Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hay and Roulette

Predicting yields for the harvest season is pretty tricky. We never know how the weather or, well, anything will cooperate until the yield monitor on the combine tells the guys what's what. However, in the business of hay, harvest looks as predictable as the ending of last night's Dancing with the Stars.

Joe is a cattle farmer, and with livestock farming comes haying. Yes, haying is a verb for all you nerds out there. It is a three fold process that is excruciatingly difficult to complete in a timely manner. First there's the mowing. Mowing hay has to be done when it's somewhat dry, like mowing the yard. This is something Joe enjoys to do, and I see why he likes this better than mowing our yard! He sits in his nice air conditioned cab, listening to the Cardinals on an ideally warm, sunny day. Then there's the raking of the hay. This needs to be completed also on a warm, sunny, and after, preferably, windy days. The hay must be dry in order to rake well. When the rake rolls out behind the tractor, it's quite a sight to see, kind of like a float of spiders on their way to the homecoming parade. After the hay is fluffed by the rake, it needs to "dry down" a little more, requiring more sunny, warm, and preferably windy days. Finally, the baling can start, after maybe having to rake it around a little more, and after cursing the not sunny, hot, and windy days that caused it to not be perfectly dry.

Side note- this haying process is not the little bales of straw that you can find in the grocery store parking lots in the fall for your cutesy wiener roasts. These are the huge, round bales that Joe uses to feed the cattle.

Achieving this haying task is truly an act of chance. Joe has hay down (mowed, not raked), as of three days ago, and it has rained a little every day since. He is not happy. However, could there ever be three days in a row when there was no rain in Illinois in the spring? Yes, but then the farmers would be complaining about the lack of moisture. There's never a perfect condition in this business, I am realizing.

Anyway, the way I view the whole haying process is like tossing a roulette ball and hoping for Red-13. How in the world could you not be disappointed in roulette 99.9% if the time? Same with hay. In the three years we have been haying, Joe has never had an ideal situation. There are rarely multiple hits on Red-13 in the hay business. Maybe Vegas goers should be farmers. . . at least they would be trying to feed the country.

When the hay is baled, whether it's good or not, it is the picture of Americana. From the road, you can see the bales dotting the field, waiting to be picked up and hauled to the shed to be used as nourishment for the new mama cows in the spring. Although we rarely walk away from the hay business with a fistful of dollars, we'll keep playing this game of Hay Roulette.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love/Hate Relationships

It's raining, and I think that's good. . . kind of. I actually have no idea, but rain in moderate amounts does the Earth good, right? In our part of the country, we haven't had the bucketfuls of rain as other parts in our state, but still the rain has wreaked havoc on Joe's plans to cut hay. However, it's helping with the little corn plants that are coming up in the field to the west of our house, but the beans are struggling to come up in the field north of our house because of the rain that came just a few hours after we finished planting.

Do you see why I have no idea whether or not this rainy day is good or not?

Farmers tend to have a love/hate relationship with the weather. . . and the markets. . . and the color of tractor they drive. . . and livestock their raising. . . . and the semi they're driving or loading. . . and the profession of farming in general. There's always something to consider, worry about, fix, check, or fuss over. It's a frustrating and vicious cycle.

Then why are there farmers? Why are they working in a profession with end results that are left basically to a wish and a prayer? Well. . . I'm not sure, but I love someone who, although the markets are down (at this time. . . maybe not in a few hours!), and the hay is not (which is the first step in the whole cutting/baling hay process), he still loves it, getting up and going every morning, regardless of the circumstances. Is it nice to have a job that allows Daddy in at lunch time, as well as breakfast and dinner? Yes. Is it nice to have a job that allows him to help feed and fuel our country? Yes. However, is it fun to pull a calf (all you ladies out there. . .ouch) in the dead of night when it's below zero? No. Is it fun to put the crop in and wait, watching the elements as they come, or not? Absolutely not. But it's the innate drive to work in the dirt and be responsible for the good of, well, all of us that outweighs the unpredictable, cold, wacky aspects of agriculture.

My relationship with farming is growing. We are getting to know each other better, and I am feeling a little more love and a lot less hate as I become a more seasoned farm wife. Joe would answer with a vehement yes that he was born to be a farmer, and my hope is that some day, I will be able to answer with that same strength that I was born to be a farm wife, too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Farming and Exercise

It may be obvious that farming is an exercise in patience, but farming as a form of exercise? As a town girl transplanted to the country, I am finding out that this is true.

