Opinion: My short stint as a farmer

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I dabbled with farming once. It was a long time ago in Minnesota, and not in any big way with acres of grain and pastures of livestock.

My farming adventures were limited to six beef cattle, 50 chickens, a dozen African geese and two acres of oats. My equipment consisted of an ancient Massey Harris tractor with a cultivator and a snowplow. Period.

A kindly neighbor put in my oats and offered condolences when a midsummer hailstorm wiped them out a week before harvest. Such is the life of a farmer, he said.

My intent, I think, was to test the waters, to see if I could do farm things, and maybe connect a little more firmly with my American heritage. After all, I had lived briefly on several farms when I was a kid, and had always been drawn to the idea.

Mostly, it was easy, and fun except once when one of the cows tried to climb over the half wall separating my side of the barn from his in an attempt to get to the feed bin. He got stranded in mid climb with one set of legs flailing away on my side and the other set pumping furiously on his. It’s not easy to maneuver 800 pounds of pot roast to the ground from a five-foot perch. His bawling at a thousand decibels didn’t help either.

I enjoyed the summer so much that I never thought about what winter might bring. What it brought was 20-below temperatures, massive snowfalls, frozen pipes and a dwindling feed supply. I had to carry five-gallon buckets of water from a hand pump to the barn twice a day, and climb an ice-encrusted ladder to the hayloft for bales of hay.

When the local Green Giant processing plant offered free silage from corn husks, I jumped at the chance. What I brought home was a steaming truckload of what by any measure was rotting vegetation. I have never smelled anything like it.

“The cows will love it,” the guy on the loader assured me.  Boy, did they. When I got to the barn the next morning, four of them were lying on the floor, one was staggering as though he might topple at any minute, and the sixth was leaning against the wall making humming sounds. They were smashed out of their minds.

So, while I was shivering with the cold, my cows had figured out how to make the best of the winter. I closed the barn door and returned to the house where I poured myself a stiff drink. I retired from farming the next spring.


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