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My Generation
Farming: It's the Hard that Makes It Great

Farming: It's the Hard that Makes It Great

A look at the stories we never tell, and the stories that just take awhile to make it to print.

As a writer and a farmer, there are some stories that will just never make it to print. Some are too personal; others can't be told without offending someone. If you farm with family, you surely know just what I mean about either case!

Others would raise the ire of the farm safety folks, who do good work every single day but who would be astounded that some of us ever made it through our childhoods.

Still others, I just never thought I would tell. That's the case with my column in our May issue, hitting mailboxes as I tap these keys. When my dad was mauled by a bull 20-some years ago, it was reasonably traumatic for our family and for me, as the kid who saw it all go down. We all recovered, of course, and it became one of those things I just didn't talk about much. Why now, in the pages of Prairie Farmer? I don't have a good reason; it just seemed like the right time. And if my mail (and tweets and emails and Facebook messages) are any indication, readers are glad I did.

And so, in case your issue hasn't arrived yet, you can read the full version from our May issue below. Or, you can click here to read the PDF version - it looks just like the page in your magazine! And thanks for, once again, bearing with another story from the farm.



Farming: It's the hard that makes it great

I grew up in a Shorthorn family and back in 1989, we'd just bought an interest in a national champion bull. He arrived on our southern Illinois farm that summer. He walked out into the pasture and with nary a welcome, he ran Mom and I over the fence. It wasn't long before we realized he wasn't just road weary; he was mean. By fall, we made plans to relocate him.

Just before his relocation, however, Dad and I were down in the pasture because the bull had gotten in with the heifers. By this time, we knew enough about the bull that we always went to the pasture armed; Dad had a heavy pitchfork and I was carrying a bull whip. Dad sent me over to open a gate and as I looked back, I realized Dad was holding the pitchfork to the bull's head.

So I started running toward him. By the time I got back to Dad, the pitchfork was in two pieces and the bull had him down on the ground. I was all of 13 years old and all I really remember at that point was yelling at the bull and beating on him with the whip. To a 2,000-pound bull, that had to be only slightly more annoying than a fly. But he stopped and looked at me - probably out of surprise more than anything. Then he went after Dad again. It was worse that time. I commenced to hollering and lashing him again, and the next thing I knew, Dad was lying unconscious beneath an electric fence line, with the bull on one side and me on the other.

Fast forward 20 years. I was talking with Colleen Callahan, well-known as a farm broadcaster and current Illinois Director of Rural Development. We weren't talking about anything profound necessarily, but she said something I've never forgotten: "Life is about choices, not circumstances."

And I thought back to that day in the pasture. Life is about choices, not circumstances.

As a 13-year-old, I certainly didn't choose to wind up in a pasture with a bull mauling my father, equipped with little more than a whip to save us both. But I could choose how to respond. Really, in my mind, I had only one choice at that point: figure out how to get us out of there. Preferably in one piece.

After staring me down for a bit, the bull eventually lost interest. I was able to help Dad get behind a nearby fence, then make a run for the truck. I sped down to the pasture, and helped Dad in. He was seriously injured. I drove us home (this is why you teach your farm kids to drive, right?). Dad was taken off in an ambulance. The list of broken bones and facial injuries was long, but he eventually healed. We all knew it could've been much worse.

Colleen's words solidified for me something I learned that day, as a 13-year-old. We may not choose the circumstance we are in, but we sure can choose how we respond. Life is hard. Circumstances are sometimes very difficult. The Lord calls us to walk through stuff we never would have chosen to, given the opportunity. I've written before about my best friend dying in childbirth and about my mother dying from cancer - a different kind of 2,000-pound bull. Some of us face farming circumstances beyond our control like, say, a drought. Or a late-August wind storm. Or the 1980s. Or the 1998 hog markets.  

Farming, like life, is full of the unexpected. It's all vastly beyond our control. But we can choose how to respond. With grace. With resolve. With determination to continue on the path set before us, and to do so with honor.

The movie, "A League of Their Own," was filmed very close to where I grew up, and it's one of my favorites. It's about the women's baseball league in the 1940s. Tom Hanks plays the coach, who tells one of his players: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great."

He's talking baseball, but have you ever heard something that rang more true for farming as well? It's the hard that makes it great.

It's hard to stand in a pasture and watch your dad get beaten by a vicious bull. It's hard to watch a crop wither and die. It's hard to pull a calf, watch it die and then lose the cow, too. Maybe that's why 1.8% of the population is willing to farm; if it was easy, everybody would do it. Didn't your grandpa say that, too?

Life on the farm is not easy. It's a hard life. But it's the hard that makes it great.


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