In a past life - before I decided to raise goats full time - I worked in behavioral health. While I sincerely hope to never return to that, useful tidbits stick will be for everyday interactions and reminders to myself. One of the main two is that people repeat the behaviors that have gotten them what they needed in the past - and that what they need may not always be as obvious as it seems on the surface.
What does that have to do with farming, you may ask? Bear with me.
With winter coming, the memes about woolly bear caterpillars, geese heading south and the falling of leaves are piling up like a squirrel's acorn hoard as everyone tries to predict the weather. Here in Maine, one of the great favorites that often causes City Folk to roll their eyes is the Old Farmer's Almanac. While the Almanac itself claims to have an accuracy rate of 80-85% for the last 200 years or so, third party examinations show that it's more like 50% at best.
So why has it been such a die-hard method of prediction for farmers for so many years if the accuracy is that of a coin flip? Because it works for what they need it to, and that isn't control of the weather
What farming - and farmers - lack is a sense of control. Everything about farming is weather-dependent. Too little rain, the crops die. Too much rain, they drown. If the winter is too snowy care of animals become harder and we begin to worry about whether or not we put in enough firewood for the house. If there isn't enough snow, the next year could result in a drought and perennials are less likely to winter over well.
For us, the outcomes of this have been harsh as the weather here in Maine has begun to shift to colder weather and less snow that we are used to. It's been harder to keep water bowls clear in the winter, and last year - despite heavy winter coats - the rabbits really struggled. All the laid back ears in the shot to the left are signs of a very cold day and rabbits trying hard to stay warm.
This year, a sudden drop in temperatures resulted in our younger birds having trouble adapting, and we've lost a number of young chickens because of it. The temperatures aren't abnormal, but the suddenness of the drop has been hard on all the animals - especially those who are still working on growing in winter coats.
It's frustrating for us, but we still have one, outside source of income. For someone making their living exclusively through farming, it would be a disaster. The truth about farming is that you can make all the plans in the world based on experience, and still have Mother Nature throw you a curve ball that you never saw coming. But we have to plan - otherwise we wouldn't get the firewood in at all. And while woolly bears and the Farmer's Almanac may have dubious results, it's as good a place to start as any. And if it turns out to be wrong? Well you won't be the only one feeling the pain of it.
So do our farming superstitions gets us perfect answers? No. But it does let us have a sense of control - a sense that we are doing something to prepare, adapt and get us through the unknown. And failing that? At least we are all in this together.
And that's what we really need.