Steve Warner: is wondering when I became a farmer?
That was my Facebook status update several weeks ago as I stood waiting in a local Tractor Supply Store while my wife and daughter shopped for things like, goat grain, feeder buckets, shovels, wood shavings, salt licks and other stuff you need when you start to own farm animals. I spent some time looking in the boot section at all the rugged, manly kinds of boots you can own when you have to spend much of your time walking in places where your shoes are bound to get dirty. It made me think about my aunt and uncle who own and operate a horse farm in Bucks County Pennsylvania, and who ALWAYS wear heavy boots and jeans, no shorts, no sneakers, just boots and jeans all day, every day, 365 days a year. I cringed a little wondering if there would, at some point, come a day when I would no longer be able to throw on a pair of madras shorts, flip-flops and a skinny tee and go out into my yard without becoming a filthy mess and getting manure in between my toes, a day when my legs would no longer ever see the sunlight and be perennially pale and sickly looking. Ah, but those days are still far off, let’s set those irrational thoughts aside for just a moment.
Sometimes I think about what it would actually be like to be a farmer. I wonder what it would be like to make a living growing crops, or raising cattle or milking cows all day. It’s weird, but it’s one of those careers that… for folks that are locked in cubicles all day, or folks that bang away on a computer keyboard for a living, or folks that are stuck inside an office building breathing in stale, re-circulated air in whatever workplace they have chosen to toil away their days… seems kind of glamorous, in a dirty, sweaty, shit-smelly kind of way. It’s being outside, it’s working the land, its running your own business, its continuing a way of life that this country was built on. Yeah, sounds great… sign me up!
In reality it’s probably not glamorous at all. It’s probably stressful as shit, wondering if you are going to make any money each year or if mother nature is going to wreak havoc on your business by choosing not to rain enough, or some nasty insect is going to show up and eat your crops, or if your cows are going to die from mad-cow disease, or if you’re going to be able to pay the lease fees on your brand new John Deere Combine Harvester, or if you’re band of illegal’s is going to show up when it comes time to harvest your crops. And it’s got to be hard, physical, dirty, back-breaking work. Yeah, sounds swell… uh, no thanks!
Of course, I’m still very far from being a farmer. “It’s just a couple of goats”, I tell myself, “maybe a couple horses within the next year or so.” Yeah, that’s all it is… I’m no farmer… I’m more like the maintenance guy at a petting zoo, you know, with the two goats and the two dogs and the four cats and the two horses on the way. I just do my thing, keep the grass mowed, maintain the fences and the barns, paint stuff, rake up and burn the leaves, shovel the snow, haul the bags of feed and bedding and supplies in my truck. Yep, just the maintenance guy at a petting zoo, and those guys can still wear shorts and flip-flops and skinny tees.
When we first got the goats we gave them free reign of the property and goats being people persons, they mostly hung around the house, spending long hours just standing around on the side porch and pooping a lot. Goat poop is not too bad. It’s just small “black bean-ish” looking pellets and doesn’t really have much of a smell too it. But it accumulates pretty rapidly… you know goats don’t really do anything other than eat stuff… and poop, and within a few weeks the yard around where we walk and park our cars and generally do most of our outdoor activity was covered in serious HILLBILLY levels of goat poop, thousands of little black dots, covering the white layer of snow on the ground, sticking to the dogs and cats fur, getting tracked into the house on our shoes. I mean, it was getting serious, HILLBILLY serious… so serious that I started to have visions of that in-bred banjo playing kid, from the classic Deliverance movie, sitting outside on the edge of the trampoline playing dueling banjos. The notes raced through my head and I hallucinated about carrying my guitar out there to “pick and grin” with him. People that would stop by to visit were uncertain if they should get out of their cars. I was getting concerned that I’d never be able to eat black bean chili again. I wondered if I should go back to the Tractor Supply Store and buy those boots. It was reaching crisis levels…
A few nights later when a warm spell had hit the area and melted the snow, leaving all the goat’s poop soaked and messy on the grass, my daughter walked into the house and in a 13-yr old, hormonally-fueled mess of sniffling and sobbing said, “I think (sob) we need to (sniffle) keep the goats locked up in (sob, sniffle) the fenced area behind the barn (sniffle, sob sniffle)!” Wow, a moment of reason from a 13-year-old animal lover… were all those Mom and Dad led sermons about trying to find a standard-of-living cleanliness level somewhere closer to Martha Stewart than a college fraternity house starting to pay off. We had reached a turning point in our newly consummated farm-animal lifestyle and our daughter was leading the way! We began locking the goats up, only letting them out periodically when we are home so we can spend some time with them.
I only got one response to my Facebook status update about wondering when I had become a farmer. I opened up my Facebook account later that evening and a friend of mine had replied to me “you become a farmer when it no longer bothers you to step in shit!” “Very insightful”, I thought… I guess I haven’t quite reached that threshold. Thankfully, for now, the rest of the family is playing along.