I raise beef cattle. I run about 30-50 head depending on the time of year but try and keep my momma cow population at the 20-25 level. A lot of people envy my situation – the land and the rather romantic idea of working the land compared to the everyday grind. I reckon there’s some truth to that (though I am also employed in corporate America, so I am very familiar with the “everyday grind” also).
For me, however, it has been an exercise in futility. Your job, when you raise livestock, is to keep one step ahead of death. One person told me once that the livestock owner’s job isn’t so much keeping the animals alive as it is preventing them from dying. Another common saying is that “a cow is born looking for a way to die and your job is to find it before they do”.
It’s a daily challenge especially in the winter (I’m in a Northern climate) when trying to just get feed and water to them becomes the “daily grind” let alone treating any ailments that come along when the mud and snow is over your boots and the gates are all frozen shut.
When people ask me about it I don’t glow with appreciation for how great it is. For me, it’s really rather brutal physically and psychologically. This is especially true when you have to euthanize an animal you couldn’t save or you watch a calf takes it’s last breath when it’s only a couple days old.
Part of it is because I am an animal lover and hate watching death, but most of it is because I become aware of my limitations. Farming makes me aware I am not God. Perhaps that’s why the “bible belt” is so closely aligned with the “farm belt”. People who grow food know they are not God.
Farming is a humbling experience. Becoming aware you’re not God is humbling. When you are shame-based person, it can also become humiliating. Being humbled can be a constructive experience. Being humiliated has no value. When I stand in my field I find myself frequently aware of the fact that I am “not enough”. I am not enough to keep these animals alive or even prevent myself from making mistakes along the way.
Farming can make you feel like you are a failure. That’s the voice of shame. There has to be some way of discerning the difference between failing at something and BEING a failure because you failed. There has got to be some way to overcome the grief a person feels inside themselves when they continually come face to face with their limitations to acknowledge that this simply is what it means to be human (humbled) and that it doesn’t mean you are what your internal voice says about you (humiliated).
The definition of humanity is to have limitations – to be imperfect. Frequently that can be an excruciating experience but it’s one we all must face if we are going to enter any state of psychological health in this world.
The reason I farm is to remind myself I am not God. The reason I farm is to remind myself I’m only human – and give myself the opportunity to be OK with that. The reason I farm is to see if I can someday get to that place where I can be humbled without feeling humiliated. The reason I farm is to fight against the voice that is attempting to convince me to hang it up because I am a failure each time I fail. The reason I farm is to give myself an opportunity to be OK with the fact that I am not enough.