Recently we received a phone call from a panicked farm wife just up the road. Her husband had been seriously injured while working on the farm and she needed someone to call for help and be with her as she fearfully watched it all unfold before her.
Our family arrived about the same time as the local rescue unit, followed by the quickly arriving ambulance.
Rescue personnel hovered over him, and our friend was swooped away in the ambulance. He was then air-lifted out. We watched the helicopter take off from the hospital and fly away until we couldn’t see it anymore, our hearts heavy in the darkness of that late night, hoping and praying for the best for our good friend and neighbor. We had done what we could do for him, and for them; the rest wasn’t up to us.
It got me to thinking about why farmers do what they do – and for so long.
And the truth is, I don’t know if anyone knows the answer to that question.
There are a lot of occupations that are all-consuming. But farmers take that to a whole new level. Often times it’s out of necessity.
After all, unless they have your same last name, it’s difficult to find people that want to work on the farm. And having the same last name doesn’t always guarantee the help.
There is a lot to do – especially for livestock farmers – and not a lot of help is readily available.
They work against all odds, including weather, markets, government regulations, finances, fatigue, frustration and dangerous machinery and situations.
And sometimes those things come down on the farmer all at once. There are probably people who need more coping skills than farmers, but at the moment, I don’t know who it would be.
We recalled this neighbor of ours who, many years ago, when cattle prices were very low, approached his banker to secure a loan to get more cattle. After a lengthy discussion between the two, the cattle trucks made their way to his yard and the four-legged cargo was unloaded.
Asked why he wanted more cows when the cattle market blood bath raged on, he said, “Because it’s what I know how to do.”
Simply put, that’s just the way it is with farmers. They don’t do it for the money. They don’t do it because it’s easy. They don’t even do it because it’s great for marriages.
My father, who worked as hard as anyone I know, was committed to this life. My mother, a city girl who said she never really adjusted to life on the farm in the 50-plus years she lived on one, once heard the farm described as “the farmer’s mistress.”
I know there are many who feel that way, and it’s not because the farmer husband doesn’t care. It’s because he loves what he does with the kind of honesty, loyalty, work ethic and passion needed by anyone who is driven to be good at what they do.
And it takes all of him to get that job done, especially when farm help is scarce, and the work is piling up.
He loves it, he hates it. He’s too busy for his own good. He has to learn to do everything himself in order to afford it. He has to learn to fix machinery so it will last another year.
He has to be on top of animal health issues. He has to know his cost of production and be a good business thinker.
He has to run long days on little sleep. He has to know and teach safety around machinery and livestock. An unprotected and running power takeoff shaft, or an angry sow or a protective cow who has just given birth, can wreak massive havoc on a farmer’s body in short order.
He must be determined to never give up no matter what kind of bad things happen. He must always be on top of his game.
And yet he dreams for his children to love this lifestyle as well. With all of the good and bad that comes with choosing life on the farm, he takes it in stride and mixes them both together gently.
Most importantly, he not only tells his children, but shows them with his own example and sweat equity that without agriculture, our world has nothing.
As we watched our 75-year-old neighbor being air-lifted away, we talked about the fact that he had been doing the work he loved doing all of his life.
And whether or not we understand why farmers choose this life, we know for certain that they would rather have their hands in the soil until their last breath, than spend time in a rocking chair.
It’s in their hearts and in their blood. It’s their will and their purpose in this life.
And that’s why the farmer farms until the last gate has been closed behind him.
Author Brenda Schoepp once said, “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you will need a doctor, lawyer, policeman or a preacher. But everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer.”
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at email@example.com
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