Chapter 2 Section E
Through the years that big red barn had various uses. At first, there
were more horses and only a few milk cows. Later on, when Dad went into
the dairy business, at least three-fourths of the barn was fixed to accommodate
his prize cows. The hayloft had always been an important place for storing
feed for the animals, but after we returned from Western Kansas, Dad had
few animals to feed. We then launched on a turkey project and used the
loft for raising them. In fact, the loft was full of turkeys when the big
cyclone came, and we had to hunt turkeys all over the place.
Note the two-part doors on the barn. The top half or the bottom half could be opened independently. I well remember when I was too small to reach the outside latch. It was on the top door, which was usually open. Since the bottom door had an inside latch, I'd have to climb up and reach inside to pull it open. It wasn't easy, but if I wanted in bad enough, I could do it.
I remember one time when I was running from Dare, who was my brother's
friend. Of course, I was just the little brother and he was always teasing
and pinching me. That was the time I found I could climb over that bottom
door in a hurry. Of course, he started to climb over right after me. However,
I just turned around and hit him right in the face as he was coming over.
That was one day he didn't bother me any more. I'm afraid it didn't stop
him permanently, however.
Most of my early memories of the barn are connected with Dad's dairy business. After Dad married Mom and they started their family, the three eighty-acre plots of land didn't bring in enough money. My grandfather's family still shared in the income. Of course, not all the land was available for cash crops. On part of it Dad had planted cottonwood, cedar, and elm trees, and an osage hedge to help stop the sweeping winds that blew in from every direction. Kansas has plenty wind, too much for my liking. Also, part of the land was taken up with the house, farm buildings and space for a garden. Dad decided that the dairy business was the answer to his money problems.
Dad always attended the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson each September. This yearly event was, and still is, a fine experience for those interested in farming. As a young farmer, Dad observed everything, including those fine Holstein milk cows exhibited there. The possibility of getting into the dairy business was cinched in his mind when he saw and read about the tremendous quantity of milk a Holstein cow could produce each day. In the early 20's he began to build his dairy herd.
Dad didn't have the cash to purchase his new cows outright. He had to borrow it from the bank. Since Grandpa had an interest in the farm, I imagine Dad also had to convince him of the dairy idea. Dad must have done a good job of selecting and purchasing his herd of cows as he produced some prize winning milk cows over the years. I still have pictures, a silver pitcher, and ribbon awards to attest to that.
Pearl, Dad's Prize Holstein
Ribbons won at Dairy Shows
Four Women Posing with Prize-winning Cows
Pearl and Mom are on the left - Mom is holding the Silver Pitcher Award
For a number of years the dairy business was evidently very successful.
The following was an article that appeared in The Hutchinson News. This
article was reprinted in a small booklet and distributed by Massey-Harris
Harvester Co. to advertise their Cream Separator. I wonder if they paid
my Dad or Grandpa for the use of their names.
THE HUTCHINSON NEWS
Dec. 23, 1921
I have been asked by a good many different interests to write an article on the manner of diversified farming in Reno county and the bankers of Hutchinson have rather shifted his burden to me on account of my being head of the Clearing House. Outside of the excellent article written by Mr. Bert Mitchner a few days ago I have not seen anything appearing in your valuable paper along this line.
I have been gathering some specific data on the importance of the cow, the sow and the hen and prefer to have these figures showing what have been done rather than make suggestions on what ought to be done.
McMurry's Ten Cows
Here are some of the results: Mr. W. E. McMurry of 114 Ninth West owns a 240 acre farm in Lincoln township eight miles south of Hutchinson, one half mile north and three east of Darlow, and this farm is operated by the son, Fred E. McMurry. They have been putting 80 acres of this to wheat every year, reserving 160 acres of it to maintain a herd of cows they have on the place and the necessary farm stock they have to keep around them.
Last year Mr. McMurry had ten Holstein cows. He sold from these cows $1,978.01 of milk. Raised seven heifer calves from them valued at $50 apiece or $350.00, making a total income of $2,328.01. The expense of feeding, which includes all feed purchased and the expense of preserving the feed grown on the, including the filling the silo, amounted to $641.20, which deducted from $2,328.01, leaves a net credit of $1,686.81. This would indicate that the cost per head of feeding the cows was $64.12 and that the net income per head from the cows was $168.68.
I have no figures to indicate what Mr. McMurry has taken in from the 80 acres of wheat, but I know of no quarter section of Reno county that has brought in such an income by wheat farming exclusively as these cows have brought in from this section of land, and the manure from these cows has been put back on the land so that the land is producing better each and every year.
His Own Silage
There has been enough silage put away on this farm each year for the caring for the cows that have brought this income and their increase, and Mr. McMurry informs me that from 22 to 25 acres of cane ensilage has filled the silo of 250 tons making enough silage to run these cows for the entire year. When you think of 25 acres of grain making enough roughage in the form of silage for a herd of cows this size, you began to think whether there is any 25 acres of grass in any country that would support a herd of cows this size for the year round, so we find the silage proposition is very economical roughage.
A Renter's Figures
I have taken these figures from the young man who is running the farm, because many renters will say that they have no opportunity for a thing of this kind, and I have taken these figures from a renter rather than a land owner. There is no land owner in Reno county but what could afford to put up a silo and good cow barn for the purpose of housing and feeding ten or fifteen cows, for the returns from the effects of the manure alone that he would get from these cows. I was talking with Mr. McMurry, Sr., the other day and he expects the farm to be producing ten years from now, more than it does now each year, on account of the manure going onto the farm each year. He, as the landlord, is highly pleased with the results of the transaction and the son is equally pleased with what he is doing as a tenant, so here are both sides satisfied.
Why Can't All Do It
This farm is in Lincoln township, and an exceptionally good farm, but if we had an average of ten cows on each and every section of land in Reno county producing like this herd of cows, see what a tremendous income it could mean for the farmers of Reno county and the matter of current expenses would be solved. Please understand that these are not pure bred cows, maybe one or two pure bed cows in the bunch, but they are simply on the whole a herd of high grade Holstein cows. I am of the opinion that the results from this herd of cows, are largely due to the fact that these cows are splendidly cared for and never want for anything to eat or drink that will make them produce milk.
And No Hired Help
F. E. McMurry has also stated to me that this has been done without any hired help with the exception of a hired man the past three months and this largely on account of sickness. Work on this farm has been done by Mr. McMurry himself.
F. E. McMurry has some individual cows, which show wonderful results, and this data could be had by any individual writing him at Darlow, Kansas.
Can't Depend on Wheat
We have not had a normal wheat crop in Reno County since 1914, when we raised more than six million bushels. A great deal of this crop left the farmer's hands at 75 cents a bushel. War between Belgium and Germany was declared in August of that year and wheat went up rapidly, and a good deal more of this wheat left the farmer's hand at about $1.50 or $1.75 per bushel.
We have passed over seven years with having any such crop since and no one knows when we may have such a crop again. Neither have we had a normal corn crop in Reno County during the seven years. With this uncertainty of wheat as to yield and the uncertainty of the price, with the great uncertainty of the corn crop in this section of the country, it must become apparent to everybody that does any thinking that we must have diversified farming, with the cow, the sow and the hen and that they must be given a more prominent place in our thinking, and in my opinion what has been accomplished by Mr. McMurry can be accomplished by any farmer who will take the pains to care for a herd of cows as he has cared for his. There may be other herds in Reno county that have produced more of an income than this herd.
Look to Future Fertility
The owner of land who is renting his land to tenants must begin to look after the future fertility of his land and there is no other way to bring this back and to maintain it, except by having a herd of cows, and if we would preserve the fertility of the soil of Reno county, we must have more cows on the farm.
Also in Poultry
Now, if we can awaken the same interest in keeping a number of cows on each and every farm, we will have largely solved our troubles and financial distress. A farm that is bringing enough income every day to keep up the current expenses and a little more, is the farm that is doing the most to bring about the normal conditions that we have been so much discussing.
Dad had a delivery route for raw milk and many of his customers would pay him by dropping the coins in the rinsed empty milk bottles, which they set outside their doors. I never did figure out how he kept account of his customers' bills. In those days of no income tax, bookkeeping wasn't so important. There always seemed to be lots of change in those empty milk bottles.
I well remember one day when I took some dimes from a bottle. I didn't consider it stealing. I just figured I had found them. When Mom discovered I had extra money I said "Oh, I found it in an empty milk bottle."
I very soon learned that the money belonged to the dairy business and wasn't just left there by mistake. Mom proceeded to explain about profit and expenses, and that most of that money was needed for the expenses.
Now that I think of it, maybe one of the reasons the dairy business
wasn't profitable was the change in those empty milk bottles. Dad always
had hired help so maybe they or other people also "found" some of that
Milking Cows by Hand
In the beginning all our cows were milked by hand. I remember vividly seeing my Dad sitting on his milking stool. I liked the warm milk directly from the cow, and a tin cup was kept handy.
"Hand me your cup, Glenn, and I'll fill it," Dad would say. I can still see the foam generated by the stream of milk from the cow's teat, and feel the warm cup in my hands.
