I pulled in the drive and looked over at the bottle calves pen to see “Strawberry” wagging her tail like a dog and “Ferdinand” stretched out and still. Calves like to trick you. You think they’re dead, laying flat and lifeless basking in the sun. 9 times out of 10 they’re alive and playing opossum. Today was the one out of ten. Ferdinand had died while I was at work.
Ferdinand hadn’t been quite right from the day he was born. He was rather slow, but he continued to gain strength and personality and quite frankly we thought we were on the right path. However, the night before he wouldn’t eat. We pumped him full of electrolytes and prayed for the best. That morning he was alive but by the time evening rolled around he had died and gone to heaven. My daughter said, “mom did Ferdinand go to that headstone place, where Pa Pa Larry is?” In my daughters’ eyes it’s not a cemetery or heaven it’s the “headstone place”.
My son shows a bottle calf for 4-H. This year we were lucky enough to have two calves within days apart from one another that needed a bottle. Our daughter latched on to “strawberry” (which truth be told was the calf our son needed to show), and our son was left with Ferdinand. Which in all honesty, my son didn’t mind? Really, the calf’s personalities matched our children. Strawberry is ornery, full of life and full of sass- like our daughter. Ferdinand was quiet and calm like our son.
So, the night when we went out to feed Ferdinand and found him not in a good state, I knew I probably needed to have a little talk with Grady. On farms we witness life and death, well sometimes daily. This year alone we lost nine calves during our spring calving season. I was just sure our soft-hearted son Grady would be a mess when little Ferdinand died. I was sure of it. I was shocked when he said, “Mom I know that’s part of farming, sometimes things don’t go our way and bad things happen”. My jaw dropped. He continued saying “he was sick and now he’s not in pain”.
As producers we sometimes get blamed for poor treatment of our animals. But lord if those people could only look into the eyes of my seven-year-old who just lost his 4-H bottle calf they might think different. Those little animals are our livelihood. Those mommas losing their babies were babies we raised ourselves. It’s a hard feeling to describe when you lose a calf. Part of you knows, as a producer it’s just part of it. Part of you cringes thinking about it, the loss of the animal and the loss of a future paycheck. Those cows that you’ve poured your heart, sweat and tears into just lost their baby. Your baby just lost her baby. Okay, maybe that’s going a little overboard. But that’s what those animals mean to us.
The fact that my seven-year-old, without a tear in his eyes was telling me that’s part of it, in a weird way made me proud. We don’t want our kids to hurt. We don’t want them to see the bad in life. In our industry though we must. We all experience death at some point in our life. Children of farmers and ranchers may experience it earlier and on a larger scale.
Maybe that’s what it is with farmers, from the get-go we witness both sides of things. We witness a calf being born but we also witness a mother standing over her newborn calf who was stillborn refusing to leave its side. We witness the blessings and tragedies. The good and the bad.
Life on the farm is NEVER perfect but it’s a playground for learning life lessons. My seven-year-old put another notch in his belt of deaths on the farm and I learned my children are watching, learning and taking it all in. They’re watching us move on. In the words of my seven-year-old- “that’s part of farming, things don’t always go our way” but we get back up and move on to another day.
My hands get sweaty (so sweaty you can see a slight imprint when I wipe them on my dress), my heart is beating fast, and my mind is going nonstop.
We are sitting in a pew waiting for our turn to get up and congratulate the new bride and the groom. Instead of enjoying myself I’m frantically worrying about do I shake their hand, do I hug them, do I just do neither?
This is how my mind works. It’s constantly worrying. Fast forward to the reception- the line forms for the food and my husband says let’s get in line. Once again, I begin to think- what if I stand up and my dress is stuck, and I show half the world my underwear? What if I stand up and slip in these heels I’m not used to walking in? What if I hold up the food line and people are thinking hurry the heck up?
This is how my mind works and quite frankly it SUCKS.
I was excited to go to the wedding and enjoy myself. A night out with my husband with no children. My hair was curled, makeup was done and for once in my life I felt pretty.
Leaving that reception that night though left me in the dumps. All because I hate who I’ve become, and I hate what I’ve let my mind do to me.
