk in town, we couldn’t enjoy the work we love.”

It takes a little work, some time, and some growing up, but we all need to recognize those thing we have to appreciate. For me it’s the opportunities to experience ranch life and learn to love my surroundings, and learn to appreciate them even when I’m stuck in my apartment buried in study papers. Remind me of that when I start complaining in a few weeks…