Earlier this month, we lost seven newborn calves in less than two weeks. That’s more than we’ve lost in the last year, and it was heartbreaking. Now that we’re on the other side of it, it’s easy to realize that it wasn’t our fault. The outbreak was completely unforeseen, and we did everything we could to diagnose and fix it. In the thick of the fight, I felt like a complete failure. Like, after all my years of raising calves, I hadn’t learned anything. Ultimately, the problem was a completely random, unforeseen set of circumstances that we, and specialists, couldn’t have seen coming. And isn’t that just…farming? The second you think you’ve got it all figured out and everything is running smoothly, you fail.
There’s a song that I love, which shares the same title as this blog, that I think describes farming well. It talks about a person who’s giving it their all to win “the race.” No matter how hard they try, even if they’re inches from winning, the proverbial “they” keep moving the finish line.
Farming. No matter how hard we try, no matter how many hours we work, the metaphorical finish line never seems to be within reach. I’m not the only one experiencing this phenomenon right now. Farms from all over the country are dealing with weather-related disasters. The finish line was right there, harvest was in their sights, then came the rains, storms, and tornados. Instead of greasing forage wagons and checking corn moisture levels, they’re assessing damage and reorganizing strategies. Man, have I been there.
The problem with farming is that our metaphorical ‘they’ are often things that we can’t plan for or change. The “they” are things like the weather, disease, milk prices, and input costs. Yet, each year we seem to forget the challenges of the last and still have hope for the next.
In the face of every calf we’ve had since our little epidemic, I see the faces of the seven we couldn’t save. In every batch of feed those flooded farmers mix over the next year, they’ll remember the feet of water on the top of their lost crops. The hardships never go away, they’re forever engrained in us, pushing us to be smarter, be stronger, and be better. As if we needed to be reminded.
How we deal with them is what sets us apart, and the song describes it so perfectly. It says, “I made friends with rejection, I’ve straightened up my spine. I’ll change each imperfection, ‘till it’s time to drink the wine.” Because staying down isn’t in our nature, and even though we value tradition, farmers make changes daily that benefit their animals, the environment, and their communities. Oh, and the wine, at the end of a hard day there’s got to be wine. “Cause they just keep moving that line!”
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.