By Shaman Crowe

Editor’s note: Shaman Crowe operates Silver Prairie Stock & Poultry Farm near Stettler, Alberta, 170 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. The farm specializes in conservation breeding of pigs, sheep, cattle, llamas and fowl.

Good mentorship is hard to come by

Everyone has to start somewhere. Good mentorship helps but taking the first step can be a challenge.

It is never easy to learn things on your own but 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 is why it is so important to choose the right mentor for your needs.

A mentor means many things to different people, but a mentor should be an experienced and trusted advisor – someone who has a background in whatever the mentee is attempting to learn. In agriculture, having a mentor is often overlooked, but it is an integral part of a successful program.

Whether you are growing crops or raising livestock, each endeavour offers unique challenges. Challenges are much easier to overcome with the knowledge to do so. You could spend the afternoon frustrated, throwing your tools, or you could find yourself a mentor to help steer you toward a solution.

Understanding goals is the key to successful mentorship

Understanding pigs’ needs is a key to effective herd management. Whether in pigs or otherwise, mentors and mentees need to share an understanding of goals.

Kunekunes are a pig that tend to serve several different purposes – existing as pets, for conservation breeding, exhibition or meat production. Depending on your goals, your approach to pig care may be different, as each purpose has its own means to an end. Generally speaking, best practices are likely similar no matter the goal, but the breeding match-ups and conformations expected will be vastly different.

Pet breeders will no doubt breed down for size, while conservation breeders tend to prefer a more traditional-looking pig, and production breeders tend to breed up in size, selecting for higher weights and faster growth rates. Kunekunes are quite capable of all these things. In fact, going by the recognized breed standard, there are plenty of differing but acceptable traits – nose length and overall size are just two examples, among many.

Just as achieving desired pig traits requires a calculated breeding approach, achieving desired outcomes for a mentee in any field requires a calculating mentor. It is necessary to look for likeminded people and cultivate those relationships. It is not always obvious to a prospective mentor that someone is looking for help – do not be shy to ask outright! Sometimes, a prospective mentor may fill the role simply by working with an understudy informally, not because an official arrangement is in place.

The challenge: not everyone makes a good mentor, and not everyone is a good mentee. 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, this is not 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 their own needs. If a mentor and mentee are on two different pages, it does not matter what kind of advice is being offered. The results will almost certainly be unsatisfactory.

There is much made about the role of the mentor, but what about the role of the mentee? An honest mentee must be open to both praise and criticism. The role of a good mentor is not to simply validate what the mentee already knows – it is also to point out areas where the mentee may be making mistakes or try to help mitigate issues prior to their occurrence. Mentees lean on the experience and expertise of their mentors, and that dynamic should be respected. If a mentor offers advice that a mentee chooses not to follow, it would be unfair for the mentee to blame the mentor for an undesirable outcome.

Even when the goals of mentees and mentors are shared, if every piece of advice or information given on behalf of the mentor is ignored, this can create a toxic relationship with potential for breakdown. Mentors invest their own time and effort to help mentees, and the chances are, they are also helping others or have priorities of their own. It is also unfair for a mentee to become upset if a mentor is not immediately available to assist, such as a delayed response to a text message or email. If a mentee fails to appreciate a mentor’s efforts, you can rest assured that the mentor’s energy will soon be directed elsewhere. Patience is key.

Mentors also need to accept the incredible importance of this most valuable position – not just as a mentor, but as a general ward of his or her trade and a steward of best practices. If a mentor sees something that is troubling, there is an obligation to speak up. If a mentor notices that an animal is not fit for breeding, the mentor needs to be comfortable having a conversation with the mentee about it. It is the respectable thing to do, and from a mentorship perspective, it presents a great learning opportunity.

Mentees must be able to trust in their mentors’ guidance. To that end, mentors must maintain the respect of their mentees and their own integrity by being transparent and open at all times. Authenticity counts. Mentors should not have higher expectations of mentees than they would for themselves. Be the kind of leader you could see yourself following, if the roles were reversed.

Great mentorships generate great results

Kunekunes crave attention, just like eager mentees.

An effective mentor will often put what is best for your program before their own wallet. 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 financial gain or discuss your shortcomings with potential buyers to the detriment of your business. This is why it is so important to find a mentor that suits not only your goals but your values as well.

Choosing a mentor should not be difficult, but it should take some of the guesswork out of a new pursuit. Anything that can make things easier on your farm should not be overlooked. Have the courage today to reach out and seek the advice of your peers!