We do have to deal with our feelings, not just what the mind tells us to do. What do we want to do? So how do we feel at this time of the year?
Spring is full of promise. New life arrives if you have livestock. Fresh shoots leap up if you have viable crops. But drought looms. Will we have enough water to produce our crops, and will we have access to water for livestock on pasture?
The promise of a successful year motivates us to get our work done.
We work not just for this year, but we work to be working for the long term — for the long-term health and productivity of the land.
Now, I have to see all this through the lens of an average aging farmer and rancher.
Our progress towards our goals can’t just be fueled by working harder, or putting in more hours.
So, are we working smarter and happily? Is the work satisfying? I like the latter as a measure because I think as a culture we are too focused on happiness, at least immediate gratification.
A day, a week, or a month that is well spent will have a myriad of feelings as the time passes. Hope, disappointment, joy, stress and hopefully restful times.
Some gurus in farming think that young people in farming have too high expectations and are not willing to put up with hardship or delayed gratification the way the old folks did. Can farming be otherwise?
If you are a small farm or ranch, you cannot expect a high income unless you have a high-value product and market that rewards your efforts.
It is probably good advice to farmers young and old to find the balance between doing what brings income and what brings good feelings, because it is the right thing to do.
I have just marked work by students in the Applied Sustainable Ranching (TRU) program in a module called Work Life Balance, which includes addressing the idea of having a succession plan in case they wish to or have to exit the business they are operating or planning.
Most students in this business course do plan for recreation time. Good practices indicated that downtime, family time, personal time, rest and occasional longer breaks are all part of keeping healthy and thus capable of continuing the hard work and focus of achieving goals.
Everyone knows that the outside work is more enjoyable than the office work necessary for planning, learning and measuring success and achievement. Sometimes, we are indoors when the sun shines just because the business requires that.
Many of us will say we have so much production work to do that we can’t get to the inside work. That is where focusing on the important (improving performance of our farm products) comes into our life. It might not be as enjoyable or as physically rewarding like fixing fence, getting the feeding done or burning brush.
As opposed to “working in the business” such as fencing, feeding and land work, what this “working on the business” will do by planning, researching and measuring financial performance is help you know if what you do is worthwhile.
Loving the lifestyle aspects of ranching and farming gives meaning and good feelings for those us fortunate to be able to work on the land. However, to me this is all important. We have to come to love the business part of the life. If we are successful in the business part, then we know our work is worthwhile.
When sending a partner off to work outside the farm, or doing that ourselves, we must know that this outside income invested in the farm has a return and is not just going to subsidize someone else’s food. Otherwise, outside income can better contribute to enjoyable lifestyle aspects of where we live: a boat for fishing, a good horse for pleasure riding, or a trip to a concert.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.