I got an email from Matron of Husbandry recently in which she wrote:
A lot of it is about the support that family members give you, more than a piece of ground. Look at Greg Judy, new wife, new attitude, success. Not saying anyone should get a new wife or husband but Joel says the #1 cause of business failure is spousal disinterest, or disapproval or disagreements.
I have two directions for this post. Maybe three. Rather than tell you what I’m going to tell you, I’ll just tell you.
This farming thing is hard. I know it’s romantic. I know it’s something people sit and dream about…someday. Believe me, I get it. Our “someday” happened 4 years ago. Fortunately our dream is still alive in spite of the reality we crashed into upon arrival. I spend a big chunk of my time on the blog wrestling with reality. Questions like, “How are we going to pay for this?” “Where are the customers?” “How are we going to keep animals alive?” “Can we endure the stress?” “Is it all worthwhile?” These don’t make for my most popular posts but I feel like it would be wrong to avoid the topic.
Obviously I think we’ll get through but I hope you, my reader, understand that it’s a lot of work. I could be living out here alone like Dick Proenneke but Dick didn’t have livestock. He had wildlife. If Dick needed a sick day his stash of firewood might get a little low but he had enough of whatever he needed that he didn’t have to work every dang day. We have livestock. One day in August without water and I won’t have livestock anymore. That requires redundancy…not just in terms of water supply but also in terms of manpower. If the well pump stops working we have a problem the cows can’t solve on their own and I would have a hard time addressing the well pump issue with a broken leg. I rely on my wife to back me up when I am not available…or my father. I am relying more and more on my oldest son to help out too. This wouldn’t happen without them.
But it goes beyond the workload. The work can be discouraging. I have written this before but sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a lot of things go wrong all at once. Sometimes your fence is working perfectly to keep 4-legged predators out of the chickens and an owl flies in and has dinner. 3 nights in a row. Sometimes the drought ends suddenly and the roof leaks, the creek floods, a branch drifts past dragging the fence with it and you have to round up the cows and take them to higher ground. At night. In the rain. When water is coming into your house. or a big snow load pushes in a shed roof and 8 months later you still haven’t had time to fix it. These kinds of things get tiring. They wear on you emotionally.
Was this what you had in mind sitting in your comfortable suburban home dreaming of a few acres, a few cows and a beautiful sunset? Who are you going to share your troubles with? Well, obviously I talk to my wife and my father. I also share what is appropriate with my children without weighing them down. They need to know that I don’t think it’s easy…and they won’t get it from the blog as they don’t bother reading what they have lived through…lol. But if you’re just dreaming, well that’s no big deal. Anybody can dream. Anybody can talk. Nobody even has to listen. I talk to lots of people…people I never meet read my blog. I guess you read. I don’t know. Heck, maybe you just look at the pictures.
But I don’t go it alone. I am not a rock. That quote from Matron above says it all. The work is hard…but manageable. If Julie was not 100% on board the task would be impossible. She would feel neglected every time I went to look at the cows. Instead I receive affirmation from her as we take on the day’s chores together…even if separately. We are a team.
I couldn’t do this without a helpmate.
And as much as I love my wife (and I do) I also couldn’t do this without my father. Oh my gosh! can I disagree with him at times! but I appreciate that he is coming to the table with ideas and experience of his own. Our mild disagreements are an important part of moving the farm forward. When I say, “Dad, What about this crazy idea?” he’s usually able to help me explore the idea more fully. Not that he talks me out of it necessarily, just to look at it from other angles. Also my children, for their part, are a tremendous help not just with the labor but with forcing me to break our plan down into small steps with few moving parts. If I can explain my vision of the farm to my children in a way that they can express it to others…well, that just makes the whole farm marketing job easier. It also prepares them for the transition…the time when I’m the dad they come to with crazy ideas for their farm.
I couldn’t do this without the support of my family.
There is one other category I feel is essential: Mentors. I have written about Mike and Steve, though you may not realize how much time I spend picking their brains. I think it is obvious that I constantly reference Matron of Husbandry and rely heavily on books by farmers who have actually succeeded at this farming thing. Not only do I need the support of my wife and my family, I need the experience and wisdom of folks who have survived the ups and downs of farming…because the downs can get pretty low. If I had to choose between a recently “successful” farmer and an old farmer I would pick the old farmer. Same with investment advisors.
I couldn’t do this without a mentor.
So, that’s it. If you’re going to fight the odds on your homestead and make a go of it, make sure your spouse is on board, drag your family along and find yourself a mentor. Maybe you are stronger than me but I can’t do this alone.
Farming alone is hard, and in the end it’s not very enjoyable when you’re the only one to shoulder ALL the work… At least, that’s what I found after four years of trying to do it alone. You can keep it up for awhile with enough grit and stubbornness, but if the family isn’t on board (such is my case), then it’s going to wear a body down, and the whole thing becomes unpleasant. It’s an interesting pickle to be in.
Good post. 🙂 I always enjoy your writing!
Thanks. I sympathize with your position.
BTW, I’m always sending people to your Polyface experience posts.
“Sometimes the drought ends suddenly and the roof leaks, the creek floods, a branch drifts past dragging the fence with it and you have to round up the cows and take them to higher ground. At night. In the rain…. Was this what you had in mind sitting in your comfortable suburban home dreaming of a few acres, a few cows and a beautiful sunset?”
haha…that line struck me. But I’ll admit: I totally expected that. We have a diary farm area that gets flooded out every few years. I actually kept in mind flood planes when looking for a farm. Also forest fires and most other natural disasters and how they would play out. Because when you work with Mother Nature you can’t forget about her!
Your post is very true, though. So glad your wife is on board with you. It really makes a world of difference.
No, she has a mind of her own and something of a sense of humor. Just show an ounce of arrogance and she starts laughing.
Your About page cracks me up. The first adjective you apply to yourself there is “short”. I wonder what adjective I would choose for myself first. I wonder what adjective my wife would first describe me with! lol
Thanks for being so honest it’s refreshing! We are only on small acres and I am constantly dreaming of bigger. But along with larger acres is more work. I will have to get my husband to read this post.
I do enjoy reading your posts and don’t just look at the pretty pictures! lol
More acres is certainly more work but 500 cows aren’t 10x more work than 50 cows. 10 acres isn’t 10x the work of 1 acre. Know what I mean? But when you are just starting you’ll screw up so much that you’ll double your workload. That’s why you’ll commonly hear people suggesting you do one thing at a time. Maybe pigs this year. Maybe add layers or broilers the year after. A few years up the road dip your toes into cattle. Just not all at once!
Dream big, Melissa! Just take time to build skill.
Thanks for the insights. I get encouraged to start our venture when I read your story. And also the people that respond to your posts.
Thanks for this one. It helps to reflect on everyone that helps us make this possible (and keep the dream alive).