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:
- Do stuff
- 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.