Tag Archives: farming

A Missed Blogging Opportunity…

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Warning:  Pictures are graphic and an animal lost its life in the process.

I wasn’t there.  When you read this, you will be able to figure out why.  (Also, I wasn’t invited.)  And special acknowledgements to Brother Number One for the photos, and Brothers One and Four as primary resources / eyewitnesses.

It happened like this…Brother One and I came up to the farm in Wisconsin from the south for a weekend gathering.  Brother Four, the farmer, had been trying to get a renegade steer butchered since September.  (See blogs titled Love Me Tender and Chesseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.)

I will fill readers in on some background information in case you might have missed the blogs cited above.  Sister One and Brother Four raise Scottish Highlanders, then sell the grass-fed beef.  Last fall, on Butchering Day, one of the steers, aka Renegade Steer, leaped the fence, escaped and went rogue for six weeks in a two square mile area from my sister’s place.  He clearly had a screw loose with a propensity for endangering people.  During that time,  the folks combed fence lines on foot and neighbors searched on horseback to no avail, although there were a few reported sightings.

Finally RS turned up at a cattle farm, where the owner of which disallowed the butchering to take place on his property.  Eventually, after several months in residence, RS broke through his barn wall twice and charged said owner knocking him over.  He relented.  Also, he was promised a goodly amount of the beef, gratis.

Now comes the day long awaited for by the family,  just because the whole episode drug out for nearly six months…RS’s last living day on earth.  The boys met the sharpshooter and butcher.  The RS was clearly ID’d, as he was the only one of his breed present.  Brother Two, farrier and sharpshooter himself,  urged the gunman to “shoot, shoot.”  He was a little eager, in my opinion.  Nevertheless, the aim was swift and true.  RS was down, throat slit (sorry), and properly declared dead by Brother One, the doctor.

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The steer was drug away a short distance with a skid loader, hoisted with a crane, skinned, gutted, and cut up.  All this in the cold windy gloom of the day, and I missed the whole event.  I am pretty grateful, frankly.  I got a little sickish feeling when I asked for details this morning.  All adventures aren’t equal.

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This is what happens on the farm.  This is where hamburger, steak and pot roast come from, and had I been present, I probably would have become a vegetarian.  In a little while, we will all gather again in the folks’ kitchen and eat ham and scalloped potatoes.  I’m glad tonight’s meat entree isn’t beef

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Love Me Tender

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For several years, now, my oldest sister and youngest brother have operated a small cattle-raising business.  They’ve raised from four to six Scottish Highlanders, which are known to be a docile, compact breed which produce a lean meat.  They are known for their long horns and wavy coats.  My siblings buy babies, feed ’em out for a couple of years, and then sell the beef.  The family freezers are full about every other November.

This cattle thing has sparked a variety of adventures, which include small steers sliding under the fence and ending up by the road, to a “finished” steer avoiding the pick up by leaping the fence, and escaping into the neighborhood.  That guy caused fence line searches and farmers-turned-cowboys to comb the woods and cornfields.  The runaway steer still lives, by the way.  Elsewhere, I might add.

The last batch, which included the renegade escapee, evidently had a crazy daddy.   His babies did not have the docile personality credited to their breed, and so the bull “disappeared” because of bad behavior on all counts.  He is no longer around to produce psycho babies.

Now the new batch (fold) of steers is ensconced in their new digs at my sister’s  place.  There are six…two reds, two browns, and two blacks.  They have a calmer daddy, a bull by the name of Elvis, who is black.  Black is apparently an uncommon color for a Scottish Highlander.  Learning from past experience, my brother also had the fold de-horned.

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Elvis was first introduced to the family a couple of years ago, when my brother was making arrangements for a buy.  He must’ve been impressed, because two of the new babies are Elvis look-alikes.

Not to jinx the current situation, but so far the Elvis’ steers are doing pretty well.  No drama, as of this morning, at least.  I wonder how they’ll turn out when my sister starts singing to them.  I’m going to suggest Love Me Tender as the theme song.

