Friday, December 28, 2007

Who's Running the Farm?

Who really runs a farm? In fact, where did the phrase ever originate, "to run a farm"? More true is the phrase, "to run a-muck". We could add... on a farm. Or, "to run down", or "to run hog-wild", or "to run away". That last one would be "from the farm".

In the cold wet of winter in western Oregon's Coast Range, when the mud is knee deep and icy and all the leaves blown off the trees, there is time to sit down for a bit. This year, while sitting, I realized with some clarity that instead of running our farm, our farm is running us. This is not a good thing.

Ever since we arrived four years ago to pick up where the old timers and hippies left off, we appear to have lost our business skills of reasoning and strategy; replaced by gut reaction and salvage operations. And it's not just the farm in control. There is the weather, the land, the wild creatures of the forests and the air, and life and death that also appear to be driving the momentum.

When I think of what we didn't know when we first arrived, I am surprised we are either not maimed, dead, or gone from here. Just dumb luck, I guess. But it brings me back to the question of being in control or being controlled by circumstances beyond our control. It's a reality that farmers around the world know and live with each day.

There is no rain and the crops die; there is too much rain and the cows die. Spring lambing is successful as the ewes spread out across green pastures; the cougar is successful finding plenty of young lamb meat for her cubs and hiding it well so she can't be tracked. Wood rots with age and buildings need to be rebuilt. Animals lean on fencing and fencing needs to be replaced. Tractors break down in the middle of harvest. Irrigation pipes spring leaks and blow apart when you are farthest from the pump "off" switch.

It is all a part of the Second Law of Thermodynamics I learned about in 9th grade. In layman's terms, the law basically states that "everything moves towards chaos". The idea being that it takes more energy to keep things organized than it does to allow things to be disorganized. Given half a chance most things on this earth will settle at a level of least resistance. It is only when we humans try to organize nature to fit our needs that control even becomes an issue. As in a farm. And, once you understand that, then it doesn't seem so bad.

It's like our farmer friends down the road told us. The weekends and the weekdays are all the same to them. The animals still need to be fed morning and night no matter the day. The hay needs to be harvested when it is ripe and there is no rain in the forecast for at least 3-5 days. There are other laws at work on a farm, like Murphy's Law, and you just need to have extra parts around all the time.

But, on the other hand, you know the smell of fresh mown hay. Can rub the rich, brown soil of a tilled field between your fingers. Disappear in a garden of corn or, better yet, sunflowers. Hear the cry of a hawk circling high above. Watch lambs unexpectedly leap in play as they run across a field, "Catch me, catch me, weeee, catch me!"

Now, the "running a-muck" and "running hog-wild" aren't nearly as hard to figure out. With mud to my arm pits at this time of year, and half of it from the sheep and the other half from the horses, no wonder there are mud rooms off the house where all the stinky boots remain. "Hog-wild", well that would be Craig's description of chasing down his 450 pound hog at midnight, first from his garden and then from the middle of the highway where Craig was more concerned about the damage the hog might do to a car than the other way around. The hog ended up in the freezer within the week.

Get's one to thinking: why didn't I drop more rock last summer so I wouldn't have to deal with this winter's mud? And, how did the hog get out anyway? All good questions. All about running a farm. Or not.

Photo: Sheep are our largest "crop" and I have lots of sheep pictures so here is another. Moms and babies standing on dry dirt, which in winter turns into sticky, deep mud for everything that isn't under cover. Yuck!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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