Minnesota Farmer

Telling it like it was

I get really frustrated with folks that insist that we all need to return to the “small farm” pattern of their flawed memories.  The truth is that many of those who wish for smaller farms never even lived on a farm.  So let me take you back to my childhood and we’ll find out if you still think we need smaller farms.

I was born in 1953.  Farms were smaller then and most sections (one square mile) here in southwestern Minnesota had 3 or 4 families living on them.

My dad had livestock and crop land to take care of 24/7, no holidays.  Since he had two brothers farming at the time he could usually get help with his livestock chores if he needed to be away, but most of the time he just did it himself.  The livestock included a few milk cows, some beef steers and a few sows (mother pigs).  Mom kept a few laying hens and some ducks plus a large garden.  Dad had 240 acres of cropland that was planted to corn, wheat, oats and alfalfa.  Dad also had a corn sheller, hay baler and silage chopper, which very few farmers had in those days, so he did some work for others to help pay for those pieces of equipment.

The animals were the first concern in the morning.  You milked the cows and fed the animals before breakfast.  If something did not go right in the barns on Sunday you missed church.  I remember a lot of Sundays when we were all in the car waiting as Dad got ready for church.

Field work was done in an open tractor.  You had nothing between you and the elements.  Here in Minnesota that meant a lot of COLD, dusty  hours sitting on a steel seat in the spring and fall.  Perhaps you had a “heat houser’ that would direct some of the heat from the motor back to you, but that was not much protection.

Dad felt lucky to have a tractor.  A child of the 30’s, he had grown up in the first years of mechanization and was all for anything that made life easier.  I remember when he got the first cab for a tractor.  It was not much, just some glass and steel to keep off the wind.  You still needed some canvas or cardboard to direct the engine heat back to the driver.  Even then you kept on your coat and gloves.  It was also noisy.  If you had a radio, it was hard to hear it above the tractor noise.  Dust still filtered into the cab, and when the sun was out on a hot day you roasted even with the windows open.

Safety equipment was something we very seldom thought about.  Many a farmer lost fingers, arms, legs and even their life to those early farm machines.  Working with livestock was also dangerous.  Cows and sows are much bigger than people and both can be mean at times.  Getting knocked over or stepped on were everyday occurrences.  Sharp teeth or horns were much more dangerous.  One bit of inattention and you were in a world of hurt.

Dad had spent some time working with the area veterinarians so he understood the more advanced methods of animal care.  Keeping our animals happy and healthy was of first priority.  Still, farrowing (giving birth) pigs was anything but easy.  Mother animals are usually protective, but some can be paranoid.  I saw many a baby pig lose it’s life as its mother stepped on them in an effort to protect them.  You have to understand that these moms are over 300 pounds and the babies are about 5 pounds, and moms sharp hooves cut deep.  Sows will make a “nest” which tends to concentrate the babies in the bottom of that “nest”.  When she lays down, not all of the pigs can get out of the way.  Those who were under the sow suffocated.  Moving our sows to crates really helped to protect the babies.

These are only a few of the stories that I can tell you of small farm life.  Yes, there were good times, but there was a lot of hard work too.  I do not want to go back to those days on the farm and I have a hard time understanding those who do.  Life is so much better today.



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I remember the “heat housers” for tractors in the winter. My dad used those too.

Comment by Marcia Johnson

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