When you grow up on a farm you get to experience things most people do not. You get to witness the miracle of life when a new calf is born. Death seems to arrive much too often. I recall one time when we purchased a Holstein steer from the stockyard. A few days after that we found the steer dead as a doornail. No evidence of foul play or trauma could be found.
Then there was the time we raised orphaned lambs in the basement of our house. Each lamb got its own cardboard box complete with layer of straw. We feed them several times a day using old glass Coca Cola bottles with rubber nipples on the end. After several weeks the lambs began to grow too big for their boxes so they started running around the basement causing quite the mess. Between the baaing and the smell it made for quite the scene.
We milked dairy cows on the farm until the mid-1980’s. Each cow had a name or was referred to as a number usually the position in the barn where they got milked. I remember quite a few times where for no particular reason a cow would go crazy, break out of the barn mid-milking and leave a trail of equipment and milk along the way. One cow we called Kangaroo for some reason. She had long legs and big ears. Calling her giraffe would have made more sense. And then there was Turtle. Where did Turtle get her name? She was always the last cow to the barn when we called the cows in for the evening milking. More times than not one of us kids would have to walk down to the pasture and drive her to the barn to get milked. Of course during the few weeks of the year when she was not being milked she came to the barn every evening. Turtle was very tame. My brother was able to jump up on her back and ride her down from the barn to the pasture field. She didn’t seem to mind it a bit.
Hog butchering was a fun time for us kids. We got to play in the fire all day long while eating freshly pressed cracklins. We got to see pigs being shot, gutted, and scalded. Scalding a pig involves heating up water, pouring it into a big metal trough, and then using a scraper (wood handle and metal circular end) to remove all the hair off the pig. Most modern breeds of pigs have very little hair, but the older breeds were hairier. Also, pigs used to be raised outside and needed the extra hair to stay warm. I remember that I used to take the discarded pig tails and cook them on the fire. It is possible that one of those pig tails got tossed on the back of a passing pickup truck one time, but no evidence exists one way or another.
Kittens being born. Cows being dehorned. Snakes in bales of hay. These were par for the course on any given day on the farm. During college I worked on a farm that raised beef cattle. One of the cows on the farm was pretty ill tempered. If you got in the corral with this animal it would try to charge you. If you turned your back it would come after you. This animal and I had a particularly harrowing encounter one winter morning. We were moving cattle up the farm lane which was covered with ice and snow. At some point I found myself face-to-face with this animal with only about thirty feet between the two of us. The cow began to charge at me. I turned to run to my left and lost my footing. The cow closed in and just as its head was about to make contact with my body it lost its footing and went gliding by where I laid on the ground. I got up and made for the nearest fence having escaped certain injury.
The old saying goes that there is never a dull moment on the farm. Just when you think everything is running smoothly something goes wrong. A sheep gets its head stuck in the fence. A bull decides to visit the neighbor’s cows looking for a girlfriend. A mouse chews a hole in a bag of feed. One hundred years ago nearly every person born in the United States had some connection to a farm. Those days are gone. One day in the not so distant future farms as we know them will be a thing of the past. I would not trade growing up on a farm for anything in the world. There are few professions deserving of our praise. Farmer is at the top of the list.