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AMY KIRK: Sizing up

   Unlike women, when farmers and ranchers meet each other for the first time, they look each other in the eye, say "hi," and shake hands. That's it. There's no comparing each other's outfits, hair, shoes, fingernails, thighs or body proportions.

Men don't care about another guy's physical appearance. But when they're looking at another man's set of corrals, hay fields, crops, cattle, tractors and other machinery, and anything pertaining to another man's hay bales -- that's a whole different deal. Men size each other up based on each other's work and success, and for farmers and ranchers it's all things farm or ranch-related.

Farmer/rancher-style sizing up can occur from afar, such as from the highway driving by cattle grazing in pastures or fields brimming with a crop. When farmers and ranchers drive interstate in crop and cattle country, the last thing they're focused on is the road. Their eyes bounce around like a pinball from one side of the highway to the other, looking at the work of farms and ranches in passing. If you don't believe me, just ask their wives.

For men whose livelihoods are in agriculture, traveling into a different agricultural region fascinates them. They appear to be evaluating another man's windrowing, combining, stewardship practices, crops or cattle, but their wives are never quite sure which one. Upon entering into a region growing completely different kinds of crops or livestock breeds, ag men also try to figure out another farmer or rancher's logic, system or philosophy on something according to what he sees. Sometimes these men will try to philosophize with their wives, who are either oblivious to such observations, not concerned or both, about a puzzling farming or ranching scene. A popular question in our vehicle is, "Why do you suppose they (farmers/ranchers) (fill in the blank)?"

Sizing up can also take place while reading about agricultural places featured in magazines and newspapers or while visiting another farm or ranch. With either of these two observation methods, a whole lot of mental absorption is going on. Since it's rare that farmers and ranchers get to observe other operations, visiting someone else's place is a full-on taking-it-all-in kind of thing. Getting away from the farm or ranch for more than 12 hours is rare for families in agriculture, so an opportunity to see another man's farm/ranch is what you'd call eye candy to the men who make their living in agriculture. Most farmers and ranchers consider seeing anything that reminds them of their work and their own place their favorite part of any family vacation.

The mental notes taken on another man's pastures, outbuildings, machinery, livestock feeding practices, storage systems, watering systems, or whatever, are filed away for mulling later. The information gets analyzed during a man's daily pondering time, or most likely on a long drive home while the whole family sleeps.

Men in agriculture love to see how other farms/ranches operate and size up other places for reassurance purposes regarding their own operation, because they all work hard to run their place as efficiently as possible, provide a high quality product and to get their own farm or ranch looking in top shape. The conclusion of most farmers and ranchers once they've returned home is a renewed feeling of pride in their work, crops, livestock, but more importantly, having somebody else drive next time so they can look at all the farms and ranches.