I have been remiss in my blogging for most of the year and was commenting to Shaun last night at milking chores how I really needed to get a blog post done, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I told him that since this spring on the farm has been so difficult for me, I just can’t seem to find anything that I want to write about. Shaun’s response was, as the level reasonable voice in my life, “Why don’t you blog about that, Lorrie? Having a farm isn’t always easy and people need to know about that too.” He’s right! And this year has been one of those years. They seem to come in waves, so I am hopeful that this is it for a while and we can settle into a decade or so of smooth sailing, but this one has been one for the books.
To say kidding season was rough would be the understatement of the century. I know it is mostly because kidding season started a mere 5 weeks after my cancer surgery with two early kiddings. That was unplanned and untimely. I simply wasn’t up to the job at hand, but that train had already left the station, so there was nothing we could do. We had a concentrated kidding season of about two weeks the third and fourth week of March, which was precisely the same time I came down with a post-surgical internal infection and ended up in ER. As the mid-wife of the kidding team, (the one with smaller hands), I am the one responsible for sorting out tangled up kids and this year we had plenty of them. It felt as though every birth was a challenge in one way or another. We lost two does! That is huge for our tiny dairy and crushing to my heart. That is so hard for me to put into writing and put out there for the world because I feel so much responsibility to these animals and losses like that cut me to the core. I know as a beginner, the babies are the ones that capture your heart, but as a seasoned goat breeder, I assure you, the does are like part of our family. Again, kidding complications were rampant, or maybe it was just that I was off my game and not as observant and attentive as normal. Whatever the case may be, it has been a brutal spring, but sometimes having a farm is like that. I love what we do, but it comes with bittersweet heartache because when things go bad they go very bad indeed and lives are often lost.
It has been very humbling to admit that I am not up to speed and that trying to manage the farm has been fraught with adversity for our small team of two this year. Shaun and I have a well-oiled system between the two of us, each one with their own tasks. I am afraid, this year, Shaun has carried most of the weight while trying to keep me in check too—no small task for certain. In hindsight, I wish I had not been so stubborn and perhaps was a bit more realistic about what my limitations might be after the surgery but maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference. It is hard to realize that your abilities have been compromised and harder to let go of some of your responsibilities in order to give yourself time to heal. Unfortunately, when you have a farm, the seasons continue to change and the rhythms of the farm beat on, so you either get with the program or try to adjust, so I thought I would offer some of the thoughts that I have had about managing the farm when you are recovering from an illness or struggling through a long term illness. For us, our farm is a choice. We have outside sources of income (and thankfully, good medical insurance), so everything we do on the farm is part of our way of life, but not our livelihood, so we have the ability to be agile and adjust. I know many of my farmer friends out there aren’t as fortunate, but hopefully some of my suggestions will be applicable to them as well.
- Hire help! I don’t necessarily mean, try to find someone to do all of your farm work for you. In my case, it is simply that I don’t have my normal energy and stamina back. I can certainly ‘do the minimum’ and get by, but anything more is a stretch. We have two HUGE piles of wood staring at us and I am going to offer a fundraising opportunity to any 4-H club that wants to come out and stack it. Could we do it? Absolutely! Do I have the energy for it? I suppose I could have the energy for it, but I recognize that my energy is not limitless and stacking wood is not how I would choose to spend it. For some of those tasks that you can off-load: Do it!
- Less is more! In everything…we have downsized the goats by half! (Obviously, some were not by choice…) We were totally skunked on Nubian kids so we have a year with no replacement does coming in, so we should be able to stabilize our numbers to this very manageable group of does. We have kept only the very best. They are a brood of beautiful girls that are hard workers with outstanding linear appraisal scores. Quality not quantity. Less is more in everything. Less vegetable garden to take care of. We have tried to focus on the things that we really like and keep and do the very best at those things.
