One day, before she was a real farmer, Chai Chai wondered about this farming thing. She said,“I can't help but read this and try to picture in my mind all the chaos going on around you (smartalec goats, mean chickens, crazed geese, wayward ducks, evil pigs, cats and dogs living together!) and wonder what I'm getting myself into.”
It reminded me of when my friend Eliza said once that “evenings on your farm must be so relaxing” and I could tell that she had a perfect picture in her mind's eye of the sun gently setting over a tranquil barnyard....
As I was standing there talking to her I had chicken poop in my hair, I had a bruise on my leg where I smacked into something while chasing the hens into the coop, I was stinky and sweaty, and my hands hurt so much from milking that I could barely hold the phone. Sun setting over a peaceful barnyard!?!?! Not on your life.
So lean in close, friends, and I'll tell you The Truth About Farming. They won't say any of this in Hobby Farms or on any of those lovely farm blogs with beautiful pictures of sheep. No siree... There is the 'cover of Vogue' farming...and then the real dirt.
Farming is one crazy ride.
Everyday is exactly the same – and radically different. You'll do the exact same thing everyday. Get up (early), get out there and feed those critters, work that land, feed those critters again, herd everyone up, and go to bed (early). Oh, but what happens in between? You can't make some of this stuff up. Its all go, all the time.... and success is measured in who didn't die that day. Step lively now, there is no day off and there is always some kind of skulduggery going on.
Think you won't have a boss if you work for yourself? Wrong. Nature is your boss and the Weather is your CEO – and they won't ever let you forget it. Your every day is ruled entirely by these two and sometimes its seems like they are out to get you. Think you can get some early spring planting done? Not if you get an unexpected frost ...and then you'll have to start all over. Think those lovely pumpkin plants will win you first prize at the Pumpkin Show? Not if the squash bugs get them first. Don't even get me started on tornadoes, torrential rain, blazing heat, and this cursed snow...
Then there is the maniacal barnyard where everything and anything can and will happen. You'll never know if you'll go out there and find your best laying hen dead - the victim of some ridiculous barnyard mishap. Or remember our goat Debbie hanging from the feeder? Don't expect Backyard Poultry to tell you what to do if your turkeys suddenly scatter and you spend 2 hours trying to round them up, just in time to see one of your prized males flying (like an eagle!) over the house, across the ravine, and into your trigger happy, huntin' obsessed, rednecked, neighbor's tree.
Think you are a tough guy? Even the biggest and baddest will shed at least one tear when you find the best chick of the clutch floating lifeless in a water bucket. There is nothing sadder than a dead baby bird, friends. And while you stand there cursing yourself for letting it happen you'll start to calculate the true cost – not just of one small chick, but of all the eggs she would have laid, and all the layers she would have raised, of all the bugs they would have eaten, and all the compost they would have created, and...... You see, even the smallest loss has an impact that increases exponentially.
Then there is the mocking by your so-called-friends and family who think you are completely out of your mind. Why would you give up your city life for THAT? Or if you tell a friend that you are so tired that your hair hurts, more than likely you'll hear “All you do is garden all day. Why are you complaining – its not like you work?" Or, part of a real conversation I heard about the other day “Why don't you just get a job so you don't have to grow your own food?”
Its enough to make you want to go out and lay in the compost heap.
The upside is tremendous. You don't HAVE to grow your own food, you GET to..and that makes all the difference.
You'll learn to work effectively and efficiently, to follow the weather and anticipate her moves, to plan, plan, and plan some more. Gym membership? Nah.. you won't need it. Need a mental challenge? Its all challenging and the learning never stops. You'll learn you can build a duck garage, pip a turkey poult out of its shell, figure out how to fence in those stupid pigs, and discover a whole world of folks who live their lives by the turning of the seasons and not by the passing of the financial quarters.
It's not simpler but its better.
What are you getting yourself into? Its one crazy ride, baby. So hold on tight, pull on those barn boots, and get out there and make that land work for you. And when you're so tired your hair hurts? Come and talk to me - we're all in this together.
Happy Monday everyone! What is your truth about farming?
My truth about farming: It's hard word. It's damned hard work! It's the best job you can ever have. It's amazing to watch your kids learn about life and death, about responsibility and get the giggles from watching those crazy baby goats. That you want to tear your hair out when your hens start to eat eggs and your garden. You want to scream when the goats decide to attack your bushes and your apple trees. You cry because an animal gets hurt even as you are cursing it for getting out, what could you have done better? You cry when you can't find the baby goat that got itself lost in the really messy garage but learn how to keep it in for next time. You worry that the animals don't look right, or that it's too hot for them, or they don't have enough bedding, or enough shade, or are they warm enough, do they look healthy, where am I going to get hay. You teach your kids that it is okay to take the wagon and the rake down the side of the road to collect the tall grass that the township cut down to feed your animals.
It's the most satisfying, heart-wrenching, scary, wondrous job there is.
You totally made my Monday morning! Which started at 5:30 a.m. and is still going strong. Taking a break to read your blog, have some coffee, and admire the swallowtail caterpillars out in the dill. Sometimes I think I should read your words to the hens. I know they'd cluck in approval.
Utopia Farm in sw Ohio
1) There are no unplanned vacations....ever. If you want a day off, someone you trust has to step in to feed for you. And if you're milking, they have to be reliable twice/day.
2)If you ever sleep in, you'll feel bad about it because all of your penned up animals are itchin to get some grub. Thus, sleeping in becomes a thing of the past.
3) The animals will always get to eat their breakfast first. You may get to take a mug of coffee out with you, but you'll always be in the back of the lunch line.
4) Repeat after me. I'm going to fail. I'm going to fail. I'm going to fail. It's just a matter of whether or not you fix the hole in the fence that led to your prized chickens death, do a better job of keeping weeds down next year, get your butchering done on time next time, repair that hydraulic leak, that makes you a farmer or not. Successful farming is filled with failure. Failed farming is filled with failure without learning.
5) Everything you grow, raise, harvest and butcher yourself will taste better than anything you have ever bought at a store or resaraunt. Friends and family may not think so, but I guarantee you will.
6) No matter how much reading and research you do, you will never be 100% prepared for every task. Your experience will be different from all of the authors you read.
7) If you're not sore, you're not doing it right...or you have some inventions that you need to share with the world.
In my thirty-something years before fumbling through my attempt to be a farmer, I realize that I never truly knew pride, joy, hope, sadness, or heartache. The amazement of watching new life, and devastation of seeing life ending have been uplifting and humbling, all at the same time.
It's an amazing thing we do. I can't imagine ever going back to a life without it.
AMEN!!! Sister. I know just how you feel. Even at night when I so tried I can bare to put one foot in front of the other I look forward to the next day to do it all over. As we say "It just gets into the blood".
You are absolutely right!
Even doing the urban thing we do, I get that fro co-workers: why don't you just buy eggs, veggies, etc.? Or the- oh that sounds so relaxing in the garden. No- I just spend 3 hours in 100 degree heat pulling weeds! Or- why raise chickens? You have to clean the coop, etc. Why can, dry foods? Because I CAN! There's nothing more satisfying than being able to grow/preserve your own food, and you know what's in it. Our soil is really pretty productive, especially after adding the chickens to the mix. I just like to I guess. And I'll go bigger, I hope someday, and get a few acres....
Thank you for this. Everyone I know thinks I´m crazy.
Best. Post. Ever!
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