I remember the first time I watched an animal die on the farm.
It was in February of 2016, shortly after I bought my first flock of sheep. At the time, my boyfriend’s uncle was wanting to retire and gave me an opportunity to buy 70 ewes, my first chance at farming on my own terms. Although my boyfriend had been farming his whole life, he had experience with pigs and cattle, so this would be the first time we raised lambs together.
They were my sheep though — my first chance at farm debt. I financed the herd and was eager to get started. This was gonna be great, I thought. I get to work with newborn lambs! It’ll be so fun and cute and such a good opportunity!
It was and still is. But you don’t always think of the “ugly” when you’re getting into agriculture. When something happens at birth, when animals get sick and die — complications are all part of it. The old saying goes, “If you have livestock, you’re gonna have deadstock.” It can be challenging. We all want what’s best for the animals. Ask any farmer … the animal’s needs come before our own.
I quickly learned that lambing was a wonderful yet difficult 24/7 job full of sleepless nights and challenges.
But no one told me about the ugly. The struggles.
The average person tends to have a very romantic image of farming. It’s pretty, it’s fun, it’s agritourism — farm themes make for a cute decoration in the house. Right?
Although farming is generally quite rewarding, its not all sunshine and roses.
Likewise, I also remember the first year I started gardening. “It’ll be great!” I thought.
I planted a huge garden and thought it would be so fun to grow all my own food and be completely self sufficient. How hard could it be?
The pests came. The insects, weeds, extreme weather, insect bites, rabbits burrowing and eating everything. The fencing seemed to never be good enough, and two to three hours a day was spent weeding. You could also lay down plastics, mulch, buy expensive tillers, straw bales, and more to try to outsmart the weeds but …
No one tells you about the ugly.
I was visiting a friend on her five-acre farm in Florida. It’s beautiful. Free-range chickens and geese, delicious fresh produce, a real connection to her roots and the land. All was going fine until we discovered a couple dead chickens, killed by a predator.
Her beautiful produce was eaten by rabbits, and she had to spend additional time, money, and strategic planning to find out where the rabbits were living to set a trap.
The weather was bringing in unforeseen challenges of a cold front: 27 degrees in Florida! We frantically bought tarps and plastic sheets and constructed additional greenhouses on the farm within a day. With help from friends, we were able to get everything built and save (most of) the plants and her hard work.
No one told her about the ugly.
When touring the Idaho potato harvest and seeing mountains of potatoes in storage I had to ask: How did they protect them from rodents?
The answer was traps. Lots and lots and lots of traps. They constantly have to monitor to make sure pests are not able to get into the storage facilities. Because they sure will! Where there’s a will, there’s a way for mice on a farm.
My farm girl mind now goes to the “ugly.” People don’t always think of the ugly but it’s certainly a huge part of it.
Farming is arguably the best dang career in the world. Ask any farmer — it’s in your blood. Your passions, your veins, family, and faith, it’s all part of it, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Just don’t forget to brace yourself for the ugly.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.