I didn’t physically grow up on a farm or ranch but I wasn’t too far removed from the life. We are still very rural where small talk centers on the weather and cattle or wheat prices. So now I am a rancher’s wife and the world I thought I knew is the world I am learning.
Haying season is in full swing and it very much a goldilocks situation of too much…too little…and always hoping for just right. This year the July air is dry and hot, with record-setting heat in the triple digits this last week. The evening thunderstorms roll in bringing noise and lightening but no rain will let loose from the darkened clouds. We are in a drought.
The grass in the hay fields that was once green and lush, set to grow and be harvested for cattle feed when the winter snow fell, is brown and dormant. Crops that were meant to be harvested have just failed and instead are being hayed and salvaged for cattle feed. The pastures that were meant to last the season are dry and barren and producers are creatively scrambling to find feed and grass for the cattle. Many cattle been taken down the road to the sale barn with producers hoping to make due with a smaller herd forced by this new reality. The dry and crisp grass remaining on the prairies have served as kindle to area fires.
The work still needs done… even though the grass is 1/2 to a 1/3 of the what a normal year brings it still needs to be cut, raked, and baled. The equipment still costs what it costs, the fuel to run it no less, and the breakdowns no less infrequent. My husband sleeps in the tractor waiting for the heat of the day to subside and the nightly dew to come and condition the hay. While the yield is low, there is still a need to produce the best that can be made. Too dry and the hay shatters, too wet and it molds.
I get frustrated with his long hours, inconsistencies, and no guarantee of a paycheck let alone a break even. Though hard work has its place, some days it seems you are just about as guaranteed to become bankrupt as you are to become rich at this gig. Sometimes it just comes down to the goldilocks situation…just enough demand for the product produced ensuring a strong market… good weather….no major breakdowns or expenses…and a blessing from above.
In a world we try to control, farmers and ranchers are the ultimate believers…believers in a merciful God that provides, in neighbors to help, and that their hard work will be enough. I see my husband’s heart and soul poured into a career with no guarantee, no median annual salary, no paid vacation days all with the belief that his hard work will be enough to “make it”.
When training dogs they call it “jackpotting”. The idea of giving a large amount of a reward when the desired response is done…but not every time. There has to be anticipation for that jackpot. The theory is much the same for gamblers. They sit and wait for that one “hit” of the machine. Maybe farmers and ranchers are the same. I sit and worry, ponder a future I can’t predict while the older generation talks of the good years and the not-so-great years. They all talk of the great year…the market high, when there was “just enough” of all the resources they needed. That one great year carries them thru the not so great. They ride out the bad in the hopes of averages…that when it is all said and done and the book cover closes that they will be ahead.
I know it is just part of the cycle…these farmers and ranchers are very in tune to cycles…hopeful and optimistic for the ups and patient and tolerant of the downs. I have a lot to learn from this group of folks…to look at seasons and cycles and take it as a whole not a day. These ranchers gather, arms crossed and leaning around the back of a pickup box to shoot the breeze and discuss how to make it all work when the world seems against success. Yet there is a perpettual optimism. As humans, we all want control…to make our own decisions…be in control of our own destiny…yet here is this group of farmers and ranchers so OK to accept their fate, their hand dealt.
We can’t control the weather. I can’t make those ominious clouds that come and go finally let go of any moisture. But I can live and learn, take pride in the work my family has choosen to do. I can’t speak for my husband but I know he isn’t motivated by a paycheck or pride, but with the quiet purpose of a life well lived, enjoying and sharing a legacy, with reverence for the land and its history.