The Farm Experience!

Growing up on a dairy farm in rural Southwest Missouri was a great experience. Could I go meet my friends at the shopping mall? Could I go to a movie at the drop of a hat? Did I get pizza or some other fast food several times a week? Did my family make lots of money so I could wear the most fashionable clothes? Did my family take week-long vacations? The answer to all of those questions is “no”. Small dairy farmers don’t get rich and the cows have to be milked twice a day every day. Did I ever feel underprivileged or disadvantaged because I lived an hour away from the nearest city? Never! I had the best life I could want. Here’s a few of the things I got to do.

The farm I grew up on had seven different ponds. My brothers and I named them the Moss pond, Chigger pond, Woods pond, Fence pond, New pond, Stacy pond, and Hog pond. Some of these ponds were little more than water holes. The Chigger , Moss, and Stacy pond were major fishing spots where my brothers and I caught uncountable bluegill and bass that supplied many a meal. Hours were spent digging worms, fishing, and cleaning fish.

There was the big bass that my brother caught that flopped out of his hands and back into the pond. There was the running back and forth to the hay barn 1/4 mile away one Fried Fish!Memorial Day because of the rain showers. There was taking off your shoes, rolling up your pants and wading into the pond to unhook a favored crappie jig from a tree limb. There was the snapping turtle that tried to eat the fish off of the stringer. (A stringer is a line that you hook your caught fish on to keep them captured and alive in the water.)

We often rode in a small wagon behind the tractor to get to the ponds. My older brother would drive the tractor while my twin brother and I stood in the wagon; or should I say tried to stand in the wagon. This wagon had little to no springs and we would try to stay standing as it bumped up and down over the rough pastures. This was better than trying to sit in the wagon as it jarred your behind off.

There was walking through our patch of woods shooting our BB guns at whatever targets we could come up with. We also would find small dead trees and try to push them over to see how they fell. We would take long ropes of grape vines and twist and roll them into Christmas wreaths. We would hunt Morel mushrooms in the spring that my mom would fry up . DELICIOUS! We could watch the squirrels run and climb and chatter at us as we loaded the fire wood my Dad cut with his chainsaw. There was the mouse that ran up the inside of my brothers pants leg and the resultant screaming!

There was walking up and down the shallow little creek chasing minnows, small perch, and crawdads. We would put leaves and sticks in the creek and race our floats down the creek. We would build dams of little rocks and mud and try to create little pockets of water before the force of the water washed the rocks away.

There was the hard work with my brothers and Dad hauling hay and the huge sense of accomplishment looking at the barns full of hay bales. One of my brothers would drive the tractor, one of us would “buck” bales, and one would stack the bales on the wagon. Bucking bales was picking up the bales off the ground and throwing them up onto the The hay wagonwagon. Sometimes this meant throwing 50 pound bales seven to ten feet in the air to get them on the top of the other bales on the wagon. We would ride on top of the load of hay 20 feet above the ground as the wagon swayed and bounced its way to the barn. Then we had to unstack the load of hay, throw the bales into the barn, and restack them up to 20 bales high.

There was the time the wagon axle broke and the hay fell off along with the brothers on top. There were the multiple times I would pick a hay bale up by the twine strings holding it together and try to throw it. That is when the strings would break. This ended with hay flying in a 15 foot arc and me putting all my weight into the throw only to unexpectedly have the bale explode and end up throwing myself into the ground. There was the most delicious taste ever; water from the gallon water thermos sliding down a parched,dry throat. There was the scratchy feel of lespedesa hay leaves cascading down the back of my shirt. (Lespedeza has very small leaves so it was a very “dirty” hay. Especially when bucking bales into the wind.) There was the feeling of soaked wet socks and feet when hauling hay all night long for three cents a bale. The dew would form at about 04:00 in the morning and walking in the field was like wading in a creek. There was the very last time I saw a jack rabbit in Southwest Missouri while hauling hay in the summer of about 1974. (Coyotes moved into the area and the jack rabbits disappeared never to return.) There was the one family we would haul hay for who felt obligated to feed us lunch at noon time. I still remember the taste of those fresh garden peas and fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.

