Well, ‘tis I – the desperately misunderstood farm husband. I’m here to give my ‘farm husbandry’ wisdom (or lack thereof) and offer a bit of a counter-argument to my long-suffering Desperate Farmwife.

Let’s be clear: I won’t be providing any useful farming advice – I will leave that to the professionals at the Irish Farmers Journal. Instead, I’m going to provide what I believe are necessary tips to help you navigate and answer what is probably the hardest question posed to any farmer: “What the hell are you at out there all day in that yard?”

This, like trying to answer the “meaning of life” question, will take a lot of unpacking, require scientific research and some psycho-analysis, but who am I kidding? I’ve no time for that; I’ve got jobs to do. Anyway, I will give it a shot as best I can and hopefully I won’t lead you too astray.

Time management

The first big topic to tackle is time management and, specifically, how long it will take to do any given farm job. Now, all farmers get asked this question. Just as you’re getting the boots on and about to head out the door to face the day: “How long are you going to be?”

Now, you know as well as I do, Pythagoras himself wouldn’t be able to come up with an equation to solve that one. There are just too many things that can go wrong and throw your ‘finger in the air’ estimate off. You’re stuck though – you have to throw out some answer, so what do you do?

You either go with the tried and tested:

“Ah sure, I’ll be a couple of hours.”

Or “Be back before dinner.”

Or “Won’t take long.”

All vague responses just to get out the door. We would all love to be certain on how long we’ll be, but in farming, certainty is a luxury.

Broken promises

So how do we solve this? Because you know if you promised to be back by a certain time and you come in that door completely off, you’re in for it.

I’ll use my own recent case study as an example.

I woke up Sunday morning and got the wellies on to head out to milk the cows and feed a few calves. Cue the shout from the kitchen: “How long will you be?”

After peering out the door and seeing a lovely sunny day in front of me, I proudly shouted back: “Be back at 11am!” Now, I know I broke my own rule by saying an exact time. It must have been the sun, or I was in good humour – I don’t know what came over me. Anyway, it’s too late, I had to go.

Things were going great; milked the cows with no major issues. Everything was running smoothly. I fed calves and let the cows out to new grass. Then I saw the problem: water bubbling out from under the road – the water that was meant to go down into the cow’s pasture.

At this stage it was 9.30am. I knew this had to be a busted water pipe or connection. I had no choice – it had to be fixed. It was a hot day, and no water for the cows would be disastrous. Off I went, digging with a spade first, because I naïvely thought the pipe would be right there where the water was bubbling up.

In a hole

I was so wrong. This was not going to be a simple fix; I had to call in the father to get our digger to dig deeper. It’s now 10.30am; no sign of this leak or pipe. I’m two feet down in a hole; the sun baring down on me and the cows were getting titchy in the field.

At this point, I knew being back at 11am was not going to happen. What do you do? Get the message out that you’re banjaxed. A selfie down in the hole, covered in water and clay, followed by “Wish you were here” is one way. Hopefully your partner sees the funny side – or a quick call with an explanation (and dealing with another ETA request) were the options. I picked the selfie.

Anyway, after two hours of rooting, we found a busted copper connection which was probably down there since World War I. Another hour’s digging led us to the leak in the pipe further up, followed by an hour of unblocking the ball cock and holding back the cows while filling their water trough. But we finally got the job done.

The day is gone

It’s now 3.30pm. Crap, the day is gone. No kicking around the soccer ball with the kids, vegging in front of the telly or enjoying Sunday dinner. I cut my losses and grabbed something to eat with the father before going back out to milk again. Then it hits me: I forgot to check back in since this morning. Luckily, my wife is not strange to my absentmindedness.

I think we can all agree that communication is one of the most important aspects of any relationship – work, farm or loved one – and farmers (at least, speaking for myself) are not always the best at communicating. It’s one thing to give a simple, “I’ll be back at (insert time here),” and another for your partner to understand your day-to-day and what can go wrong. But maybe the hole selfie was the wrong approach.

Communication is key

I guess what I’m trying to demonstrate is this: if you have a farmer in your life, he or she (now and again) is not going to be home when you expect. Don’t hold them to their “finger in the air” estimate; be aware that, when they go out, something can go wrong. At the same time, farmers, we’re not off the hook. We need to get better at communicating. At the end of the day, we all want to get home safe – and not have to spend the rest of the week in a domestic hole of our own making.

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