How Old is Too Old to Work

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Avatar for JonicaBradley
2 years ago
Topics: Aging, Work, Livestock, Ranching, Health, ...
JimmyChew sitting on my back, chewing my hair.

I wrote this piece for Grit Magazine Blog in 2019. J.J. is now a fully grown mama goat pictured in the lead image(she's the one in the middle). She no longer launches herself off of my back. She just steps on my feet. At around 175 pounds, that's a lot of stepped on! These days it is her little baby who, despite her three leggedness, launches herself in the air. Sometimes off of me. Sometimes off of J.J. whom I remind frequently that Karma is a bitch.

How Old is Too Old to Work?

J.J. took a running leap and launched herself off of my back. "Please don't throw out my back. Please. Please Please."

The thought swirled around my brain as I gingerly stretched my back, feeling for injury. Fortunately, this time, there was no pain, no injury to be found. I haven't always been so lucky.

J.J. is a sixty-pound dairy goat kid. She is four months old and incredibly playful. A decade ago, I would have been able to take that hit without pain or worry.

Today, I worry. Today, I hurt. My muscles are feeling the strain. I didn’t throw my back out today. But what about tomorrow? What about a decade from now?

In ten years, I will not yet be eligible for retirement benefits. I need to work many more years for that. Will my body hold out that long?

Ranching is hard work.

Operating a working sheep and goat ranch takes its toll on my body. Twice a year we run all the animals through a shoot to give them vaccines and de-wormer medication.

The sheep can be skittish and will try to escape. Sometimes, right over my head. Sometimes, right into me.

The goats are stubborn and may need encouragement to get into the working shoot. I have to pull or push 100-to 200-pound animals.

Sometimes I need to straddle an animal in order to hold it still enough to dock a tail or insert an ear tag. I hold weeks old kid bucklings and ram lambs so my husband can slip on the castration band. The boys wiggle and struggle.

During kidding and lambing season, I take on the role of midwife. Some ewes and does need help. Pulling a baby is hard work. It takes strength to pull. It takes patience. Labor can go on for quite a while. I often have to hunker down in an awkward position for half an hour or more.

I milk my dairy goats by hand. I wonder how much longer until arthritis takes away that joy.

I wonder and I worry.

How much longer will I be able to carry fifty-pound sacks of feed on my shoulder? How much longer will I be able to lower myself onto the milk stool? How much longer before I regularly forget my daily chores? Before my vision goes. Before my memory is gone.

Losing my memory is my top fear. I cared for my grandmother during her last stages of alzheimers. The slightlest little brainfart can send me into a panic. And then I remember the thing I forgot and feel relief until the next time I lose a word for something or forget the answer to the question I just asked my husband, twice.

Forgetfulness could be dangerous to my animals as well. I could forget to feed and water them. I might forget to unlock the headstall on the milk stand and leave the goat standing all day. I could forget to shut or latch the gate. The animals might get into the wrong pasture. They might walk off the property. They might be stolen.

They could die.

I worry about my eyesight failing. Many visual clues indicate herd health and safety. I wonder how much longer I will be able to look at my animals each day. I worry I will miss signs of illness or injury. I worry I won’t see that hole in the fence where a coyote can get in.

I love my job. I am not yet too old to work.

Yet, I worry and wonder.

How old is too old to work?

I don’t like to worry. I have taken steps to ensure I will be able to work as long as possible.

I love my work! I have found solutions.

The first step was to enlist help. The sheep and goat community in my area is relatively small. We tend to know each other well. I’ve befriended some younger, more physically able people who come help. They in turn have enlisted their children to help.

My job has become so much easier. I load the syringes while standing on the other side of the wall of the shoot.

Or I hold open a gate and act as a human deterrent. Not a single animal has tried to jump over or into me since I’ve enlisted help. My whole body thanks me!

As an added bonus, I get to stand around gossiping with my younger friend. Our gossip runs the gamut between tales of the sales barn to the funny things our chickens, ducks, sheep, and goats have done. The human contact alone helps keep me feeling young. My heart and soul thank me!

During lambing and kidding season, I now move soon-to-be-laboring mamas to a more accessible area. The milk barn and pen, or the corral which has shelter, or even an open pasture where I can assist without having to crawl around under a shelter that is only 3 feet off the ground. My knees thank me!

I have also stopped storing feed in cans at the back of the property. We have little sheds all over our place. One such shed is very close to the house and easily accessible through the garage. I keep bags of feed in there. It is still inaccessible to the animals, and much less of a burden to carry.

Just in case I do need to transport multiple fifty-pound bags of feed, I have a dolly and a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow is the easiest for me. It is one of those big square bucket things on four wheels. No bending and lifting. No balancing and wheeling. Just pulling. My back thanks me!

My arthritis isn’t getting any better. That’s the nature of the beast. I have implemented new milking strategies. I no longer milk during the early morning hours in winter, waiting until 10:00 a.m., thereby giving the sun time to warm the air. I save and freeze milk during spring, summer, and autumn to use in winter. Frozen goat milk is not pleasing to drink but makes excellent cheese. I can now have cheese all year round without hurting my knuckles. My hands thank me!

My husband has recently installed motion sensor lights. He was hoping to scare away predators. Fortunately, they work for me, too. I get out to work earlier in the morning and work longer into the evening.

If I need to see distant animals in the field or check the fence-line, I again enlist help. My husband’s eyesight is still very sharp at distance. I help him see up close. He helps me see far away. We are like Jack Sprat and his wife, but with eyesight rather than food.

