Modest Enough Not to Know

If you were uncertain what the message of the blog is I want to be clear:

I. Don’t. Know.

I have no idea.

I am totally, entirely, utterly clueless.

I read books. I make notes. I actually do stuff in vivo. I make more notes. I talk to other farmers. I make more notes.

But it’s hard to make a plan from those notes. I can’t copy from Steve or Matron or Salatin. They are not me.

The formula seems so simple:

  1. Do stuff
  2. Stop doing stuff that doesn’t work.

But what does that really mean?

I’ll tell you what it means. I really do know the answer to this one.

It means humility.

It means you are going to stand on top of a mountain (or a blog) and shout to the world that farming is awesome! That you, along with your trusted companion, are going to solve problems both economical and ecological by harnessing sunlight and rain to make fat cows. And, shortly afterward, find out that it takes maybe a little longer than you had initially imagined. …that things don’t play out like they do in your head. …that well pumps break. …that one of those heifers you bought is a freemartin and two just won’t breed, that pinkeye runs through the herd like wildfire, that a heifer dies quickly and unexpectedly, that you cut hay then the forecast changed to 5 days of heavy rain. It means watching the escaped cows run down the road in the rain storm and feeling tired. Old. Foolish.


It means learning how much can go wrong, how quickly it can happen and how miserable it feels.

Remember that house we used to own? The one with three bathrooms? What I wouldn’t give for an extra bathroom. I didn’t know we would need an extra bathroom with three teenagers in our house.

Remember when it rained in the kitchen? I didn’t know raccoons would try to dig through the roof to get into the house. Heck, I didn’t know we had a legion of raccoons living in the shed.

Remember that morning we found 30 dead birds in the chicken house? I didn’t know we had minks here.

Remember that time the water source leaked and 300 chicks caught pneumonia, dressed out without any fat on their bones and the meat was so tough we lost a bunch of customers? I remember that too. Totally clueless.

Remember trying to pluck ducks? Great idea. Poor execution.

You would think I would have learned a little about humility by now. And maybe I have. It is clear that I don’t have any answers at this point. But my inquisitiveness still hasn’t been beaten out of me.

I had a boss once on a roofing job. He told me not to ask him “Why” questions.

But I really want to know WHY!

For example, Why can’t I make money with hogs? Is it me? Is it feed costs? Is it worth keeping pigs anyway? What is the value of the manure? What is the value of customer exposure? What is the value of the experience for me? …for the kids?

I have a few ideas about how to answer those questions and some of my answers depend on my mood. But if you pin me down and demand an answer I have to cry out:

I don’t know!

But I want to know. And I am looking for answers.

In spite of the lack of posts recently, I continue working to clearly define my ignorance…but maybe more quietly. Reading the book Algorithms to Live By over lunch recently I found something that explains why I have the cows that I have. The authors are discussing a mathematical solution to a theoretical problem: how to hire the best secretary you can when you have a number of them to interview and you only get one shot at each.

The math shows that when there are a lot of applicants left in the pool, you should pass up even a very good applicant in the hopes of finding someone still better than that – but as your options dwindle, you should be prepared to hire anyone who’s simply better than average. It’s a familiar, if not exactly inspiring, message: in the face of slim pickings, lower your standards.

Well? Mission accomplished. The difference here is I expect my cows to breed so I can hire their daughters (cows, not secretaries) and each subsequent generation that I don’t eat will grow slowly closer to my ideal. Slowly. Slowly. How slowly? I don’t know. I think it’s going to take a while. Maybe never. Maybe I hired the wrong group entirely. That takes us into limitations of time, the whole point of the book. But this isn’t a book review post and I don’t know when I’ll have time to write one. The point is, wrong cows. Wrong, wrong cows. Or wrong farmer. Whatever.

Having written 900 words describing my ignorance I don’t want to leave you without hope that I, Chris Jordan, might someday overcome my limitation. I’ll leave you with what I do know. I know that I do not know. 39 years of ignorance has come at a high cost but I can’t be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. So I keep plugging away. Scratching my way forward by reading, listening, studying and reflecting but also by getting out there every day to keep learning what doesn’t work. Thanking God that I have a job in town.

The month of June thoroughly kicked my behind. Today is July 1. I don’t have the courage to be optimistic about July but I am overflowing with humility this morning.


8 thoughts on “Modest Enough Not to Know

  1. Thanks for being so vulnerably honest. It’s in our nature to want to “know”. I guess now you could say you’re in league with some of the wisest men ever. Solomon at the end of all his knowing said it was nothing but futility. I wonder, how do you now relate with your family through all these hardships and mishaps? How do you relate with your animals? How do you relate with your farm?
    I really appreciate your post on this because it reminds me that we don’t have to get it all right. You’re willingness to show your flaws (of not knowing) makes me look at my flaws with more grace. Thank you and keep on farming!!!

  2. Farm life is often times sprinkled with heart ache and loss. Sometimes it’s our own fault and sometimes it’s out of our hands. Farming is like riding a roller coaster there are the ups and downs how you view the ups and the downs determines whether you are a farmer deep down in your soul. Set backs come with the territory if someone tells you different they haven’t been there. You learn from your mistakes , you seek knowledge and you carry on that’s just what you do! I know I keep going after set backs and losses .My greatest fear is if I didn’t what would do.

    • The views are great from the peaks but the fruit is grown in the valleys. Look, it makes sense. It does. But valleys can be miserable when the fruit is out of season.

      Thanks for understanding. I talked to Steve this morning. He said, “Sometimes a good day is just when nothing is dead.” Yup.

  3. Sell or eat the unbred cows and buy some that are already bred. You have come so far in this thing and should write some of the successful things that have happened. You can add an outside shower for warm weather and you will have your own shower. Come on count ,your blessings and successes.

    • LOL. Yup. Not all failure. But bad days do come along. Our freezers are packed with beef. The herd is transitioning. I’ll probably have to speed that transition along.

      Outside shower…hmmmm.

  4. The short cliche answer? “Not all who wander [or wonder] are lost.”

    The long answer is after 30 years of going to work at the same place, I punched my last ticket and checked out. I now chase 3 or 4 jobs around while trying to balance a home with some animals and gardens. Thank God for a wonderful partner. The reality seems very similar to the former life. I’ve found that you still have 24 hours of each day to fill with doing something. I’ve always found the shovel handle is just the right size for my hands. And the children we raise grow up and our relationships broaden and deepen with them. And the partner continues to surprise.And the 24 hours gets filled.

    And some of that time is spent reading about a fellow halfway across the country questioning and coping just like you are. Thank you for including me on your journey.

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