I long for the old me. The one who was confident. The one who had all the determination in the world and nothing standing in her way. The one who enjoyed being around others and embracing life. The one who knew who she was and where she wanted to go.
As I sit here and write this, I worry it comes off as a self-pity post, but it’s not. I know I need to suck it up and go on, but my mind is basically a disability at times for me and right now I’m disabled. I don’t want to be this way. It kills me that I’m this way.
I hate my children think that I’m “sick all the time” or that mommy isn’t like the other moms. I hate that I can’t be social within a group of moms. School meetings, dance mom hangouts, or just people in general gets me so down in the dumps its hard to get out. I feel like the things that come out of my mouth are stupid, so I just don’t talk. I feel like when I do talk none of it makes sense and I’m just rambling.
I’m seen as weird and I know that. I hate it for my children’s sake. But I AM STILL HERE. My kids are still fed and bathed and given the things they are needed. I may see you in public and turn a blind eye. It’s not because I want to its just how I cope with the situation. I come off as stuck up due to my lack of social skills, but it is what it is. I absolutely hate it for my children. They have that weird mom. They aren’t included in parties and gatherings because I’m that mom, the outcast.
I’m struggling, but I AM STILL HERE. I have two little ones who depend on their weird mom. They miss out on opportunities because of me, but they will grow up with me so that’s truly what counts.
Life is tough, I get that. I hear it all the time. Suck it up, it could be much worse. You are blessed. Life will go on, yours isn’t that bad. This is all true and I know it. My mind just plays games on me and leaves me with a “brain on fire” as I like to call it. It’s hard to put the fire out and when you do you never know when it will light back up.
Check on your friends and family today. Check on their mental well-being. Let them know you’re there and you truly care, let them know you are glad THEY ARE STILL HERE.
Somewhere the last load of cattle a rancher or dairyman has, is being watched as it pulls out of the driveway.
Somewhere Tom and Betty watch as their land is auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Somewhere a little boy asks his parent’s why they are no longer farming.
Somewhere a young couple who risked everything, isn’t reaping their reward.
Farming ranks at the top of the suicide list by occupation. Looking at today’s farming economy, one could see why. Somewhere some farmer is losing everything they’ve built. They are losing the blood sweat and tears they’ve worked their whole life pouring into something that they’re so passionate about.
Yet, that farmer pushes on- sometimes. As a person with mental illness I’ve been told time and time again how selfish suicide is, and I agree it is. However, the mind works in mysterious ways. You get in such a dark and deep spot that you think it’s the only solution. That you’re a burden to everyone around you. I know, because I’ve been there. But remember I have two children that will have to live with the burden I leave them is what pushes me through. I’d rather them struggle with me here verses struggle without me here.
As farmers, we take such pride in what we do- our land, our animals, our family. That pride is what gets us. We weather the storms, the droughts, and the markets to try to survive another year.
As a young farmer the financial burden eats away at you, constantly. In our case, we live crop check to calve check. We constantly need some other piece of equipment and its like pulling teeth to get a banker to lend the money to you. We have friends who have their family backing or are going to inherit family ground and it eats at you when you’re off in the distance trying to stay afloat.
When we took our leap of faith and decided to grow and expand, we were risking EVERYTHING. Our philosophy is we’d rather try now verses regretting we hadn’t later. It was a now or never situation, and we jumped. And oh, the roller coaster it’s been.
We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We don’t know where the crop/cattle prices will be in months to come, but we can predict. We can predict for positivity. You see farmers at the coffee shop and feed store talking about the poor markets and their problems. Yet, they still smile and go on. What you don’t see are the struggles and emotions behind that smile. We never truly know how the person sitting next to us feels or what they’re facing. Just because they say they’re alright doesn’t mean they are.
Next time you’re with a group of farmers don’t be afraid to ask the raw questions. The ones that go past the, how are you? Ask the hard questions- how are YOU, not your FARM? How are YOU handling the trials and tribulations you’re going through? What can I do to help you? Leave the farm at the door and focus on them.
We smile about our passion. We smile for others. Deep down inside those smiles may be different. You know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”- well, don’t judge a farmer by their smile.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest, if not the biggest obstacles farmers face is the misconceptions and fears about the food they raise.
