Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's Hard Being a Farmer

Farming has traditionally been a labor intensive career choice, where you need to be in peak physical shape for hauling hay, water buckets, building barns, raising fences etc. While big muscles, bronzed by the sun, come in handy for farmers and are important for getting all of the farm chores done, they are not nearly as important as a strong emotional grip. I find the day to day decision making much more difficult and tiring than the physical labor. I did not grow up on a farm, so I have been faced with so many new experiences over the last 4 years since we began our alpaca adventure. There is so much more responsibility, worry, and decision making than I would have originally anticipated. I know of several farms who have thrown in the towel after having alpacas and/or a farm for just a short period of time.....and I can see is not the physical labor that gets to is the emotional stuff that becomes tiring and too much to handle. Don't get me wrong, I would not trade in our farming experiences over the last 4 years for anything because I feel like I have learned so much and grown into such a stronger person physically, mentally and emotionally, but sometimes I just could be so much easier without the animals and farm. But then again, life might be much more boring and unfulfilled too.

Having the farm and all the animals has probably prepared Noah and I to be good parents, more than anything else. Everyone tells us that we have no idea how much more difficult life will be with a baby....but really....after raising and caring for over 50 different animals on our farm at any given time, many who have been very demanding, adding one more to the menagerie doesn't seem like it will be that difficult. Sure, human babies are not exactly animals, and I imagine are very time and energy consuming, but I think we will adapt well. The farm has taught us so much. The farm has taught Noah and I how to really research every aspect of each major decision we make so that we can hope that we made the best decision. It has taught us to finish things completely with quality workmanship, instead of "doing it half ass" as my dad would say. It has shown us that life is not always fair and that experiencing loss and heartache are just as important as experiencing joy and happiness if you want to be a well balanced and whole person. The farm has taught us to appreciate each day that we are on this earth and to spend it doing the things we love with the people we love. It has taught us responsibility and unselfishness; sometimes we are very tired at the end of the day....but those animals deserve to be taken care of properly and depend on us for survival. It has taught us that no matter how much you plan, organize, and research, there are always unknowns and you can still make mistakes and that you just need to learn from them so that you don't repeat them in the future. It has taught us to enjoy the simple pleasures in life; whether that be picking cherries, walking through the woods, sitting down and enjoying a beautiful sunset, or gazing up at the beautiful stars (which out in the country where we live are very bright and vivid at night). The farm has taught us the importance of appreciating one another and all the hard work that we each put in to make the farm run as smoothly as possible. It has given us something to do and talk about together. The farm has shown us how well we can work together as a team; we each excel in certain areas of maintaining the farm and help one another when we are weary. The farm has taught us to dream...dream about how it could look when we finally finish every renovation....dream of what the rest of our lives will be like here....and yes, even dream about leaving the farm one day (hopefully to retire in Costa Rica). So despite all the hard physical labor and emotional heartache that this farm has brought us, I believe it has given us so much more than we could have even hoped for.

You may ask what brought on this somewhat emotional post. Last night, Noah and I worked all day, drove to Lansing for an OB appointment and then came home around 8:30pm to find the new momma duck (the runner with the 17 little ducklings) injured pretty badly up in our barn. One of her thighs and legs was pretty much mangled with no skin and the muscle and bone were exposed. We don't know exactly what got her since she was fine before we left for Lansing. We don't think it was a coyote, raccoon, fox or opossum as they tend to hide out during the day and hunt at night. Besides, I would think they would go for the ducklings or at least the momma's neck and not her leg. I don't think it was any type of bird of prey either as it was just her leg that was mangled. I am pretty sure a dog, bear, cougar or other large predator would have been more successful in killing and dragging off one small duck. The only other thing that Noah and I can think of is a snapping turtle. Snappers don't normally go after full grown ducks, but will kill ducklings. One of our ducklings was killed by a snapper in our pond last summer and one of our adult runners faces got injured by it too...and who knows....maybe that's where the missing 7 ducklings went this summer. Last year, Noah caught two snappers from our pond, but it looks like more may have moved in because our momma duck was in pretty bad shape. I am probably making a much bigger deal of this than I needed to and any "traditional" farmer wouldn't have thought twice about putting the animal down, but I felt so horrible for the momma duck and her little ducklings. She continued to hobbled around on her one leg to protect the ducklings when we came near. Noah cleaned out the wound and checked her out. Of course, my emotional side was first to take over and it ran through my head that we could try bandaging the leg up and nursing the momma back to health....or that we could take her to the vet and have the leg amputated, but my logical side told me that this would just prolong my heartache and cost a lot in vet bills to save a duck that we only paid $2 for last year. She was clearly in pain so we decided it was best to put her down. Noah and I both felt bad for doing so, but being a farmer is hard and sometimes difficult things need to be done. I said goodbye to the duck and Noah took care of her while I rounded up the 17 ducklings and locked them securely in the barn away from predators. So this incident is what triggered some reflection on why we put ourselves through what we do. The other day, Noah was talking to his brother and telling him everything he does on the farm. Noah pretty much works on the farm from sun up to sun down each day. Noah's brother asked him if he actually enjoys it....and Noah said that he does. At the end of the day, despite all the physical labor and emotional heartache, we have become much more stronger and balanced people because of the farm.

When I feel this way, it always reminds me of me of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs called Happily Ever After where he sings:

One thing I can conclude
One has to learn havin fun is just smilin through
Those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Take it from me cuz Ive found
If you leave it then somebody else is bound
To find that treasure, that moment of pleasure
When yours, it could have been

Some people never find it
Some... only pretend, but me:
I just want to live happily ever after every now and then

In the words of the great philosopher Jimmy Buffett, I hope that one day, many years from now, I can say.... Some of its magic, some of its tragic, but I had a good life all the way.


Esther said...

That's so sad about the duck! I don't think I would make a good farmer!

WonderWhyGal said...

You said it all beautifully!

My life has been changed for the better because of the farm. Yes, I have more responsibilities but the joy of the farm outways whatever I would have had if I hadn't decided to be a farmer.

Big hugs to you and the ducklings. Mama Duck was protecting her young and you did the right thing.

Randy Bancino said...

Great post Schunch. Farm, or no farm, live is a series of ups and downs. If you can enjoy the adventure of it all, it can be a pretty great "ride." Hand in there!


cara said...

I so agree with your post. Sometimes people think farming is the "simple life". It is simple in some ways, but difficult at the same time. I always say it's a journey, an adventure. There is the good and the bad. But it's all life, growing and learning.

While human babies are different in some ways then animal babies, it's not all harder. You guys are more prepared for parenting than most (I include myself - Emma was a shocker!) You'll be fine. Human babies are easier in that they go with you (no wondering how they are doing out there in the barn), and eventually they talk and can tell you what is wrong. You've done night time feedings already, and diapers aren't much differen than house breaking a dog :)

So sorry for your experience with the mama duck. Very sad situation.

Noah and Jillian Schwander said...

Thank you all so much for the support! It is much appreciated!