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There were some tough farming lessons learnt last month. Our youngest herd of calves have been struggling on and off for the last wee while, with one of them becoming quite sick. I called the vet and we did a raft of tests. They came back with high parasite counts, which means all the lush feed they’ve been feasting on is not being converted efficiently and the animals are not happy, healthy or thriving.

This is not something I’ve had to deal with in the short 10 years I have been doing this. Yes sometimes the odd animal becomes unwell and needs intervention but because of the way we manage the land; with longer rotations, no chemical additions and taller grazing, parasites have not been an issue and I was probably complacent when looking out for the telltale signs. 

As soon as I got the results, my immediate go to was to feel like a complete failure. That awful voice in my head starting up; I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not good enough, I shouldn’t be farming, I should be doing better, why did I ever think I could do this, I’m letting my animals down, I’m letting my customers down, I’m just not good enough, blah, blah, blah. 

Coincidentally at the same time I had seen a TED talk by Reshma Saujani: “Teach girls bravery and not perfection”. She explains that our culture produces women who are terrified of failure. We are taught that we must be perfect. We strive for it, setting ourselves impossible goals. If we can’t do something perfectly we won’t even have a crack at it. 

An example she gave was of women applying for work. We only put ourselves forward if we meet 100% of the criteria asked for, while men will go for it if they only meet 60! The thing that really resonated with me was an anecdotal story she shared of a friend who was a professor. He told her that when one of his male students struggled with a code he’d go to him and say “Professor there’s something wrong with the code”, while the women would come to him and say “professor there’s something wrong with me”. 

Why as women do we do this to ourselves? Set the benchmark so high and when we fail to hit it our default setting is to flagellate ourselves while men seem to brush off mistakes and swagger through them. We listen to all the naysayers and soak up all the widely available criticism that seems so readily dished out to us? Believing at the first hurdle that we’re not capable and giving up. 

I took a breath, stepped back and asked the vet how this happened. She explained that due to the very wet, warm summer, there’s been an explosion of parasites and they’re seeing it across the board. I presumed we were immune to it, didn’t have my eye on the ball so caught it quite late.  

It’s a valuable lesson learned and something I am now armed with for this September and a new herd of calves. I am learning as I go, working at finding my people and support networks along the way and sourcing expertise that is positive and helpful and trying not to listen to the people who relish pointing out what I’ve done wrong. 

So on the vets say so I gave my wee herd a conventional drench, other prescribed medication and one gal had some antibiotics. I’m happy to say they all seem to be on the mend but I’m keeping a close eye on them!

I am a first generation female farmer, who makes mistakes, learns from them and is forging her own wiggly path through a difficult and sometimes hostile environment*. Doing my best to be brave, accepting that I am not perfect (nor have to be) and keeping my eye on the goal;

a profitable, sustainable business that fits with my value system and life. 

Thanks for being here

Claire x

*rough quote taken from Camas Davis’ Killing It, but I can’t remember it exactly or find it again!