Friday, September 11, 2015

Farm Memories

By John E. Calhoun 

The following are several paragraphs about various aspects of farm life during my childhood and young adult years. 

My grandfather, John E. Calhoun, over the course of several years during the 1890s, had built the three barns which exist today in Coltsfoot Valley. The valley barn, now the Neubauer property, was used to raise the young stock - heifers - eventually to be bred for the milking herd in the big barn at the north end of the valley. The middle barn, now owned by Jeff and Gail Jacobson, housed a small herd of Devon beef cows; feed, hay and various implements were also stored there.

Calhoun Barn, Jewell Street, from a glass plate negative, circa 1905.

 At the head of the valley was the main dairy barn with several out buildings all of which were used for various purposes: the main barn for the cows, hay mows, silo for feed (com or grass silage) and grain bins; the adjoining horse barn which at some point was moved from lower down in the meadow to where it is now situated as an ell to the main barn; an apple house - insulated to store fruit and supplies; the pig sty; two bull barns; a corn crib and hen house; sheds for storing equipment; and a large root cellar. When my grandfather built the main barn, his neighbor Paul Chamberlain was also building a barn, currently owned by Waite Rawls. Somehow a competition evolved where by Gramp heard that Paul's barn was to be 100' long. One upmanship prevailed and John E. just had to build his barn 105'. True story.

Silo stories: Filling the silo with grass or com was back breaking work. Loads of com or grass were trucked up the valley to the big concrete silo where a tractor was hooked up by belt to an ensilage chopper/blower which cut and blew the silage by means of an impeller up a long pipe to a door at the top of the silo. The silage had to be spread evenly across the entire breadth (about 18 ') of the structure and tramped down to get as much air out of the pile so the com or grass would not spoil. When thoroughly packed down and water was added on top of the silage, fermentation would take place and the end product was silage - a valuable forage for milk cows. There also accompanied the silage a rather strong and pervasive odor which stubbornly clung to clothing. A by product of silage was the fermented juice which ran out of the bottom of the silo - bad stuff. Filling and leveling the silo was very hot and exhausting work.

Calhoun cattle, from a glass plate negative, circa 1905.

Electric fence: My first encounter with an electric fence came about one day with Pete, a hired hand. We were driving in a 1949 International flatbed truck and had to go through the fence which was electrified. Pete asked me to open the fence so as I got out of the truck and my foot hit the ground I felt a jolt from the fence. He had run the truck up to and touched the live wire so when my foot hit the ground I completed the circuit. Pete got a good laugh out of it at my expense ..... ha ha ha. I suppose at that point I was 12.

Butchering cows and pigs: Butchering time was a big event. The pig was stunned and throat stuck to bleed out. The squealing was horrendous and most memorable. Then the dead pig was gutted, saving various organ meats and tongue, and then immersed in a huge kettle of boiling water to loosen the bristles. After the bristles were scrubbed and scraped off the carcass was hung to cool and was then cut up into hams, chops, ribs, bacon, and trimmings for sausage. Some of the back fat was put down in crocks to be used as salt pork. Cows: The cow is shot, bled out and hung from a big windlass which served as a hoist. Then the hide is cut off (skinned) then salted before tanning; next the cow is cut open and offal is removed saving the heart, liver, kidneys and tongue. The carcass is then cut in half and then quartered and left to hang and cool. All butchering was done in the cooler fall weather. After hanging a day or so, the quarters were cut into steaks, roasts, ribs, brisket, and all trimmings and scrap were set aside to be ground as hamburg. After the war deep freezers were becoming more common and were used in conjunction with butchering. All this was exciting to a kid.

Hay wagon, Coltsfoot Valley, late 1800s or early 1900s.

 Haying: Getting in the hay crop was the biggest and hottest job in the summer. All the forage for the dairy herd had to be stored in the big hay mows for winter use. The grass was cut with the mowing machine (later put through a hay conditioner which crushed the grass stems to enhance the drying process); the grass was allowed to lie in the sun to dry as much as possible; then the tedder was run through the grass which was kicked into the air, turning it and spreading out any bunches so it would dry some more. When it was judged to be dry enough, the hay was raked into windrows, and a truck with hayloader attached behind would commence to drive slowly along the rows. The dry hay was moved up a chute by means of moving tines on a rotating camshaft and fed onto the truck where two men would carefully build the load of hay. The load had to be bound in by each fork full of hay in a particular order so the load would not falloff the truck. In later years we used a baler. When the load reached the barn a mechanical device was used to pick up huge arm loads of hay and deliver it to the mow by means of ropes, pulleys, track overhead in the mow, and a trip rope which released the hay from the fork. All of this was made possible by horse, tractor, or truck hitched to the rope/pulley/fork arrangement to set it all in motion. Once the hay was in the mow it had to be distributed evenly across the entire mow - another very hot treat. After every load I would often go to the milk room and chug a quart of milk and cool off. In the hot sun after lunch I would drive the truck with a stifling hot cab and occasionally doze off while driving - almost went into the brook once and was awakened by bellowed curses from the two men on the back of the truck loading hay.

Calhoun milking parlor, 1966.

Milking and feeding: Early mornings on a dairy farm are special. ..... particularly in the summer. I had to go out to the night pasture and drive the cows back to the barn for milking. There were typically a handful of younger cows which had not yet gotten into the routine, and they had to be rounded up and headed for the barn. Dawn was breaking, birds were doing their morning song thing, and the natural world was awakening. Once I had to go out and find a cow who had calved out in the pasture somewhere. She was somewhat secretive and had gone into some heavy growth of trees and brush. I finally found her and a brand new heifer calf which I carried back to the barn and a box stall. Mama followed closely behind lowing softly to her new arrival. All the cows found their places in the two rows of stanchions where they were tied up for feeding and milking. Grain and hay awaited them as the milking went on. Milking machines are operated by a vacuum pumping action which extracts the milk into the container and thence to a bucket .... to the milk room where the milk is weighed and then poured into a strainer and into the milk tank. To milk a herd of fifty cows took about two hours ..... morning and late afternoon.

 Growing up on a farm created a certain lifestyle of hard work and routine; there was an infinite variety of tasks which had to be performed; it established a solid work ethic, which, sadly is not always evident today. The work was satisfying, productive, mostly enjoyable, and I look back with these and many other fond memories.

Coltsfoot Valley, 1980s.

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