Take Time to ‘Smell the Roses’
The title tonight is one of my dad’s sayings. An idiom as a reminder to take time, to do the things that we enjoy; even when our schedules may seem busy. A pause on the farm – for a few minutes – an hour – an afternoon – an evening. Just to enjoy the blessings we have been given, and to be thankful. It has been a tough six months for us at Applecross Cattle. The continuation of a world wide pandemic, combined with personal loss and some family health challenges, has had a material impact on our mental health. So practicing self-awareness, and focusing on our own communication skills, have become essential. It is also a reminder that I am very fortunate that I have a partner I travel through life with, that I can share / talk to / be with / be a source of strength and remind me (or I can remind her) that sometimes we just need a break; to take time to ‘smell those roses’.
We are very fortunate to be able to have a cattle operation. We do this by choice. And a lot of people, in a lot of professions, can’t say that. There are certainly lots of great things about having the cows, but at the same token there is simply no escape from them. As one of our great friends mentioned when we were visiting the other day ‘the best part of the place is the cows / but it is also the worst part’. Cows demand attention; and more often then not, when it isn’t convenient! If the bull calves decide to push through a fence and get on the highway in the dark one night, or the resident senior herd bull decides that 2am is a great time for exploring the flowerbeds, neither situation is something that can be deferred to more accommodating daylight or even business hours between 9-5 in order to be resolved. Nothing impacts a Saturday night ‘date night’ cow-tour like noticing an animal with a limp, or simply looking ‘off’. Having cattle reinforces the suggestion that while for many days of the year they can exist perfectly healthy (in the pasture they are supposed to be in), that we are still on call 24-7-365. So a pause, spontaneous or planned, can remind us of all the great reasons we do choose to spend our life in the purebred cattle business. Outside, with nature, watching our cattle turn grass into milk and meat.
This year both of us have tended to operate with a higher level of emotion, so we have made a conscious effort to take these breaks to remind ourselves why we do what we do. A pause on a hilltop to watch the cattle work their way through a new pasture. A Saturday night gator ride that stops for no reason, other than to watch the cattle grazing, backdropped by a glorious sunset. A pause to reflect, a reminder that we are fortunate enough to do what we do, and that billions of people in our world have life so much worse. We are fortunate in so many ways. We need to take time to reflect, give thanks, and enjoy the moment while blessed to have each others company. And as the world turns back toward “normal”, time with family and great friends also returns to become moments that are cherished. Cherished because of what was missed; but also cherished because there is that sense of sharing; of openness and the awareness that everyone has their own demons. Together we can give each other strength – while also (often) enjoying some great cattle to boot!
When life becomes more challenging, it is often the deep rooted pillars that have always anchored our lives that move towards the fore. For us growing up, Sunday was always a time for our faith, and a pause (as much as possible) from ‘farm work’ so that we would have time for reflection, restoration, and rejuvenation. I was also blessed to grow up in a house of music. My mom sung in the barn during chores (and sometimes – if it wasn’t stupid early in the day – we would even join in!). My dad would play the same ‘Sunday Songs’ before church every week. And with two siblings that played the piano (one of whom is a now church pianist), music was never far. So between scripture and song, they continue to be inspirations that keep us grounded, sane and settled. A couple readily come to mind: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) and also ‘Trust I seek, and I find in you. Every day for us something new’ (Metallica). Reminders that while still planning for the future, try to stay in the “today” without worrying unnecessarily about things that might not even happen tomorrow. And also that we are fortunate the have someone to share our burdens with; hand in hand as we journey through life.
For Applecross Cattle itself, the farm has done very well for us this year. Despite widespread drought across Western Canada, some timely rains in June and again in late August allowed us to stretch our pastures a lot longer than anticipated. The cattle have moved closer to home and were put on feed 2 weeks earlier than usual, so we count our blessings that we have been so fortunate. As we were short grass, we did pivot and double the usual number of cull cows that went to town after weaning. The entire cow herd is mapped for performance of their progeny, with a simple test of whether their offspring was retained into our herd, became one of our sale animals or were culled. The combination of lack of performance, some flaws (I really like to clean up udders and feet), alongside some older cows that simply aged out of our program, meant quite a number went to town. It is always a sad day to see some trusted mainstays leave the yard, but at the same token having the opportunity to clean up the bottom 20% of the herd should never be passed up. The bonus is that I am much happier touring the cow herd!
We enjoyed a balanced calf crop and were able to continue our progression with polled genetics. I have said this fairly frequently over the past 5 years, but we are blessed with the strongest set of open heifers we have ever raised – there are some really neat, different genetics in the pen – and some of our more impressive matron cows (finally) gave us daughters. We also retained more bulls in our development paddock than we have ever had in the past, and have selected four bred heifers to present at Equation 2021. We won’t spoil the details, but between our walking bulls, some AI, and (rare for us) embryo calves, we are pretty excited for the potential of our 2021 calf crop.
In closing, this blog post may be a bit of a departure from our usual musings. Everyone has days they struggle with internal demons. And in Agriculture, I think there has always been a stigma to acknowledging them; confusing a public persona of ‘toughness’ and resiliency with experiences and challenges that every person faces. Mental health is just too important, so we decided to share a small snapshot of our journey. We are so fortunate to be able to live our dream of Applecross Cattle, while having each other to rely on when times are a challenge. So on Sunday night, we pause. To reflect, and to just ‘smell those roses’. We are so grateful. For friends. Family. Scripture. Song. Partnerships. And (of course), plenty of time to talk cattle.
Until next time,