There was the time my brothers and I had to pull calf out of a cement cistern off of the side of the House pond. The time my twin brother tried to stop a five hundred pound calf and got run over for his trouble. The time the steers got out and I ran half a mile through the woods jumping about four barbed wire fences trying to get in front of them.The running through the cow lot outside the milk barn and having one barn boot come off. The problem with that is that you can’t stop in time so you take at least one step without the benefit of the boot on your foot. Now, your sock foot has gone eight inches deep in the mud, cow urine, and manure of the middle of the cow lot. Do you put that foot back in the boot? Do you walk out of the middle of the lot without the boot? No good answers exist to that question.

I could go on and on. I probably will relate more stories at various times and posts. The point of the story is that if I could go back and trade that life for another, I would do the same thing all rover again. There were bad times, too, but not worth talking about. I can only wish that my grandchildren can have the same experiences I had. Bucking bales has almost disappeared from Southwest Missouri because almost everyone uses big round bales. Jack rabbits have left the country. The creek I played in has become mostly a dry ditch due to the lowering water table. Most of those farm ponds have gradually filled in so the fish are mostly gone. “The times, they are a-changin’.” The times have been a-changing for the last 200 years. I just relish the experiences I had growing up as a farm kid.

See – N – Say

One of my previous posts referred to the sounds that you can hear out in the country when you are a little farther from the hubbub of modern cities. Today, I am going to go more in-depth on that topic. Listen up.

The last information I have states that the “Farm sector” of the economy is responsible for 16% of American GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That means that Ag is responsible for 16% of the market value of all goods produced in the US in one year. Here is a link to more than you ever wanted to know about the US GDP. Agriculture is important to our economy. It is MORE important to our collective Psyche. What is Thanksgiving all about? THINK about that question!

“Play” is vastly important to the mental and physical growth of children. Playtime helps children to develop their imagination and learn about the world around them. Most of us grew up playing with toys of some type. We made them out of our imagination if we didn’t have actual toys. A number of my toys were farm animals, farm models like barns, fences, and equipment.  I made fences and corrals out of blocks and Lincoln Logs (a great toy). I am sure that kids who did not grow up on farms probably did not have as

Lincoln Logs!

Lincoln Logs!

many of these types of toys as I did but I am also sure that they either had a few of them or they had access to them at other places like daycare or Grandparents houses. They have been basic to childplay  since kids have had toys. Some electronic toys and games are also farm related. You can find farm related games all over the “APP Store”. There are 2,566 farm games on the Apple App Store this morning.

“Farm Play” has been essential to the American ethos. Children learn at an early age about farm animals. They learn that basic livestock are cows, pigs, and chickens. They learn about dogs and cats and horses, too. They learn that these animals are on farms. They probably DON”T all learn the difference between meat animals and pets. This is a huge difference!

The first Christmas toy I bought for my beautiful granddaughter last year was a See-N-Say by Fisher-Price. She loves it according to her Mom and Dad. My Granddaughter is starting to talk and the process of that is imitation. She is also learning to imitate farm animals.

See n Say

See n Say!

“What does a cow say?” is a question little kids get early in my family. (Christmas Spoiler for my family, here. My second granddaughter is getting the same thing for her first Christmas.) I will, eventually, make sure they learn the REAL sounds that cows and pigs and chickens make.

I want my family to learn at an early age about the importance of farm animals. I want them to learn about the difference between production animals and pets. There is an ENORMOUS difference! I want them to know where their milk and their meat and their vegetables come from. I want my grandkids to mentally connect farm life and the animals they find there to positive feelings and FUN! I want them to connect farm Work and Production with positive thoughts and feelings.  “MOOOOOOOOOO!”

Waiter, I have a fly in my soup!

