A heap of humility
I don’t know another species of the workforce so forgiving of its mistakes than a farmer. A surgeon has great guilt over his botches and carries insurance to help him through. Acts of nature, of course, afflict the farmer and he, too, can carry crop insurance, but he cannot protect himself from acts of his own stupidity. He must just stand there and despair, quit or ask forgiveness and then return it to others. I think this is the stuff of humility which rightly so comes from the word humus or soil.
Livestock farming is particularly susceptible to bungles. Who among us has not left the water hydrant on all night and flooded the barn? My brother did and standing the next morning on the highest point she could find with her new foal was our Belgium mare, Queen. Or left a gate opened? In the middle of the night, prom night to be exact, a young man in his tux stood at our front door uttering those hated words, “Your cows are out.” But he added, “I rounded them up and they are in the barn.” Not only a tuxedoed young man but another time a State Highway Patrol officer helped herd cows back where they really wanted to be with the gate closed with only a warning!
Who has not checked on that closed up cow against his better judgment or just fatigue and found her dead the next morning? The consequence of sloth and oversight are sometimes irredeemable, and the pain doesn’t diminish too soon. Nevertheless to farm, one must forgive oneself or go crazy like the farmer who thought he had done everything right when he bought a barn full of feeder pigs. They developed SIV, swine influenza virus, and began dropping like flies. He was found wandering the roadside in a daze, the weight of despair crippling his mind.
On the other hand, mistakes can be rectified with luck and very good neighbors. I forgot to latch the side door on the livestock trailer full of three milk cows on their way to winter housing. On a sharp curve, the door flew open and out they tumbled. Amazingly, they picked themselves up and started to run for the hills. Fortunately this was Delaware County without many hills, though Ohio 4 was nearby and they could have been in Richwood. Instead, they met a line of orange-clad hunters who helped herd them into a neighbor’s barn where they could be reloaded.
There are angels in this business of farming — a young man in his pink cummerbund, a patrolman, hunters — and hopefully family and friends who are not without shame and don’t throw stones for they know, too, the fragility of one’s own abilities to withstand the vagaries of tending the land and its life and the necessity for carrying a heap of humility.
Sylvia Zimmerman is the owner of Fulton Creek Jersey Cheese in Richwood. She holds two graduate degrees and, when not working on her farm or pursuing her interest in sustainable agriculture, writes her own blog.