When I was older, I also had that experience of sitting on a stool to milk a cow. There were many kinds of milk stools. It depended upon who was doing the creative work, making them one at a time. I've seen four-, three- and one-legged stools. If one had a good sense of balance, he could use a one-legged stool. It is also possible to milk a cow by just squatting down. Of course, it's a difficult and tiring job. Although I hated to milk a cow that way, sometimes it was the lesser of two evils. If the cow was in the pasture and we wanted to leave her there, I'd just go where she was to do the milking. No way was I going to carry a stool on the half-mile or longer walk, so I'd milk via the squatting method.
Using a one-legged stool was somewhat precarious. Usually the floor of the barn was slick with some kind of slimy substance. I had to take the utmost care to keep that stool from slipping. About the time I got myself balanced on the stool, with the bucket in hand, the cow would decide to move her legs. That usually caused some kind of disaster. The bucket, which I had so carefully squeezed between my legs, would slip. If the bucket already had milk in it, there was even more of a disaster.
Why did those cows move around and sometimes kick? Well, it didn't take much thought for me to figure that out. At milking time those four teats protruding from the cow's udder were usually full of milk. They were tight and probably sensitive.
When a cow stepped around or kicked, the person trying to milk her usually
had some colorful, or even profane, language to say to her. Since I wasn't
a real "cusser," I would just utter with force, "Darn you, Pearly, stand
still!" and then position myself again and try once more.
As time went on, electric milking machines came on the dairy scene. Dad's was operated with a little one-cylinder Cushman engine mounted on a square block of cement in one corner of the barn. Actually, it was more mechanical than electrical. There were overhead pulleys, belts, push rods, vacuum pumps, rubber air hoses for creating the sucking action, and rubber hoses to carry the milk to the milk cans. I always liked watching it all work.
When Dad got his milking machine, he had about twenty-five or thirty producing cows. He always had a hired man, and Mom did her share of the work, too. How she got all of her work done in the house, took care of us kids, cooked for all of us and did the zillion other things a housewife had to do in those days, and still helped with the dairy business, I'll never understand.
Dad used an old upright piano box in which to mix and measure ground grain for the cows. That was the place I'd sometimes sleep while Mom and Dad worked in the barn early in the morning. Many times, I didn't even know Mom had moved me from my bed to the old piano grain box. There were also other places where I slept during the milking ritual, such as on some clean straw or sweet smelling alfalfa hay.
I always wanted to work with the cows and run the milking machine, but
Dad didn't allow me to hook up a cow to it until I was ten or eleven years
old. By that time I had examined all the milking equipment thoroughly and
knew just how every moving part worked.
Daily Care of Dairy Cows
Hard work was the name of the game. Doing not only dirt farming, but also caring for a dairy herd, meant many long hours of labor. It meant getting up early and going to bed late in order to get everything done.
Working in the field on Sunday was against Dad and Mom's strict Methodist upbringing. However, they certainly ignored that rule when it came to the cows. They cared for them every day of the year. Cows had to be fed and when their udders were full, they needed to be milked.
"If you fail to milk a cow on time, she and I both are in trouble," Dad would say.
The udder of the milk cow is something like a bucket or container that hangs down between her back legs. As I analyzed the cows as a kid, I realized they had either udders or balls. The bulls had the balls and the milk cows had the udders. Milk sac is probably a more correct name than udder, but it wasn't a part of my vocabulary at the time. A cow usually has four teats on the bottom of her udder. Sometimes, she may have six, but two are almost always undeveloped. Dad's prize Holstein cows had large udders. When a cow was fresh, her udder might be so large she would have trouble walking. Dad once had a cow that had to be milked three times a day. Naturally, she was a prize milk producer.
A young heifer has a small udder, but when she becomes pregnant, her udder gradually develops. By the time her calf is born, her udder is quite large. The more times a cow has a calf, the bigger her udder becomes.
Each cow had her own stall and each young heifer was trained to know which one belonged to her. At first Dad would have to coax a young heifer into her place with feed. Sometimes, it would take a week or so before she felt comfortable there. Before long, habit sent her there and beware if another tried to take her place.
If perchance a cow made the mistake of going into another's stall, it was a real mess trying to straighten them out. I've had to make them all get out of the barn and start all over again. When they were hungry and their udders were full of milk, getting them out of the barn away from their feed was a really big job.
Those pesky cows were always trying to steal another cow's feed on the way to their own stalls. A worse situation occurred if the barn door was accidentally left open and some cow discovered it before milking time. As a matter of fact, a small crack would be all that was needed. A cow could push her nose through the crack and look out! That cow seemed to signal to the others, "Let's go!" Soon all the cows would go in uninvited. They would forget all about their stall training and just go where there was grain or hay. Not only would they gorge themselves, it wasn't long before they had scattered manure all over the place.
"Get out of here, you darned cows," I'd yell. Boy, how they would scatter. They knew they weren't supposed to be in the barn and they'd all try to get out at once. A running cow can be dangerous, especially if she is trying to get out of the door when another one is already half out.
I didn't beat our cows, but sometimes I certainly felt like doing it.
Anyway, they acted as if they thought I was going to beat them. One time
a cow tried to jump over another as she was going through the door. They
got hung up and it took several moments for them to get "unhung." While
that was going on, the rest of the cows were getting desperate trying to
get out. Normally, cows are champion manure makers, and when they get excited,
the output of manure seems to double. It always seemed to me that those
cows were designed to eat food and make manure, rather than just to give
In front of the stalls was a place for the food. Toward the back of the stalls was a wooden trough about twelve inches wide and six inches deep to catch the manure. Ideally, the barn floor could be kept clean if the animals used this trough while in their stalls. The manure was shoveled out and thrown into a pile outside the barn door. Of course, if the cows came into the barn uninvited and wandered around, eating all the grain or hay they could find, they would make quite a mess. Naturally, they didn't bother to use their troughs, and cleaning out the manure became a big job.
Frankly, the horses on the farm didn't cause as much "manure trouble" as the cows. Not only did they seem to produce less, they didn't spend as much time in the barn. Dad did keep them in during the worst bad weather. One big problem was the flies. They would bite the horses' legs, causing them to continually stomp around. It's easy to imagine the messes when they stomped in their wet manure.
Although that manure from the cows and horses caused extra work, and, I might add, stink, it was of some use. Dried cattle manure, I mean really dry manure, was a source of fuel. As a kid, when coal or good firewood wasn't plentiful, I would gather cow chips from the pasture. A large gunnysack was the best container to use. All I had to do was drag it along as I picked up the chips.
Good judgment was necessary to decide which cow chip to leave and which to gather. The best policy was to kick it first. If it moved from the ground easily, fine. If not, look out! That meant the chip wasn't as dry as I thought and I might have to clean my shoe. Of course, picking a chip up without kicking it first also had its hazards. One could look dry and crusty on top, but still be gooey inside. Ugh!
Cleaning one's shoes was a messy job, but stepping in horse or cow manure when barefooted was even worse. You often did "cut your foot." The old wives' tale about cutting your foot that way really does make sense. A pile of manure can cover stickers, glass, tacks and a host of other things.
The manure scattered out in the pasture was one thing, but that in the
feedlot around the barn was more concentrated. It could be a real mess,
especially after a rain. Most of the time, I didn't wear my rubber boots.
It seemed they were never available when needed. They were upstairs in
the storeroom, under the porch, or even out in the yard where they had
gotten rained on. Who wants to put on wet boots? Just as well go barefooted.
Anyway, it was really kind of fun sloshing around in that stuff. I also
believe that wading in the livestock yard where there was always an abundance
of manure kept me from getting athlete's foot.
The Manure Spreader
Each day the manure from the cow side of the barn was shoveled and pitched out the door. The pile got higher and higher. Likewise, the pile outside the horse side of the barn increased in size.
"We were too busy with farm work to haul out that manure when it was hot and dry, and now it's raining and it's too wet to do anything about it," I heard from my Dad more than once.
Manure was a valuable byproduct from livestock because it made good fertilizer for the crops. Dad had a piece of equipment to do about everything imaginable around the farm, including a manure spreader. It was a unique implement. The guy that invented it must have been a "brain." It really was a terrific laborsaving device.
I don't know when Dad got his manure spreader. I'm sure it must have been before I was born. It was always sitting around some place with manure in it. It was a filthy outfit. Sometimes I wondered if Dad bought it with manure in it!
The spreader had four steel wheels, two small ones on the front and two large ones on the back. The front ones were designed to swivel so the team of horses could pull the spreader out of tight muddy places. The large ones not only had to carry the bulk of the weight of the load, they also operated the mechanism that did the spreading job.
The spreading process was interesting. The entire floor of the wagon was an endless moving belt of wood slats. As the horses pulled the spreader along, the belt mechanism gradually moved the manure to the rear. When the operator got the spreader to the right place in the field, he'd throw a lever and a rotating cylinder, with many little spikes on it, began to operate. It was quite a sight to watch that outfit kick manure from the end of that wagon. It kicked that manure up and out as much as ten feet from the rear of the spreader. What a great way to save work. Imagine having to spread all that stuff with a pitchfork!
