Earlier this week I lay in bed in the middle of the night with great worry on my mind. It had nothing to do with politics, finances or even my children. As I tossed and turned in my comfortable and warm bed, the sound of the howling wind and -15 degree wind chills eventually became too much for me and I stood to my feet and began to get dressed, layering myself in as many sweaters and pants as possible in preparation for a dreaded and mostly unnecessary trek I was about to make.
Using my phone as a flashlight, I noticed that it was 4:22 a.m. and as I carefully closed the back door to our home, hoping not to awake anyone, I was greeted by some of the coldest wind I have ever felt in my four decades of living in the mountains of Appalachia.
Step by frozen step, my bones ached in a way few have known, and the howling wind made me more awake so early in the morning than any cup of coffee ever dare to do.
Hearing nothing but the wind, I braced myself for the worst as I neared our tiny barn roughly a half football field from our home, then at last I heard what I had been praying for, “Bahhh… Bahhh…”
“Great, you’re still alive…” I silently whispered in my mind.
Moments later, I was inspecting the face and neck of a 3-year-old Katahdin ewe sheep. Though she was still bloodied and walking with a bad gimp, she was alive, eating and seemed to be in good spirits.
The previous morning, while performing my routine check of the property, I found her being attacked by a vicious predator. The sound of her screams and agony still pierce through my mind, as does the blast of my gun which abruptly ended the attack and ultimately saved her life from a savage death — sadly, I was too late to arrive on the terrible scene to be of any help to her daughter, a ewe lamb born this past spring. My daughters affectionately named her April, but by the time I found her, she was lifeless, bloodied and badly ripped.
After petting the wounded but recovering sheep and talking with her, just the two of us in a cold barn, I bowed my head and prayed for the Lord to fully heal her. It felt awkward, praying in the middle of the night over an oblivious sheep, but it also felt right.
I then closed the door behind me and returned through the frozen wind back to my calling bed. Stripping the frozen and stained clothes from my body, I reentered the bed, smelling a little worse than I did twenty minutes earlier.
When day broke, a college buddy of mine who now lives in Atlanta and is making good money called me and we spent the next 45 minutes catching up about our lives. I briefly mentioned the excitement and heartache of the previous day and he simply could not fathom how or why I do what I do.
“You actually shot the animal?” he inquired, oblivious to the reality that I was not killing a life, but saving multiple lives.
“I just couldn’t do it,” he continued, “I’d be sick for days if I ever killed something.”
When I updated him on the condition of the surviving sheep and how that I had checked on her while it was still dark that morning, he began talking about how he was glad it was me and not him because he was happily sleeping at this time.
As we hung up, I began to realize that there’s a great disconnect between farmers and ordinary people. Though I grew up on a +300acre Black Angus farm, our family now has a little hobby farm — but the reality is the same: Whether you’re running hundreds of head of cattle or fifteen sheep, there’s nothing pretty or clean about farming. It’s dirty, difficult and in winter, downright miserable work — but it’s still something that those of us who do this job do on purpose.
This evening I found myself pondering the reality of just how different farmers are when I came across a post a friend of mine, who serves as our local extension agent wrote.
Matthew Miller stated, “I have seen a lot of posts about praying for farmers as they take care of their animals in this cold… perhaps, but the farmers I know accept that task willingly with a determined duty that the job requires that workload; however hard or uncomfortable it may be. I would contend that prayers are better spent on those that don’t understand that responsibility, know the meaning of service to living things beyond yourself, know that happiness can come from being exhausted and cold. So indeed thank those farmers and ranchers, but pray for the ones that don’t get it. For until we have a better understanding of what ‘feeding’ the world really involves we will continue to devalue and criticize those that do it.”
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