The thing about farming is this. You never really know if you’re doing it right.
I found both of my donkeys dead in the trees yesterday. My guess is that they grazed something poisonous, most likely poison hemlock, which is everywhere in the early spring.
After finding them, I took to Googling around on the subject of poisonous plants and livestock. And yeah, maybe I should have been alert to the possibility that my donkeys or cows would try some new forage, especially as the grass has not really taken off yet.
I might have realized that the donkeys always tend to eat last. They get shoved out of the prime grazing areas and kept away from the round bales by the cows. Still, they looked in great health, even after a hard winter.
Being a good farmer takes time. And lots of observation. And the conclusions he draws from those observations can be useful, or they can be dead ends. They can involve seeing something insignificant as important.
When donkeys up and die, or a cow dies, or has a stillborn calf, or when I find a dead beehive filled with honey, I have to interpret some maddeningly ambiguous signs. I might take action based on these signs, but are they the correct actions? Am I grazing the cows efficiently? I judge by how the pasture looks the following year. But is that nice clover growth a result of my clever grazing management, or just because we had an exceptionally wet spring? It’ll be years before I really know, and then will I know what I know any more than I do now?
A line from a senior year contemporary American poetry seminar has stuck with me: experience prepares you for what will never happen again. That used to haunt me. Now, not so much.