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Jim O'Brien: While the rest of the world wonders how to fill all this spare time, farmers will always be busy

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Spring in her step: Noelani Teevan (8) and her dog Dougal enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine in Killeshandra, Co Cavan last week. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Spring in her step: Noelani Teevan (8) and her dog Dougal enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine in Killeshandra, Co Cavan last week. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Spring in her step: Noelani Teevan (8) and her dog Dougal enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine in Killeshandra, Co Cavan last week. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

A stroll down the road these days will leave you in no doubt but that normal life has entered a state of limbo.

There is far less traffic, the birds seem to be singing louder than normal and neighbours who would normally stop to chat now wave energetically from the sealed chambers of their cars and jeeps.

Still, I have managed to conduct prolonged conversations across ditches and drains, and from one side of the road to the other.

The lockdown is certainly making a difference to life around here, with many more working from home. Of course this is nothing new to the farming community.

My farmer neighbours are carrying on as normal. After a few dry days and with the benefit of a steady stiff breeze, the land has dried out somewhat and the cows are out.

It being mostly a solitary occupation, there is no problem for farmers in maintaining physical distance. Thankfully cows, cattle, sheep, sheep dogs and tractors can't catch or transmit the current pestilence; only human beings can do that, and most farmers don't see one of those from dawn to dusk.

The isolation and solitary nature of modern mechanised farming has its compensations in days like these.

So it's pointless for a scribe like me ruminating with farmers about how best they might use this time. Inside the farm gate life is as busy as it always was, lockdown or no lockdown.

Handbrake

While the rest of the world puts on the handbrake, farmers won't be thinking about taking up that crocheting course on YouTube, reading the books they got for Christmas or writing the great Irish novel that's been swirling around in their heads as they scrape the yards or agitate the slurry. They will be thinking about getting through the day.

In fact with older teenagers and young adults home from school and college, the extra pairs of hands around the place will be welcome in easing the burden.

Any child in TY or fifth year confined to barracks on the farm for a few weeks is definitely fair game for enlistment, and those jobs screaming to be done for years might get tackled.

That certainly was the case when I was a young fella, and even into my 30s. If you wandered into the yard at home and looked in the least bit underemployed, you could find yourself behind a pitchfork, standing in a gap with an ashplant or on top of a silage pit.

I remember once, while serving my time in a previous profession, I was at home for Easter weekend nursing a heavy cold. On Good Friday at 3pm as I sat down to watch the ceremonies on the telly, my father appeared at the door and, as usual, he was in a hurry.

"Come on, Jimeen," he said. "I have to bring a tractor home from Ballinacarriga. Hop into the pick-up and drive me down."

"But I'm in my pyjamas," I said.

"Who'll be lookin' at you?"

"Besides Da," I protested, "I'm watching the Good Friday ceremonies."

"Don't you know how it ends? Come on."

Arrayed in my pyjamas, I drove him to Ballinacarriga. As we turned on to the by-road leading to where the tractor was parked, an old buddy of his who lived at the cross was standing at his gate. I was ordered to "pull in". The buddy leaned in the window, looked me up and down and said, "Jaysus Jimeen, wouldn't you think you'd put on a stitch of clothes before you left the house?"

Who'll be looking at me, indeed.

Last week, I sat down at my desk wondering what advice I might have for people on how best to use these days of limbo. I looked around at the shelves of books I haven't read and at the piles of magazines I have only flicked through, and just as inspiration seemed to have deserted me permanently, I remembered what it was like to grow up on a farm.

Whenever the fledglings returned home to celebrate holidays, to escape from bank strikes, bus strikes, storms or pestilence, there was no need to wonder or worry about how one would pass the time. There was always a tractor to be brought home from Ballinacarriga.

Indo Farming