Here I am; pasture empty, pants dotted with cow manure and a hoof imprint on my calf, standing in an empty pen wondering about my life’s effort as a grass farmer nourishing the land and people. My work seems to be under attack from contributing to climate change to animal welfare issues. It’s an emotional time pondering whether there is a genuine appreciation for the hours of work caring for animals that will someday provide organic milk or grass-fed beef to families.
Loading out is an agricultural term used to describe moving whole sets of animals to another location or to a processing facility. For over 30 years working as a custom grazier, I have nurtured countless generations of cows on pristine pastures giving them the best life possible while also making personal sacrifices for them. I’ve also worked with many families to provide a service in which they can prosper too.
For me, there is symbolism in load-out day that gives me pause to look at the bigger picture of life as the truck rolls out of site. How will my holistic work be perceived? How many more load-outs do I have left? What will be my legacy? I wonder how Mother Nature will perceive my stewardship; for someday I will be loaded out, returned to the earth and put to rest in green pastures.
I wanna know it matters. I gotta believe it matters what I do and that my community cares what myself and farmers do 24/7. I/we owe these animals a tremendous amount of respect and sheer gratitude for turning sunshine, soil, water and grass into milk and meat to feed hungry microbes and a planet.
This year’s load-out seems especially poignant as I am the “walking wounded” and continue to be haunted by my brother’s untimely death even though it was 2 years ago. On these types of days, I contemplate the future. Should I just quit or should I persevere? I dislike the vulnerability of being weak but I’m at a low point. Then I think of my brother who never quit, I think of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, wife, children and grandchildren who all grew up in the farming life and I think how much I’ve done to improve our sacred land.
As I dismantle the portable catch pen once again, it reminds me of resilience with the ability to recover, change and keep moving forward despite the physical and emotional obstacles. I still believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds.
Over the Holiday break, On Pasture has been transitioning to a new dedicated server to better serve the On Pasture community. In the process, two comments on this article got lost. Here they are:
You do what makes you happy…you deserve it…
My wife said to me this year, “you only get upset two days during the year. The day they bring the cattle in and the day you send them out.”
Load out is an emotional day for reflection, so grab a beer, watch some dumb videos and relax, you deserve it.
And from Alice:
What we do is a gift to the planet, whether or not it is recognized or acknowledged by humans. The gift we receive in return is a connection to the earth and its beings. It is a gift with many levels, both seen and unseen, which reaches far beyond us. We are so blessed to be chosen and to choose the toils of stewardship; living in concert with the animals, plants, sun, air and soil.
Alice, that is beautifully written. Thank you for that perspective on this New Year’s Day.
Troy, you always write well but this is particularly poignant. I’m finding that the public will never really understand what farmers do. Heck, I wrote about farmers for 10 years until I became one, and I can say that until I became one, I never fully understood. Rather than wonder if our agricultural work is valued, we should value the approbation of fellow farmers when it comes. I know that many of your colleagues, old and new, admire your work and have learned from it. This is the greatest gift, and you have earned it, my friend.
Thanks Carrie. There is a bigger picture to just grazing. I’m still trying to cultivate it and discuss it which Miss Kathy allows me to do.
Thank you for causing me once more to stare out the window at the blackness, begging the dawn to show up. Your inspiring words make me want to leave the house early, go fetch up my portable panels from the creek crossing before the flood takes them, lay out a water line for the new spring box, stop in -unannounced-at the new neighbors down at the south end of the valley. It’s holiday season, after all.
“A faith born not of words but of deeds.” I think you are correct: we need to go forward in the faith that we are, most simply, doing good and doing it well. For today, that’s what I’m going to try and do. That, and perhaps just stop and whisper my thanks to the grass.
Thank you John. My journey may be of too many deeds and not enough reflection but I’m trying to work on it. It’s not easy to be the cry baby when your cast as the zealot, always questioning the status quo. Seems we should be visiting about “the processes” in our lives and in our environment for the good of our children. GW
Thank you for your willingness to share your deep feelings–hopes, confusions, and faith. For me, it is precisely this openness and honesty that have marked your contributions to onpasture.com and made reading anything written by you something to read and ponder, . . . and act upon.
Thanks Curt, ya brought a tear to my eye. It keeps me motivated to “Try”. GW
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