- Adjust & diversify. Let me tell you, after having had your abdomen splayed open and having a nice size piece of your innards removed, hanging over a cheese vat and wrestling 50 pounds of curds is just a tad uncomfortable. So, not so much cheese this year. As my sweet hubby pointed out, we have a cave full of cheese that will do nothing but get sharper and better, so we have a year where we don’t have any mild cheese for sale. That is the cancer year. We know that. We can deal with that. It is okay. Instead, this year we put in a larger cutting flower garden and I am going to make a few bouquets to sell and give away. Maybe not as lucrative as cheese, but certainly good for the soul.
- Slow & steady wins the race. It has kind of happened just because of my energy level, but honestly, I can really see the benefits. My garden has gone in in waves. The flowers have been planted in waves. I can certainly see how staggered kidding dates would have helped us this year. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Slowly, slowly , slowly I keep trudging along and picking at things and lo and behold, they are getting done.
- Ask for help and say thank you. I am afraid I am one of those people that won’t ask for help. I guess I consider it a sign of weakness or that it proves I am incapable of something. Guess what? When you are ill or healing you are weak and there are many things you are incapable of. I have had to work very hard at asking my husband (and friends and family) for help and simply saying ‘thank you’ and accepting it. This is not a sign of character weakness; just because you are temporarily physically not able to do something, doesn’t make you ‘weak’. It takes humility to realize your limitations, but people are willing and want to help. Let them.
- Ditch the list. No, not really. Seriously, those who know me know I live by my lists. The value of my day is reflected in the number of things I have checked off my list. Unfortunately, even before this latest little brush with cancer, I had a tendency to overestimate my ability and underestimate the time it would take to complete the tasks on the list. So instead of completely ditching it, if you are like me and live for the check marks, at least break it down more and make it manageable. Put everything on the list so you feel like you actually accomplished something. If that includes cooking dinner or milking goats (because these mundane normal tasks would never make it to my list), for goodness sake, do it. Put them on the list and check them off. It will tell your mind that you are healing and you are accomplishing things.
- Celebrate small victories. I mean really, when I came out of church super excited because I ‘didn’t fall asleep this week’, it was the first time I actually felt like I was improving. (Yes, I did tell my pastor and he laughed.) When I managed to mow the entire front yard and backyard without a break, I was overjoyed. It is slow, and I am impatient, but I know when I celebrate the small victories that I am improving. Whatever it takes, when you are recovering, give yourself a gold-star for the small stuff. It helps.
- Focus on the things you can do and do well. All the other stuff takes too much brain power. Don’t try to start anything new or different. I know, in my case, trying to figure out what was wrong with goats when they weren’t well (this past spring) was absolutely overwhelming. Something as simple as problem solving a goat illness crippled me. It just required too much from my brain that had recently undergone too many hours of general anesthesia. Just stick to the things on the farm that are in your comfort zone. Try to delegate out the other stuff or eliminate it if it is possible.
- Give yourself permission to change. Personally, I am so sick and tired of my care team telling me that it will just take time to ‘find my new normal’. Frankly, I rather liked my ‘old normal’ and I would really just like that back, but I have come to realize you can’t go through something like what I have gone through and not come out changed on the other side, so ‘new normal’ is going to happen. All of life’s events change us and that is okay. I have tried to be good about giving myself permission to go a little slower, take a little longer, stop a little sooner, and rest a little more. I am never going to get all the farm work done anyway, so permission to change the way I have always gone about taking care of the farm is okay.
- Let the farm heal you. We farm because it is the way we choose to live, for so many reasons, but not the least of which is because it gives us life. In the wake of an illness or injury, this is the time that the farm can make everything in your life right again. Shaun helped me expand my flower garden a bit this spring so that I can ‘stop and smell the roses’ a bit more and really enjoy the farm. After all, isn’t that the reason we choose to live this way? To enjoy all of the beauty and life it brings us.
Whatever life is handing you right now, know that you aren’t alone. If farming is your passion and your way of life, try to be nimble and adjust. This too shall pass and on the other side our ‘new normal’ will still be filled with everything good that the farm gives us.