Monday, October 7, 2013

For I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life...

"...for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny."
Many of us remember these very words that we presented when we were just freshman in FFA. After storms like the one that hit us all this weekend I think this line rings loud and clear. No numbers have been released estimating livestock losses in the foothills and prairies of South Dakota. Mostly because so many are still digging through snow drifts to find their animals. They've been working through the 60 plus mile per hour wind, out on foot or on a horse if they were lucky, just to save what they could. 
This whole situation reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with a rather uninformed suburbanite. She explained to me that ranchers really have it made. They stay at home and don't have to actually show up to a job at any certain time. I was amused by this perception of agriculturists so I asked her to continue. "Well, you know they get a break on taxes for being self employed. They don't buy groceries or anything because they grow that all at home. I've had to have an office job my entire adult life and so has my husband. Wouldn't it be nice to be a ranch woman who sits inside, cleans some, cooks and just loves on her kids." I tried to remain as gracious as I could at this point when I responded "Ma'am, it may look like a great life from the outside. In many ways it is. On a ranch families often times work together, you are able to be independent and yes, there are some tax benefits I suppose. But have you ever considered that you have to be to work by eight o'clock. That's about 3 hours after the average rancher is out beginning their feeding chores. Prior to that, they were probably at their kitchen table trying to pencil out how ends were going to meet. You know their paycheck only comes once a year don't you? Then there is all of the record keeping. Sometimes that's left to the wife but usually it's a team effort. I'm pretty confident in saying that if you talk to most any ranch wife, she would agree that she cooks and cleans. She cooks for crews often several times the size of her own family and she cleans, you bet she cleans. A ranch woman cleans her home but that is usually the least of her worries. She also cleans the chicken coop, and that takes a whole lot more than an Orek XL. She cleans the tack shed, so that everything is in its place and when her honey asks here where such and such is, she knows just the spot. A ranchwife also cleans cow's utters so that a calf fighting for his life has a chance to have some warm food and she cleans them again so her family can have fresh milk. She cleans off a wet lamb after it is born so that it doesn't chill down and freeze to the ground. She cleans feed bunks and water tanks and the garden when winter is on it's way. But cleaning isn't all a ranchwife does. She's right next to her husband fixing fence and welding corral gates. Pulling stuck pickups out of ditches and taking the heat for slipping the clutch every now and again when she was busy answering her little daughter's question instead of investing all of her attention on the process. But that's just the ranch wife. Her husband doesn't go to work at eight. He doesn't have any days off either. Not Christmas, Thanksgiving, or even the fourth of July. He's always caring for and building and fixing and trying to make ends meet. Tell me there's a rancher who gets by with plenty to spare and I'll show you several hundred who live on a shoestring but they do it because it's a lifestyle that is rewarding. It's about something so much bigger than yourself and by the time you've poured your whole heart and soul into the process, you're in your early nineties and you see your sons picking up where you left off." That lady was pretty surprised that the few comments she said would spark such a conversation but I hope she'll look at things a bit differently now. She thanked me, so I think she will.  
This weekend, our livestock was at my parents. They weren't hit quite as hard with snow so everything was fine for the most part. Most of the folks I talked to had the heavy burden of no electricity and the worry that their freezer might thaw was their greatest concern. It's almost amusing in a bittersweet way that we could be so callous to be worried about our driveway needing plowed when people's livelihoods are buried under snowbanks. Today, please look around you before you let complaint slip off of your tongue. Oh, and thank a rancher too, Lord knows they need the encouragement. 

- Trinity Lewis

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