The old joke responds ” Please, not so loud! Everyone will want one!” I started to make a pot of the “Elixir of Life”, a.k.a. “coffee”, this morning when what to my wondering eyes should appear but A FLY floating around in my coffee pot! I was not amused. How in the world could a fly get into my empty coffee pot in the first place? The pot has a lid on it with only two TINY little openings And it was sitting in the drip coffee maker where you could BARELY slide a piece of paper between the pot lid and the bay of the coffee maker. FLIES! AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!! (Coffee is another post subject we’ll get to in time)

I grew up on a farm and flies are just a fact of life on a farm. I will never forget when some cousins of mine were visiting from Philadelphia, PA and went with me to bucket feed the

Disgusting!

Disgusting!

calves.  They had never SEEN a farm, much less visited one. They were amazed and appalled at the number of flies in the shed where we fed the calves. The flies were all over the calves and trying to get into the milk buckets. My cousins were constantly waving their arms and swatting at the flies like me fighting cobwebs while I just fed the calves. It was just flies, after all.

Flies are a fact of life in nature. They serve a purpose, just not a purpose we tend to appreciate very much. Here is an article that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about various types of flies. ‘Mother nature”( a euphemism for the forces of nature in my book) fills every niche of life possible and there is a niche for flies. Fly larvae, maggots, eat refuse. (“Refuse” is a nice word for manure and other things that come out of animals and vegetables isn’t it?) They can serve a very useful purpose in Healthcare wound management of all things! The thought of having maggots on your flesh is counter-intuitive to almost everybody, but it does work and has for millennia! One of the reasons we don’t like flies is they tend to do their thing on the refuse and then come straight to us and sit on our food.

Just so you know, I hate flies. I hate it when they fly around the house. I hate it when they sit on my beverage of choice.I REALLY hate it when they land on my hot dog, hamburger, steak, and on and on. I do not want to find another fly in my coffee pot. I REALLY do not want to find one in my coffee.

Its cobweb time.

We are about to that time of year when the spiders start really getting after it out in the woods and in the garden. You can’t walk through the woods without running through some big strand of spider web…. or maybe 15 of them. This, in and of itself, is not that big a deal. The spiders are usually off in some corner somewhere else so it is just that 10 feet of sticky web you have to deal with. Except for the fact that I really dis-like spiders.

Out for a walk

Out for a walk

You know how some people are terrified of snakes? I wouldn’t classify myself as arachnophobic but I do get really creeped out by spiders. I always have. Remember my post about ball caps a few days ago where I mentioned that a cap keeps the cobwebs out of your hair when you crawl around under the house? That is very important. I just will not crawl under a house without a hat on, mainly for that reason. (There is also the whole banging your head on a floor joist issue.) The cobwebs are bad enough but it is the thought of the producers of the webs that incentivizes me to keep that hat on.

This is not so much of a problem most of the time for most people. Farm life seems to put you in quite a bit closer contact. There is that whole walking through the woods experience. There are lots of reasons for walking through the woods this time of year like looking for walnuts, persimmons, or a good spot for a deer stand. I’ve learned to carry a stick with me to try to clear the path. Sometimes I have to get off the actual path I am walking on. Cows really do make paths that are very easy to follow. Spiders seem to love to run webs across that nice open space. That stick may not be sufficient for the job in which case I may have to go between a different set of trees maybe 20 feet out of the way. Usually, this involves more brush, rose bushes, and blackberry thorns. Stupid spiders.

These webs are all over the place. Haylofts are great places for webs.There are not so many haylofts in this era of pole barns and big round bales but I have been in my share of them. Just walking through the pasture this time of year can bring you to webs strung between a couple of iron weeds or milk weeds. I guess it teaches me to pay more attention to where I am going. Climbing into last year’s deer stand can be quite the adventure. I can’t even seem to go out on my back deck without waving my arms around like I’m drowning or signaling an airplane.

