Are we done yet?
The word alone brings visions of bountiful fields of golden corn … and brown soybean fields that are pregnant with the year’s labors. We envision slow-moving combines, tractors and trucks going through the fields, looking serene and even appearing to be at a purposeful, slow pace in a world where most everything moves at break-neck speed.
Not all that long ago I was visiting with a fellow livestock farmer about the harvest and how glad we would be to have that rush behind us so we could relax a little bit.
But it didn’t take long for me to learn that his opinion on the end of the active harvest was a lot different than mine.
He told me that once he gets through all of his acres with the combine, the real work of fall is just beginning.
He said when the crops are out he needs to build a fence around his corn fields, haul water tanks and water, gather up his cows and turn them out. When one field has been grazed, he does those things all over again in another field.
Building the fence and moving water supplies was usually easy, he said. But moving the cows can be a challenge. Depending on how far they are going, they might round them up and haul them in groups with a trailer, or if the next field is close, they might just do an old-fashioned John Wayne-like cattle drive.
Their horses of choice to guide the cows on the right path are four wheelers, which also need to be loaded up and taken to the field-along with a staff of help-for the great round-up.
How funny it looks today to see cows moving on the hoof down the road. Actually, it looks scenic and maybe even breathtaking if you like watching cattle and if the cattle drive is supposed to happen. When cattle are seen coming down the road when they are not supposed to be, it changes the outlook from serene to a four-alarm, all-hands-on-deck state of affairs.
While the cows are grazing in lush golden and gleaned corn fields, gathering up the corn that has fallen to the ground, the balers come out in already-grazed fields to bind up stover into round bales, and those bales are gathered up and hauled home to be used during the winter.
His next big job is to get the tillage done on acres that were being grazed. The wait to do that tillage is valuable, as the grazing helps the cows with nourishment, gives them nourishment that would have otherwise gone to waste, does the first work of naturally reducing volunteer corn in the soybeans the following year, and also helps fertilize the land-since we know that what goes in must come out.
Livestock farmers are an unusual breed. There is literally no end to the work-no matter the season. Most often on the farm, animals come before people do, much to the chagrin of young the woman of the farm, who can be known to wonder if she will always come second.
A cattle-producer friend of mine once jokingly told her mother, “If only we could grow tails, we would get more attention.” There has probably not been a farm wife in history who hasn’t wondered that at least once over her years on the farm.
When I look at pictures from the days of my grandparents working on the farm, I’m convinced there is a reason I never see any fat people. They did the same work we do, only with much less technology and conveniences, and with no more time in months than we have.
And their harvest season was done by hand before any of that other fall work was done.
While today’s harvest scenes might appear tranquil, perhaps farm people were the first to coin the question, “Are we done yet?”
Karen Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.karenschwaller.com.
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