I am a creature of habit, I admit it. I would guess that my wife would say I am a creature of bad habits and she would probably be right. In any case, I am a prisoner to my routine, and I am all out of sorts when that routine is disturbed. I find that it carries through the whole day and disrupts everything. I don’t know why, but it seems to get in my head and bad things happen, kind of a domino effect.
Let me give you an example. This past week, I helped a neighbor burn some pasture. Pasture burning, especially when it is someone else’s fire, is something that I enjoy doing. This fire involved a lot of cedar trees and there are very few things in life that I enjoy as much as watching a great big, old cedar tree go up in flames. The time to gather to start the burn was 5 o’clock and I didn’t want to be late and miss any of the flaming evergreen fun.
I hustled my way through chores and, quite frankly, cut some corners with the idea of coming back the next morning and making good. Everything would be OK for the night, it would just make chores the next morning take a little longer, and since I had nothing planned everything would work out just fine, or so I told myself.
The fire went splendidly and lots and lots of cedar trees went up in flames, and the rest of the fire went right along as planned. It was a very enjoyable evening. So enjoyable that I forgot to get the feed for our geriatric horse and take it in the house with me. The senior horse feed must soak 15 to 20 minutes, so each evening I take a bucket into the house with me. Before I go out and do chores, I let it soak while I have my second cup of coffee. It’s a win-win for both Ace and me.
Coming home late that evening, I drove right past the shop and the bucket with the feed in it — this was a mistake I did not figure out until the next morning. When I realized that I did not have the feed in the house, I knew my day was shot. I tried to make my way down to the barn as stealthfully as possible. Ace, the geriatric horse, has many great qualities, but patiently waiting to be fed is not one of them. He has learned the routine and expects the feed to be in his pan within a couple minutes of the garage door opening.
He saw me as I tried to slip past him and let me know by banging on his panels that he was not amused.
This alerted the ewes that I was out and about, and they decided to let me know they were also hungry.
Between Ace and the ewes, things were getting loud and rowdy. I decided to make good use of the feed soaking time and take care of the bottle lambs. I made up the four bottles and walked over to their pen.
They were not expecting me and were still inside their shelter, sleeping. They were the only animal who thought my change in routine was a good idea. In the meantime, Ace, the other two horses, the ewes and the dogs whipped themselves into a full-scale prison riot.
Gates and fences were being strained to their breaking point. I fed Ace and to show me he was not amused, he bumped me with his head. The ewes nearly ran over me and a few escaped while I tried to get through the gate. While I was feeding, I noticed that the ewes needed watered and this added another 30 minutes to my already delayed chores. This meant I was delayed in taking Ace back to his pen, another error that he loudly pointed out.
I finally got around to going out to check cows and feed heifers about 45 minutes later than usual. That all went OK until the last group of cows. They were out of hay and apparently the electric fence had quit working. I had a battery with me and by the looks of things, 45 minutes would have made a difference.
Now not only was I going to have to feed them and change the battery, but I was going to have to round them up and fix fence. This led to another group of cows not getting fed when I had planned, and a cow getting out there and taking matters into her own hooves in the bale pile.
At the end of the day, I did not get anything I had planned on accomplished because I spent all morning catching up and getting back on schedule. Of course, it might also have had something to do with a battery that should have been changed earlier and a fence that should have been fixed right the first time, but I blamed it on my change in routine. All of this for a few flaming cedars. Was it worth it? You bet your life it was!
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. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.