Asking for Assistance is often a difficult thing for independently minded folks. Living and working way out in the country definitely means a certain measure of independence. Seeking help now means I can continue my work for many, many more years.

I have even asked for help with my memory, which by no means is gone, but may be going. I have let my people know I am I may become forgetful. I have become adept at keeping track of needed chores, birth dates, vaccination and worming schedules, and special little chores. I simply write them down.

I have a logbook for myself in addition to the book for livestock. I have reminders I can set on my phone, but I prefer good old-fashioned ink on paper. I have visual reminders when I write notes to myself on the kitchen calendar.

This was a habit I had to develop.

At first, I would forget to remember to write it down. I stuck with it and jotting down notes is now second nature. My memory thanks me!

I still wonder how old is too old to work.

I no longer worry age will slow me down any time soon.

This story was originally published in Grit Magazine Blog: Ranching With Jonica


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Avatar for JonicaBradley
2 years ago
Topics: Aging, Work, Livestock, Ranching, Health, ...

Comments

That was a great read, I too know the worries of arthritis and caring for a mother who had vascular dementia. Not pleasant when you know it could happen to us. Out of curiosity how do you feel now, two years on from that article you wrote?

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2 years ago

Well. 2019 and the first half of 2020 were years of a mystery illness. I couldn't keep anything down and just about everything hurt. My hair hurt. After a gabazillion tests, I was diagnosed with IBS and taken off of 2 medications. Turns out, it was the medications wreaking havoc on my body. Needles to say, I was pretty upset my the year+ long pain and suffering only to find out it was meds. It was especially annoying because the medication that was causing my stomach trouble was prescribed prophylactically. In other words, I didn't need it, yet.

That's a long way round of saying I actually feel much better. The joint pain (arthritis) was caused by the other medication. I probably do need that one - it's for high cholesterol (I love sausage and cheese and bacon). Unfortunately, stopping that one has some consequences, my cholesterol went back up. So, they have started me back on it. I have to wait a couple of hours to go out and milk. And my toe knuckles hurt. We'll get it all figured out. I hope.

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2 years ago

Yes I am lucky have no problems with cholesterol. It is actually quite frightening what medications can do to our bodies in terms of side effects. I have had to take pain medication for years for my arthritis and always they worried about stomach problems. Touch wood there aren't any. Well I am glad they got to the root of it. Your poor wee toe knuckles. Yes get it all figured and try not to overdo things, I know easier said than done.

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2 years ago

When I was as young as my profile pic, I was told by a doctor, "You could start a cholesterol farm in your body and be just fine." I'm still not sure what he meant. Other than I had very low cholesterol. Way back then.

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2 years ago

Wow! I admire your work. I never imagined that it is physically demanding, and really, hands down. I love animals, wanted to be a vet when I was young. But my parents cant afford it. Reading something like this makes me smile.

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2 years ago

Really, Age doesn’t matter. Age is just a number. Your spirit is important which provides you the strength.

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2 years ago

At the end, age is just a number 😉

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2 years ago

This is true for emotional age, but for physical age, I completely disagree. Our work is HARD on a body and may even contribute to accelerated aging. Ask any old cowboy. By the time we get to our 70s and 80s who knows what condition we will be in. That's decades away, but the physical deterioration is real.

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2 years ago

Oh i forgot to write "for some people" at the end of quote 😜 So it would be "At the end, age is just a number for some people" 🎈 look at Jackie Chan.

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2 years ago

Very nice little farm you have. Being a vet I always appreciate your work. Yeah Ranching is tough task you have to use proper dose of vaccine and dewormer as well. Can you tell me the brands of Vaccine you have used there for vaccine and dewormer?.You again forget to visit my last Prompt I think again busy. Second Question I have can you help me in probing for student opurtunities for internship in your country?. I am too much excited and want to do internship in foreign. Please let me know when you get this comment.

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2 years ago

I suggest contacting the Texas A&M Veterinary School. It's a part of the A&M University. They might be able to have better recommendations than I. We live outside of a very small city. Only 2000 people. They aren't looking for another vet.

We use an 8 Way vaccine. We just call it 8Way. I don't actually know the official name. For most worms we use ivermectin. It doesn't do anything for pin worms, though. I've only seen one instance of pin worms in a goat and that was one we bought at auction. So who knows what kind of conditions it had been kept in. For my dairy herd, I medicate with Ivermectin and 8mg copper bolus for the adults. Our still is extremely copper poor.

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2 years ago

I remembered the last time you made a post about your JJ and seeing him now, there is changes and JJ is getting bigger and fresher still.

I think when the time comes, you should get someone to help because doing that especially when you are getting old is not ideal and can affect one's body system. You really need time more for yourself and hire someone to help in ranching and taking care of the goats and sheep.

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2 years ago

Unfortunately, small scale ranching doesn't support is enough to be able to hire help.

My husband and I have a plan to buy a house close to home. Like, just a few blocks away, when we get older.

But it might just be a pipe dream. His grandparents lived and worked here until they died. I imagine we will live and work here as long as possible. Maybe in 30 years or so, we can move to town and rent this place out.

We'll see what we see.

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2 years ago

That's a good idea too and I hope this would give you the time to have much rest even when you are old.

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2 years ago

I wonder also. But one thing is for sure, a man with great ambition doesn't care about being too old. They were so driven by their goals that even tha age can't stoo them.

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2 years ago