For sure, we knew that the manure was good for the crops. Any place missed was noticed the next year. If the manure were spread evenly over the field, all the wheat would have a deep rich green color, and when it ripened, Dad got more wheat. No wonder Dad moved the manure from the barn and feed lot to the field. It was great fertilizer and it was free and available.
Of course, sometimes, Dad had to pay an extra hired man to load the
spreader and drive the team. Even with that cost, the manure made an inexpensive
Manure around the barn attracted lots of flies. These weren't ordinary flies. They were big! We called them horse flies. The poor animals would constantly be swishing their tails around to rid themselves of those flies. They would also follow the animals when they were in the fields or pasture.
Flies were also a problem in the house. If there were even the tiniest hole in the screens, in they would come. I've often seen Mom patching such a hole with another piece of screen wire. She would use a needle and thread to sew the patch over the hole.
Many methods were used to rid us of those pesky flies. Dad had spray for the barn, but it seemed the flies became immune to it.
Flypaper was a popular way to get rid of flies. We used it in both the house and the barn. This was sticky paper that one hoped would attract the flies and when they landed, hold them prisoner until they died. It came in two forms. One was just sheets you could lay anywhere around the house. The other was a small roll. One end was hung to the ceiling or some high place. The roll would then unwind, exposing lots of sticky surface.
Of course, there was always the faithful fly swatter. I can still hear
my Mom. "Glenn, get the fly swatter. Come quick, but be very quiet so you
don't scare the fly."
Enough about manure and flies. Let's get back to the dairy herd. Dad always had Holstein cows, which are known for the large amount of milk they give. Dad said the proper term for milk cows was "mulch cows." That term always made me laugh even if it was correct. Dad taught me other terms, such as "run dry," "be in heat," and "colostrum."
Yearly each cow's milk supply runs out, and she is said to "run dry." When a milk cow "ran dry," Dad would give her a period of rest. Then when she appeared to be in "heat," she was ready to be mated with a bull. If she became pregnant and gave birth, then she would be "fresh," meaning she was again a milk producer.
Dad would keep careful watch on his pregnant cows. Occasionally a calf would die before it was born. Dad knew how to tell when such a thing happened, and he'd call the vet immediately.
If Dad couldn't get the vet for some reason, he'd do the job himself. I saw him do it more than once. The job was much easier if the cow could still stand, but if she got too sick, she wouldn't be able to get up. After cleaning the area thoroughly, Dad would carefully insert his hand into the cow. Soon after running his hand, and practically his whole arm, into the cow, he'd pull out the dead calf, feet first. It was a messy job, but had he not done it, the valuable cow would have died. Sometimes, if infection had already set in, nothing either the vet or Dad could do would save her.
Newborn calves needed special care. Dad would have to decide which he would keep and which he would sell. A young heifer that he thought would be a good milk producer was given special care.
Although a cow may have two or even three calves at a time, one is more common. Naturally, newborn calves need milk. The first "milk" from its mother, called "colostrum," is more like yellowish syrup, and is very essential for the early days of the calf's life.
It seemed that there were always two or three baby Holstein calves around the barn. A baby calf is very cute. Dad would allow the calf to have the mother's new milk for a period and then would wean it. After all, the cow's real purpose was to produce milk to be sold.
Feeding the calves after they were weaned was fun. I would first get
milk on my fingers and then let the calf suck on them. After it would get
a taste of the milk, it would jam its nose into the milk bucket and away
it went. I wouldn't have any more trouble getting it to take the milk that
Burk's Job, Breeding
Cattle breeding time was an event to behold. In those days no one had heard of artificial insemination. We always had our own bull so we didn't have to truck in a bull from a neighbor's herd. Dad had a bull named Burk. Since he had a pedigree three feet long, the diary farmers around always wanted to use him for breeding their cows. They knew they would always get fine Holstein calves from him. Regularly a truck would come to our farm with a cow in it to be bred by old Burk.
When a bull and a cow are brought together, something really interesting happens. When old Burk was close to a cow "in heat," he would begin to roar and paw the ground. Save for the ring in his nose and my Dad's steady nerve, I've always felt sure he would have killed everyone in sight.
Although Dad would make me leave during the mating process, I would usually manage to find a way to watch what was going on.
In just no time at all old Burk would get around behind the cow and smell her. It had some kind of an effect on him because he would raise his head into the air and wrinkle his nose and snort. He would stand for a moment or two, and then all of a sudden he would jump upon the back end of that cow. His "thing" would shoot out like a "snake" and somehow it would go into the cow.
Old Burk was very big and he would lunge so hard that the cow had all
she could do to stay on her feet. But, in an instant old Burk was off her
and that was the end of the event. The cow was loaded up in the truck and
taken away. Old Burk was taken to the water tank, watered and put back
into his stall in the barn.
Before Burk, Dad had another bull named Oak. As I remember Oak, he was very vicious. One day, apparently after being penned up for a long time, he got out of the barn. He celebrated royally! His horns were about eight inches long. He gored the ground with them, and pawed it with his front feet, kicking dirt high into the air. Tiring of one spot, he went to another and repeated the action.
I was certain that Oak would attack the house next. With the force of a cyclone, he could surely tear the house to splinters.
Dad, of course, was the hero of the day in my eyes! I remember his approaching old Oak gingerly with a common yard rake in his hand. Then he talked to Oak to calm him. Apparently Dad had a way with bulls. Soon he slipped a tine of the rake into the bull's nose ring. That action always stopped old Oak in his tracks. After all, that was a tender spot and the bull respected a tug on that ring.
Dad with Oak,
his "hard-to-control" Bull
Speaking of rings, I witnessed the "ringing" process one day. I'm not sure which bull it was, but he was nearly full-grown before Dad decided to put a ring in his nose. First, Dad tied the bull's head to a very strong upright of the stall. Then, with one knee under the bull's chin, and two free hands, he went to work.
He took the copper point from one of the lightning rods and sterilized it. The rod was about ten inches long. It was tapered, starting at 3/4 of an inch in diameter at one end and coming gradually to a very sharp point at the other end.
Can you imagine the mess! At the right moment the copper rod point was jabbed through the bull's tender nose. Blood spurted all over and that bull made every attempt to tear the barn down.
The hole had to be made large enough so the ring could be slipped in easily. After the ring was put in, a small screw was put in the ring to hold it. With a bit of good luck, and skill, Dad would get it in tight.
Naturally, the bull's nose was very tender, and everyone around had to be very careful not to be an object for the bull to attack. The last step in the ringing process was to clean the wound and sterilize it to prevent any infection.
Old Oak hated our vet. For some reason, that bull could either smell
or hear the veterinary when he was half a mile away. He would give out
a roar that made my blood tingle. He plowed into the dirt with his front
feet and when his nose wasn't sore, he jabbed his horns into the dirt all
the way to his head. That made me clear out for protection.
Dad always exhibited Burk and Oak at the Kansas State Fair and the Reno
County Dairy Shows, and often won ribbons in the competition. Watching
Burk and Oak lined up with all the old bulls during the judging at the
fair, I decided the awards had something to do with their roaring, their
horns or their balls. The judges seemed to spend lots of time viewing the
bulls from the rear. As I walked around the stalls and viewed the bulls
from the rear, I noticed that Dad's bulls seemed to have the biggest balls.
I'm sure the judges had other reasons for awarding championship award ribbons,
but to me, as a kid, I reached the conclusion that big balls were the main
feature. Dad was certainly proud of his bulls. The following is a newspaper
clipping about the Cattle Awards at one State Fair. Unfortunately, the
clipping doesn't have a date on it. Below the clipping are three of Dad's
many award ribbons.
The Judging in the Livestock Departments
Finished last Evening.
THE DAIRY SHOW IS BIG
The Holstein Fresian Exhibition
Was the Leading Dairy
Events of the Fair
|Judging in the cattle department at the state fair was completed late
evening, and the ribbons all tied.
The Holstein Fresian exhibition was the leading dairy cattle events of the fair this year.
Fifteen exhibitors are contributed to the show. The awards were made by H. P. Davis, of Lincoln. NE.
The exhibitors--Glen Davis, Columbia, MO; W. R. Crow, Hutchinson, KS; C. C. Kagarice, Darlow, KS. A. M. Davis, Hutchinson, KS. Don McKay, Hutchinson, KS; M. W. A Sanitarium, Colorado Springs, CO; Fred McMurry, Darlow, KS; Reno County High School, Nickerson, KS; A. E. Brown, Pratt, KS; Union College, Lincoln, NE; Mulvane Holstein Breeder's Club, Mulvane, KS; George Appleman, B. R. Gosney, J. M. Youngmeyer, F. P. Bradfield, O. G. High, O. L Goodin, Oscar Youngmeyer, Paul Bowman, members; D. W. Beers, Topeka, KS.
Dad, the Veterinarian
Although Dad called the veterinarian when absolutely necessary, many times he took care of the sick animals himself. Sometimes when a cow or pig needed help in giving birth, I watched as dad would take the place of the vet. He was very knowledgeable and was quick to help his animals in trouble.
