About a year and half ago I decided to step into the purebred cow arena. No, not to actually show animals but for production purposes. For a variety of reasons that are not germane to this blog post, my particular obsession at the time was the Guernsey breed. Pedigree and show animals seem to run in the same conversation; a conversation in which I was and still am a greenhorn. But I learned a great deal about a world of livestock and livestock owners that I would otherwise have little motivation to understand. (That’s a blog post for another time.)
My original goal in owning dairy animals was simply to provide milk for my family. Much like all our farming pursuits, our approach is to feed the family first and only then should any surplus serve another economic function. Our home dairy journey began with functional animals meaning they could reproduce and make milk. Beyond those simple criteria, I had an arsenal of information with zero experience.
Information rich and experience poor is how most of my new pursuits begin. I’m certainly not unique in that regard, particularly in the small farm scene where we tend to begin with ideologies and models of successful farms as a template for our own pursuit. But as Wendell Berry says, “If you’ve seen one farm, you’ve seen one farm.” The challenge begins when we frame our models as the ideal rather than understanding those models as products of a set of principles from which decisions are made.
As I gain experience, I am reminded daily of the simple wisdom of Wendell Berry’s words. I think of our operation as an integrated system ordered by a set of principles. Those principles inform our decisions. Not perfectly but if I catch myself looking at some other farm’s chicken tractor or dairy cows or garden irrigation or worm bins, I try to work from what I see back to the principle from which it came. I’m not immune to farm envy. But I’m learning to pursue imperfection, to stay on the path to The Homeplace not away.
More often than not, I find that whatever quality I thought was imperfect by an ideological standard has valuable place within a set of functional principles. And those principles return us to our vision.
Stay tuned for a new series of blog posts: 3 Principles for Beginning Farmers.