Q: What happens when a farmer with a bad knee chases pigs through the garden?
A: A farmer with a torn ACL!
Now, if this were a real joke the punchline would be funny rather than painful!! Why was I chasing the pigs through the garden? Because they were out of the pen and having a joyful, if short-lived piggy frolic through the fall plantings!!
Last Wednesday reminded me of several things…the importance of latching the gates, how much damage livestock can do in a relatively short period of time, how quickly hogs can move when motivated, that pride cometh before the fall, and the fine and perilous line between health and injury.
On Tuesday I took some pictures of the garden to share with friends because while it was a bit weedy it was producing like gang-busters. Tomatoes, potatoes, beets, onions, corn, basil, cucumbers, peppers…the list goes on and on! I was putting up pickles like crazy, making pesto with the basil, freezing gallons of green beans – and in one quick trip through the garden the cows and the hogs took care of all that.
What? Cows too??
Yes. When I got up early Wednesday morning the cows were standing in the front of the house having spent an hour or so trampling things down and mowing through most of the beets, green beans and corn. With a little cajoling and bribing with grain the girls went back in their pasture, I got the chores done and went on with my day. THEN, right before dinner and in the aftermath of the bovine invasion, hubby looked out and said, “Are the hogs supposed to be in the chicken pen??” The answer of course is “NO!” We dashed out and herded the hogs back to their pen. A couple thoughts about big hogs: capable of short bursts of high speed, they are short on stamina and quickly get hot and tired. Pretty soon they just want to go back to their wallow and cool off! Before they get there they can make you dodge and run a bit – which is when the torn ACL happened. The hogs zigged, I zagged, and my knee didn’t so I ended up hobbling back to the house for an ice pack.
Convalescing helps with the pain but my mobility is still pretty compromised and I will find out on Monday if surgery is in my future. In the mean time teenager #3 is doing most of the chores, including milking and feeding the chickens, in addition to her own chores. Regretfully, this solution isn’t sustainable as she starts OC next week and won’t have time to milk in the morning before school. To deal with my limitations we are working on getting rid of the hogs a couple weeks early (okay – tomorrow!) the flea-infested, egg-sucking farm dog is going to the groomer tomorrow so I don’t have to wrestle her into the tub and I am working on finding a temporary home for one of the cows. I can milk but it takes forever because I move very slowly! Snail’s pace!
As I make calls and get offers of help with milking and chores from other farmer friends I am very touched by the out-pouring of compassion and concern. I have also spent lots of time thinking about what would happen if I was farming full-time. I have several other off-farm jobs, including my gig at WSU Extension, most of which can be done sitting down. And, more importantly, we have one full-time off-farm income with good benefits and health insurance. As a full-time farmer I would be hard pressed to take time to recover properly. Cows need to be milked and hay needs to be cut. By way of illustration, one of our hay growers took a fall off a horse last summer and broke his pelvis and one leg. His neighbors cut and stacked his second cutting hay and his father-in-law did all his irrigation for the remainder of the season. We saw him in October and he was still limping badly but he could get up on a tractor and do his own farming again. It was a significant challenge for his family and they are still digging out from the medical bills – and his wife works for the local school district s they actually had medical benefits.
A frequent comment about farming in Kitsap is that it is “Part-time” and while that is a valid observation – this isn’t solely a Kitsap phenomenon. Nationally, 85-95% of farms have off-farm income. Kitsap merely mirrors the trend nationally. Reasons for off-farm income are varied – but many farmers I know rely upon off-farm jobs for health insurance. Given that farming is one of the most dangerous industries, the importance of medical coverage can’t be understated. As more and more young people enter agriculture (which is great given that 60% of farmers in the US is over 55) the trend of relying upon off-farm income is going to continue.
The next time you are thanking a farmer for feeding you, wish them good health as well. They can use it!!