One of my most vivid memories of Dad playing the vet's role was when he had to care for a cow that was bloated. We tried to keep the cows out of the fields during the cane and sedan grass growing season. Occasionally, however, one would get out of the feed lot and wander into the field of green plants. It was a treat for the cow, but she would quickly overeat and become bloated. That was trouble and plenty of it. The pressure of the gas in the cow's stomach, which one I don't know, she had four of them, would cause pressure against her heart. If that pressure weren't relieved very quickly, death would result.
Dad always had his knife available for such emergencies. He knew exactly where to plunge the knife blade into the side of the cow to relieve that suffering animal. Naturally, he had to take special care afterward to prevent infection.
Dad seemed to know just what to do many times to care for his animals,
and thus save a veterinarian bill.
The End of the Dairy Business
Poor Dad! The dairy business, after a few prosperous years, proved another
financial problem, instead of an answer. With the coming of pasteurization,
and the mechanization of every aspect of dairying, big business interests
took over, and the small farmer was squeezed out. In fact, in order to
pay the debts that accumulated, the north 80 acres had to be sold. In the
long run, the loss of that land was in part the cause of the rift between
Dad and his sisters, and what eventually caused our move to Western Kansas.
For thousands of years, the poor horse has suffered while either carrying loads on his back or pulling farm implements, wagons, or anything else man wanted pulled. Man has used horses to move him about, extend his ability to move loads, and even to help him conquer other countries. The horse has also been used purely for man's pleasure, for riding leisurely or for racing, and for various other sports. Honestly, man has taken undue advantage of the horse, but apparently that is the way it was meant to be.
Today the horse as a work animal has nearly vanished from the farms in our country. However, when I was a kid, everyone in our area had horses. I well remember my Dad rising before sunrise to care for his horses and other livestock. They obviously couldn't feed themselves, so before Dad fed himself, he fed the animals. By the time I was ready to have my breakfast, Dad had done a day's work. After all, no farm animals meant no food on the table.
Of all the animals on our farm, my favorites were the horses. To me the horses were the cleanest animals on the farm. Also, I always enjoyed riding our horses. Since I liked to ride bareback when I was small, the work horses were easier for me to ride. The so-called "riding" horses had sharper, narrower backs, and, without a saddle, they were very uncomfortable to ride.
As soon as I was old enough Dad taught me to drive the work horses at their various jobs. I learned to "work" one, two, three and even four horses at a time. The one-horse implements were primarily for garden use. Two horses, of course, were easier to handle, with or without a tongue between them. Of course, the ease of operation depended upon the type of implement. Dad had a two-bottomed plow on which he used three horses. I didn't like to use that plow, because the third horse always seemed to give a problem. I believe he had a hard time deciding who was boss, especially if the two outside horses didn't work together, or if they didn't interpret the driver's commands the same as he did. Truly, the third or odd horse had to be very experienced.
Dad taught me the voice commands, like haw, gee, whoa and gitty-up. Gitty-up was that little clicking sound made by sucking air around the tongue. To the horse, it really meant "get moving." I mastered the technique quite well.
Who said horses pull things? That's not right. The only way a horse could pull a wagon would be to have it tied to his tail. Horses really need something to "lean into" or push against in order to do the work they do. A horse has a great set of shoulders and he uses them to push into the padded collar around his neck. The hames are attached to the collar and two traces are attached to them, one on each side of the horse. The rest of the harness consists of the bridle, the bit, the reins, and other useful pieces of leather and wood, which eventually are attached to the implement to be moved. The whole harness arrangement is rather complicated except to an experienced user. It's really too hard to try to explain in words. Let's just say the horse's harness was very important to the farmer before farming became mechanized. Of course, it's still important to those who have riding and racing horses. A harness must be kept clean, well oiled and flexible. People make a living repairing and caring for harnesses.
If you want to see a real team and how they are harnessed, visit a state fair somewhere, and sooner or later, you will surely get a chance to see those wonderful Budweiser Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon.
I liked to watch the horses in the pasture after a hard day of work. They scratched their backs by flopping over, legs kicking straight up. They didn't stay down long, however. Actually, horses rarely lie down to rest, or even to sleep. I've been told that a horse might even die standing up, especially during a hard winter cold snap. That's hard to believe, but it must be true.
The horses I remember, both on our Reno County farm and in western Kansas,
were May, Maude, Bess and Bill, Bert and Ribbon, Blackie and a pony that
a neighbor loaned us for a time. Each horse had its own unique personality.
I found it important to get acquainted with that personality if I wanted
to get along with any of our horses.
Dad's Riding Horse, May
Old May was lucky that she didn't have to work in the fields. She was Dad's riding horse and before he had a car, she pulled his buggy. That was easy work compared to the jobs the other horses were obliged to endure. Before the automobile, a horse and buggy was a good means of transportation. Both my grandfathers lived right in the middle of the horse and buggy era. In the McMurry genealogy book, Dad's Uncle Charlie tells about his first buggy ride. It was with the family doctor, who was one of the first in the community to own a buggy.
My Mom used to tell me about her date picking up her in his buggy to go to parties.
"Riding behind a trotting horse pulling a buggy was always an anxious time for me," Mom said. "When the horse started to relieve himself, Harley would slap his rump in an attempt to stop him. The poor horse could go only so long before mother nature took over. I would try to act as if nothing was happening. When it was time for the horse to 'wet,' he would stop in its tracks, spread his legs and spray all over the front of the buckboard on the buggy."
No one discussed such a subject, especially in mixed company. Draymen tried everything in the book to keep their horses from manuring on the streets in town. One scheme that was fairly successful was to hang gunnysacks on the horse's rump. The same problem arose when the circus parade came to town. Cleanup men followed each group of animals. It was their job to rid the street of all droppings before the next part of the parade arrived. Needless to say, the job wasn't always done thoroughly.
"Watch out!" someone would shout as we crossed the street after the parade had passed. However, it was usually too late, and at least one of us would step in the stuff.
I remember old May more as a riding horse than as a buggy puller. Before our mail was delivered to a box at the end of our driveway, Dad rode old May to get the mail on the south mile corner. At mail time, Dad would whistle for May, and she, recognizing that shrill whistle, immediately left the pasture and headed for the barn waiting for Dad.
Dad enjoyed that daily ride to the mailbox. He always rode bareback. May could run very fast and Dad let her go like lightning both ways.
One of my most vivid memories of May was the time my cousin, Ted, and I decided to take a ride on May. After bridling her, we climbed onto her back ready to go. I was on the front and Ted was sitting directly behind me.
"Gitty-up, May," I said.
May didn't seem to be particularly eager to move, but she responded as Dad had trained her many years before. She began in a small deliberate walk, and I allowed her to lower her head from time to time to nip a few blades of grass along the way.
I headed May north to the hedgerow at the end of the field. When we got there, I turned her head westward toward the railroad track. It was a nice summer day and we were having a great time riding slowly along. Suddenly, however, everything changed. May gave a quick jerk and then all heck broke loose! She wheeled around and started to run in a fast gallop towards the barn. I tried to say, "Whoa, May," but that didn't work. She didn't act as if she had heard a thing. What's going on? Had I kicked her flank or something?
"Ted, did you kick her to make her do this?"
"No," Ted said. "Don't blame me. I didn't do anything."
"Hang on," I said. "I can't do anything with her."
May was galloping at full speed by this time and we had all we could do to keep from falling off. She headed towards the path across the field. "Look out, she's going to knock us off," I yelled.
The trees on the path had many low hanging branches and May made no attempt to stay in the middle of the path. All I could do was hang on to her mane with all my might.
"We're going to hit that branch. Bend down," I yelled. We missed the main branch, but we got a good switching anyway.
She went faster and faster, and I can still feel that bouncing she gave us. It was awful and we were scared.
It soon became obvious that May was going home. As we got close to the barn, I could see that the bottom of the door was shut. I was afraid she would jump through the top opening. However, just as she got there, she planted all four feet on the ground and stopped dead still. Ted and I didn't stop. We went right on over her head and on to the ground. Although we were breathless, we were relieved to be on the ground again.
Then we saw Dad and we realized what had happened.
"Why did you whistle for her to come home?" I asked Dad. "We almost got killed."
Dad had that sheepish grin on his face and then broke out laughing.
He had done it on purpose! He knew that when he placed his fingers to his
lips and let out that sharp whistle it was May's command to come to the
barn. He had trained her to do that. It was her "let's-get-the- mail" command
and even though she was older, she still responded. I hadn't even heard
Dad's whistle, but May had. Needless to say, Ted and I didn't think Dad's
joke was a bit funny.
My first horse rides were on old Maude, our retired nearly blind workhorse. Gradually, through the years, the sparkle in her eyes left entirely, and she became totally blind.
Maude was a roan like May, but with a slightly darker hue. Her mane and tail were long, full and slightly darker than her coat. It glistened in the sunlight. In spite of her age and bad eyes, I really liked her.
I remember the first time I got enough courage to get on Maude's back. I watched her from the front of her stall while she was munching her oats and hay. I petted her on the nose and neck all the time talking softly to her. I was getting more confident by the minute and knew that soon I would be on her back. Then something told me that the time was right. I moved around to her side, leaned over the stall, stroked her ever so gently, and slid from the top of the stall onto her back. I had done it! I was on Maude's back and she didn't mind at all. After a few minutes, enjoying every second of it, I knew that I had to take that next step.
