As I gently ease my hand further inside the ewe’s uterus I can feel another back leg – the hock. Closing my eyes and visualizing one of the lamb’s legs, how it’s attached to it’s body, and then feeling for the other back leg happens quickly. I’m talking myself through it the entire time. With the pinky of my right hand, I hook the second back leg again the first. Both back feet are between my fingers now. The poor ewe has another contraction and pushes, I am still. This is all a surreal experience. Her contraction eases, and I’m able to pull the lambs two back hooves through her pelvic opening so it can easily slide out of her. A slimy squoosh accompanies the little lamb onto the hay. Miss Priss nickers, turns around and instinctively begins licking the lamb. She’s such a good mum. Stepping back I breathe again. There’s another lamb in there, but it’s birth should go smoothly. At most, I’ll give it a tug when it’s time, but beyond that, the ewe takes over. I’m glad this is only the second time I’ve had to do this in my 14 years of raising sheep.
I can’t say I ever thought I would be doing this as a 7 year old. Growing up on farming tales from my family and the iconic James Herriot stories, I was enthralled with farming. So much so, that I had wanted to be a vet, caring for the animals. Like so many other children it was the love of animals, especially horses, that drove me. I thought having a horse farm would be the most amazing thing, but to farm livestock for food…that hadn’t crossed my mind. In my childhood visions, all the animals were pets.
Once the lambs were up and nursing, Quirks and Quarks came on. This is flagship science radio program on CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation, our public radio). I love this program. Over the years is has opened my eyes to many happenings in the world, both good, but recently, mostly bad. It was here I learned that climate change is altering the ocean salinity (not good) that people (thought to possibly be researchers) introduced white nose syndrome into north American bat populations via contaminated clothing (they didn’t decontaminate the clothes and boots worn in a European cave before going into a north American bat cave) causing 6.7 million hibernating bats to die, and that prehistoric sabretooth cats cared for their injured pack mates, and today’s episode, that we need to find a way to feed a possible 10 billion people in the year 2050. Technology is part of that, but no matter what, farming is going to be the backbone of food production for a long time yet.
Farming is far more than just a job. It’s a job, business, passion, craft, art, and vocation. I can think of few other areas of life that one is intrinsically tied to the welfare and success or failure of another living being or beings. Where one’s daily life rests on the action of someone else. That someone else I am speaking of is nature. Nature, not as something to look at or acknowledge, but nature that is all encompassing. Nature that can kill us or provide us with more bounty than we know what ot do. The nature that surrounds everything on the planet we live on from the ocean current to weather systems to the parasites that reside in the bloodstreams of other parasites. It doesn’t’ care about us, but we need to care deeply about it.
There are so many things about farming I couldn’t of know about until in the middle of it. There are things I will never know, and things I have yet to learn. One thing I do know, one farmer can talk to another farmer anywhere in the world and share their experiences, with the assistance of language translation of course. Across the world every farmer will know the fear of not having the rains come in time or having too much of it. The pain of losing livestock, land, or crops to floods, drought, disease, or financial ruin. No matter where on the globe farmers can share that pain through personal experience.
Unfortunately, most of the western population is disconnected from the reality of farming. According to StatsCan, less than 2% of Canada’s population farms. There are many more who have large gardens, keep some livestock, in other words, have a hobby farm or homestead of some kind. That isn’t in the census data, but perhaps should be. Those who are doing more to feed themselves, family and friends from their own labour is the first step to learning more about not only our food system, but how nature works in general. Having had our farming journey begin as a homestead I understand the hard work and satisfaction of growing one’s own food. I remember the very first vegetables out of the garden, the first eggs laid on our little acre, and then the first chicken we ever slaughtered and ate. It was an incredibly scary, gross, satisfying, but ultimately humbling experience. We need more of these types of experiences in our lives. It’s from these experiences that a new generation of farmers will be born. Future farmers are growing up less in farm families, but are finding farming a bit later in life. They are being introduced to farming through a CSA (community shared agriculture) food box, community gardens, school gardens, backyard chickens, and through volunteering on urban farms. Its these kinds of accessible experiences that plant that first seed of connection to the rest of nature. Even now, seeing the first sign of a seed transforming into a plant is akin to magic. No, it IS magic.
Being exposed to the dirt, manure, failure, and helplessness when farming is beneficial for everyone. It’s a cautionary tale that us humans aren’t in control. Farming builds resilience and humility within one. Accepting that things die even when we do our best reminds us of that things don’t turn out just because we want them to.
Yes, farmers worldwide can commiserate at how unpredictable and tenuous farming can be. The other side of that is that farmers live for hope. It takes strength to year in and year out to plant or raise a new generation of life even in the face of adversity. Farmers are hopeful gamblers. Their odds are generally terrible, but, even though they could lose everything, maybe farming is the embodiment of doing something for the journey instead of the outcome. When farming, the outcome never certain as nature never gives up her hand. Nature is the house, and as they say, the house wins every time.