Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Country Life List

There is an old joke that goes “How do you make a million dollars in your first year of agriculture? Start with two million dollars, and know when to quit.”

I didn't really get the joke the first time I heard it, but after buying 40 acres of land, accumulating livestock, and helping my husband run a commercially-viable pheasant business for the past five years, I understand the joke. In fact, if you didn't see the funny side of your failures, you couldn't get up every morning and go to work.

My office and some work colleagues

I still have so much to learn that it sometimes overwhelms me. As long as I can laugh at myself while I learn, I look forward to getting up every morning. I thought I would share with you a little of what I’ve learned so far, and let you laugh at it too.

1)      In the country, ‘washing your hands’ includes everything up to the elbow, unless you’ve been gutting deer or helping a ewe give birth. Then, it’s up to your armpits.

2)      This is the same reason you will be instantly cured of biting your nails.

3)      Invest in a pair of rubber dungarees, the kind dairymen wear when cleaning down the milking parlour. ALWAYS have them with you. You’ll thank me later.

4)      You will find at least five uses for pig oil, besides oiling a pig.

5)      In the country, there is no such thing as ‘good clothes’. They may start out that way but I guarantee that the second you put on a nice frock, one of your sheep will instantly roll onto its back and get itself stuck in a hedge.

6)      On the plus side, fashion becomes irrelevant. Feel free to choose clothes based solely on warmth, or to hem your jeans with a stapler.

7)      You will have winter camos, and summer camos

8)      People know that you’re going to work because you add a pair of earrings to your regular jeans and t-shirt combo, making it ‘dressy’.

9)      When you have to go into ‘town’ to pick up a few supplies where non-country folk work and shop, you’ll notice an all-pervading bad smell. Accept the fact that it is absolutely coming from you - unless of course you shop next to a landfill site, open sewer, or cattle yard.

10)   When buying livestock, steer clear of any breed with the word ‘Mountain’ in it – they will jump any fence you build and you will never see them again. ‘Hardy’ is code for wild, and ‘Easy keeper’ means it will eat everything, especially after breaking out of its pen and into your neighbour’s garden.

11)   You will sleep through cockerels crowing and big tractors rumbling past your front door, but the tiny peep from a distressed chick will immediately wake you up.

12)   You will expend more time and thought finding a good farrier than you will a husband. It’s better to have a great farrier and a half-decent husband than the other way round.

13)   You will never again be caught short trying to find a loo / bathroom. Every hedgerow, field margin, and sheltered gateway is your public convenience (accent on the “public” part if you forget to check for walkers or farmers.)

14)   You will have no shame at restaurants or friends’ dinner parties asking for any leftovers, and will go so far as to take them out of the garbage bin. There is a food chain at your house.  The Trickle Down theory may be weak as an economic plan, but as a feeding program it’s faultless.

15)   It is also perfectly normal for the hostess at a dinner party to take a break between courses to check on a ewe that’s lambing.

16)   When driving, you will note species of animal for their edibility, not their cuteness.

17)   When forking manure or squeezing an abscess to drain it, always keep your mouth closed.  (Please don’t ask me how I learned this.)

18)   There is a “Law of Size” applicable to trailers and greenhouses: whichever size you buy, you will wish you got the bigger one.

19)   Learn how to reverse your trailer, and practice this skill before you need it. You do not want your first time to involve a 35-point turn at the livestock market in front of all the farmers. You will never live it down. Ever. The story will be told to your grandchildren by the farmers’ grandchildren.

20)   Hang out at your local feed store, market, or fair – anywhere farmers are – and listen. Whatever jobs the farmers are talking about doing is what you should be doing also. Remember, in farming, “All the other kids are doing it!” is a reasoned argument.

21)   Don’t be tempted to try and civilise your working vehicle.  An air freshener is no match for the smells in a country car, and you will only succeed in making your car smell like wet dog and strawberries. If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to put your head inside my Land Rover at your convenience.

22)   Don’t be tempted to try and civilise your house. Skip the potpourri, pick up 10 litres of Dairy disinfectant at the feed store, and practice acceptance.

23)   Get an iPod. Country life, though spiritually uplifting and chockfull of great scenery, can be lonely. Many jobs around the farm are monotonous. How hard you need to concentrate to shovel out kennels or scrub buckets? This is your reading time.

