Not too long ago I was in the barn during milking time, deep within the routine of preparing swollen udders to let down their milk. I started washing some teats when that cow sent her hoof crashing into my shin and down on my toes.
Before I could shout or scream in pain, the cow in the stall next to her turned around to nuzzle and lick my face, as if she could sense my agony. I basked in the irony of the situation before hobbling over to Sam and asking him to finish washing her, which he was kind enough to do.
This business we call farming, it seems, is awfully full of contradictions. It requires patience, yet so often inspires impatience. It’s like a Billy Mays’ commercial; just when you think things can’t get worse, something else comes up and says, “But wait, there’s more!”
If you want to succeed in farming you can’t quit, but sometimes there’s nothing else to do but throw your hands in the air and walk away. Farming is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle sitting on top of a mechanical bull with faulty wiring; just when you think you’ve got it all together there’s a sudden jolt and you’re left to pick up the scattered pieces.
There are other times, though, when life is pretty darn great. We have the opportunity to watch a blazing sun rise and set from our barn windows and tractor cabs and relish in the newness of a just-born calf or seedlings perking up from freshly tilled soil that we ourselves turned up. Farming is truly a family affair and there aren’t many jobs out there where the whole ‘fam-damily’ pitches in to reach a common goal.
Despite all the emotional highs and lows, the greatest oxymoron of all things farming still remains: the simultaneous presence of absolute independence and dependence.
As President John F. Kennedy once said, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale and pays the freight both ways.”
There are so many things out of our control both at home and abroad. Whether it’s the markets, uncooperative weather, sick animals or machinery breakdowns we have plenty of things to lose sleep over – after all, the average American farmer gets 584 less hours of sleep than their non-farmer counterparts.
Yet, despite all of the factors working against us to remind us that we aren’t in control…we call all the shots. Cows don’t milk themselves, fields don’t plow themselves and tractors don’t fix themselves; therefore, it’s on us to decide to get out of bed every morning and do all of those things because, deep down, it’s what you and I and every other farmer out there loves to do. Nothing is going to happen unless you take the initiative to make it so.
We can all agree that farming is misunderstood and a mystery for most, sometimes even for ourselves. For all of the reasons stated above and the ones that we hold in the confines of our minds and hearts, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that farming is a beautiful paradox. Gladdening, enlightening, maddening and frightening…yet altogether beautiful.