The question is, will we be able to change that?
This morning, my little boy jumped on the school bus headed for first grade. Grinning from ear to ear, with his “Avengers” backpack snug on his shoulders. In that back pack was a John Deere combine with “tracks” (Grady thinks these things are the greatest thing since sliced bread) in a gallon zip lock bag ready for show and tell.
This morning it dawned on me, that little boy that got on that big yellow school bus can have just as much impact, if not more of an impact sharing the truth of agriculture than me.
It is said, todays population is two generations removed from the farm. If my son goes to school sharing his love of agriculture he is sharing that with the third generation removed from the farm.
Granted, we live in a rural community and he goes to a very small school where he only has 25 kids in his entire class. But, even if he can open the eyes of one other child, it’s a step in the right direction.
The thing is, we aren’t just teaching consumers about our livelihood, we are teaching our children as well, which I often forget. They don’t come out of the womb with a basic Ag 101 knowledge (although, how cool would that be?). They learn right beside us.
We’re showing them how to responsibly treat our animals. We’re showing them how to care and maintain the land. We’re showing them that the food we raise is safe and our families eat it everyday.
My little boy went to school today, combine in hand, wearing an invisible cape for agriculture. Grinning ear to ear, sharing his stories of combines, corn, and cows.
Today, we may be the ones at the front lines fighting for agriculture but we can’t forget about the trainees beside us. Watching, listening, learning.
Growing along side of our crops, our animals, and our industry.
So today, as my little boy stands up in front of his class sharing his love for farming I can’t help but beam with pride. He chose to take a combine when he could’ve easily taken one of his transformers or robots. It fills me with such joy knowing he enjoys something I am so passionate about. Most children, see their parents as their heroes. Today, Grady’s actions, made him mine.
I’m currently flying in a plane headed west out of Washington DC. I never thought this trip would happen, mostly because I’m terrified to fly. I shocked myself and I’m currently writing this post while getting the birds eye view of our country.
I’ve been in DC this week, attending the National Corn Growers Association Corn Congress. I am part of the Missouri Corn Association Corn Roots Leadership Academy. A group that focuses on creating leaders for our industry, to advocate for our issues as farmers.
Yesterday we went to Capitol Hill to meet with House of Representatives and Senators staff. I was so nervous about this trip. EXTREMELY nervous. I hate talking topics I’m not 100 percent knowledgeable on. It was WAY out of my comfort zone but I did it and quite frankly surprised the heck out of myself.
We’re all so unique and all have a different story to tell. Every farming operation and their practices used are different.
As corn producers our main concerns we took to Capitol Hill yesterday were the trade/tariff wars, ethanol, RFS, NAFTA, etc.
No one knows EVERYTHING about these topics. I myself think I only know 10 percent of what I need to. However, I am 100 percent sure on how these topics effect my farm.
We took the approach that as beginning farmers who are already struggling to keep the lights on, that all the decisions they make in this city greatly impact us– which they do.
I was floored when the staff we talked to at these offices of states who don’t grow corn were interested in our story. Some of them had never met a corn farmer. Some didn’t know the difference between field corn and sweet corn. Some didn’t have ethanol plants in their states… BUT they still listened.
The thing I took away from this trip is we all have our stories. Choosing to share these stories is what makes a difference. We have a great staff at the Missouri Corn Growers Association and on the National level too, but making that personal and sometimes emotional connection really brings it home.
Did our conversations sway a vote or make them take our side? Not necessarily. However, we are putting a face to the American farmer. We are giving them a perspective on the issues we face and young farmers and finding common ground and building relationships. We are fighting for an industry worth fighting for.
If we don’t share our story those who know nothing about our industry will.
I wasn’t great at it. I’m better at sharing my story through writing but yesterday really inspired me to encourage others to share their story.
If you are a young Missouri farmer interested in growing as a leader and sharing your story, contact the Missouri Corn Growers about the #CornRoots program. They are an amazing hard working group fighting for farmers everyday.
Sharing your story and voicing your concerns takes it to the next level.
It’s better to try and fail then not try and regret. I chose to share because of the two little ones I’m eagerly awaiting to see when I get off this plane. So write a Facebook post, send a tweet or call a local official or better yet one on the state and national level.
