It would be too broad of a statement for me to say that everything I learned about life I learned in agriculture, but I am a girl that likes to push the limits, so I will say it anyway. I've read articles before, about how showing livestock, working with your father on the farm or being a member of 4-H or FFA has taught so many people so many things. I guess I am no different - I learned from all that too. I wish everyone could spend time working on a farm or ranch. The life lessons are rich and you walk away knowing a thing or two that no classroom, college or employer could teach you.
Here's my stab at the list. It's not complex. You might find it less eloquent than others you've read. I am certain it's blunt (because I can't help that - I've tried).
1) Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you lose.
You might think I learned that showing cattle and sheep, but I did not. Showing livestock reinforced the lesson. Watching my parents and grandparents work tirelessly, during lambing and calving season, in the garden or the field taught me the lesson. When I was a little girl, and my mom had her third child, she took a break from teaching. (I blame my youngest brother, he was hell on wheels and I think she knew that the day he was born. She knew she had to manage him full time). Back to my point - when she stepped away from teaching she decided we needed sheep. It sounds simple enough, right? Sheep, a momma with three kids 6 and under, a blue heeler dog...picture perfect. We got a set of ewes, I think about 100 or so, I remember the day they arrived. We weren't strangers to sheep, I got a pair of them when I was 5 for my birthday. Honeybear and Jelly, named at the breakfast table. But this was not a little girl's birthday present kind of operation. I need to also add right now, my dad hates most any four legged critter except good dogs, good cats, good horses and good cattle. So the deal was struck, the sheep were my mom's project and by the pecking order that existed in the family unit, they were the children's project too. Shit rolls down hill, no no that's not what I meant, my mom was managing us up. I mean, come on, sheep are small critters, perfect for a kid to handle. We had a flock of sheep for many years. And we worked hard. Lambing season was brutal, because sheep are stupid. It's a fact, not a mean statement. Most of them don't realize they have a baby, you have to pen them up with each other for several days, or the ewe won't take care of her baby. And then there was the year several of the ewes got sick and had dead babies, that we had to pull. Many times I remember looking at my mom in pure wonderment. I knew she was tough, but I didn't think she had it in her to pull pieces of a dead baby lamb out of a uterus or stitch eye lids open to treat wool eye. But she did and I did too. I once watched as a wild ewe drug my mother across the pasture, my 3 year old brother so angry he kicked the ewe upon her return to the pen. We worked hard every day, and when a dead lamb was born or a coyote ate a baby, we were devastated. I would be lying if I told you I enjoyed the experience every day. I know I didn't. Once, when I was probably 11, I told my mom I hated living in the country. That I didn't want to have cattle and sheep to take care of and I knew it was bordering on child abuse to have her child haul buckets of feed to sheep AFTER we got home from school, 4-H and sport events (i.e. 10pm at night) or go out at midnight and 2 am for lambing checks. She laughed at me and I did the chores. So much work, so much dedication and we sometimes would literally have nothing to show for it. So we would double down and work harder.
2) Even if you think you can't make ends meet, you find away to make it.
Have you ever worried that you weren't going to get your pay check? (Full time farmer/rancher friends don't get to answer this one.) Have you ever wondered how in the world you are going to make a load of Hereford calves that you contracted to run on grass make weight and not all die, because, conveniently the week in early spring they came from South Texas, it decided to turn cold and rain? Guess what happens when calves come from South Texas and head to a cold Missouri spring rain...they get really sick. Summer town jobs were frowned upon by my dad, he figured he had enough work for us on the place. And he was always dreaming up ways to keep us very busy, busy enough that we'd be tired enough to stay out of trouble on those long summer evenings. Here are the following hair brained ideas that Dad came up with: 1) A garden truck patch, with acres of strawberries and corn. It did make money. But I am pretty sure my brothers and I have long term lower back issues from the berry picking! 2) Backgrounding calves from South Texas, without a feed wagon. All we had were feed pails. 40 of them. We backgrounded 100 head of calves one spring and hand fed them. Now the truck patch made money, year after year. Until I went to college, and then, it turned into a weed patch. The calves, we didn't think we were going to make ends meet. Even when it looked like we couldn't do it, we still worked hard everyday to save what we could. I'm not sure we get that lesson today. Why should we have to? If something isn't going our way, we quit. If we don't like what sport, club or lesson we signed up for, we just walk away to the next thing. If we don't like what's on TV or what something we've purchased, we can watch on demand Netflix, pull out the iPad, or just hop on Amazon. In ranching, you can't just walk away. Sure you can load up the calves and sell them at the sale barn, but you have to keep working at it until you can get them to the sale barn. It forces you to see it through, to make the ends meet...even when you don't think you can. There is something to be said about learning how to see something through to the end, even when you know it will not end the way you want it to. No one likes to admit defeat, but you have to learn that life is not perfect.
3) Someday you'll find yourself straddling a fence, and it's ok to just straddle for a little bit, until the dust settles.
I think I was 9 or so, maybe a little older, maybe a little younger. We were in the 'lot' - an space between our two barns, where we sorted cattle and sheep. I can't remember who all was there the day we were working heifers, but I know my dad was and I know a hired man was there. The last heifer in the lot, she was not a happy camper. The more upset she got, the more she tried to get out of the pen. I was stationed by the gate that separated the heifer in the lot from the ram in the pasture, and soon it became obvious I needed to get out of the lot. I climbed the gate. The ram saw me climb the gate. Bud (the ram) was a few years old. Do you know what a ram likes to do sometimes? I'll give you one guess, male sheep are, after all, called rams... Bud was bad to charge, in fact you could say it was a very bad habit of his. So there I sat, straddling a gate, on one side was a heifer that was very upset on the other, was a ram, looking up at me, waiting for me to come on over. The heifer got upset enough she started to hit the gate, the one I was straddling. I thought about jumping down in the pasture with Bud, I could tell he was hopeful I would. I thought about sliding further down the fence, to try to pick a side. But I couldn't. There wasn't a good choice, I had to straddle both sides. No one wants to say they straddle the fence. We like to boast that we pick one side or another, today we want action. Make a decision! Get the job done! But what if sometimes we need to stop, straddle the fence and take a good long look at both sides? That day was a long time ago and it's remained with me over my life. I stayed on the gate, I watched both sides and I let the dust settle. I waited for everyone to settle down, before I jumped back into the lot and walked to the barn. Straddling the fence and letting the dust settle isn't wasting time. Sometimes it saves someone from getting hurt.
4) Life isn't perfect, and it never will be.
My grandpa had a saying for this: "I spent half my life waiting for it to rain and the other half waiting for it to dry up." Sounds about right, doesn't it? Life is never perfect. We want it to be, don't we? Every day we get grumbly because things don't go the way we want them to go. It's rained too much and it's hell to work cattle in the mud, it's rained too little and the grass won't grow. If it's too hot in the summer everything burns up, if it's to cold nothing grows. In agriculture, we've learned to live with the imperfections. We adapt, we learn, we work around it. If we don't, we fail. The failure comes from not being able to navigate the mistakes or unforeseen circumstances, from striving for perfection. That's right, agriculture taught me that if you strive for perfection you will fail. The greater world could stand to learn a thing or two from this. Things are not perfect, processes at work don't always do what they're supposed to, people let us down, and equipment wears out. That's life, we're better off learning to go with what we have then to complain about what we don't have. We become better leaders, better parents, better people when we understand that mistakes get made and our true human nature shines through when we work together through the imperfections.