I carefully climbed down and took Maude's bridle from its peg. I adjusted it and just as I had seen Dad do so many times, offered her the bit. She opened her mouth and accepted it. I put the bridle on, snapped the strap under her neck, crossed the reins and tossed them back over her head. By this time the excitement was almost more than I could bear.
No wonder I was excited. No one was looking over my shoulder. I knew exactly what to do. I'd watched Dad do it many times.
Quickly I climbed up again and slid onto Maude's back. She didn't flinch. I pulled her reins back and told her, "Back up, Maude." What do you know? She did just that! Then she headed out the barn door, which I had purposely left open.
"Look sky, look trees! I'm riding on Maude!"
I'm sure Maude's poor eyesight had made her ears more acute. She lumbered around carefully as if she were listening for any danger that might be near. Since she rarely trotted, I wasn't apt to get bucked off. In other words, Maude wasn't in a hurry and I liked that gate just fine!
I had many fun rides on old Maude. I also learned to harness her and have her pull my wagon and other things around in the yard. She was a very patient animal, and I hope I didn't abuse her too much.
One day, the outside gate was left open, and poor Maude got out along with the other horses. For awhile they were grazing on the grass in the yard, thoroughly enjoying themselves. However, when they discovered Dad was after them, they all ran towards the barn gate. Maude did her best to follow along with the others. Her keen ears told her when the other horses started to stampede. Unfortunately, she steered to the left and ran into the three-bottom plow Dad had left near the path. Maude hit that plow headlong. The lever, which controlled the depth of the plow, gouged a wicked hole in her breast. She stopped and stood perfectly still until Dad came to extricate her from that plow lever.
Dad always had a gentle way with horses. The way he was able to carefully urge her back from that plow proved the trust his animals had in him.
"Whoa, Maude," he said, as he soothed her. "Steady there, girl." By that time she was trembling like a leaf and her wound was gushing blood.
As Dad pushed her back and away from that lever, he continued to calm her. Then he led her to her stall, guiding her with his arms around her head. She knew Dad was there to help her. She must have suffered greatly from that wound.
Dad called the vet immediately and he washed the blood from her breast wound. It must have been at least six or seven inches long. The vet sewed the tear on her skin just like old Doctor Roberts sewed the cut on my scalp when Ted hit me with a square chair leg. As the vet put that needle in old Maude's breast, I cringed. I felt each stitch as if it were on my own body.
"She'll be all right, but you'll have to keep her inside the barn for a few days and keep the wound clean. I'll be back later to see how she is doing," the vet told Dad.
Sure enough, she recovered from that accident and I was able to ride
her many more times.
Bess and Bill
Bess and Bill were a team of workhorses. By the time I was in the seventh or eighth grade, Dad let me start to help him do the field work. First I rode the cultivator and the sulky plow. Later I rode the hayrack, mowing machine and two-gang harrow. The harrow was most exciting, and also the most dangerous, because there was no seat on it. I had to stand on a wide board, and keep my balance as I held onto the horses' reins. These were all implements that Bess and Bill pulled. I also learned to drive them as they pulled our wagons. Of course, if we had to back up for some reason, Dad would have to help me.
During my high school days in western Kansas, Bess was my favorite riding horse. I rode her for hours out in the canyons and fields, hunting for rabbits, rattlesnakes and skunks. There was a pond near our farm and I even rode her as she swam through it. That was really a new experience for me, and she seemed to enjoy it, too. When my cousin Marion came to visit, he would come riding with me. He always rode Bill. Since we didn't have money for saddles, we rode bareback. Besides, I liked it better that way. It was also less trouble just to jump on rather than take time to saddle up.
Marion and I are enjoying time with Bess and Bill
"What in the world did you do that for? Are you trying to kill me?" Marion cried. "Why didn't you warn me that you were going to stop?"
I really felt bad about that stupid thing I did. There was nothing I
could do but say I was sorry. I'm not sure that he has completely forgiven
me to this day.
Bert and Ribbon
"You never let horses see what they are pulling or what is to their right or left. They are too easily excited," Dad would caution. "You want to keep horses looking straight ahead, so that's why we put blinders on them."
Bert, the roan, was a pretty horse, but she had a mean streak. She was particular what she was "hitched to," and even with the blinders, she caused all kinds of problems. She especially disliked pulling the go-devil. Actually it took two horses to pull a go-devil, and they were many feet away from their driver which made controlling them very difficult. It was best to use calm horses for that job, but we had Bert so did the best we could. When she got excited, she would rear up and sometimes break the tongue and one or two of the hay-gathering teeth of the go-devil. Because of Bert's lack of control, we often had to buy a new tongue and make new "teeth" by whittling two-by-fours to a point.
The go-devil was actually a rather simple gadget used to gather hay together into bunches and shove it into the stacker. To me it was one of the ugliest pieces of equipment on the farm. Bert evidently thought it was ugly and menacing. She sometimes acted scared of it. She'd either balk at the sight of it or simply turn completely around and refuse to pull the awkward thing. You know, if I were a horse, I think I also might want to refuse to pull it.
Ribbon was another of our horses that gave us problems. I've heard of
horses having psychological problems, and, when I think of Ribbon, I'm
sure she must have had some. She must have been abused as a colt. Anyway,
for some reason or other, she had lots of trouble with her legs. She'd
stop or back up when she should go, and she'd go when she should stop.
She seemed to worry about where she'd been, as she was always turning to
look behind her. She also kicked anything in sight that looked kickable.
That caused real problems when she was pulling a piece of machinery. Ribbon
got into real trouble one day. She was hitched along with Bert to the disc
plow. Suddenly, when she should have stopped, she backed right into the
plow. When she hit it, she decided it needed a good kicking. That was a
disaster. One of those sharp discs slashed the side of her foot. It was
a real mess. After getting her calmed down, which took a little doing,
Dad called the vet. He had to use several stitches on her foot and she
didn't work again for weeks. As I think back on that escapade and other
similar ones, I am convinced that danged horse needed psychological help.
Since both Blackie and Bill were black, I'm not sure how Dad decided which one to name Blackie. Blackie was a female and Bill was a male. Blackie's personality was a mixture of Bess and Ribbon. Although she was sometimes fidgety, most of the time she was calm. Usually she could work beside any horse and adapt to each team situation Dad needed. That was good. In the picture business, she might be called an "extra." Dad would use a team of three horses from time to time to pull a heavier load, and Blackie was the ideal horse for the job. Good farmer that he was, he took special care with his horses so that they weren't over- burdened on a job. He knew that when the ground was especially dry and hard, or the farm implement being used was heavier than ordinary, extra horsepower was needed. That's when a third horse, usually Blackie, was used.
The third horse was harnessed to whatever was being pulled, and walked along one side of the primary team. A driving rein wasn't used on the extra horse, but instead a leather strap about three feet long connected his bit to the hame of the team horse. In other words, the main team guided the extra along.
I mentioned earlier what a difficult "role" the third horse, or the
"extra" had. Dad was lucky to have a horse with Blackie's personality to
use in this way.
The Neighbor's Pony
I must include among my horse stories, one about the pony that our neighbor loaned to us for a few months. He also sent along the pony's saddle. Since all the horses had names, we decided just to call her Pony.
I was used to riding bareback, but decided I should at least try riding Pony with her saddle. I really didn't enjoy that saddle. It seemed that the stirrups were never adjusted properly and the strap around her middle holding the saddle on was never right. What a mess it was to have that saddle slip around the belly of Pony while she was loping around. Since I was always afraid I'd find myself riding up side down, I seldom used her saddle.
I vividly remember one morning when I did try riding Pony with a saddle. Things went along very well for a while as she went galloping around the alfalfa field. Soon, however, I found I was getting my butt banged around because I didn't know how to adjust the stirrups.
I didn't have too much time to worry about those danged stirrups, however,
before I had a much worse problem. Pony stepped into a gopher hole and
down we both went headlong. That stupid horse fell right on my leg and
pinned me on the ground. I was stunned. Finally, Pony wiggled herself around
and jumped off me. I managed to stand up, but not in time to catch Pony.
She went running off without me, and I had to limp home. Luckily, I didn't
break any bones, but I did have a broken spirit. I decided it was time
to quit riding that horse, with or without a saddle.
Losing a Horse
"Bonnie," Dad said to my Mom one morning after milking, "one of our horses is missing. Maybe it will come around later."
Dad must have had a name for that horse, but I don't know what it was. I just know that the horse was white, and that he didn't "come round later."
After making a few telephone calls to the neighbors about his lost horse, Dad finally gave up the search. "That horse must have skipped the country," he said.
Some days later, I was playing in the cornfield having a great time with Rover when I noticed an awful smell. I was smart enough to know that it was something dead.
I followed the smell to an old haystack covered with a belt of green wheat. I climbed to the top of it. Looking down through a crevice in the hay, I saw something white. I thought it was a white pig. I ran home excitedly and told Dad that there was a dead pig in the straw stack.
