By Rick Houser –
I have written several times about growing up a farm boy and no matter how much I say it, I will always tell you this. It was the only way to grow up. From the house to the barn to the garage and on and on to each building that existed on a person’s farm, all varieties of fun were there to be had. From a very cold winter to a very hot summer there was always something happening that made you thank God to be a country boy. I know John Denver sang it, but so many of us got the chance to live it and are sure happy that we did.
Several times I have written of the harvests that my Dad and I took in from late spring to late fall. The object was to fill the hay mows of a barn so full with bales of hay that there just wasn’t any room left and the corn cribs were also to become filled to the very top. Of course the object was to harvest in the good weather so that when the winter arrived the farmer had enough stocked up and hopefully more than enough to feed the cattle and hogs through the winter until the temperatures warmed up enough for grass to grow to a point that cattle could pasture and be taken off hay. No matter what the season, when we raised feeder pigs to the size of slaughter hogs they were to be fed a portion that was most aptly described as never-ending. In other words, what was stored was used, especially for those hungry pigs.
I know that in late summer the barn felt and looked snug. Being filled to the brim, the barn seemed to have acoustics that kept sounds muffled. In the fall when feeding the livestock became the daily chore we had to climb up to the rafters and roll the bales down to the barn’s driveway so the bales could be put in the cattle’s mangers. When it was time to take a truck load of corn to the Farm Bureau to turn into either cattle or hog feed, a crib had to be opened slowly to allow the corn to leave the crib in a controlled fashion. To not do so could easily result in a landslide of corn, bringing out much more than was needed.
As the calendar moved toward the end of the year and into a new year, the cribs would have less and less left after each load and this was when the old scoop shovel got put to use that eventually would empty a crib so we could move on the next. As the cribs emptied, the barns did also. Each day the cattle would be fed as much hay as they could and would consume. Doing this removed the hay from the rafters, gradually reorganizing the hay mows until they became floor level and the bales were needed to be carried from the back of the loft.
By late winter and early spring the barn took on a look of empty and the sounds of empty also. A barn becomes stark and cold when it nears empty. Far from the snug and comfy hay mow, it becomes the hay mow floor covered only by loose scraps of hay. As the winds grow stronger, the barn just felt colder. The stark corn cribs and empty grain bins in the barn on a breezy day grow noisier as the metal roofs rattle with the breezes. To me it went from my over-sized play house to a place I had lost all interest in.
The only things that increase in size in a cattle barn are the stables as each day over the winter straw was added to give the livestock a dry comfortable place to live in. At this point the worst job on the farm began. From early February to early March on mornings when the temperature froze the ground in the fields, Dad would get my brother Ben, our hired hand Wilbur, and myself up early and after we were appropriately dressed he supplied each of us with a pitch fork.
We were taken to a stable and Dad arrived with the tractor and a manure spreader. Yes, you heard me correctly. For at least the next month on every cold morning we got to wield pitch forks and empty our stables so our cattle had it nice. Since we hadn’t done field work for six to eight weeks, we were out of shape and the use of this tool in the compressed bedding made certain we used every muscle in our bodies that had been resting. This causing a lot of sore muscles and lots of resentment for having to do the job.
There is no reason to lie to you. Cleaning stables is a hard labor job that even in the cold of February smells to high heaven. Of course complaints would always be submitted to Dad with the hope that he would finally understand our pleas. Each time we were wrong. His argument was that the earlier the stable was cleaned, the longer the bedding had to decompose and also in cold weather the odor was much, much less. (No it wasn’t). Anything that smells bad will always smell bad.
By the time we completed emptying all the stables, two things had happened. The stables were clean and we had tuned our muscles up for the beginning of spring.
The supplies harvested the year before were used in a positive way and our places of storage displayed just how much we had worked. True, it could look lonely and stark, but deep down we knew our animals got the best of care that winter. It was kind of like the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. We were awesome ants even if we did have to clean the stupid stables.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and lives to share stories about his youth and other topics., He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.