One thing that people don’t usually give a lot of thought to before moving to the country and starting a small farming operation: You are chained to it. Much faster, and much more thoroughly, than you ever could have imagined. The things you took for granted while living in the suburbs — going away for the weekend, going on vacation for a week, even staying out late at a friend’s house or a show — become major productions when you have livestock. Goats and cows need to be milked at reasonably regular intervals. Sheep need to be brought in from pasture before the predators are active. Poultry need to be secured in a barn or coop, and fed, and eggs gathered. And so on. And so on.
How much of a production? Our last family vacation was in November, 2004. And it was combined in part with an election-related trip I needed to take for work anyway.
When we lived in Illinois, we were seldom all out of town at the same time. If I had a business trip, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the kids would stay home. If MYF and the kids went to see her folks in Michigan, I would stay home (and rent action movies, and eat pizza, and drink beer…but that’s another story). On the few occasions when we all went to Michigan together, we had a homeschooled neighbor boy (“Rent-A-Son”) named Matthew who was extremely mature and responsible, and was able to come to our place twice a day to take care of things when we were out of town visiting Mrs Yeoman Farmer’s family. He fed the various livestock, made sure everything was in order, and took care of milking our goats. We’d usually talk by phone at least once or twice a day, and he sometimes had to do extraordinary things to save livestock which had gotten into peril. Because even when you’re not physically present on your farm, the farm is never far from your mind. Matthew was our long distance “eyes and ears.” Not to mention “arms” and “hands.”
Here in Michigan, we have yet to all leave town together. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a local “Matthew” who we trust.
This is on my mind because I recently received an invitation to go to South Bend in April and give a talk to a Republican group, about my work in politics. The person who invited me is familiar with our farming activities, and himself lives on a country property. And has aspirations about establishing a farming operation. As part of his invitation, he encouraged me to bring the whole family — so they could meet his family, and we could get to know each other better, and so we could exchange ideas about farming.
Fantastic aspirations and intentions. I would have loved to have responded in the affirmative. But my first thoughts were: April. Lambing season. Multiple goats needing to be milked twice a day. Sheep needing to be let out, and brought back from, pasture. Dogs need to be fed. Chickens need to be fed. Chickens? We’ll have lots of pullet chicks in the brooder! And turkey poults. And ducklings. And the garden will be going in! Who will water it?
Who? Simple: When I am gone, MYF and all the Yeoman Farm Children.
I graciously accepted the speaking invitation, but explained why the rest of the family couldn’t come along. He completely understood, and I thought his response was worth quoting verbatim:
I had not considered being so tied to a family farm. Man, that complicates things. I travel a little for work and I often take the family with me when we can. We’ll have to think that through. We’re a couple years from pursuing the farm as it is…
Yes, it definitely complicates things. And we hadn’t considered it, either, before we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of it. And we’d only been on our Illinois property for 13 months when it was already causing huge problems: MYF was 9+ months pregnant, staying in Chicago with the other two kids in anticipation of a C-section, and I was shuttling 80 miles each way to get home to feed our chickens. And was at the house when she went into labor, and had to go to the hospital by ambulance (with the other two kids riding in a police car), leaving me to go bombing up I-57 at 80 MPH so I could arrive with minutes to spare before our son’s birth. And then I took the older two home with me, fed the animals, and then drove back. And so on. And so on.
Believe me: we still talk about this incident. And we didn’t even have that many animals at the time. But the ones we had (mature broiler chickens, out in pastured poultry pens) needed considerable attention. If it’d just been a handful of free range laying hens, we wouldn’t have worried. They can take care of themselves. But those big meaty broilers would’ve been dropping right and left if I hadn’t kept running home to tend to them.
This isn’t to try talking anybody out of farming. I just hope it helps you stop and think about all the implications of what you’re getting yourself into when you have a farm — before you find yourself “in it.” And wonder what on earth you have done.