Agriculture is a risky business, both financially and physically. It’s hard on your body. It’s hard on your mind too, because as another saying goes “Where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock.” You will lose animals you’ve fought to keep alive and healthy - newborns, and old friends. You will cry out of frustration, holding a flashlight over a stalled engine while rain pours down your back and a ewe is bleating for a sick lamb that you can’t find until you can get your stupid truck to move.  You feel like the world and the weather is against you, and disease is rampaging through your pack or flock or herd. It’s a visceral, gut-wrenching, no-breaks-for-holidays-or-illness life.

And it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I don’t know when to quit.


Poppy Cottage said...

Maybe this time I will actually be patient enough to wait for the word validation bit rather then wonder why I am not getting my comments through, blimming computers!!

When that book get published I am pre-ordering 5 maybe 6 copies please!!

All so very true, have to say I am chuckling picturing you undertaking some of them. And some of them bring back very 'happy' memories. Especially number 10, 19, 11, 1,2, 5 and 9!!

Funny how you miss it when it is gone.

Any news on the Hattie front?

Christine said...

All so true and sadly familiar...especially how I smell when making a trip to 'town', worn proudly as a service badge. Farming should be an esteemed occupation, not limited to multimillionaires. Thanks for doing what you do.

Mimi and Anna said...

This all sounds so familiar (although on a much smaller scale for me). To #17, I would add that you should also keep your eyes closed, thinking back to a syringe of pitocin for a sheep that had a miscarriage which ended up squirting in my mouth and eyes! And I'm still laughing over #5, remembering all the places I've had to crawl into and under to pull out a stuck sheep, and friends who were around to help who could do nothing but stand there dumbfounded and stare at the spectacle! You definitely have to have the right perspective to do what you do. And I'm glad you take the time to write about it.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I've learned just enough about country living to quote you on the "live stock, dead stock" thing. And to wash my hands a lot.

I love this list, although I have to tell you we make the same million-dollar joke about commodity trading.

Anonymous said...

I don't have livestock, but I enjoyed this post so much. I enjoy all your posts, actually. I garden and forage and gain so much satisfaction from this. Dreaming of chickens one day - that's about all the responsibility I'm prepared to handle, lol. I agree w/ Christine above - farming should be an esteemed occupation. My grandfather farmed and kept cattle and he was the best man I ever knew. Broke his finger fixing the tractor (or something similar) and braced it with a Popsicle stick w/o a word of grumble to anyone. How I miss him. ~peppergrass

Jennifer Montero said...

PC - Nag me about the book or I'll never get it done. I will have to pick your brains for other lessons to add to the list, I'm sure you have many! Hattie is firmly re-homed and very happy.

Jennifer Montero said...

Christine - There are lots of unsung heroes in this world, but watching farmers lay their livelihoods and lives on the line to produce food has made me very respectful of them too.

Jennifer Montero said...

Mimi / Anna - I expect most of these lessons have already been learned by astute readers like yourselves. I will certainly add 'eye protection' to no 17.

And no. 5 should include "always wear underwear as crawling under a bramble patch in a dress leaves little enough to the imagination!"

Jennifer Montero said...

I bet the joke could be applied to the restaurant business as well.

Out of curiousity, does the no 18 rule about "Law of Size" apply to boats too?

Jennifer Montero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Montero said...

Peppergrass - Thanks for your kind comment and the story about your grandfather. They do still make 'em like that around here, and I'm amazed at what hardships, physical and otherwise, they accept as a part of life.

And once you go chickens, it's a slippery slope to other livestock. Other readers can confirm this. I think we should add it to the country life list!

Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh, Jennifer. I'm new to country living and don't have animals yet, but could already identify with #1, #2, #5, #13 (oh absolutely, yes) and #20. Thanks for the laugh.

megan said...

seems I missed the sour cherry harvest here. So very bummed. Anyway, whilst looking around for other farms that might have them, I found this place: www. fruitshare. net/
They list people who have surplus fruit that others can come and get for free. They seem to be mostly in the UK, which is a bit of a trek for me, but thought maybe you would find some good windfall fruit...

A Decent Living said...

What a wonderful perspective... I've never thought about seeing the funny side of my mistakes as they're happening. I can look back and laugh but I'm sure it would make life much easier if I could do it at the same time. Thank you!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

The "Law of Size" originated with boats.

Adam Stevens said...

I hope you don't mind, I am totally re-blogging this. I love #10 and #11.

Well, linking to it anyhow.

Jennifer Montero said...

Adam - Please feel free to re-post or link, or even to add your own!