In the bar side of a loud and crowded restaurant, we sat. The typical conversation had when a group of cattlemen come out of hiding from their secluded pastures after a long winter was in full swing-market prices, politics, the neighbor’s cattle. At this point, we had been drinking whisky for a fair share of the evening. I was, as usual, the youngest one there. They all had at least 25 years on me. I sat back and just soaked it all in-the history, the stories, the hard-work, the memories. As I sat watching and listening, I noticed that one of the older gentlemen’s stories had a lot of weight and emotion trailing along with each word. He had started to admit how hard this business really is, when his wife subtly put her hand around his shoulders.
Most of you might be thinking, “…..and? People do that all the time.”
This time was different.
This wasn’t just a habit, it wasn’t just a gesture of affection.
This was powerful. It meant I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for seeing this through even through the hard times. I’m proud of you for doing the hard work that you do. It meant I understand. I understand the hours, the frustration, the uncertainty. It meant I’m here. I’m here through the nights when you can’t sleep because the wind might freeze the new born calves, when you get your second flat tire of the day hauling cattle 3 hours from home, when the buyer calls and says he’ll only take the calves for half the price next year. And in this life, that’s powerful.
There is so much uncertainty in what we do. In three years, when this calf is finished and ready to go to market, will people even want to buy it? Will trends have changed? Will the cover crops I experimented with this year even emerge? Will the person that just picked up a semi load of calves pay me? Will I be able to rent land again next year when the cows don’t pay for themselves? Will we get the 7 inches of rainfall promised this year? Will the cows all turn up bred? Will the hay get rained on or baled properly? Will the processor cut the meat right for my direct customer?
Uncertainly can weigh you down.
So, when your man sits next to you and spills his guts about his uncertainty, what can you say? You can’t say “it’ll all work out” or “it’ll be fine.” It might not be. It really might not be.
The only thing you really can do is put your arm around them. Let them know that you’re going to stick through this with them. That when the person backs out of buying that load of hay, you will be on the phone calling every person in your contact list to find someone new to buy it. That when that momma cow rejects her calf, you’ll be there to tag team getting her in, milking her out, and feeding the calf. That when you’re baling hay at 2 in the morning, you’ll deliver the sustenance they haven’t had time for all day. That when the neighbor calls and says you can’t drive your cattle through their property to get to your next pasture like you have for the last 5 years, you’ll be there to draw evil stick figures of them at the dinner table. That when the processor “loses” the cut sheet again, you’ll be there to drop it off along with some incentivizing cookies. And when they’ve had an awful day, you’ll be there to talk or make them laugh to take their mind off of it.
That is what is certain.