The American farmer is resilient, persistent and always willing to do what needs to be done to get the job done. So stand up, speak out because that what’s going to keep the lights on.
Today I didn’t change out of those clothes I wore yesterday.
Right now, I’m still sitting in the clothes I wore yesterday with the hair I haven’t brushed.
Disgusting I know, but the reality is depression well quite frankly can be a witch.
I went to bed last night with every intention of today being a productive day. That didn’t happen. In fact I didn’t do anything productive until about 10 pm.
Then the guilt sinks in after a very unproductive day. I laid on the couch and watched a movie with the kids, I may have even fallen asleep. I drove to the gas station just to get a Pepsi because mommy had a headache. The counter top full of dishes, well it’s still there. The yard didn’t get mowed. I didn’t play with my kids. My husband didn’t get supper until 10:30. In my defense he wasn’t home until then.
Truth is, I did good to get out of bed today.
People who’ve never faced depression can’t understand. You’re seen as lazy as pulling an excuse, being over dramatic. I’m not going to lie sometimes it feels that way. I have a hard time looking past what others think of me, when lately I can’t push myself to believe that I’m not lazy or playing a pity party.
Want to know what triggered today. Last night we met friends to watch the fireworks. It was hard for me. Small talk is so hard for me, even with people I’ve known for awhile. I’m awkward. So socially awkward. My husband luckily evens that out, but still I’m incredibly weird.
Tomorrow is a new day. A new opportunity a bit of hope. Tomorrow I will be productive. Tomorrow can be 20x better then today or it can be similar to today.
Depression isn’t pretty. In fact it’s disgusting. It takes everything out of you. The joy you once felt doing something. Your energy. Your confidence. It takes your life. It takes your hope.
Tonight I made a list of things I need to get done. Tomorrow I hope to check those off one by one.
In all to God honesty that may not happen. I may wake up in the morning and not have the energy to even shower, or eat. My kids might get another frozen meal. That pile of dishes might get bigger. My husband might come home to no dinner and be out of clean clothes.
That’s just the honest truth. Life is hard. We must push through and I do for the two little ones currently asleep in the other room. We aren’t alone. Depression isn’t an excuse or the easy way out. It’s real. It’s life changing. It’s also something that can make you stronger.
If you are struggling today, you aren’t alone.
Let your dishes pile up.
Forget the laundry.
Your house might not be clean.
But you, you are here. You’ve survived another day another opportunity to push through. That’s what matters.
It’s now the eve of my 30th birthday. A day I’ve been dreading for quite awhile. You see I had so much I wanted to accomplish, that I thought I would’ve accomplished by the time I was 30.
You see though, most of these things I haven’t accomplished.
My 18 year old self, well 17 year old self at the time I graduated had so many goals with no obstacles standing in my way. I had a goal and I was going to make it happen.
Then, life got in the way. Not necessarily in a bad way. In a way my 18 year old self couldn’t even begin to understand because I hadn’t truly lived life.
A college degree, a fancy job title, and awards were all things I had in my sight.
The summer after I graduated I took a HUGE step, participating in a beauty pageant in which I was forced to do something- public speaking, that I was absolutely scared of. I needed the scholarship money for college to earn that degree, so I went for it.
With that leap I gained some experience. I shocked myself and I shocked others around me—and I needed that. I continued to surprise myself over the next three years with what I never in my life thought I would do and succeed at but I stepped out on a limb because I had my eye on the prize.
I fell in love the first week of my freshmen year of college which I hadn’t planned on and wasn’t expecting it to get in the way of my thoroughly thought out plan but in hindsight it did.
Then life threw me a real curve ball with the roller coaster ride called bipolar and anxiety disorder. Something else I wasn’t planning on.
But all these things I wasn’t expecting quickly manifested into life experiences and growing in ways I hadn’t planned.
My 18 year old self was living in a fantasy world. A world where life goes as planned. Today as a 29 year old (for the next 30 minutes anyways) I am living reality.
I may not have the 4 year Ag degree as planned. I do have an Associates degree so that’s better then nothing.
I may not have a fancy job title but I have the blessing of my job title being mom. I am blessed to call myself a farmer. I’m blessed to do something I truly love even though I NEVER thought I would be where I’m at today.
