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Dust on the Dashboard

A teaching moment

My recovery from hip replacement is right on schedule but it is not going nearly fast enough to suit me.

I know farmers and ranchers make the worst patients, and I don’t know what I expected. If I would just sit back and think about it, where I am right now in recovery is amazing. I cannot say enough good things about the medical staff that did my surgery, but that does not stop me from being frustrated and inpatient.

This down time, however, has taught me an unbelievably valuable lesson and one I hope I continue to abide by even after I am completely recovered.

When the kids heard about my impending surgeries, they both pledged to come back home and help out. Isaac took a little over two weeks off of his duties in grad school and came home to help bale hay. To say that I was appreciative of the help would be an understatement, but it also brought on a bit of panic. Me being out of commission was going to be a problem because it was going to change the roles for everyone in the haying operation.

We are a relatively small operation, and often there is not enough work for two of us at a time – especially when it comes to haying. The whole process can be pushed along only so fast because Mother Nature has to do her thing in curing the hay.

That really isn’t the problem, but it was my excuse and it was the excuse of my father before me. As much as I wanted to believe that I was not like my father, I was more like him than I wanted to admit.

This isn’t meant as a complaint about Dad (I understand why he did what he did), but rather an epiphany of how things could and should be.

Dad and I settled into a rut when we farmed together. There were certain jobs he did because they were just too complicated to teach and he never had the time. In reality, they were the jobs he really liked to do and therefore he was afraid if he trained someone else, he would lose that job.

I get it and understand, and I fell victim to that mentality until my hand was forced this spring.

Isaac had mowed hay, raked hay, and had certainly hauled hay prior to this summer but he had never baled. Why? I don’t have a great answer other than we were always in a hurry to get the hay baled before the next rain and I didn’t have time to waste showing him. Well, if I wanted to get any hay baled on time, I didn’t have any choice but to train him and turn him loose.

I was less than a week post-surgery when we had the first field ready to bale. I climbed up in the tractor (something that was not comfortable) and proceeded to show him how to run the machine.

We went a little way and soon had the first bale ready. The net wrap didn’t want to work, and we had to mess with the settings. I am not sure what happened but we kicked out what was going to prove to be the worst bale of the season, and I was responsible for it.

We made the necessary adjustments and I asked Isaac if I needed to bale a couple more for him. He told me he had it and climbed up in the cab, leaving me by the side of the field feeling apprehensive and worried.

I found a nice shade tree with a bit of a breeze and proceeded to watch him for the next 20 bales. Not only did he manage to roll them up without incident, but he did so without my guidance.

He went on to bale all week and even worked through a couple of glitches on his own. That was when I realized I had missed the boat the last couple of years, and I was more like my father than I wanted to admit. There was no reason Isaac couldn’t have been baling all this time – no reason except my self-inflated idea that I was the only one that could.

It was a lesson Dad and I did not figure out until we had to. When his health deteriorated to the point he could not function, I stepped in and took over his duties. Do you know what? We survived and moved on, much like I did this past week.

It really was kind of liberating to find out that I am not the only one that can do certain tasks. But more than that, I am proud to have raised a kid who has the ability to step up when needed.

Believe me, I am chomping at the bit to climb back in the cab next week when he has to go back to school, but I am grateful for his help the past two weeks. I am sure it helped my healing process, but I am also sure it helped me to learn an even more important lesson. Too bad it took major surgery and an artificial joint to learn it.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at

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Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at

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