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Irons in the fire: Son, you’re no quitter

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 28 March 2018

I was enjoying a dandy start to the new year. January was like a heavenly dream. We’d had some snow and a couple of cold stretches in late December, but the first few weeks of the year felt more like April than January.

I had made it past Christmas without having to feed much hay, and even when I started feeding, I was feeding much less than I normally needed to, thanks to the mild weather. While some folks in my home country were starting to fret about the lack of snowpack to fill the reservoirs for the next two years, I knew there was not much I could do about it anyway, so my attitude of preference was to enjoy it like I would a Riviera vacation.

Last year, we had a rank winter – more snow than we’d seen in several years, accompanied by some unprecedented flooding when the record amounts of snow melted. I hadn’t missed that at all, this year.

When Punxsutawney Phil, that wretched rodent, predicted six more weeks of winter, I scoffed. A week before my calving season was scheduled to commence, I saw that a winter storm was predicted to arrive. I took note, but still floating in my spring-like trance, spent little time worrying or preparing for a sustained cold streak.

I expected a storm or two, but nothing that would last for more than a couple of days at a time. I was the quintessential grasshopper from The Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Relax! Everything will be fine.

Two days after our first calves were born, Mr. Johnny-come-lately Winter arrived. All through the month of February, and well into March, he stayed. All through the heart of calving season and right through my heart, he stuck his icy sword. I quit counting at 20 – the number of days where the temperature didn’t get above freezing, day or night.

There were a couple of three-day stretches where the nighttime temperatures were in the single digits. We had multiple storms where the snowfall reached nearly a foot. Our calving pasture left much to be desired, in the event of miserable winter weather. I had to live with the cows.

With little shelter from the wind and cold, if a calf didn’t immediately get up when it was born, it was lights out. I spent my nights carting calves to the barn and the calf warmer to keep them alive, and my days, I spent mothering up pairs. I tried. But I didn’t save them all. The only wind in my sails was coming from the north, and it was bitter cold. If I was a little brighter, and could have figured out a way, I would have quit.

I was reminded of a story I heard from one of my neighboring ranchers. He told of when he was a kid, and his dad finally bought a stack wagon to stack the small square bales of hay in the stackyard. One afternoon, early in this new farm implement’s tenure, this boy, probably in his early teens at the time, was assigned to finish up the last couple of loads in a field while his dad ran into town.

His dad tried to give him a lesson or two on the stacker’s operation, but the son assured him that he had it all figured out. Well, he didn’t really have it all figured out. On his first attempt at stacking his first load, he tipped half of the load over. This meant that he had to reload the bales onto the stacker by hand and try again. His second attempt netted the same result, as did the third and fourth tries.

It was early in the evening when his dad finally arrived back at the ranch to find his son cussing, still packing bales and still futilely trying to work out an understanding with the new stack wagon. He had made a mess of the existing stack and still hadn’t come close to finishing the job he was assigned. The younger expected a scolding and a well-deserved “I told you so” from his dad. Instead, in a moment of wisdom and perhaps awash in memories of his own youthful, pride-induced mistakes, his father simply said, “Son, you’re no quitter.”

What could have been just another frustrating day for an overworked and underpaid kid on the ranch turned into a pivotal moment in that young man’s life. It was a lesson from whose reserves he could draw strength and resolve for the rest of his life; one that has done the same for his kids and their children.

Although the task of rebuilding a haystack alone may, at first glance, seem impossible, it can be done; one bale at a time. I do a lot of stumbling along through life. Some wrecks are self-inflicted. Some can’t be helped. But I have found that, one way or the other, I can work my way through the worst of briar patches if I heed the words I once heard in a Sunday meeting that I somehow didn’t sleep through:

  • Live life an inch at a time.
  • Trust God.
  • Be patient.  end mark
Paul Marchant
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