Who helps get your food to your fork?

A couple of you wrote in to say that you enjoyed the “behind-the-scenes” jobs that we had described in our last post such as cheese making, wine making, beekeeping etc, so this week we continue with that theme.

Cattle herders/ranchers: Cattle herders raise cattle for meat. Their duties involve taking care of calves, raising them and helping the ranch owner auction a portion of the livestock once a certain weight is reached. Some animals are kept for breeding purposes and others are prepared for beef production.

The 1 million+ beef producers in the United States are responsible for more than 89.3 million head of beef cattle. About 90% of the beef produced in the US is sold in America while 10% is exported. The top beef producing states in 2013 were Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, California and Oklahoma, in that order. 

Since herders spend most of their time outdoors in all types of weather, working conditions are often rough. 

Average salary: As of 2010, the average salary of a cattle herder was $21,970. Income varies based on the size of the farm and the breed of cows raised. Ranch managers make an average of $39,000. If the herder is also the owner of the ranch, income can be much higher. 

Photo Credit: Robert Cutts, License

Photo Credit: Robert Cutts, License

Fish farmers --  Fish farming or aquaculture involves raising fish commercially, usually for food. The most popular fish species farmed are carp, salmon, tilapia and catfish.

There are a few different methods of fish farming:

1.     Off-shore cultivation or cage system where fish are placed in water bodies such as lakes, river, oceans and ponds to contain and protect them until harvesting.

2.     Irrigation ditch or pond systems where fish are raised in ponds and irrigations ditches.

3.     Composite fish culture system where a combination of 5 or 6 top feeders, column feeders and bottom feeders are placed in a single pond. This system makes good use of pond space and reduces competition among the fish for food.

4.     Integrated recycling systems where local water is recycled using hydroponic beds. This prevents wastage of fresh water.

5.     Classic Fry farming where trout and other sport fish are raised from eggs to fry (young fish) and then released in streams.

Average Salary: $63,000 as of 2014. 

Off-shore Cultivation. Photo Credit: I A Walsh, License

Off-shore Cultivation. Photo Credit: I A Walsh, License

Poultry farmers – Poultry farmers raise domesticated birds such as chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. Chicken farming is the most popular type of poultry farming. Some chickens are raised for eggs and some for their meat.

Egg-laying chickens can be are raised in cages or can be "free-range", which means that they spend a portion of their day outdoors. Organic eggs are derived from chickens that have more living space and less in-feed medication/food additives than cage-raised chicken.

Meat chickens can be raised in indoor climate controlled housing called growout houses. Alternatively, they can be raised free-range or through organic means. 

Raising other birds like ostriches and emus can provide farmers with additional income. A single ostrich egg can be sold for $30-$50. 

Average SalarySalaries vary widely based on size of farm and type of production. Average salary as of May 2010 was $60,750. 

Photo Credit: USDA, License

Photo Credit: USDA, License

Graders and Sorters – These workers grade, sort and classify unprocessed food such as fruits and vegetables, as well as other agricultural products such as grain, nuts, butter, cheese and eggs by size, weight, color or condition.

For example, the AA or A or B grades you see on your egg carton were given by graders based on the whites, yolks, inner air sacs and shell condition of the eggs.

Average Salary: A Grader or sorter can earn an average wage of around $16,000 - $24,000 based on tenure and industry expertise.The state of Kansas provides the highest compensation with an average of $32,840.

Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks, License

Meat cutters/ Sausage makers – The title pretty much describes the job. Meat cutters break down raw bulk meat into smaller pieces for sale to butchers and food stores. They handle meat such as beef, pork, lamb, fish and poultry.

Sausage makers grind meat and blend them with spices. They then pack them in casings.  

Average Salary: $26,000 as of April, 2014. Meat cutters and sausage makers do not require high school diplomas or GEDs.

Photo Credit: László Szalai from Wikimedia commons.

Photo Credit: László Szalai from Wikimedia commons.

These are all the back-end jobs we have for now! Next week we will focus on the front-end guys — the chefs, bakers and restaurant owners. Stay tuned! 

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