When you’re not around on the farm from sunrise to sundown, it can be easy to forget how difficult and physically demanding the farmer’s day-to-day job really is.
Working outside of the home and being involved in several community organizations that require evening meetings, I often arrive home late – usually just about the time Farmer Dan is heading inside. Sure, he may be dirty and sweaty, but he’s a glass-half-full type of farmer, so unless he’s had an unusually bad day, he typically avoids complaining and just gives me the highlights of his day and hops into the shower. At that point, the only reminders of a tough day are his stained jeans and sometimes an empty Bud Light bottle.
But lately, I’ve been able to go beyond riding a few rounds in the buddy seat of the tractor, and be a bit more useful when he’s short on help. It’s then that I truly appreciate how challenging (and often unacknowledged) the work of a farmer can be.
Take a couple of weeks ago, for example. Each year, in early summer, Dan hauls his cow/calf pairs to our pasture three miles north of the farm, where they happily graze on the lush pasture grass until we take them home again in the fall. As you can guess, rounding up over 100 cow/calf pairs by yourself is no easy task. Since the calves are not yet weaned from their mothers, it’s important to make sure to transport the pairs together to make for a smooth transition to pasture. While most cows and their calves share the same ear tag number, allowing us to easily keep them together, some calves don’t get tagged immediately once they are born if they have a particularly protective mama, and that can make sorting all the more difficult.
But farmers are born of tough stock, and I barely heard a word as he went about completing the job.
As a newbie who’s just starting to feel comfortable around large numbers of cattle, I was having the time of my life trying to match the mamas with their calves (it’s sort of like a life-size game of Memory, only a lot louder and a bit smellier). Dan willingly guided me through the process, issuing instructions (“Block there! Let that cow through! Don’t let that cow through! Move to the left- no, the other left!”) and for the most part, I was getting the hang of it and actually felt like a helpful part of the team. I happily shouted out corresponding ear tags and dodged cow pies, all the while thinking, “How lucky am I that I get to help with this and raise my kids around this?”
But it soon became clear to me that as helpful as I may have been as a blocker and spotter, Dan was clearly taking the brunt of the job. As he walked the pairs to the trailer, I watched as cows and calves alike kicked his thighs, his sides, his arms- sometimes twice in the same spot. But farmers are born of tough stock, and I barely heard a word as he went about completing the job.
Later that next evening, I examined his arms and found no less than a dozen bruises trailing up his arm. I was dismayed, yes, but also felt an immense sense of pride for the work that goes into sustaining the family farm each and every day. It can be grueling, often thankless work, but it’s what enables farmers to feed people all over the world every day and keep this rich tradition, this way of life, alive. And for that, I am truly thankful.