5 Things I Learned From Working on a Farm

Let me save us some time: no, working on a farm is nothing like Stardew Valley. To its credit, the game did get a few things right, such as the consistent morning routine, the way operations change with the seasons, and the impressive speed that animals will devour hay, but it left out a number of human details. You don’t get an idea of how much work boots will hurt your feet after a long day. You don’t see the bruises along your farmer’s knees and thighs. You miss out on the barn stench that hangs onto your clothes no matter how careful you are.

You also miss out on some important lessons. Let me fill you in.

1. Confidence is Key

You won’t want to look scared in front of a one-ton bull. It’s okay to feel nervous, but you need to keep a steady hand and hold your ground. If you run, the bull chases you.

On the same note, the little wise tale about how animals can sense who’s afraid of them is absolutely true. If you look like you’re in charge, they’ll be more likely to trust you, follow you, and feel safe around you. You’ll also be less likely to get bit, which is an enormous plus around the pigs. Pig teeth are a little scary, and I recommend staying as far away from those tusks as possible.

Carrying this confidence with you outside of the barn might not just make you feel more at peace with yourself, but it may also make you more successful and help the people around you feel safe. What’s to lose?

2. Keep Moving and Others Will Follow

Herding cows requires some patience and persistence sometimes. You can call their names until your throat aches, but those big ole cows just won’t budge. If you don’t have any treats in your pockets to tempt them with, the next best thing is to just walk forward and see if they follow. Sometimes, they’ll surprise you.

My analogy here is probably pretty obvious. Even if you don’t have any riches to entice people with, you should never underestimate the power of leading by example. Live your best life and see where it lands you!

3. Self-care is Unbelievably Important

My first few days at the farm, I kept forgetting to take my iron pills. My morning schedule was all thrown off, and even though I remembered to have my coffee, I just couldn’t remember to take those little red tablets that prevented me from passing out every time I tried lifting something over 50lbs. Thankfully, my bouts of lightheadedness never hit at too bad of a time, but it could’ve been ugly.

You’ll want to have some calories in the morning to fuel you throughout your day. You’ll want to invest in some sturdy, comfortable boots and insulated gloves. You’ll want to get 8 hours of sleep each night. And, of course, you’ll want some hobbies that have nothing to do with giant animals.

4. Find Honor in Humble Work

A while back, I was setting up a deposit box with my bank and had to explain to the teller that I work with animals. “Well,” she responded, “you’ll definitely want to do something more important soon, right?”

We live in a culture that looks down on physical labor. They use words like “unskilled” to demean hard work, and you’re seen as a failure if you don’t pursue something more “intellectual.” These cultural beliefs are so ingrained that I still sometimes feel bad about working a physical job, even though I’m writing on the side and doing my best to hunt for opportunities. The shame doesn’t feel good, especially in a pandemic where job searching has become extra difficult.

The trick is to find some pride in getting your hands dirty. Learn to value the lives of the animals and let yourself be happy when they are. Be grateful when the shyer animals open up to you, be proud when you fix a door or prevent the ducks from fighting. You need to celebrate the little things and give yourself credit when you’ve done something good. That goes for everything outside of the barn, too!

5. Everyone Means Well, Even if They Don’t Know Best

It’s easy to get frustrated when someone gives the goats too many treats and upsets their stomach, especially when you’re the one who has to clean up the poop the next morning. It’s true that it sucks, but imagine the other person’s point of view. They were so full of love that they just couldn’t stop giving treats, or they just loved to see the goat’s eyes light up with every pellet. Ultimately, they wanted to help, they just didn’t know what would be helpful and what would be diarrhea-inducing. Correct them, but do it kindly and have some patience.

In truth, most people want to do the right thing and will do their best to make sure it happens, but they don’t have the know-how to apply themselves in the best way and need some guidance. Try to be that guiding hand for someone. Although it’s small, it will help people to grow, learn, and turn this world into a better place. You may also consider teaching them about some of the other lessons on this list!

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