My bother-in-law is one of the most brilliant men I have ever known. I do not mean the Einstein type, but rather, he’s incredibly practical, creative, and clever. He ran a dairy farm passed down from his father in Ireland’s lush countryside, and gave me the opportunity to experience farming firsthand. Enthralled with his inventiveness with solutions to his daily problems on the farm, I realized the creative opportunities in farming. So in 1976, while running one of the busiest surgical practices in Vermont, I decided to enter the farming business. I really knew nothing about farming, but felt deep in my heart that this was a venture I would prosper in and enjoy the rewards of manual labor, something that the surgical practice did not offer. So… I bought a farm. With the agreement of my surgical partner, I took off enough time to set up the farm I purchased, which already had almost 100 dairy stock cows. My wife grew up in Ireland and as a child had to milk 7 cows each day by hand before going to school, so I figured that the difference between milking 7 cows by hand and 100 cows by a set of milking machines could be made up by just hiring a few farmhands. I purchased the farm in May and almost immediately had to plant my corn to feed the herd, so I was off and running right from the start.
It was a marvelous experience and I really fell in love with being a farmer. I felt invigorated after a day’s work and I put on muscles I did not know I had. I even bought a horse and broke it, and she only threw me once before we became bonded and I felt like a true horseman. I was really living the life, but things weren’t always so rosy. There were lots of problem with the farm, economics being the first one I never sensed I would have. Like any company, one needs a business plan that would anticipate the potential problems, but in the autumn of that first year, 40 cows developed pneumonia. I went to the hospital, got lots of IV solutions, and created an intensive care unit in the barn. I asked the drug reps for antibiotics, which they freely gave me, and used the hospital lab to help me treat the cow’s infections. So I now had two medical activities: my busy surgical practice and a fill-in veterinary practice. All of the sick cows never recovered their milk production and this failure almost lead me into bankruptcy. I learned that the pneumonia was caused by not allowing free circulation of air in the barn, so when I tried to regulate barn temperature I then created a situation where the cows easily became overheated. That was a costly lesson. I had to repurchase an entire herd.
One night, I was driving home from doing emergency surgery at the hospital and as I came up the country road I lived on, there in front of me was my entire herd of cows heading into town. I raced home, got my entire family out of bed, and we spent hours turning the herd back to the barn. Then it happened again. I knew it had to be the cows themselves figuring out a way to open one of the barn doors, so I decided to stay in the barn to watch for that genius, deviant cow. It took a few nights of standing in manure before I finally identified the culprit that allowed my entire business to literally walk out the door… and that cow went to cow heaven for her deeds.
All in all, the farming adventure was a great experience that lasted for a few years. I gave it up because unfortunately, it did interfere with my hospital work. The medical practice had to take preference over the cows. My two lives weren’t compatible — full-time surgeon (who was on call for emergencies) / full-time farmer.
What’s the point of indulging myself and writing about past non-hair life lessons? Well, today marks the 5 year anniversary of BaldingBlog. That is 5 years of getting to know my readers, but I wonder if they know me. So from time to time I’m going to post little anecdotes from my life to show that I’m a risk taker (among other things *ahem*). I have always wanted to try new experiences and make my life exciting… and at that stage in my life, farming was pretty exhilarating. As long as these stories don’t bore our visitors, I’ll continue to write about some of my other ventures. If you’ve made it this far, please feel free to chime in with your comments / thoughts.