Walking the track…

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The sky was that crisp blue, Carolina blue, only it hovers in Wisconsin, too.  The air temp was 60 degrees (feels like 58), a nice breeze, a lovely summer morning.  I was walking the track. 

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The track is a half mile oval race track on the folks’ farm, used for training horses for harness racing.  There are three race horses…Kenny, Nurse Jackie, and Vickie.  They are jogged everyday, with few exceptions.  Harness racing has been part of this family for at least three generations, maybe more.  Walkers shouldn’t be on the track when the horses are working, and they were already in the barn when I hit the gravel.  I try to walk every day, at least three laps, when I am here. 

That’s not what I was thinking about when I walked the track this morning, though.  I love this time and routine that I have developed on my visits.  Often, I say a rosary, and that is done in two laps…one rosary = one mile.  Good to know.  Often, I write this blog in my head.  Often, I plan for future projects, or just think.  Sometimes I make a phone call home.  Mostly, I just BE.

Track-walking time is pretty sacred.  I’m close to the soil, crops, the birds, and yet, I can look across the fields and see many changes.  When I arrived three weeks ago, the corn was just a few inches tall, and the beans had barely poked through the soil.  Now, the corn is knee high, and the beans’ rows are filled in.  The hay has been cut, baled, and is well on the way to the second cutting not too many weeks from now.  We’ve had heat, and good rains, and it’s cooled down to a couple of perfect weeks, too.

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Next time I get to walk the track, it will be winter, and an entirely different experience.  I will still be close to the soil, though it will be frozen ground.  I’ll still be able to look across the fields and see the changes, probably snow-covered.  And I still will just BE.  I have to pinch myself sometimes to know this chance I have to experience this part of family and life is real for me.  And so, Amen.

Making hay…

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Actually, only God can make hay. Farmers grow and cut and bale and put up hay. My youngest brother farms the land around his own home, the folks’, and our sisters’ homes. It is about 500 acres. He does this by himself, and he works like a horse. He is a fourth generation farmer. Maybe more, but we’re just talking the traceable ancestors.

This is the way making hay works: the first year alfalfa is planted under a cover crop of winter wheat to protect its roots. The winter wheat is harvested in the spring. The grass continues to grow, and doesn’t need to be reseeded for several years. When the alfalfa reaches a certain height, the farmer watches the weather forecasts very carefully. Five dry days in a row are needed for cutting time. If everything goes well, the hay is cut and it dries on the ground, is raked (turned over), and dries on the other side. Then the hay is baled and thrown into a rack, which is a great big cart with open sides. There is modern equipment for these steps. Somewhere along in the process, there is this meter thingie that is stuck into the hay to measure the moisture. This is important because if the hay is too moist, it can heat up and cause a fire in the barn. Fires are not good.

Now, this part is a disclaimer. The above information was gathered after a couple glasses of wine, and may have some technical errors. Just sayin’.

The carts are maneuvered into covered barns, and when the farmer has everything set up, and good weather, and good help, the hay is put up into the barn. This is where I come in as an eyewitness, and genuine temporary farm worker-type person. There is an elevator with a chain and some hooks, which is really just a slanted, narrow track with an electric motor. The track can be raised and lowered. It is set up to rise to the upper barn window, which is open into the loft. The hay rack is pulled into place loaded with about 100, give or take, bales of hay all piled catty-wampus. The wife and one sister stand in the hay rack, and one sister stands on the ground. The ones in the rack toss (more like wrestle) bales to the one on the ground, who feeds the bales onto the elevator. The farmer is up in the loft to take the bales that are lifted up the elevator, and to stack them in very neat, orderly, and balanced piles so the barn can store many, many bales from several cuttings that will last for the entire winter and even beyond.

In the old days, the women spent the whole morning and before cooking for the workers. On this day, the women (plus farmer) were the workers. It was good work. We emptied three carts and put up 356, plus or minus a few, bales of hay. Then we coughed, drank water, brushed ourselves off, and went in the kitchen to eat some good chicken salad. Who needs hired help, when you have a good wife and a couple of sisters?