Dad came immediately to investigate.
"Glenn, that's no pig," Dad said as he looked down into the crevice. "That's a horse. All you could see was his head. That's why you thought you had seen a pig."
Dad and the hired man dug a slot in the straw exposing the carcass of that dead horse. Boy, how that dead animal stunk.
Even dead horses and cows have some value. Dad called the scavenger
truck and that unfortunate horse was carted off to the glue factory. We
were really glad to get rid of that stench.
No More Horses
I'm not sure just what happened to all our horses, but I do know that
Bill, Bess, Bert and Ribbon were the only horses that we took with us on
our move to western Kansas. Some years later, Bert and Ribbon were no longer
around. I've forgotten whether they died or were sold. When we bought the
little Ferguson tractor, it did the work that Bill and Bess had been doing.
Finally, Dad had to get rid of them because we couldn't afford to buy food
for them when they were no longer needed. Too, the dust storms caused problems
for horses. We didn't have proper facilities to keep them protected from
the dust, or the heat and cold. Hay was replaced with gasoline, for sure.
Mechanization really took over. On Dad's farm, it happened in the mid thirties.
Troubles Pigs Cause
To me pigs are the dumbest of the animals. I've been told, however, that they really are very intelligent. I hate to admit that, but I do know they are smart enough to know how to take advantage of us humans at every opportunity. They are like cats in that respect. They go wherever and whenever they choose. Dad tried to control them with very well built pens of wire, wood and even barbed wire fence, but a pig can find a weak spot in nearly any kind of fence within minutes after he is put inside one. If there is a loose board, or a hole large enough for his snout, look out!
Pigs are also messy, and they seem to enjoy the messes they make. They root with their snouts in any kind of dirt, dry or wet, to find a few grains of wheat, corn or some tasty weed root. It seems that the only time they are not hunting for food is when they are sleeping.
Finding a place to sleep is not a problem to them, either. A pig loves to snooze in the sun, but will head for shade or a wet place the minute they get too hot. They'll even stack up on top of each other to sleep.
"Glenn, you'd better check every inch of that new fence before putting the pigs in that pen," Dad would advise. "That pig's nose, as well as being the greatest smeller on the farm, is very tough and strong."
I knew my Dad was right. I remember several times when I thought I had done just as Dad said, that is, "fixed every inch of the fence," only to find the next time I looked that those "danged" pigs were out.
Other things that pigs have to their advantage are their strong necks, short legs and heavy weight. Age doesn't seem to diminish a pig's ability to find holes in the fence through which he can squeeze.
Pigs are very fast runners. Just try catching a pig when it doesn't want to be caught. I never did figure out why for various celebrations pigs would be greased and then contestants would try to catch them. They are hard enough to catch even when they are not greased.
Now I will have to admit that little piglets are cute. Give them an opportunity, they'll follow you along like a puppy. They love to be scratched behind their ears. As a matter of fact, a pig likes to be scratched regardless of its age.
The folks always had six or eight brood sows so it wasn't unusual that they were expecting a litter about any time.
Pigs are like rabbits. It seemed to me that all Dad had to do was get a male and female within sight of each other, and babies were on the way. His sows would have five, ten, or even a dozen piglets in their litters.
Our barn wasn't really designed for pigs, but when it was time for a
sow to give birth, Dad prepared a place in one corner. He gathered some
boards from around the place to build a fence and then filled the pen with
straw. It was important that the sow be confined closely while she was
having her pigs. If she could move around too much she was apt to smash
some of her babies. Dad always tried to be close around to watch the situation.
Jim's Uncontrollable, Wayward Pigs
I mentioned earlier that my folks had to sell the north 80 acres of our farm. Although the main reason was for money to pay bills when our dairy business became unprofitable, I always felt Dad was rather glad to get rid of that land. I remember how he tried to farm that north 80 with his new Avery, and had nothing but trouble. The soil was very sandy and the Avery tractor's steel wheels would simply bore into it. It happened over and over. To this day I can still see that Avery stuck in the sand and the look on my Dad's face each time it happened.
He'd come walking in from the field and announce, "I'm stuck in the sand again. We'll have to get the horses to pull that Avery out."
I wasn't really big enough to be much help, but I'd always tag along and watch.
Jim Murray bought the north 80 from Dad. He said he was going to farm just ten years and then retire. Why Jim bothered to explain to us how he was going to be a successful farmer in ten years, I don't know. All I know is that for some reason he was still trying to retire some twenty-five years later. It had something to do with failing to reach his goal, I guess.
I'm only telling about Jim Murray because of my memories of his pigs and the trouble they caused between our two families. One day Jim announced that he was going to raise pigs. "I'm sure I can make lots of money with pigs," he explained.
It seemed that Jim had a hundred pigs all over the place in no time. He would let them root everywhere except his own nice yard. Everywhere included our house and garden.
When both north 80's belonged to us, Dad and Grandpa McMurry had planted osage hedge between them for a windbreak. It was very effective, not only as a windbreak, but also as a fence to keep wayward stock home. However, it wasn't in any way a barrier for those pigs!
Well, I didn't like pigs very well in the first place, and frankly, I never did care too much for Jim. When he let his pigs run loose, that certainly didn't help our relationship at all. Those pigs were always hungry. It seemed they liked the roots on our farm better than those on his. They would wander all over our place, even around our house looking for morsels of any kind of food.
I took the affair as an incursion on our rights. I would rush from the house, yell like murder, wave my hands like a crazy guy and chase those pigs back home. As soon as I went back into the house, those darn pigs would be back again. It got to be ridiculous.
"Your darn pigs are out again," I would yell at Jim over the phone. "Why don't you fix your fence and keep your pigs home?"
Soon those pigs would be back again. I'd grab a club and rush toward them, yelling like a banshee. Those pigs thought I was going to kill them and they would head back home, temporarily.
After this went on for some time, Jim got fed up with my complaining. Once when I was chasing his pigs home, he met me at the fence.
"I don't care if my pigs eat every thing in your goddam garden," he ranted. "Leave me alone. I'm tired of having you call me all the time telling me that my pigs are in your garden."
That really made my blood boil. How could he be so insensitive to our rights!
Although he did finally fix a fence strong enough to keep his pigs from
wandering away, our relationship dwindled to a mere trickle after that.
In a way I was rather sorry I had raised so much fuss about those pigs.
On the other hand, I finally won by making him keep them home. I was happy
Those Marvelous Electric Fences
One time I tried using one of those "marvelous" electric fences to keep our pigs under control. The ads said they were "marvelous," and I believed the ads. I stretched a shiny single strand of galvanized wire tightly from pole to pole to make a pen. I put it about six inches from the ground. The wire fence was charged with a battery. Normally, it should cause an animal to jump, back up, and study the situation over before approaching again. I knew, for sure, that the fence was charged because it gave me several good jolts. I was certain I'd keep those pigs from leaving the area.
"Look, Dad. Now we don't have to worry about those pigs getting out."
"Well, I'm not too sure about that, Glenn. Just wait until one of those pigs gets excited and starts to run." Dad said, smiling at me. "If one of those pigs touches that wire with his nose, look out! When a pig gets really excited, it doesn't pay very much attention to a little thing like a shock. I'll bet your hat your fence won't work on those pigs."
As usual Dad was right. The "marvelous" electric fence didn't deter our pigs from going where they wanted to go.
Thinking back at all the trouble we had keeping our pigs in their pens,
I suppose that I should have been more sympathetic about Jim's inability
to control his pigs.
Feeding the Hens
When I was about ten years old, it became my job to water and feed the laying hens. The feed was stored in a granary some distance from the henhouse. My coaster wagon was a great help in toting the supplies from the feed shed.
If I surprised the hens by opening the door with the gusto of a knight returning from battle, it was an eventful occasion. The hens, especially if they were white leghorns, would revert to their more basic instincts and take to the air. What direction they went didn't matter. Their aim was to get airborne. "The last bird airborne pays for the drinks" or "Last one up goes to the pot" must have been their mottoes.
Aside from colliding with one another, the hens would overturn the water troughs and feed boxes, and all interior wall surfaces could expect an attack. It was pandemonium and always to my delight.
I'm sure my Mom would have been unhappy at the methods I used to feed
her hens. I really can't remember whether she ever discovered my unorthodox
ways of creating excitement.
Sparrows in the Loft
I mustn't forget about the straw loft troubles. Dad and Mom had carefully prepared a straw loft in the henhouse for insulation from the winter cold. The henhouse had large windows on the south side. There were mesh screens on the windows and muslin cloths fastened along the tops of the windows that could be let down when the weather turned cold. However, during the warmer times of the year, they were pulled up so there would be good ventilation.
Toward evening when the hens came in to roost, we were always careful to shut the henhouse door to keep the hens in and, of more importance, to keep out unwanted animals, such as stray dogs and coyotes. There were other intruders, unfortunately. The holes in the mesh screens on the south windows were large enough to let in small birds, especially the sparrows. This miscalculation on my parents' part turned out to be very bad.
The sparrows discovered two things. One, they found the henhouse was
a good roosting place at night and, two, they found that the straw in the
loft was a terrific material from which to make nests.
