Farmer 84

I started farming in nineteen eighty four.

Walking in whilst everybody else walked out that door

Supplemental income from down on the killing floor

Working with the refugees from that decades war

I bought into cattle in nineteen eighty six

Brought in the hogs in eighty nine but never brought the chicks

Fired pharma from the farm and turned to mineral licks

Said no to drugs & potions and I found another fix

Parked the plow in eighty five and haven’t used it since

Partitioned fathers pasture with a lot of crossing fence

Maybe not a shepherd king perhaps performing prince

Though the paint is peeling it’s only around the dents


Surplus Taper & Propped Up

Back in the day, when I was a child, we would make hay while the sun shined. After dark too. When the barns were stacked full we began stacking the “surplus” small square bales outside in large square haystacks. The stacks would reach the size of a building and we even tapered the top few layers like a roof line, setting each successive higher layer in from the edge by one half the width of a bale until we narrowed it to only one bale wide along the “ridge”. One neighbor would cover that with a “thatch” of loose hay but on our farm we would end the construct there.

No matter what place and order we would arrange the bales during the projects on the way up as soon as we were done stacking the stacks, settling due to gravity would ensue. Seldom was that settling on an even keel. One side would always settle more and the stacks would start to lean. Then Dad would have us nail a couple boards angled together onto the top of long poles to form a “T”. Those long poles were wedged between the sides of the stack leaning over and the ground below by digging a small divot and setting a short board stake diagonally into the divot to keep the bottom of the poles from sinking into the ground. It took what was once a pretty stack and made it almost an embarrassment. At least for those of us who stacked it.

Sometimes the propping up would work. Most times it failed and the stacks would topple over to be re-stacked beside the original footprint in a new more sustainable manner. Never as pretty as the original stack but sufficient to keep most of the weathering to a minimum. We always started feeding the outside stacked hay first. Even though the stacks were usually the “windbreak” along side the outside of the north fence line of the cattle feedlot. Fed from the top down the wind was still stopped until the piles were nearly gone by spring. The winter snow seldom seeped into the stack like the summer and autumn rains so having the tapered top gone did little damage if the snow was scooped off before the monthly thaws. But the hay was still slowly deteriorating. Eventually we would work through the surplus and move on to the still yummy hay in the barn.

Currently we are smack dab in the middle of our February thaw. I no longer have cattle and Dad is no longer with us but the weather and the warming sun have conjured up that memory. I thought I would share it with you. Take it for what it’s worth, if anything. Given the title, I’m curious as to what pops up when I type that title into You Tube’s search engine to add video.




But not forgotten.

I must admit. It was a little emotional watching the two pot loads of cattle roll up the hill towards the lane out of there. Last night at dusk I was able to get the last four baby calves herded into the small pen on the corral over on the west farm. The cow and feeder calf would have to spend the night outside the pen if they were too flighty to be corralled. I had over a hundred head penned up and I wasn’t going to spook them all trying to wrestle the last two in. It turns out that job was done by the cowboy crew my brother hired to help. When I showed up with my brother’s portable loading chute-ramp they had the wild one caught and trailered and the tame shy one caught trying to trailer her. The hundred in the corral were pretty stirred up after that show but I was able to talk them down. Sometimes a familiar voice is all it takes.

I can’t help feeling like I sold them out. Probably because I did. Or I will. Next Wednesday at the Dunlap, Iowa sale barn run by the Schaben family. It’s advertised as a whole herd displacement. Which is fitting since I entered into re-ownership of the herd back during the Whole Herd Dairy Buyout USDA program of the 1980’s great farm crises. In their infinite wisdom the Feds bought out whole herds of dairy cattle to reduce a perceived oversupply of milk. They bought ’em out and sent ’em off to slaughter temporarily crashing the price of beef cattle. When I temporarily took advantage of the boondoggle to match Dad’s herd so our 50/50 farming enterprise could be expanded into cattle I had no idea those seven cows would turn into over a hundred by thirty years later. I say re-ownership because Dad’s seven cows were what he kept back when he gave my little brother the calf crop to buy him out on their 50/50 deal.

