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Recalling younger days

Agriculture.com Staff 07/07/2010 @ 9:09am

Like many beginning farmers, I faced numerous challenges when I first started out. I had to deal with all the normal farmer-like concerns: unease regarding the weather and apprehension about commodity prices, not to mention the high anxiety that comes from being deep in debt.

As if all that weren't challenging enough, I also went and got married.

A good farm wife is more than just a helpmate. A good farm wife can tip the scales and make the difference between a farmer being hailed as a brilliant success or derided as an abject failure.

But there was something a bit different about my wife: she was a city girl through and through. In other words, the woman who joined my burgeoning dairy operation knew exactly nothing about farming.

There was a method to my madness. I was certain I could teach her everything she needed to know about farming, and she would thus learn how to do things the right way, by gum!

I knew better than to try to teach her too much all at once. It therefore seemed logical to start her with one of the tasks my father had started me with, the job of spreading manure. As a token of my trust in her I even let her drive my cherished 4020, the pride and joy of my farm operation. I took the additional step of removing the rear cab window so she could monitor spreader performance with utmost ease.

Spreading manure is a fairly straightforward venture. You simply drive out to the field, put the spreader in gear and drive until it is empty. Simple, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out.

My bride of three months came to me in a huff after spreading her first load of manure. "Look at what your stupid manure machine did to my new coat!" she exclaimed, turning to show me her back. It was thoroughly spattered with cow dung.

I instantly grasped what had happened. "What did you do?" I asked tactfully, "Drive WITH the wind?"

"You didn't tell me anything about any stupid wind!"

"Wow!" I said, "If your back has that much manure on it, I wonder what my 4020... Ohmigosh! Lookit what you did to my poor tractor!"

Needless to say, that comment didn't go over very well. It was quite chilly around the place for the next few days, an iciness that nothing to do with the wind.

OK, I thought. So she's not especially adept at field work. Certainly she will shine in the animal husbandry department. Certainly her powerful maternal instincts will prove invaluable to my little dairy operation.

I put this theory to a test a short time later. One of my heifers was calving and I could see that she would need assistance. I quickly summoned my wife and hunted up some good, strong baling twine.

We slogged across the muddy cattle yard to the grunting heifer. I was pleased at my wife's reaction to the situation. "Oh, the poor thing," she cooed. "We've got to help her!" I silently congratulated myself for finding a wife who has such profound empathy for dumb animals.

"And help her we will," I said, attaching the baling twines to the calf's protruding front legs. "Now grab a hold and pull!"

We had barely begun when the heifer suddenly noticed that two humans were in very close proximity. She leaped to her feet and took off across the muddy cattle yard at a brisk trot. We hung on, skidding along behind her.

It was sort of fun, actually. It was like water skiing, only in mud. We were also spattered mightily, which caused my wife to utter some decidedly non-empathetic words and phrases.

When the calf was finally delivered, my wife turned to me and, puffing, asked "Are you sure that's how you do this?"

"Yup," I said, "Pulling calves with baling twines was how we did it when I was a kid and is the only way to do it as far as I'm concerned. Why?"

She didn't say anything. She simply walked to the pickup, got in and drove off. She returned a half-hour later with a brand-new mechanical calf puller.

A few days later I happened to overhear my wife talking on the phone. "I felt so sorry for the dumb brute," she said. "I had to do something, so I went and bought a new calf puller. What? Oh, yes, the training is going quite well. Let's put it this way: I don't think I'll have to drive a tractor ever again!"

You know, I never did figure out what she meant by that.

Jerry Nelson is a recovering dairy farmer and freelance writer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife Julie have been married 22 years and have two (mostly) grown sons. The Nelsons currently reside on the farm where Jerry's great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Visit our "Views" section to read Jerry's latest column.

Like many beginning farmers, I faced numerous challenges when I first started out. I had to deal with all the normal farmer-like concerns: unease regarding the weather and apprehension about commodity prices, not to mention the high anxiety that comes from being deep in debt.

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