Do you remember the early-1970s CBS television show, Hee Haw? One of the funniest segments I can recall was the traditional singing of “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me,” a song written by Buck Owens and Roy Clark. One of the lines from that song, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all…” could have been the theme song for much of my life. All of the farmers I have ever known always try to be optimistic. After all, you really can’t persevere all the hard, dedicated work it takes to farm if you’ve already decided you won’t succeed. However, despite that inherently optimistic outlook on farming, the end results often seem to be influenced more by bad luck than good.
The fickle whims of weather often become the leading perpetrator of the bad luck that farmers suffer. No matter what type of farm you operate, the weather has a significant, uncontrollable impact on your success. Weather conditions directly affect the crops you grow or the cost of the feed you buy. Severe droughts or winter blizzards affect the health of your livestock. There’s just no way to control the impact that weather can have on your farm operation. Even if you raise poultry in a climate-controlled barn, the weather will affect the availability and cost of feed, which ultimately impacts your economic bottom line. If that alone is not good enough, then it will flood out your barn, short out some critical (and probably expensive) piece of machinery, or blow a tree down on your house. Whatever it chooses to do, it will invariably find and take full advantage of your most vulnerable weakness. This helps explain why farmers become such experts about their local climate and learn how to accurately read short-term weather patterns by watching the sky.
My track record of luck battling with weather conditions is not very impressive. Even one of my earliest farm website posts (Post 3, Why Would I Want to Do All That Farm Work), began with a description of how a sudden, but brief downpour made the outdoor work I was rushing to complete a miserable experience. Today is another fine example. For the past two days, we have been suffering through our first extended period of hot and humid weather of the season. This pattern has brought with it some scattered afternoon storms, causing the grass in our yards to revive. I had been watching the weather forecast closely to find a morning when I get out and mow our yards early before the intense heat of the afternoon settles in and drives the next round of afternoon thunderstorms. The forecast for the next two and perhaps three days calls for a much higher chance of rainfall throughout each day.
I was pinning my hopes on a window of cloudy skies forecasted for this morning to get the 2.5-hour job done. However, a luck would have it, the clouds have brought us unexpected periods of very light, misty showers that don’t amount to anything, except to keep the grass from drying out so I can mow the yards. The same frustrating pattern of unpredictable showers interfered with and delayed my first mowing of our hayfield last Thursday (June 3). Now I’ve lost my opportunity to get my lawn mowing job done today, so I am sitting here at the dining room table writing this post. Maybe this isn’t a major setback to our farm operation, but it illustrates the simple, pesky ways that weather affects our best laid farm work plans.
Unfortunately, our own farmer’s luck is not limited to weather conditions. We seem to have an innate ability to find some irritating source of bad luck everywhere we turn. I remember well when I was finishing work on our fencing for the goat pens in November 2016. I was driving in the final metal T-posts to support our woven wire fencing. I was using our heavy metal pile-driver to set the T-posts. The pile driver is roughly two-foot long, 2.5-inch in diameter, heavy metal pipe with a cap on one end and two long handles on each side. It weighs nearly twenty pounds, which makes it pretty heavy to slide it onto the top of a seven-foot-tall metal T-post so you can pound it into the ground. As I was attempting to use it to drive in one of the last of the sixty or more T-posts I had set that day, when it slipped from my fingers and fell directly on my foot. It felt as though it had broken my foot, but only ended up losing a toenail.
A few years later, I was working in the 3.5-foot-high crawlspace under our house to install a few floor joist shims along the foundation of our house. I was trying to be as careful as I could in the confined space to safely hammer the shims into place. However, I had so little room to maneuver that I missed the shim and struck a nail instead—my thumbnail, that is. I lost that one a couple of months later, too.
Barb remembers a time when she was working in her herb garden that runs along the side of our shed. It is enclosed by a wrought iron fence that stands a little over two feet tall. The fence is low enough that Barb decided to climb over it to get out rather than using the gate. Of course, she caught one of her feet in the fence and fell flat on her back in the yard. Fortunately, she only suffered a bruise or two. The bruise her ego sustained probably took the longest to heal.
I believe that, over the course of the past few years of our retirement farm life, I have stubbed every one of my fingers multiple times, stumbled or fallen off of every ladder we own, bumped my head on every floor joist in our crawlspace, twisted my ankle attempting to walk through every protruding rock in our fields, and cut myself on every sharp tool we own. I have been stung repeatedly stung by the honeybees we once kept, scratched by our cat, and stepped on, peed on or bitten by our goats (trying to feed them medicine they don’t want). I have been struck in the head by tree limbs I was cutting down, and Barb has shut my fingers in the passenger-side car window twice. I presume the second time was to make sure I wouldn’t forget how good it felt. At times, it feels as though I’ve been folded, spindled and mutilated by everything but the post office.
Through all the pratfalls and pitfalls we have suffered from all our routine farming efforts, we have survived with only minimal impacts to our self-esteem. Perhaps the biggest impact our farmer’s luck has had on our operation is the fact that we haven’t yet made even one thin dime of profit from it. Fortunately, the lifestyle we can afford to live continues to offer us many intangible benefits that I have documented in numerous past website posts. I’ll just continue to keep my fingers crossed—that is assuming I don’t accidentally cut them off someday. It’s already painful enough to do with my nagging arthritis. Perhaps I should just ask you to do that for me.