Cobwebs and spiders are just another part of nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. People tell me that spiders serve a good purpose and I guess I can go along with that. I have thrown my share of grasshoppers into a garden spider’s web to watch them wrap it up. They really can be fascinating; in a pretty disgusting sense. Here’s hoping you have a walking stick handy the next time you go for a walk.

…and to cap it off…

I have a not so dirty little secret. I assume you know the stereotypical axiom that women love shoes. I will try Not to be offensive in saying that Some persons of the female persuasion supposedly have more than one or two pairs of shoes. Or so I have heard. Shoes are not particularly my thing. I do have more than two pairs of shoes in my closet. I have work boots for heavy work and hunting to protect my feet. I have “Sunday-Go-to-Meetin’ ” dress shoes. I have a pair of shoes particularly for wearing to the hospital where I work. I do not have a pair for every occasion. This is not my little vice. I’m afraid my little clothing collection is something else. No, I do not wear women’s clothing. I happen to like caps. Not cowboy hats, I grew up in the wrong part of the country for that. I mean ball caps.

I have a feeling that this is not unique among rural men. It can express itself in several ways. Some guys have one favorite cap that they wear everywhere and all the time. Some men have a favorite cap that they hang on the deer antlers in the hallway and never allow anyone else to touch. I have more than a few caps commemorating various things and I pick and choose which one to wear depending on various factors ranging from weather to environment to time of year.

I have the cap from the company that made my storage building. I have at least four caps from the school my kids went to with the school mascot on them. I have at least 5 different caps from my College Days. Some of these have the current mascot, One has the logo that got ditched about 25 years ago. Some have the college initials on them, One has the current logo and is “camo” to boot. One has the old name of the College of Agriculture which has now changed to the “College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources”. You can’t get that old hat anymore. I have an old “brockabrella” somewhere. I have one with a propeller on top. I had a cowboy hat but it got too worn out and I lost it when we moved. I have a “Sunday-go-to-Meetin’ ” hat. I have a mad bomber hat for when it is cold outside. I used to have a GREAT corduroy hat for cold weather but my wife was so disgusted by the lack of esthetics I showed when I wore it that I think she threw it away.

Bandana Barbecue is a local eatery chain that has a sign about thirty things cowboys can do with their bandanas. The same thing applies to a farmer’s cap. The most basic function is to protect your head. I no longer have as much hair on top of my head so I have learned the hard way that I need a cap so I don’t sunburn my dome. It also keeps the sweat out of your eyes. It cushions your head when you bang it on a low hanging rafter in the barn. It keeps the dust out of your hair when driving down a dirt road. It keeps feed out of your hair when getting feed for the cows. It keeps cob-webs out of your hair when crawling around under the house running wires.  It can commemorate anything from where you have been on vacation to where you work to where you buy your feed. A cap is a flag for waving at the neighbors when they drive by or a pointer to show people where to park at the family re-union. I can put blackberries, mulberries, strawberries, eggs, or baby rabbits in it. I can take it off and scratch my head when I am stalling answering a question. I can throw it down and stomp on it instead of standing there and having a stroke when I am mad. I can throw it in the air when I graduate or want to celebrate my team winning the big game. ( I have to be careful here. Throwing my cap in the air is a good way to lose it in a crowd.) I can use it to mark where I found a calf in the field or where  the deer ran into the woods after I shot at it. I can cover my eyes with it when I nap. I can put it on my Grand-daughter’s heads so they look as cute as it is humanly possible for a human to look.

These are just a few of the multitudinous helpful things a cap can do. Simple things have to multi-task when you live out in the country where you can’t just drive down to Wal-mart on a whim and pick up a doo-dad. Microsoft software did not invent that process. Let me know what your favorite cap looks like. I have a feeling I am not the only person with this not so dirty little secret.

Zounds! Sounds!

My next statement about growing up in the country appears to contradict itself. The quietness at night can actually be loud enough that it rings in your ears. I lie there in my bed unable to sleep for some reason. It’s the middle of the night. There are no cars going by on the blacktop. There are no planes flying overhead. The cows haven’t calved recently so there are no bellowing mamas upset about their calf being taken away. My brothers aren’t snoring at the moment. It is quiet. Phrases like “silence was deafening” and “deep silence” were coined to define these moments. It is quiet.

