Admittedly, my interest in devoting too much of my time and energy to this “farm” has waxed and wained. I fully realize that I’m not a natural farmer, and not having grown up on a farm or around farmers is an insurmountable weakness. The FFA kids that I, as a city dweller, used to lampoon growing up have more usable knowledge about farming and living in the country in their little fingers than I will ever gain in this short life. Mea Culpa! The constant message I receive from the Communion of Saints, whenever I pray for assistance with some farm task, is “don’t give up your day job.”
And besides, there is no place more fertile for the infestation of Murphy’s Law than the farm! Certainly we all have experienced the occasional demoralizing taunts of Murphy’s Law: carrying an armload of shirts, and a hanger always grabs a doorknob; carrying an armload of groceries in your left arm and your car keys are in your left pants pocket; moving the sweeper around the house, and the plug catches under a chair leg; the list goes on endlessly.
Well, on the farm, the list increases exponentially, at least for me, in direct proportion to the number of ambitious chores I plan: every big task requires at least three trips to Tractor Supply or Lowes; if I need a Phillips screwdriver, I can only find Flatheads (and vice versa); every plug on every piece of equipment always catches something along the way; I’m all set to cut a cord of wood and the gas can is empty; and generally I always need a third hand to get anything done when I’m alone on the back acres.
For awhile I wondered whether these demoralizing interruptions were demonic (Is this happening only to me?!!!), or were they angelic messengers from God trying to tell me I had misheard God’s call (not “farming”, but “framing”: He intended for me to work in a photo shop!).
In time, though, I think I’ve come to understand Murphy’s Law. It’s very much an active strategy of God’s desire to purge us from attitudes that prevent us from being fruitful (i.e., John 15:2). As the Author wrote in Hebrews, “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’” (Heb 12:7).
Now whenever I need a hammer out in the barn and realize that it’s at the house 200 yards away, or bump my 6’4” high head for the thousandth time on the 5’10” rafters in our 100 year-old sheep barn, or I can’t read the minute ingredients on a feedbag because I forgot to wear my bifocals, or I get my tractor immovably bound up on a hidden stump in the weeds, I just smile and know that this is all a sign that God loves me, and only wants me to grow in humility.
All this to say, though, that there have been many “signs” questioning whether I should or should not devote too much of my time, talents, energy, and resources to this farm.
As it became more and more obvious that our youngest son was not a “traditional learner” and probably not college bound, the question rose whether we could interest him in learning, developing, and maybe one day taking over the farm. At 16, he seemed interested, so together we decided to prepare our acreage so we could rotationally graze cattle. He and I spend several months mowing and cleaning up about 12 acres, and then dividing the acres into paddocks, each with access to water, using temporary electric fencing.
Then with great excitement we bought six Angus-Hereford mix feeder calves, all of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.
Together, we learned what needed to be done on a daily basis to care for and move the cattle from one paddock to the next. We learned that we had become, not cattle farmers, but grass farmers: we were using the cattle to mow our fields. As the first winter approached, when other small farmers were taking their well-fed feeder calves to market, we decided together to keep them for the winter, as the start of our grass-fed herd! So, this required stocking up a barn full of hay. In the mean time, we had added to our herd a young Jersey cow, named Anastasia, and so we were back into milking daily—all of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.
During the winter the rotational schedule ceased, but in the spring, the rotations returned, and in time we were gifted with three calves. Also, in the spring, we added 16 chickens to our menagerie, blessing us with range-fed eggs. Then, after distributing a load of our personally cultured cow manure, we planted an 80×20 garden, which flourished! All of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.
But what became mostly clear over the winter and the spring was that this was not, as far as we could tell, our youngest son’s “calling.” The onset of Murphy’s Law in his life whenever he came out to help on the farm was far more serious that mere spiritual discipline: it was downright dangerous, even life threatening. As they say, the farm is the most dangerous place in America for children (at least it used to be). It also became obvious, that he was far more hungry for social interaction and a job out with people than for the solitary self-contented life of modern small farming.
In time, the cattle became my primary chore, and my wife and I shared responsibilities for the milking, the chickens, and the garden. My son would help, if push came to shove, but it was not where his heart was, nor, frankly, his gifts. (UPDATE: I must note with joy that my son has been a great help to his Aunt down the road harvesting apples. He sometimes picks three bushels a day!)
So now winter is upon us, and I have to decide what to do with this herd of cattle. It’s hardly worth keeping a herd because it’s nearly impossible to break even at the auction barn, and if I really have no one to help, it’s hard to do my “day job” which often requires traveling.
So why did God call us to expend all this time, talent, energy, and money (!) on this cattle venture? Just to test whether our youngest son was being called to become a farmer? Or maybe to see whether I had it in me to be a cattle (grass) farmer? I think it’s all akin to those experiences with Murphy’s Law. The times my son and I were out together working on fences, chasing cattle between paddocks, cleaning up fallen trees, splitting wood, stacking hay, laughing at the human expressions on the cows faces or in their moos, riding out in a storm looking for a lost calf, shoveling manure into a pile and then transferring it to our garden, repairing the chicken house, all of this was what it was about. If I focused on whether I was a profitable cattle farmer or whether our test was successful in making our son a farmer, I might conclude it was all a failure. But when I think of the experiences we have had together doing it, and continue to have, a father, a mother, and our youngest son, I can only smile and know that God loves us.
Sometimes why is not why.