Case in point: this morning. We were visiting Joe's family on their farm, and after visiting Grandpa Dick and Grandma D-lo (she was D-lo way before J-Lo, so Joe says!), I decided to run back to my parents-in-law's house. It was a three mile trek, but I needed an easy run after yesterday's long run. Joe's grandfather was horrified.

"You're going to do WHAT? WHERE? And WHY?"
He was not necessarily shocked at the fact that I was running, but the fact that I was going to tool down the gravel road up to the hard road and then up to the home place. It seemed completely logical to me, as the only cars that truly frequent this route are those with the drivers who have the same last name as me. Wouldn't it be safer for me to run on this set of side roads rather than a busy street in town? Plus, I don't have to drive into town to do my run that day (have I mentioned that I even keep a running stroller at my parents' house. . .yes, I have two, but who cares. . . in town?).

Anyway, I took off, with my grandparents in-law watching and shaking their heads at their grandson's crazy wife, and was left to the silence of the country road. I enjoyed my three miles of solitude, and do I mean solitude. The only creatures I passed were birds, one cow (who quickly ran the other way, after seeing me), and a wild kitty. My run was glorious, alone, silent, and done for the day. It was bliss.

So why were the farmers around here so freaked out that I was going to use their roads as a workout facility? Why aren't more farmers and farm wives taking up walking/running/biking down these solitary roads with light traffic? Where are the farmers in my PowerPump class? Where are the farmers in the community softball league?

Well. . . I think I have figured out some possible reasons:
1) Farmers rarely have times for hobbies such as exercising. This goes without a lot of explanation. Joe rarely has time to keep up on his paperwork and bills, let alone take up running.
2) Farming in itself is exercise. I live with an example. My husband, upon taking on the cattle operation, dropped 35 pounds and gained muscle. He looks fantastic. My dad, uncle, grandpa, father-in-law, grandfather in-law all are other examples of what getting in and out of tractors, hefting bags of seed and bales of hay and walking fields can do for your body. They are fit as a part of their occupations.
3) Roads in the rural route, although solitary and not too congested, are pretty dangerous to use as a running route. Crazy farm dogs, farm wives headed out to town, tractors pulling heavy equipment all are on these roads and are not looking out for Little Ole Me. The hills are great, but are blind, and while I loved running by myself in the middle of nowhere, the gravel could have done some serious damage to my ankles.

I will continue to pack my running clothes when we visit my in-laws, however, I am not going to make running our country roads a habit. Instead, I'll keep packing up my kids up in the car and head to town and run. Town folks don't shake their heads and watch me until I'm just a dot on the gravel road as my grandparents in-law did today. Rather, town folks won't even notice the crazy lady pushing two kids as she runs.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Don't start planting on a Friday.
Never start harvesting or planting on the 13th.
The best day to plant corn is April
___________(fill in the blank depending upon your family's lore).

Is this for real? Is there any truth to these superstitions? Is farming comparable to voodoo? We haven't been farming long enough to know if these are tried and true results, family beliefs, or just guesses, but whatever the season, whatever the situation, there's superstitions.

Consider this morning: I woke up, thought about the fact that we finished planting last night, but then thought, "What if it frosts?" Where's my positive attitude? Shouldn't I be thankful we're done? Last year on this date, we hadn't even started planting anything yet!

Similarly, last night, upon congratulating my dad on a job well done, he said, "Now let's hope we don't have to go back and replant something." Great attitude, Dad. Even my husband, the owner of the book, How to Be an Up Person in a Down World (and if you know my husband, soooo appropriate for his mind set), is cautiously hopeful that something doesn't blow up or blow over.

Although it's easy for me, the newbie farm wife, or anyone who isn't 100 percent farm-minded, to execute a perfect eye roll at these thoughts, I have come to realize that superstitious thoughts as well as unpositive thinking are par for the course in a profession that relies primarily on acts of God and fluctuating markets (those are acts of God, too, right?). How could you not become a bit of a cynic when a freak hail storm could take your year's livelihood down? How could you not tend to stay away from doing anything on a date on the calendar when a tornado blew down the main farmstead buildings? How could you not be a little nervous when 8 out of your 10 purebreds, just purchased, moved into a new pasture, and tagged for identification (kind of like ear piercing) were struck by lightning, all while we were in attendance at our good friend's wedding? That anniversary is coming up, and we will never forget that phone call, or our friend's special day.

