My daughter was born with a skin condition known as seborrhea.
It is 44 years since we purchased our first farm. I was just shy of 18 years old, Jim was 20. We were engaged to be married when the farm across the road from his parents’ farm went on the market. Jim had followed his ag teacher’s advice and established credit at the local bank while he was still in high school (he borrowed $4000 to buy a grain harvester, then paid for it in less than a year.) As a result, he had a line of credit at the bank. At such a young age Jim had also saved up 10% of the amount we needed. (He used that grain harvester to do custom work.) We were able to get a loan to buy a farm.
I was terrified. We borrowed $57,500. In 1973 I thought that it might just as well be a million. How on earth could we ever pay that money back?
In January of 1973 we took possession of our farm. Our lifetime of work together had begun. Together with Jim’s parents we now owned three farms with joining borders. We were raising beef and hogs at the time. Our new farm had the largest barn. We planned to house the beef steers there, but the prior owners had kept cattle there for several years without bothering to keep it clean. Consequently more than four feet of pure manure had accumulated inside the barn.
It was January. The manure was frozen solid. There was not enough headroom for the cattle to walk inside the barn. The previous herd had been so strapped for room to walk that their backs had rubbed against the ceiling, breaking all the light bulbs and fixtures. There was so much waste in that barn that it had worked its way out every doorway, rendering each door useless. Not one door could be closed and most of them had been smashed by the cattle. Even the silo and silo room were full of manure. Jim and I attempted to break it up with pitch forks and picks, to no avail. What to do?
PIGS! Hogs rut the soil beneath them. We put 300 fattening hogs in that barn and we waited. We packed the open doorways and broken windows with bales of straw for insulation against the cold of winter. The body heat from all those animals warmed the barn. In just a few days they had loosened a layer a few inches deep across the entire surface of the frozen mess and they had great fun doing it. Enter Jim and Michelle with our manure forks and metal feed baskets. Each day we worked to remove as much manure as we could carry until we just couldn’t carry any more. I loaded the baskets and Jim carried them out to dump them into the manure spreader. Every day for months we pitched at least two loads of manure into that spreader. While Jim hauled it out to the field I would fill the three feed baskets we had with more manure, and then fill the hog feeders with ground hog feed, bed up the cleaned areas with fresh straw and corncobs, and finally, water the hogs.
As the level of manure went down we made repairs. We replaced the broken light fixtures, switches and waterlines. As the manure broke up in the doorways we built new doors and door frames so that we could shut up the barn. We built new windows and window frames. We built pens and fences within the barn to contain the animals so that they couldn’t get into the silo or the manger anymore. It took us four months to get that barn clean. If it hadn’t been for the hogs it could have taken much longer!
When the day came in the spring that the barn was ready for steers it was time to bring them across the road from Pa’s farm to ours. Jim and Pa saddled up two black Percherons, Becky and Beauty. Ma and I released the herd from the corral at Pa’s place. We followed on foot at the rear as Jim and Pa used the horses to contain the cattle along a lane leading them along the side of the road. When traffic cleared Jim and Pa used the horses to guide the herd across State Road 26 and along the ditch to our farm, down the driveway and into the barnyard. It is amazing just how smart a good horse can be about such work. Those two horses worked as a team in everything they did. We used them every day to haul manure. They could plod through several feet of snow where no tractor could pass. Pa used them to plant every acre of our corn and oats. We used them to cut and rake our fields of hay.
Jim and Jonas (our first born) with Becky and Beauty hauling manure in 1976
We are retired, now, from the life we shared when we were dependent upon the farm for our living. We worked hard to pay for the farm in just 14 years. I make soap and Jim works part time for each of our sons, while we raise our sheep for wool and our Scottish Highland cattle to feed our family. We keep chickens for the wonderful farm fresh eggs and George, a donkey, for fun. The land on the home farm is rented to a neighboring dairy farmer. Our son, Rudy, now owns and operates our second farm. He raises and markets grain.
Farming was a good way of life. It was a wonderful way to raise a family. I don’t miss the work. We now have just enough livestock to keep us all happy. We enjoy our grandchildren. I raise a garden. I harvest and use the wool from my sheep to make beautiful things. Jim and I dedicate some time to community service. We make home improvements as we can afford them. We travel now and again. Life is good.
As always, I enjoy hearing from you! Keep in touch!