Word From the Range: Making Do

I’ve been thinking about old time sayings that have little or no meaning for most people on the sunny side of fifty. When I was growing up, people talked a lot about making do.

You make do with what you have, wear it another season, patch it up, or even do without. Not a mindset that’s very common nowadays, is it? Almost all of us have too much stuff. Things we didn’t really need, but wanted because it was the latest trend, or seemed reasonable, given the added commitments we keep making.

Styles come and go. Ways of doing business change and the availability of services, products, and workers affect the decisions we make, but many times we fail to study the consequences of our choices and end up paying a price.

2019 has been a hard year for anyone in agriculture. Weather events, low markets, and trade concerns have taken a toll, and there’s a ripple effect for the rest of the nation, although it’s slower to appear. Many of us will eventually need to learn the art of making do, and some of us never forgot it.

Haying season brought all this into focus for me. An extremely wet year, after a series of wet years, has much of Nebraska looking springtime green clear into September. That extra feed is a bonus only if the rancher can utilize it. Most meadows are still half under water, so a lot of the winter feed we plan on has been left unharvested. There’s abundant grazing, which helps, but only until it gets covered with snow and, given the wet trend, some of us are apprehensive about what that many mean in snow depth.

We got by pretty well on the home ranch, in terms of a hay crop. The red clover was thick, and mostly grew on higher ground where the crew could get to it. There’s still plenty of hay standing with wet feet, but possibly it will dry enough in September to get some of that. I’ve raked hay in early October wearing coveralls a time or two, so anything can happen in the Sandhills.

One reason haying went better for us than for some of our neighbors may have to do with making do. Our equipment is far from new, but smaller tractors with single or double bar mowers can get in places that are too soft for heavier and more modern machinery. Our crew breaks down pretty often, but my son inherited a skill from his dad and granddad. He goes out in the trees and finds a replacement part that will fit, or cobbles something together from salvage, so the work can continue. While others have to wait for parts to come in for their newer models, we are up and running again.

           Still, some aspects are beyond our control. Floods, blizzards, and the markets will have their say, and this year they spoke loudly. That’s when we adapt, review our priorities, and learn to say no to some things. My family is pretty good at that too, thanks to years of practice, and the examples of ancestors who never spent a nickel they didn’t have to.

We’ve gotten a little complacent, or at least I have, but 2019 is a good reminder that even when the work is a little harder and the wallet is a lot lighter, there are places where we can cut back and make do until better times. It’s time to let the Joneses go ahead and get ahead, hunker down and use what we forgot we had. I think that’s called creativity.