It had been one of those days, topping off one of those long weeks where nothing seems to go your way. You cannot seem to get a break, and if you did not have bad luck, you had no luck at all. That is when Mark asks me the question I have no answer for.
    Let me set the stage. The weather has been throwing curve balls. The rains split or dissipated before they reached our place. We have yet to receive an inch of rain in a single day. The lack of rains is accentuated by the constant winds this June. We feel like we live in the Dakotas. Day and night the wind blows, taking away any chance of efficiently watering the crops. The winds also create a unique problem – a beltway for aphids, potato beetles and other insects to invade our fields. When we can run the irrigation gun on our short fields, something breaks. The cable snaps, the hose end gets ripped off or parts wears out. It feels like Mark is constantly fixing.
    At least we were able to get the first crop hay up with very few problems and of course no rain on it. So there have been some rays of good fortune shining, but it is amazing how quickly it dims when we start to focus on other issues. Water hemp is becoming a problem. We cannot seem to find the right combination of chemicals to help control the advancement of this obnoxious weed before it takes over sections of the fields. You start to question how much you can invest at what cost.
    When you invest in sexed semen for your cattle, you can generally count on a good return with a heifer from a strong family line. Well you know it is one of those weeks when you end up getting a split pair of twins using sexed semen. What are the odds? Even greater yet, what are the odds the heifer is any good? Not a day to go buy a lottery ticket, that is for sure.
    In the yard, Mark keeps a close eye on how the springing heifers are coming along. He can spot a heifer with a suspicious quarter, and we run her in to check things out. We sort her off from the herd and run her into a small pen. Now over the years, you think we would have invested in a head gate system. But, why, when we have an extra gate, an old rope halter and our bodies to secure her for treatment? We squeeze her up against the cable fence and quickly wrap an old rope halter around the gate to secure her in place and prevent her from backing up. Then Mark proceeds to examine the questionable quarter. Now if we are lucky and she is a calm, sedate heifer, it will take just a few minutes to treat her quarter. If not, which is generally the case, she will throw her head over the fence, stand on the curb, stomp for any exposed toes trying to make an escape.
    It was during one of these episodes of a thrashing heifer, while I was trying to secure the rope wrapped around the gate to prevent her from stepping on Mark, when out of the blue he asked me the question.
    “Remind me again why we are doing this?”
    Woah. Is that a question for an immediate answer or one that needs to be contemplated? Or, is it a question that needs to be said out loud, like an exasperated sigh with no answer required? Was he talking about treating our third heifer and the way we were doing this job? Or, was he talking about farming as a whole? I did not know how to answer his question. Do I answer like a business partner or as a spouse? I decided to let the question hang in the air.
    These past several days, I have been mulling his question around in my mind as I pull weeds in the garden or drag hoses around the yard watering the flower beds. What is the answer? Better yet, what was the real question? Was it just a situation or a plateau on life’s journey?
    Alice, a retired bookkeeper for the local co-op, shares funny and thought-provoking messages with me. I have heard versions of the story she sent me, but it really hit home for me.
    A professor walks into class and places an empty glass jar, a bucket of golf balls, a box of pebbles, a pail of sand and a couple of bottles of beer on the lecture table. He puts the golf balls in the empty glass jar and asks the class if the jar is full. Some say yes. He then proceeds to add small pebbles to the golf balls in the jar. He asks again and a few more say it is full. He grabs the bag of sand and proceeds to pour it into the full jar. Sand filters in the spaces left between the golf balls and pebbles. He shakes and pounds the jar filling any open space with extra sand. Now the whole class says the jar is full. Puzzled, the class waits to hear what point the professor is trying to make. He says we all have one life to live. The jar represents our life. The golf balls are the big important things we treasure – family, friends, faith, health. The pebbles are other important things we value. The sand is all the small stuff. If we put the sand in our jar first, the rest will not fit. We will not have time for the things that really matter. He urged his students to set your priorities to focus on the important things, the things that are most important to your life and let the little things fill in the extra space. A student, who was paying close attention, raised his hand and asked how the bottles of beer fit into the lesson. The professor popped a top, took a swig and told his observant student, “No matter how full your life, there is always room for a beer with a friend.”
    I do not know the right answer for Mark’s question, but as long as we focus on the important golf balls in life, we will be able to fill our jars with everything else and have room for a beer or two.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.