Recently a good friend I met online, Ryan Goodman, asked an interesting question on his popular blog Agriculture Proud:
“How would you farm differently if a total stranger (non-farmer/rancher) followed you around all day?”
I found this an interesting question. My first response was that I would do nothing different but after thinking about how I responded to finding out about visitors stopping over in the past, I began to ponder whether this was entirely accurate. No different than most individuals expecting house guests over when guests are expected on the farm I normally tidy things up a bit to make sure they are presentable. It’s also common for me to think about what places and tasks I definitely want visitors to see and of course…. what places and tasks are best left until after visitors leave. Most importantly I think about the worst, this is a working farm and what if something happens as a cow could slip and break its leg, go down, or who know what else!
Thomas Song and Pam Haley
That is what normally happens, but while driving home from a Thanksgiving feast at the in-laws on Thursday Pam suddenly remembered that a college photography student from Kent State University had scheduled a visit on our farm in the morning for a project in one of his classes. Immediately I started to think about everything that had to be done before Thomas Song arrived in the morning as the steers needed to be bedded, the cement feeding pad was due to have the manure scraped, the dogs latest hunting prize needed buried and of course there was bale twine and feed bags needing picked up and taken to the trash. Of course it was Thanksgiving and there was little time for all of this and after thinking it through (as in Pam informing me) I realized that Thomas was visiting our farm to see and document these very activities, therefore I could relax and wait till he arrived to get to business!
Thomas arrived as planned in the morning, on the list of things to do for the morning were
Tagging in a new heifer calf. Photo courtesy of Thomas Song
to feed, add straw bedding for the steers, scrape the pad, tag in and give vitamins to a newborn heifer calf, load our bull, Laredo, into the trailer and move him to a new group of cows and deliver Dharma (a bred heifer) to a neighbor who recently purchased her. We quickly got started on our day and explained what we were doing along the way only pausing briefly a few times to explain a little more of why we were doing a few things. Things moved along great, and all that was left was to unload Laredo from the trailer and load Dharma into the trailer.
So we separated Dharma into a holding pen as we unloaded Laredo off the trailer. This is when one of my fears happened, a what if, what else, an OH NO! Dharma decided she wanted to be with Laredo and all the other cows and somehow she squeezed her head between a wooden gate and a post turning the space into a giant Chinese puzzle and making it nearly impossible to get her head free. Pam and I immediately ran over
Pam trying to free Dharma from the gate. Photo courtesy of Thomas Song
and tried to assist Dharma in getting her head loose, but it was too tight and I could not unhook the chain from the post. Logically next thought was to lower Dharma’s head to relieve some of the tension on the chain, knowing all my actions were being photographed I hesitantly began to push down, trying to force her to lower her head but it was useless as she was much stronger than me. I then remembered I had some tools around the corner, and I could perhaps use them to break the chain that was immobilizing Dharma, and after a little work I was able to split the chain and Dharma was free and other than a little mental grief she was unharmed.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson, no matter how much you plan and prepare things can and will go wrong. At the end of the day we have to be willing to except this, invite others onto our farms to share farm life experiences. We have to be able to read our guests motives and do things to insure they understand why we do certain things and what motivates our actions. In this case, I feel like Thomas could see that Pam and I were very concerned about what was happening and that we were trying to help Dharma as quickly as possible.
I am sure next time I learn of a farm visitor I will think of everything that needs to be done before they show up, and despite past lessons learned, I will do what needs to be done and welcome my guests when they arrive!
At the end of the day I am thankful that Thomas took the time to seek out a farmer to learn more about beef production, and I am thankful that we were able to take the time to show him around.