There are also times when it is not so silent. The barn cats fighting can be very nerve wracking if they happen to wake you up. Of course, cats are found in cities. The contrast of squalling tom cats against the otherwise quiescent darkness is certainly startling. Five seconds of screaming cats and screaming nerves.

Cute? Maybe not.

Cute? Maybe not.

It is truly astounding how loud cicadas can be. Periodic cicadas are insects that show up at various different yearly cycles ranging from 2 to 17 years! They emerge from the ground, do their thing, and disappear for years. A few years ago, two different cycle hatches happened to emerge at the same time. The sound coming from the woods was so loud you could hear it driving in the truck with the windows rolled up. Here is a clip of just one cicada. www.youtube.com/watch?v=mah26og11ms

Whipporwills like to sing at dusk. I find their oft repeated warbling quite soothing. I know another guy who wanted to indiscriminately blast away at the trees with a shotgun in an attempt to quiet one who got on his nerves like a dripping faucet. Try this website and imagine this sound repeating ENDLESSLY! http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/whip-poor-will/sounds

There are many other sounds that are truly magnificent when not drowned out by the ambient clamor of cities. Rain on the roof, soft wind rustling the trees, distant thunder just at the edge of hearing, the creek flowing by me as I float leaves on the current are just a few of them. Cows eating grass are astoundingly loud when you get close enough to hear their sandpaper tongues pulling the stems from the roots. Guinea fowl are also astoundingly loud at zero dark thirty when they start screeching in the tree 15 feet from your bed. Ask my older brother.

You can enjoy many of these sounds in some of your states parks. Camp out overnight sometime and leave all your electronic gear at home. Take a hike at a conservation center.  Float one of Missouri’s fine rivers and stop on a sandbar. Don’t listen to me, listen to everything else.

Heifers versus Herefords?

Grab a seat. Get some chips and a beverage. Here’s another cautionary tale. Go ahead, I’ll wait here until you get back.

imagesOnce upon a time, I was actually much younger. This was before I got married so it really was some time back. ( I have been married over 30 years.) My parents were great friends with a family from a large city in Nebraska where I was actually born. These people were bred, born, and raised city folk. Nothing wrong with that. I just didn’t realize how much of a difference that really was (and is). This family came to visit our farm every year. This was huge. They had a son just a little older than myself and we would spend the whole week fishing. This went on for years.

This family also had two younger daughters and, logically enough, there came a time when that started to register in my fishing beclouded mind. (Fishing tends to overwhelm rationality at times. That is a story for another day.) I was talking to one of these young ladies one day about cattle and happened to mention Hereford heifers. Ok. Put the chips down for a second.  Here is the point of this story. The young lady replied ” What is the difference between a “heifer” and a “Hereford”?

I literally stood there a minute looking like one of the largemouth bass her brother and I had been catching out of our farm ponds for the last umpteen years: my mouth hanging wide open and a dazed look in my eyes. She was a more or less adult young woman who had been visiting our farm most of her life. She was reasonably intelligent and well spoken. She was a High School graduate. My mind struggled with the concept that she did not understand what a “heifer” was and what a “Hereford” was! The kicker, here, is that I tried to explain that a “heifer” was an immature female bovine and a “Hereford” was a bovine breed. I couldn’t get the point across.

I got the point very well. Fundamental information that is basic to life on a farm may be, and probably will be, incomprehensible to someone whose life has had little common frame of reference. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The whole raison d’être (look it up) behind this blog is that I feel the need to help expose people to a frame of life reference that is shrinking exponentially. I must always keep in mind that some of the references I make have to be explained in language that people who don’t share my background can understand. That is what Communication is! True communication is not just vomiting out reams of information. True communication is imparting information to others in such a fashion that they can absorb it, understand it, and implement it in their life. My “story”, and your story, and anybody’s story deserves to be told in the most comprehensible fashion possible. I may have to get out my iPad and my stylus and diagram that story with stick figures. Agriculture, rural Ag culture, deserves the best treatment I can give it.

