And so much more…

I’ve discovered over the past five years that people have huge preconceptions about what being a farmer means. I know, coming in, I had all sorts of them, and I know I am surrounded by fellow farmers who have deeply held ideas about their profession. One of my first posts on this site dealt with one of them, and dredged up the almost predictable responses (I’m not linking to it simply because I want to talk about something else).

One of the preconceptions I had coming in was the nature of what farm work meant in the first place. Many people, including my onetime self, have the idea that farming is as simple as growing and harvesting a crop or raising and selling an animal. I’m here to tell you firsthand that, whatever kind of farming one does, that could not be further from the truth.

Even at its most monoculture, farming is a polyculture because it cannot be anything else. Farming demands knowledge of everything from agriculture to zoology and demands the farmer be everything from an accountant to a zoo keeper.

It’s not an accident, then, that history notes the rise of farming intertwined with the rise of what we think of as civilization. Domesticating, planting, raising, harvesting, and slaughtering plants and animals for food in more effective and efficient ways is the necessary mother that gave rise to everything we take for granted today, either by inventing the things we have or by enabling the things we have to be invented.

And so, in the end, I can think of few other undertakings as intensive and broad as that of the farmer. Granted, the hurdles are tall and the valleys are deep, but if anyone wants to fully challenge himself in the pursuit of life, the vocation of farmer is a place to do it.

DLH

Five years on: Disasters, reevaluations, and the straight and narrow

There are few things like a disaster of one’s own making to cause one to reevaluate.

We’ve had more than a few disasters, big and small, since we came back to Innisfree on the Stillwater. They kind of come with the territory of taking over this kind of an enterprise and learning on the fly.

While disasters can sometimes be setbacks and can also be demoralizing, we also use them as a chance to evaluate what we are doing and come up with ways to do them better, not just to correct a specific mistake but also to ensure that our approach is the best one to use.

The result is a cycle of disaster, reevaluation, and recommitment. It would be easy to give up when things go wrong, but nobody ever said what we are doing was going to be easy. Instead, we figure out how to do what we are doing better and move on.

In the end, that’s the only way to succeed at farming.

DLH

Spring is in the air, which means mud on my knees

I haven’t disappeared: I”ve been farming.

As you might imagine, spring is a busy time of year. This year started with banding steers and selling off our excess calves, interspersed with planting our garden. We got our next load of 75 meat chicken peeps in (they’ll be ready in Septemberish) and we’ll be adding to our laying flock in the next month or so.

We built a mobile pen system for our mowing goats, which makes moving them from place to place much easier than it was last year. I hope to detail that undertaking in a separate post.

Also, the warm spring means haying time is already here, and we’ll probably have our first cutting down in the next few weeks.

What kind of food production activities does spring bring for you? Let me know in the comments.

DLH

Punching calves

I think it’s funny that one of the terms for handling cattle is “punching”. It seems like a kind of inside joke among cattle people about the arduous nature of the task of physically handling cattle during those times when they have to be moved, sorted, tagged, or banded.

I punched a bunch of calves this weekend with the help of my wonderful and dedicated family, and during the hours I spent handling those animals, the reality of food production once again hit home. It’s hard, hard work, and no amount of money ever really pays for what needs to be done.

In fact, I realized that food production is kind of like a never-ending boxing match with nature. Every encounter ends with the producer at the least exhausted and, far too often, bruised and bloody. I sometimes suspect that, even if we happen to win a particular round, we really lose a little each time until we’ve finally lost enough that it does us in.

The nature of the food production task is one that is lost on most people anymore. To them, food is something harvested by big machines and purchased at a grocery. Far too few people realize how precarious our food production ecosystem really is and how desperately they rely on the producers to keep doing what they do no matter what so they don’t starve. They have no idea that all that stands between them and real hunger is a few rhetorical pugilists who don’t know when to throw in the towel.

The fact is, we won’t. For whatever reason, the will to fight is in us. We see nature as a sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, a truly worthy opponent for the investment of our time and our effort. We’ll keep punching calves and the like because we won’t have it any other way, even if no one else understands what we do.

DLH