If I’ve noticed one thing about my fellow farmers, it’s that farmers do not take good care of themselves. That sounds kind of harsh, but let me explain. While farmers give all of their love and attention to their crops, to their animals, to producing food for the rest of us, they pay little attention to their own well-being. During the busy times of the year, they eat terribly and on the run. They ignore nagging health problems. They will often forego important visits to the doctor and will even treat a wide range of injuries at home with whatever tools they have on hand. (I’m not kidding about this…think stitches, antibiotics and tooth extraction. Yikes!) Farmers will even sacrifice their own safety for the sake of their farm.
A large part of this common “self-neglect” is due to the very nature of farming: Farming never stops. There is always something that must be done, something that requires care and attention. A visit to the doctor takes time away from this endless list. Putting that work off today just makes tomorrow all the more difficult.
Plus, farmers are exceedingly self-reliant. Farmers spend many hours—often working alone—forced to change gears quickly as situations warrant and to come up with solutions on the fly. There’s no one to call when a calf needs pulling at 2am. You do it yourself. The neighbor is busy getting his own hay in before the rain, so you have to fix your own bailer…and fast! You either have the right parts, or you improvise. As a result, farmers quickly assess their own health situations and will discount pain and safety if it hasn’t stopped them in their tracks.
For example, I just recently put a pitchfork tine into the top of my foot. It did not go in very far and I’m fine now. But my first reaction wasn’t to seek medical attention. My first reaction, quite honestly, was “I don’t have time for this.” I texted my girlfriend Angie, a dairy farmer and nurse, and asked her if I could wait to get a tetanus shot until after the long weekend. It was the Friday evening before Memorial Day and I honestly couldn’t think of when I had had my last tetanus shot, but also had no idea when I’d have time to see the doctor or when she’d have office hours. It would be fine, right? Thankfully, Angie told me I had no choice but to go to the emergency room.
Another dairy farmer friend told me about her husband trying to move a bull in the barn. The animal “nudged” him, throwing him against an upright support and putting an impressive gash in his scalp. Despite the copious amounts of blood (if you know anything about head wounds, you know they bleed quite a bit), he went on to his next task: round bales that had to get under cover. In his defense, he texted the neighbor and asked her to keep an eye on him as he ran back and forth on the tractor… “just in case”. By the time his wife got home, she found him barely able to see from all the blood. It was only then that they went to the emergency room, where the staff there proceeded to scold him for not coming in much sooner!
Farmers also take risks that most sane people simply would not take. For example, just about every farmer has been caught in a thunderstorm while out in the field, either working on fence or moving animals. And despite having heard the same advice we all know very well, “if you can hear thunder, you should seek shelter,” farmers keep working “just ten more minutes” in an attempt to get the job done. Both my husband and I, and many farmers I know, have been out in a thunderstorm with flashes of lightning all around. With each advancing crash, we look at each other and comment, “Wow, that was close!” until at last we realize we are being really, really stupid. And for what? Some fence issue that will still be there tomorrow, or chickens on pasture whose lives and welfare are nowhere near the equivalent to our own. But farming and caring for these creatures and the land are so all-encompassing and constant, that it’s easy to forget and lose perspective.
Another case in point: A few years ago, I was rounding up my goats that had gone into the woods behind my neighbor’s house. It was either our woods or state land (I’m not sure where the boundary lies), but we were uncomfortably close to our neighbor’s backyard and I was trying to “shoo” them back down to our pasture. That was when I heard the first gun shot. Ever since our goats consumed half of his garden a couple years ago, our neighbor has rightfully hated our goats. He could have very well been target practicing in his own backyard, but I couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see me. The first thought that flashed through my brain was that he was shooting blindly into the woods to scare or possibly injure my goats. Instead of turning and running the other direction, I ran towards the sound of gun fire. I became blind with rage, thinking that my children could be in the woods; that anyone could be there and possibly in the line of fire. With each shot fired (there were three or four), I was screaming at the top of my lungs that I was back there and that he should stop shooting. I look back on that day now and think how truly stupid my actions were. What has farming done to me?
So, my sincerest wishes to all farmers out there: Please, take care of yourself. For the sake of your family, for the sake of your farm, slow down and make smart decisions. Yes, accidents happen. But one thing’s for sure: You don’t have time for injuries or worse. Your farm needs you, and so do we!