I’m stronger because of a disease that has torn my life apart and tortured my brain in ways that are unimaginable. I am here today because some man who may deserve better chose to stick by my side even though he could’ve easily walked away.
I may not have the fancy truck, home and clothing I expected to have at this age but I do have 200 black beauties, a farm truck and the appropriate attire to complete my daily tasks as a farmer.
I may not work as a vet or work in an office for an ag corporation but I do report to two of the greatest blessings in my life, daily.
So to my 18 year old self- you’ve made it. You’ve made it to the big 30. Those goals you set for yourself, well they’ve been met. Just in ways you couldn’t even begin to understand at your age.
You have a blessed life. A full life. A life I am grateful for. A life formed from success, failure and love.
A life, unexpected. A life that you’re lucky to have.
So tomorrow I will wake up 30, a day I’ve been dreading because I haven’t accomplished the things I set out to.
Tomorrow I will wake up to two little ones calling me mommy and telling me they love me. Tomorrow I will feed my cows and soak in another gorgeous sunset as it sets over the farm. Tomorrow I will be grateful for what I’ve been given. Tomorrow I will smile because I’ve learned what’s important in life and realize I’ve exceeded the goals I once set for myself. Ive failed, I’ve grown, I’ve conquered but most of all I’ve discovered what life is really about. It’s about living in the moment, being thankful for what you have and looking forward to what’s in store.
Heres to the next 30 years. Here’s to being grateful. Being realistic. Giving myself credit for learning and growing from my mistakes and living life as a mother, as a wife, as a farmer, as a woman with no plan but to find happiness in the things that don’t go as planned.
Eventually the things we take for granted will be taken away from us. We never know when our last day will be.
In this case, I’m not referring to death but to our last day physically working on the farm.
My husbands grandfather due to some health reasons had to retire from farming and ranching about two years ago. He lost his leg to diabetes and has had a rough couple of years but he is doing really well now.
In his prime “Bud” as everyone calls him though his name is William ran 1650 cow calf pairs on 8500 acres of pasture and farm ground. He built this farm through hard work, passion, and doing things the right way.
Today, Bud is basically home bound. He takes dialysis three times a week. He maybe has a doctors appointment here and there and he goes to church on Sunday.
This man use to spend every waking hour on his farm. He raised his cattle right. He has had a closed herd since the 70’s. He spent everything he had in him on that farm. He took pride in his land and cattle and for that reason he is a well respected man in our area.
Bud watching his equipment he spent years gathering being sold at his auction.
We stop by his house which is attached to a piece of ground that we rent from him as much as possible. A couple weeks ago we moved some first calf heifer pairs to this little pasture. Seth and I have been able to start retaining heifers, which is an amazing feeling. All the cattle we own came out of Bud’s herd-That closed herd. I shouldn’t say all we do have 19 that came from a sale barn but we don’t keep their calves. So the heifers we have, come out of a closed herd that has been that way since the 70’s. We hope to replace every cow eventually with a heifer that has been retained from Bud’s closed herd.
The other day the kids and I stopped to visit. The kids were in the other room playing with their cousins and Bud and I were at the kitchen table just discussing how things were going on our operation. Not long after we started talking I looked out the window to find Seth (my husband) and his buddy Chris bringing in a wet bale and a dry bale for the heifers. Bud wheeled himself to the door. That day was extremely windy so he wasn’t able to go out on the porch.
As I watched him, my eyes honestly began to tear up, though I quickly wiped that away. I was still sitting at the table at that point but through the storm door I was still able to see what was going on out there. Watching Bud you could see him fidget with joy, trying to sit up higher in his wheel chair to take it all in. That entire time he looked out the window not once did he turn or take his eyes off what was going on out there. He was basically on the outside looking in on the operation.
When they were finished with putting out that hay and drove off, Bud turned to me and said,”That is what it’s all about, my legacy, you kids are carrying on what I had started with my cows.” I looked back at him literally trying to hold back tears of happiness and said,”but those are your cows, those heifers came from your herd- You never lost your herd, we are just continuing to build it.” I have an immense amount of pride sharing the fact that we are continuing on with the herd of Bud Lemons a well known and respected man in this area. Time and time again that afternoon he just kept saying,”you don’t know how much I miss it, Brit.” That is where this blog begins.
