OUT OF OFFICE Farming: A Lesson in Optimism
By: Casey A. Dauw, MD | Posted on: 01 May 2022
My wife Colleen and I along with our 3 small children moved to Dexter, Michigan in the summer of 2016, fresh from an endourology fellowship, to begin a career at the University of Michigan. We found a 20-acre parcel of land and built a house. What started with a handful of chickens and a few sheep has transformed into what we now call Dancer Creek Farm. Our family has grown with our farm. We now have 5 (soon to be 6) children, each of whom is tasked with various responsibilities around the farm.
Our overarching goal is simple: to tend to people and this place. The number 1 priority on our farm is to grow healthy food and families. It is our belief that healthy food begins with a respect for creation and its intended design. By using pasture-based systems, we raise animals that live an excellent life and then generously serve to nourish others.
Our current complement of animals includes dozens of laying hens, a flock of Icelandic sheep, a herd of goats, 2 pigs, and seasonal residents such as meat chickens and turkeys. In the spring, as sheep, goats and pigs have offspring, the population of our farm more than triples in size, much to the delight of our family and neighbors.
Without a significant background in agriculture, it would be an understatement to say that my wife and I have had our share of farming setbacks. Raising animals is hard and time-consuming, to say the least. Animals are constantly at risk for injury, disease, threats from predators and other dangers. The loss of an animal can be a crushing blow, especially when you have done seemingly everything possible to mitigate these hazards.
Yet with each setback there has been an opportunity. We have learned countless ways to better manage our animals, including micronutrient supplementation to limit illness, intensive rotational grazing strategies to limit parasite burden, and introduction of new genetic lines to promote diversity and disease resistance. Though setbacks seem to occur with less frequency, they are far from entirely absent.
There are many parallels between my life as a farmer and my life as a surgeon. As a surgeon, I care for patients who are under constant threat, be it from a rapidly progressing cancer, debility, malnutrition, lack of social support, grave injury or congenital abnormality. Despite my best attempts to mitigate such threats, in some cases patients do poorly. I arm myself with new techniques, research new therapies and ask colleagues for help, all in hopes that this will yield better results for patients under my care.
Will Rogers famously said, “The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” I would suggest that this is true of surgeons, as well. For if we are unable to have hopefulness and confidence in an outcome for our patients, despite challenges and threats, we wouldn’t still be surgeons.