We’ve certainly seen the farming community hard at work in recent weeks, as my drive down Highway 30 often brings a different view from morning to afternoon, seeing fields harvested and plowed. The weather has been outstanding, probably the best it’s been in a number of years, which brings smiles to faces of many locals.
Farming is a tough job. There are so many things in life that we take for granted, thanks to farmers. I was fortunate growing up (though it didn’t always seem so at the time) to be on a nine-acre hobby farm and get a taste of what it was like to list farmer as an occupation. While this wasn’t something we did to make a living, there were still some amazing lessons I learned over those formative years at home with my parents.
Work is hard. It really is! Loading up the manure spreader is more than just dealing with the smell. That task exhausts you physically. Hauling five-gallon buckets of water from the spigot on the outside of the house down to the sheep inside the barn was not easy. Since I wanted to make as few trips as possible, I would often attempt taking 4-6 of them at a time.
Some people try to avoid some of that hard physical labor as much as possible today. I admit to that occasionally, and I don’t have anything nearly as tough as those things I did growing up. Still, the sooner we get to that disliked chore, the sooner it is done. The negative anticipation of a disliked job only makes it worse when the time comes.
You can overcome obstacles to get the job done. I had pretty bad hay fever growing up. So you can imagine my pure, unadulterated joy when it came time to bale hay! I was miserable, often resorting to farmer blows off the hayrack because tissues seemed like a waste of time. Yet there I was taking the hay off the baler and stacking it neatly on the rack. And later on I could be found up in the hayloft, stacking those bales a second time.
I hated it, but I realized that something like my sneezing and headache could be put aside to finish the task at hand. Too often in our current time, I see kids give up when the going gets tough. That is not an option with farm living. The job must get done, period. As I often tell students, excuses are like belly buttons – they won’t do you much good anymore.
New life is precious. During lambing season, things could get hectic. We’d hope that the ewes would spread out their lambing times so we didn’t have to try to cram so many into individual pens in the barn. For most of the sheep, human help was not needed. But every now and then there would be one who needed some extra care to get through the birthing process.
I came home from school one day and went to check on a prospective mother, only to find her struggling through delivery. I was there every step of the way as she delivered one…two…three…four lambs! They were tiny and having difficulty breathing. I wiped the noses as they came out and attempted to get them to suckle right away. The mother took to the first couple easily but ignored the other two. I worked with them, trying to switch them in when the other two had had a good start, to no avail. After bringing those two in the house to warm them up and try to bottle feed, only one stayed alive. That was devastating.
I may have thought these beasts were as dumb as a bag of hair, but watching the miracle of birth and also seeing the death of some was valuable. It provided an ability to sympathize and empathize. It gave a perspective on life that is hard to find while living in town. The hardest thing became selling the sheep I had worked with for the fair. Still, that’s part of the circle of life of many animals on the farm.
Farmers don’t have set office hours. If we knew a ewe was going into labor, we couldn’t just tell her to wait until morning. There were nights that Dad especially was down in the barn at all hours. With today’s tractors and other equipment, it’s not unusual to see farmers in the fields well after sundown. If we needed to finish off baling that field because of impending rain, we’d do it by squinting into the dusk if need be.
So many of us go to our jobs at the same time every morning and return home at the same time every evening. As my years in education have gone on, I’ve found more and more that my job isn’t done when I leave school. Like many teachers, I bring work home to correct. I check my email at night in case someone has a question. Many of us take phone calls at home from frantic parents or students. Those days of interrupting what I was doing to take care of a task in the field or the barn were valuable as I reached adulthood, as were the other lessons I learned by living in the country!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is uberous, which means abundant or fruitful, as in, “The farmers were pleased with their uberous fields as the harvest season came to an end.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!