Mites All Over
One day we made the disastrous discovery that our henhouse was infested with mites. After intense investigation we found that the sparrows were the guilty party. They had distributed mites throughout the henhouse. In order to get rid of the mites we first had to spray the entire henhouse and then powder each hen. That was a big job, and many times we also found ourselves infected with the mites!
The sparrows were very smart. They got out early in the morning before we arrived at the henhouse. However, we heard "beep, beep" from the hayloft and upon investigation, we found the nests of baby sparrows.
I found that it was tremendously exciting to get rid of the sparrows. In fact, the more there were, the more fun it was. The best way to tackle the problem was to find a small paddle for a weapon. It had to be about 18" long and some 3" wide. A neat handle for wielding the paddle was helpful. I forgot to tell you that the chickens would always roost on a set of poles opposite from the large windows. That gave us a large area to run in while swinging the paddles around.
After dark, when the chickens were quietly sleeping, and the sparrows were also tucked away in their straw nests, I would carefully enter the henhouse, shut the door, and quietly lower the cloths against the mesh screens. When I was in operation, neither the sparrows nor the hens could get out of the henhouse.
Now! Turn on the electric light and beat upon the straw loft to surprise the sparrows from their nests. Not only would the sparrows go into action, but also the hens would fly in every direction and squawk loudly, adding to the dismay of the sparrows. The swatting operation was now in full swing. It wasn't easy to swat a sparrow on the wing. More often I would swat a hen. Nevertheless, the floor would soon be strewn with dead or near-dead sparrows. This didn't really rid the henhouse of the sparrows, but it certainly helped lower the population for a few weeks.
Another enjoyable performance was robbing the sparrows' nests of their eggs. Also, Diffy, our black cat, always enjoyed eating the young sparrows. However, there were two slight difficulties resulting from this operation. Any hens that were on their nests flew off in such a hurry they nearly always left eggnog or scrambled eggs mixed with straw. Later during the day, this delighted the hens as they would promptly dine on the resulting delicacy. Invariably, this kind of an escapade lowered the daily egg count considerably.
Perhaps the egg count could have been explained away, if that had been
the only problem. However, there was another factor that alerted Mom about
our sparrow escapades. A chicken is endowed with vocal cords that, in proportion
to its size and weight, can put a dozen Caruso's to shame. When encouraged,
a flock of hens can raise quite a ruckus. Mom would hear the hens and come
to investigate. This was the most critical thing that kept me from enjoying
my "sparrow swatting" and "nest robbing" fun more often.
Sparrows and mites weren't the only henhouse problems. Whether we liked it or not, we raised rats on our farm south of Hutchinson. It would be interesting to know just how many were born and grew to rat-hood over the years. If our catch for one afternoon in our henhouse was any indication of our rat population at any given moment, I shudder.
There are several ways to exterminate rats. There are many varieties of poisons, traps, rifles or pistols, ferrets, and even those things that I concocted. The most exciting method I found was clubbing.
My parents were good farmers. They kept up on all of the latest methods of farming, and livestock and poultry raising. On our farm, the chickens rated the best. In the late '20s, this meant straw lofts and hard-packed dirt floors covered with wood. Farmers who could afford cement used it for their floors, but my parents just used wood.
Wood worked fine except for one thing. A wood floor was a great protection for rat living quarters. One small hole allowed entrance to the dirt floor beneath. In the dirt the rats could build a veritable fortress of tunnels and rooms. Not only did they enjoy the elegant living conditions, they thrived on the food provided for the chickens. There were freshly mixed grains, plenty of water, and chicken eggs for dessert. To add to the dietary offering, the rats could raid the sparrows' nests for eggs or, during hatching season (which seemed about anytime) for juicy baby sparrows or "spatzies," as we called them.
In later years, research has made farmers even more aware of the large amounts of grain a rat can consume during its lifetime. Considering dollars lost directly accountable to rats, and because they carry a number of diseases that both animals and man can contract, extermination is the best policy. That was my policy, also.
Now a calm henhouse also meant calm rats. Therefore, on those occasions when the henhouse door was opened very quietly, I would often catch a rat or two feeding with the hens. It was this type of observation that prompted me to an extermination attempt.
On this particular day, the hens were out hunting for whatever hens hunt for, when they hunt. I've studied their actions carefully and, for the life of me, I can't tell what they find. Anyway, they seem to enjoy themselves and find something for their efforts. For example, after inspecting a small area of ground, the hens will go into a scratching operation that seems to be programmed by a computer. After scratching the area with their "leg dance," they clean it with a cadence dance and then carefully inspect their work. All dances end with the same routine. It's no big thing for them. Like a dog scratching a flea, or even like a human baby's first cry, they know exactly what to do. So the chicken, from the hatched "biddy," to the day it dies, knows how to scratch.
The chicken-scratched area seems to expose new particles of food or something, because hens always pick and pick after every scratching transaction. It's interesting to watch a mom hen take care of her new brood of chicks. Even if there's nothing to eat, they make like it's a meal of steak. Now to get back to my rat story.
To go to the henhouse I had to walk through the flock carefully to keep from scaring them. As I stood staring through the open door, several rats were having a heyday eating hen feed from the feed trough.
We used purchased pellets rather than ground feed for the hens. Although pellets were somewhat more expensive, the hens could eat them more easily and with less waste. Pellets were made by forcing the ground feed through a steel mesh at high pressure. A pellet feed was quite an improvement over dry mash. Watching a hen eat mash feed is a sight. Whether they are hungry or merely "messing around," they make a mess of their eating. Their habit of eating, pellets or mash, is the same as when eating a worm. They pick up a bite, and then before swallowing it, they flip their heads as though they were slaughtering it. Every bite, mash or pellet, is like a worm to them. They flip their heads in every direction, scattering their food to every point of the compass. Yes, it's wasteful, but what is waste to a hen?
Now rats are fancy eaters. In fact, their eating habits are elegant compared to the hens' methods. The pellets we supplied the hens were great food for rats. They were just the right size for a rat to nibble on and, since pellets were put in a trough for the hens, the rats didn't even have to fight for a place at the table.
Several things had to be taken under consideration before the rats could be attacked. For the life of me I can't understand why hens are so excitable. Any little movement or a slight noise can scare them. In fact, our hens seemed to be sentinels for those rats. One good cluck scared the rats, and they scampered down the closest hole. Rats have excellent senses and seem to know that humans are natural enemies. How they learned that I was a danger to them, I don't know. I hadn't bothered them before. Anyway, a movement or sound of any kind meant the end of the "rat race."
Since I'd had lots of experience evicting skunks from their holes with water, I felt that would be the best technique for getting the rats from the dark to the light.
I had plenty of buckets and barrels at my disposal, and I figured my little red wagon was the best mode for transporting the buckets to the henhouse.
On this particular Sunday afternoon, I filled several buckets at the pump and loaded them on the wagon. Incidentally, pulling the wagon with a full load of water was a strenuous job. As the soil in the farmyard was a sandy loam, and it had rained recently, the wagon wheels would sink.
The first bucket of water was emptied into a likely hole, but nothing happened. Another one was emptied! And another! And another! Suddenly, the water in the hole gurgled. The first rat, a very, very wet rat appeared. It must have been the one that was holding back the deluge of water from the rest of the rats. In any event, he put on all the steam he could, in his condition, and ran from the hole gasping and somewhat unsteady from the water he had drunk. Apparently he knew of another hole in the neighborhood and disappeared.
I still had water left, so I poured more in the same hole. Another rat came out, and this time I was prepared, and the chase was on. I got excited, when I found other rats coming out of other holes I hadn't noticed. One of the rats, nearly drowned by this time, succumbed to one of my club swings.
I wasn't prepared for rats to be running all over the henhouse and possibly getting out of the door and away. The network of holes, obviously elaborate, called for a lot more water and energy than I had expected.
By this time I was out of breath myself, and my supply of water had dwindled. Anyway, I felt I had done enough damage to the rats for one afternoon. Really, it was too much of a job for one person, so I planned to get help for the next time. Perhaps another Sunday afternoon I could get my cousin, Ted, to help me.
Yes, a few weeks later Ted was ready to help me. We gathered together all the buckets and barrels we could muster, filled them with water, and stashed them in a convenient spot in the hen house, ready for our dastardly mission. This time I was "savvy." I advised Ted to have good sticks handy, for those rats wouldn't stand around waiting to be "whacked." We looked around for a likely hole to be filled with water. Jeepers, it seemed the proverbial bottomless pit had been found at last. We poured in gallons and gallons of water. Then suddenly, drenched rats emerged "en masse." Not only from the hole where we were pouring the water, but from other holes around as well.
My dog, Rover, had gotten into the fracas and was running around like crazy, trying to decide which rat to attack first. I had forgotten about him, but by this time he'd made himself very evident and was having the time of his life. Turning and twisting around, he found himself falling all over himself, trying to catch those rats, first one and then another. Sticks were flying like mad. It was not surprising that we were whacking ourselves, trying to get the rats running from one hole to the other.