Seth’s cousin Dane, also bought cows from Bud at the same time we did and he as well is doing a good job living on the legacy of the family farm.
That night, as I was tossing and turning trying to fall asleep, that moment with Bud just kept rolling through my mind and I just felt that this could be a good story to share. I’ve been sitting on the notion of writing it and finally decided to sit down and do it.
All of us in the industry, love it. We don’t do it for the money or the glory. We do it, because we love working the ground, watching something grow from the beginning and harvested at the end. I would say a majority of those working on a farm are the next generation to take over that farm and they work hard beside the older generations to keep building what they have started. The love of the land and animals is deeply embedded in our souls. We love feeding the world and we love the sense of pride we get from doing so.
Bud may never actually step foot out in the cattle pasture again. I think that is the thing that has been the hardest on him. Something he was so passionate about and so dedicated to, his ENTIRE life was basically ripped out from beneath him. Those cattle were more then just cattle they were his girls. His pride and joy. Now, the only cattle he sees is what he happens to pass on the way to dialysis, church and the pasture around his home.
I personally often get so wrapped up in how difficult farm life is. How many struggles and brick walls we have to face. Sometimes I let it overwhelm me and I lose sight of the big picture. That day sitting down with Bud brought me back to reality.
My time on this farm is limited. I can choose to let all the problems consume me or I can enjoy something I am so passionate about while I still can. I love working on the farm- getting my hands dirty. Smelling the silage bale as it’s unrolled to the cows. Watching that corn pop up in rows (I can’t help but sing the Tim McGraw song when typing that). Seeing the light in my children’s eyes as they witness a calf being born or the joy on their face when they get to ride in the tractor with daddy. I love spending my days in the tractor in the summer jamming out to my 90’s country and raking acres and acres of hay. I love being able to tell someone when they ask me what I do for a living , that I’m not just a mom, a wife, but I’m also a farmer. I am blessed to be able to smell the corn being harvested out of the field. Watch the beans become gold in color. I’m able to learn a new task when given the chance. I’m grateful to work beside my husband not only living out Bud’s legacy but beginning our own.
Our days on this earth are limited but also our days on our farms are limited. There will come a day when I’ll no longer be able to carry out the tasks on the farm. There will be days where I have to sit back and watch as someone younger steps in and helps me because I’m physically unable. Then their will be that day. The day my last bucket of feed drops out of my hands. The day I unroll my last bale of hay. The last day I can step out and grab the ears of my favorite cow and rub her head. Hopefully, (crossing my fingers) there will be the first day (it’s on my bucket list) I run a combine and the last day I dump that load of beans in the semi. The last day, when hopefully my grandchildren have decided to come back to the farm and I can look out my window and see them taking care of my legacy.
Our days our numbered. One day we will be on the outside looking in. Whether we choose to embrace what we’ve been given or let it beat us down, there will be the day we look out the window and think to ourselves- man do I miss what I use to do. We can’t take one minute for granted not just in life, but on our farms as well. We are blessed to live the best lifestyle out there. We raise food for the world starting with a little seed and a little baby animal. We raise strong families with good values. We work towards a goal of building a legacy not for ourselves but for our family. One day that legacy will be out of our control. It will be found looking out that glass window or door. It will be the moment we realize we are so lucky to have done what we can in hopes that our hard work continues on.
So until that day, I will choose to embrace the time I have on this farm. This glorious life I’ve been given. It may not be all cupcakes and roses now. Some day down the road it will be the thing I miss the most. I hope in the coming months we can get sweet Bud out of the house and into the pasture even if just driving him around looking at the cows. Spending those few moments with him that day gave me a brief moment of the outside looking in, until my day comes I’m going to choose to open my eyes, take in the smells and the atmosphere of the farm and cherish the love I have inside for feeding the world.
When my day comes, I will look out that window, look at what we have built and hopefully my children can get a glimpse of their future with watching me look from the outside to the inside of what they continue to build. To some its just a window, to others like Bud its his seat to the life of the outside looking in.