Regardless of the circumstances (whether fortunate or freakish), the farmers in our corner of the world all have superstitions. There are truths to some of them, and farming is a profession that has withstood the test of time, so who am I to question the date you should or should not plant corn? Farming is a profession that relies heavily on chance, so why not throw a little superstition into the mix? Maybe that will help the markets go up!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Lonely Profession

It's Mother's Day. Obviously, the Hallmark executives who started up this holiday were not farmers. Although today has been a great day spent with family, the farmers around here are working at a frantic pace to get the rest of the beans planted before the five forecasted days of rain. Each of the guys is in his own role, working in separate fields, separate tractors, and doing individual jobs. This is an efficient operation, however, a lonely one.

Why is this? Why is it that all of our tractors come equipped with "buddy seats," yet the guys work alone? Why is farming considered a family oriented operation, but a pretty lonely one at that? Why is it that we are a five family farm operation, but we rarely see but one or two of the five on a daily basis (did I mention we all live within a 2 mile radius of each other?)?

When Joe first started farming, the initial thrill of big equipment, cattle, dirt and four wheeling seemed to overpower the impending loneliness of a five hour wait in the semi during harvest. However, after the initial shock that we're actually doing this farming thing wore off and the realization that life goes on, and we all have a job to do set in, we both came to realize that farming full time is a lonely profession. There's no office buddy. There's no person to car pool with. There's no talking about "Dancing with the Stars" at the water cooler. Thus, the reason that coffee shops in small town America are full of farmers: there are some farmers who need contact, conversation, and also coffee.

Joe is not a coffee shop guy, but his need for adult and mainly agricultural conversation is similar to my need for my stay at home mom friends. We need to "cuss and discuss," as a friend of ours put it. Although we are able to be together as a family. . . a lot, which is mainly a good thing, everyone needs to be around people whom they are not directly related to once in awhile.

As a self proclaimed "people person," Joe has had to make a big adjustment in his lifestyle. He went from being a teacher to a state agricultural supervisor to a national educational consultant and speaker to a farmer. Sounds like a great professional progression, doesn't it? Although Joe is doing what he has always wanted to, it is still a lonely gig. Like the other farmers around here, he does a lot of his chores alone, works into the late hours alone, and comes in and does bookwork, marketing and the like alone.

There's not a lot of complaining around here, however. The farmers get together in front of the machine shed and kick dirt and discuss the weather and the plan of attack for the day. Then, like good foot soldiers, they disperse to their positions and work for HOURS alone, and even though my farmer husband is indeed a people person, he does this job with joy.

Farmers are lone wolves. Whether they are social people or agoraphobic, farming tends to be lonely, but you won't hear many farmers complaining. They're busy, out in the field, probably alone.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Farmers and Fencing

No, I'm not taking up a new hobby that involved swords, however, there are days. . .

My musings have been less this week, thanks to good weather. The girls have been spending quality time outside, while Joe has been busy as ever starting to plant beans. However, with planting season and good weather comes big equipment, both driven by the farmers and those delivering things, fixing equipment, and just stopping by to check on progress.

This makes me nervous. Anna just learned to ride her bike on two wheels, which is HUGE, but it just makes another tot-vehicle for her to ride around on, with the potential to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our driveway is the hub of activity, since it hooks onto the machine shed. Thus, when fertilizer is delivered, it's delivered 20 yards from where we ride on our concrete. When the planter comes to fuel up, it is parked steps from our swingset. When the chore tractor, chore truck, semi, Dad's truck, etc., etc. .. you get my drift. It's dangerous around here.

However, after having two tragic pet losses and with all this farm equipment and oddly fast traffic on our gravel road (where ARE these folks going????), we still do NOT have a fence. Being a cattle farmer and son of a livestock man, I consider Joe to be an amazing fence maker, repairer, fixer. We even received Uncle Ab's post hole diggers for our wedding present from Joe's dad. . . still to this day, I'm a little confused about the gift, but it's an heirloom, so I'm going with it.

My question is why do I continue to allow this to be? I have three children under the age of five, all of whom I strap in, buckle up, make them wear helmets, use baby gates, and cut food in tiny strips, but when a semi rolls into our lot to hook onto the arm-ripping auger, I just wave and continue to let them tool around the yard.

What is WRONG with me???

I guess I just trust that the farmers are looking out for my kids. I trust my girls' judgement and hope that they follow our "concrete only when the equipment is running" rule. The girls, for as young and as fearless as they are some times, have a respect for the farm equipment. They understand the danger, even at their small age.

However, with Amelia just weeks away from her first steps, I have found myself dreaming, measuring and pricing white fence. Even though my kids have demonstrated good judgement, it only takes a second for something terrible to happen. And, thus, Joe groans as I turn a post into a "honey-do" list. . . hey, it worked with the landscaping!!