A few rats were not enough for us. More water, more rats! That was the
game. One time a desperate rat ran up my pants leg to get out of Rover's
way. That made me "dance" like crazy. Ted, throughout all of this, was
laughing like mad. Whether it was about Rover's running around, or my jumping
up and down, trying to get rid of that pesky rat from my leg, didn't matter.
Can you imagine a rat, climbing up your pants leg? I can't remember whether
I caught it or not, but I did finally get it out of my pants leg. In any
event, Ted had a hilarious time over it. After the melee was over, we had
a basket half full of slaughtered rats. I think if we had continued, there
would have been more, but Rover and we, too, were tired.
Chicago and New Guinea Rats
I want to skip a few years now and write about some rats I saw on the Chicago waterfront and in New Guinea. In my life span I have seen rats of all sizes. The prize for the biggest goes to Chicago wharf rats. Those that I saw were large enough to attack a man. Perhaps the years have caused me to exaggerate somewhat, but I doubt it. Those rats, tail and all, were a good two feet in length. The rats on the farm could never measure up to a Chicago rat.
During the rat craze in the '60s, I'm certain that congress would have appropriated funds for rat control, had some prankster turned half a dozen of those Chicago rats loose in their chambers.
Indeed, our Hutchinson rats were only middle-class ones, but the Chicago rats were definitely upper-class. My experience with these huge rats came about while I was attending a convention. I was by myself and looking for something to do, so I decided to take a walk to see what I could see. Looking back, I know it was a stupid thing to do. I had chosen to walk along the waterfront and under the bridges where just about anything could have happened to me.
Down below those bridges I saw huge rats running all around and I had never seen rats that size before. It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to get out of there in a hurry. Bums could easily have taken most anything I had, and the rats might have bitten me without the slightest provocation. I left for parts above in a hurry.
To me the rats I saw in New Guinea during World War II were regular ones. They were more like those I had experienced in Kansas as a kid. Now, try imagining having a main dish or even a dessert of undressed and undercooked small rats!
Our usual routine was to have a barrel of water heating over an open fire for the troops to dip their mess kits into as they passed by. It was the best way to get the dishes washed and scalded quickly. This particular day, as I passed by the barrel to dip my mess kit, I noticed several New Guinea natives squatting around the barrel. At first, I didn't notice what was happening, as they were always around waiting for something to eat. One of the natives, apparently, had found a nest of small rats in the bush. Those rats were four to five inches long. After killing them, he stuffed them into a tin can filled with water and placed the can next to our fire. The water began to steam, but was far from boiling. This didn't make any difference to the natives. They were hungry and ready to eat. Evidently the best way to begin was to grab a rat by the tail, pull it from the tepid water and get at it. That's exactly what happened.
Thus ends my tale about rats in Kansas, Chicago and New Guinea.
"Dad," Junior said one day, "let's get into the rabbit business."
Junior had seen an ad in the paper saying, "Valuable franchise available to raise chinchilla rabbits for profit."
Dad envisioned the life of a rabbit raiser as one devoid of the backbreaking work usually found around the farm. His knowledge of the rabbit and its prolific reproduction ability gave Dad dreams of profiting from one of nature's marvels. For a creative, innovative mind like his, rabbit raising for profit was akin to discovering a way to harness the Kansas wind for profit.
The ad went on, "Buy the stock from the company, raise the rabbits, and the company guarantees to buy them back at fabulous profit."
Junior persuaded Dad it would be a good idea. He sold one or two of his dairy cows and sent the proceeds to the company for a "starter" of eight does and, of course, one kicking buck. The family was excited when shortly we were notified that we had a shipment of rabbits at the railroad station. Dad and Junior had barely gotten the pens built.
Things went into action in a hurry around our place, because when those mamma rabbits arrived they were already multiplying. They lost no time in upholding their reputation for being prolific reproducers. We had baby rabbits to contend with even before we could get the crates unloaded.
Rabbits are vegetarians and have enormous appetites. They ate and ate and produced little round balls from their food. We had to work vigorously to prevent their pens from being piled high with their manure. We soon had pile upon pile of the stuff. None of us had considered that by-product with which we had to reckon.
The folks carefully followed the instructions for breeding and feeding those rabbits. The rabbits increased as promised. The company hadn't misrepresented the facts on that point.
Soon the time came for selling the prime rabbits back to the company. We selected the very best ones and built crates for shipping them. Then, we waited for our check. It arrived all right! Along with the check was a nice letter telling us that the fur on the rabbits we had shipped had been judged only "fair" quality; hence, the small check. In fact, the check wasn't large enough to pay our freight bill.
The letter went on, "...we hope that, through our help, you can improve the quality of fur by proper breeding and feeding. Certainly, your next shipments of chinchilla rabbits will bring a better price."
What a joke! Dad realized that he had been "taken." Right then and there, he vowed not to ship another rabbit back to the company. We wondered just how many others had fallen for that "get rich gag."
Naturally, Dad was disappointed that his chinchilla enterprise had failed. The money he had invested in those rabbits was wasted. It was then that we learned to eat rabbit meat. We ate them to get rid of them. Also, we sold some as pets and some as breeding stock. We had trouble knowing what to do with the rabbit hutches. Some of them were so steeped in rabbit manure that we had to demolish them on the spot.
What an experience!
Incidentally, we noticed that out of ten rabbits born only about eight
had the chinchilla pelts. The other two, and sometimes more, turned out
to be white or black. For sure, they couldn't be sold back to the company.
I really can't remember when Dad had sheep on our farm. However, this picture is testimony that he did have quite a few at one time. Perhaps it was before I was born or before I was old enough to remember much of anything. I don't know why he got out of the sheep-raising business. Perhaps he decided that caring for sheep was too much of a problem for him. I do know that sheep grazing on a nice green pasture can ruin it in a hurry. Another problem is to keep sheep fenced in where you want them to stay. I'm also sure that when it came time to shear the sheep or clip the lambs' tails Dad would have to hire extra help.
Whether Dad sold all his sheep at once, I don't know. All I do know
is that in my earliest memories Dad's energies were used in caring for
his pigs, milk cows and his field crops. I suppose that while they had
sheep the family enjoyed mutton regularly. Since I have never cared for
mutton in any form, I guess I was lucky to have lived a little later after
Dad started raising pigs and cows.
Another Get-rich Scheme
Dad wasn't so discouraged over his rabbit enterprise that he completely gave up the idea of finding a new way to supplement his farm income. It wasn't too long before he read in the paper about another "valuable" franchise for sale in the city of Hutchinson. It was a route for selling "Electrified Frankfurters" to restaurants, drug stores or anyone who would take them. Fantastic! Dad always said, "If you want to make money, invest in food or entertainment." Well, wieners were certainly food so that had to be a good venture. Junior was also excited over the idea. He loved to drive the Model A Ford all over town, and this wiener franchise sounded like an opportunity to do just that.
The electrified frankfurter idea was unique at that time. Even the idea of having "ready to eat" or "fast" food was new. Today the "fast food" idea is very commonplace. Also machines with wieners stuck on spikes or rollers of a moving mechanism within some type of oven arrangement are found in many places. The electrified wiener machine we got worked on a different principle, however, from the ones we see today. The inventor had made a gadget to heat frankfurters by shooting an electric current through them, end to end. In just a few minutes, six at a time could be piping hot, ready for buns and fixings.
I don't remember where Dad got his stake money, but soon he and Junior were the proud owners of six electric wiener cooking machines that actually electrocuted wieners. All Dad and Junior had to do was place the machines in drug stores or any other place where one could sell those "Electrified Frankfurters." After that, they just had to replenish the stock and collect the profits!
As usual, the idea wasn't quite as easy as it sounded. Dad had to make arrangements for the local Winchester packinghouse to make wieners with the right amount of brine so the electricity would heat them properly. To put just the proper amount of brine into the wieners was difficult. Too little brine would keep the wieners from cooking. Too much brine caused them to burn. Just a little more brine than was needed made the wieners taste too salty.
The next problem was the buns. In order to cook right, the wieners had
to be larger than ordinary ones. Dad contracted with Betts bakery to make
slightly larger buns. These had to be delivered fresh daily to the stores
where we had our machines, and the day-old ones had to be picked up. My
family ate lots of day-old buns in those days.
The Tire Cover Ad
Breaking into the market meant placing ads in the Hutchinson News and the Hutchinson Herald. Although the company supplied some free mats for the publishers to use, the ads were still expensive. Junior had the great idea that a spare tire cover ad would help to spread the news that "Electrified Wieners" were now on the Hutchinson scene. He had one made and proceeded to spend lots of his time driving around town. I'm certain the gas he used made that type of advertising unprofitable.
Poor Dad! "The Electrified Wiener," just as so many of his previous projects, didn't prove profitable. The leftover wieners were gone rather quickly, but for a week or so, we ate unused buns. The residuals that hung around longest were the cookers. At first they were stored in the upstairs north room. They, too, disappeared one by one until only one was left. Years later, I discovered it, hidden under other long- forgotten mementos of the past still stored in the closet of that north upstairs room. Later on, it too disappeared. All that was left of Dad and Junior's project was memories. I suppose that it was just a great idea whose time hadn't yet come.
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