Let me know if I get to spouting Agspeak “gobbledygook”. I work in Healthcare. I know how frustrated people can get when they don’t understand. Do you know what is worse? Worse is when people THINK they understand but they don’t. Being afraid to speak up and ask for clarification is even worse than that! Communicate with me so I can more effectively communicate with you! Let’s all try to learn a little bit.

Calf Scour Yellow

Once upon a time, there was a High School that decided to arrange a deal for the Basketball team to all order game shoes together. The arrangement was made that the Team would put in their combined order for game shoes resulting in uniformity in their uniform shoes. They would all be the same style and color. Now, this was way back in the day. Shoes didn’t much come in many different styles or colors. I know this may seem mind boggling to people who have grown up with the overwhelming plethora of styles, shapes, soles, names, colors, and brands that are offered these days. This was kind of a big deal to the players who would all be getting this same shoe. The big day came and the shoes were handed out to the team……… and they were CALF SCOUR YELLOW! Oh, the HORROR!!!!

Those of you out there who are familiar with the phenomenon of “calf scours” will immediately bring to mind a particular shade of putrid yellow. It is an almost fluorescent color with maybe a hint of “biliousness”. ( I really don’t think “biliousness ” is a word but it is descriptive.) Scours is otherwise pretty much known as diarrhea. It is a not uncommon affliction of calves. It particularly affects calves confined together and fed together. (We will discuss bucket feeding in a later post.) It is fairly treatable but can can be very serious to fatal if ignored. You can Google an image of it if you are really enthused by my description. We had seen scours On our shoes ( actually, our barn boots), but to see this as an intentional color choice was, at the least, disconcerting. Imagine with me running up and down the basketball court looking like you had waded through liquid calf excrement. We could only look forward to an entire basketball season beset with trying to hide our feet under the sideline bench. Kind of like tying to hide a “hickey”, it only made the embarrassment more acute. This color choice was not repeated in subsequent years.

Here is a link for those of you interested in a more in-depth investigation of the phenomenon known as “calf scours”.

http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/courses-jmgay/VMADCalfScours.htm

Bessie the cow vs Bessie the pig

Me nombre es Don. FYI, that is the extent of the Spanish you will probably ever see in this blog. Hope I spelled it right. (Spelling is a topic we’ll get to on some other post.) “Don” is what pretty well everyone but my Mom calls me. She still calls me “Donald”.  “Hey, Don” usually refers to me because there are not that many “Dons” roaming the wild. This is a little less accurate in my particular case because I am an identical twin. Again, more on that in some future post. (Piece of trivia – Most “Dons” I ever meet are my age or older which is over 50.)

Applying the same logic to “Bessie” would mean that when you talk to someone about “Bessie” they are pretty sure about who or what you are referring to. Having a cow named “Bessie” and a pig named “Bessie” on the same farm just leads to mass confusion. When you holler “Bessie got out in the road”, whomever you are hollering at doesn’t know who got out! Was it the cow or the pig? This could be a problem.

Now, to the point of this post. Why is this blog named the way it is? Names have power. I am not getting all arcane and mystic here. Names confer information. That is why you do not name both your pig and your cow “Bessie”! (Well, I guess George Foreman got away with it.) “MeanwhileUpOnTheFarm” came from thinking about “Meanwhile, back on the ranch” which is a classic movie/ TV phrase. I was raised on a farm not a ranch. The relevant phrase to me would then be “Meanwhile, down on the farm”. The whole point of this blog is that I am NOT “down” or depressed about farm life!  I think it is the BEST way of life! Therefore I am “UP” on life on the farm. There you go. A semi-rational explanation of a totally emotional decision about the name of this blog. Go out there and Name Something!