My younger brother’s half of the cows were what he had bought from me when I went into the Navy. Dad had given me a feedlot heifer that had calved in the feedlot and I had wrestled into the barn along with it’s new calf “saving” it. He kept back one himself when he sold out to quit farming and the two cows were all that was left of a sixty cow herd that had grown from 16 head of gate cut heifers he had bought back from a sale barn in 1950. One was mine and one was his. All I had to do was take care of them and their calves. After growing up doing chores on a whole herd having only two was like a vacation. Stay-cation? He advised to never take the gate cut because all the flighty cattle bolt out of the gate first. Did I mention the one we had to rope from galloping horse back? Now their gone. But not without an attempted flight to safety. So I’ll advise it too, never take the gate cut.


Two Putts Back

What a deal!

The cattle are moved. All but one. She was limping so we left her here at home. The rest were run over to the west farm. I had one daughter come home from school early and two daughters stop by home to help watch the driveways and building sites along the way without fences. The great cattle drive west went off without a hitch. It was close a couple times but we got em moved. Then I spent the rest of that day building the hot wire fence surrounding the three buildings and the hay off of that farm’s headlands and waterways. I still need to add the fencer. As long as there’s no snow and plenty to eat the cows won’t bother the not yet hot fence. That’s the theory anyway.

The warm foggy weather has been replaced with cold and windy weather. Winter is back. Just in time for winter too. Sunday is the first official day of winter. The actual first day was well over a month ago. I’ve picked over half my corn since then. The second half. I was half done when it struck. I’ve never used so much treated fuel to harvest in my life. I have picked with snow on the ground before but never with as long of a cold snap as this year. Nor as early. This past week or so of warm weather was much needed for our mental health. Cabin fever in December is not a good thing. Running the furnace eight months a year isn’t a good thing either. I don’t care how cheap fuel is getting. I really don’t since I burn wood. But I have to let the forest catch up.

I fixed the drain on the upstairs shower/tub but I broke the water main doing it. I had to reach around the main to get to the drain pipe and I must have leaned into it and broke a sweat copper fitting. One of my favorite jobs to do, sweat copper fitting soldering. Getting that solder to flow correctly into the seam is tricky work when it works. I’ve seen enough certified plumbers get leaks to know I’m very fortunate when I get one to stick right the first try. But necessity is a tough taskmaster so behind the eight ball usually works better out of necessity. Sooner or later. Having all the water out of the pipe and having your surfaces properly prepared including flux is the best tip I could give. Other than that make the solder flow back to the heat from the opposite side of the fitting is all I know. Maybe that’s all you need to know.

One putt forward. Two putts back.





Balance Sheet

Did I actually pray for rain? Out in the open right here on the internet? In front of God and everybody? Let no one tell you convincingly that prayer can not help you achieve the results that benefit you. They may not be the results you prayed for but the benefits are assured. Take that rain for example. It cost me a couple days fencing and a big hole in the corner of a corn field where the cattle circled looking to get back into the pasture. Not the results I prayed for. But after a winter with some of the deepest freezes and greatest soil fracturing since I’ve been no tilling corn and beans (and oats/hay) and after one of the mellowest seedbeds I’ve ever planted in we now have nearly a completely wet soil moisture profile to get this crop up and pollinated. If we get some heat and rain in July and August we will be looking at a record crop.

Too bad the markets know it. We’re heading towards a twenty percent off sale price for our corn crop after the last few weeks. Soybeans for fall delivery were already on sale so their slide hasn’t been as severe ……. yet. Hay is off twenty percent too compared to last year. Granted hay was even higher the year before that but given the drouth that year record high prices were to be expected. In a nut shell feeding animals has become much much cheaper in the last couple of years. At the same time that the drouth reduced herd is needing to be rebuilt and the economy is technically improving. Meat and potatoes? Meat instead of potatoes. During the last couple of years I’ve wanted to sell off the herd at home. Now I wish I had my other herd back. They look pretty good on the balance sheet. Maybe that’s why they call it that.