Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Progress, but not Perfection

It's getting deep around here.  Time to put some boots on.  I have never seen so many manure trucks in my life.  Remember last Friday I said we'd been living with semis rolling past our house every few minutes?  Well, guess what.  Today is Wednesday and it's still going on. 

 They come and they go.  Back and forth.  To and fro. 55 mph and Jake-braking abounds.  Tra la la la la..

Ten or more semis making twenty mile round trips from 8AM to 9PM all day long.  There is no end to the sh.....oooops, I mean, staggering amount of manure they are hauling from the humongous megafarm.  Cows are prolific providers of poo, of that I can testify.  Being an old farm kid, I know how much they 'go', but we only had about 40 head of cattle at one time, not 6,800.  (I looked up the dairy online and found the herd size.  Well, no wonder they're running non-stop.) I can't envision six thousand, eight hundred cows all in one place. 

They haul the manure down our road one mile to the next cross road and then down a half mile to what used to be our neighbor's farm.  All that remains of this once beautiful farmstead is a machine shed now.  The house was torn down first, followed by some smaller sheds and then finally, the barn.  (The corn stubble in the foreground is our land.)

  The semis are hauling the manure to a pumping station thing:
Which is hooked up by a big hose to a tractor:
that is injecting the malodorous slurry right into the ground.
Since they're injecting it, the smell isn't as bad as it could be.  But it's still pungent. And there's still a whole lot of land left to cover.  Oh, boy.  This is going to take a lot longer than we thought.
Lots more trips to and fro.

Lots more noise. 

I long for the days when farming was done the way we did it.  Smaller equipment, more manageable herd size and reasonable acreage.  The good, ol' family farm.

But so few of these exist anymore.  Even when I was young, it was getting harder and harder to keep the kids down on the farm.  Farming is hard, demanding work.  There are no days off, no paid vacations.  You have to be home to milk cows twice a day, morning and night, every day of the year.  The weather doesn't like to cooperate,  things break down and animals get sick. And there is little respect for the profession. 

Times changed.  Little farms like ours were slowly changing over to bigger farms as old farmers retired and their acreage was bought up by other, younger farmers.  Farms went from 40 acres to 100 acres to 300 and beyond.  Herd sizes went from 20 or 30 to up to 100 head.  Tractors got bigger and new equipment was invented. 

But somewhere along the line, the entire family farming tradition really changed. Sons didn't automatically grow up to take over the family farm anymore.  There was much easier work for farm kids with way better wages in factories and offices.   Sons and daughters no longer looked to farming as their future.  My brother couldn't shake the dirt off his feet fast enough when he turned 18; he headed out for greener pastures and never looked back.  Farming was not going to be his future, either.  I didn't marry a farmer, and well, by the time Dad was ready to retire, the tornado took the barn down and that was that.  He sold the few cows remaining and rented the farm land to a neighboring farmer. 

So many abandoned farmsteads look like this:
No cows here.  Not anymore.
No hay in that mow.

It's still a beautiful barn, but time is taking it's toll.

There are a great many old barns around that look like this one.
In ruins. 

We take a lot of pictures of barns, I could post a barn picture a day for quite some time.  I miss our barn, too.  If only it didn't cost so much to keep a building this size in good repair.  But, unfortunately, money doesn't grow on trees out in farm country, either.  And once the land is sold for new subdivisions, shopping malls or megafarms, it's all over for the small farm.

Oh, well, the old days are gone.   Times change.

I remember my mother saying that when my father bought his first tractor they had no more use for the workhorses, so they were sold.  Mom was rather afraid of the big horses; hadn't really liked them very much, but she said the day the man came to pick the team up to take them to their new farm, she was surprised to find herself in tears.

The tractor replacing horses was a big change.

Things would never be the same after that.  It was the wave of the future.

I'm not saying all advancements are bad.  Tractors revolutionized agriculture.  A lot more work could be accomplished in a much shorter time.  Before he bought his first tractor on steel wheels, my father had plodded along behind a team of horses cultivating his crops for decades   I bet our farm didn't seem small to him then.

Carl and I walked around the forty acres west of our house last night after sunset (wearing blaze orange, of course) and it was a long hike.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to take a team of horses and a one-bottom plow and go out to turn the sod over.  It must have taken forever just to plow one acre.  Too bad they didn't have pedometers back in the day, I bet my dad and the horses put on a whole lot of miles every day.

I'm amazed at how much things have changed in my parent's lifetime.  Mom is 91.  Dad passed away ten years ago, but if he had lived, he would now be 98.  Mom was born in 1920, Dad in 1913.  A big jet was flying over rather low the other day and Mom said, "If your grandma was still alive, the sight of that thing flying overhead would have terrified her."

The stories my mother could tell of the way things used to be, the hardships endured, the work she did; they are all amazing.  She's been keeping  little notebooks since my dad died and journals everyday (she is a blogger, too, in a way) and has threatened that she will toss them out one of these days.

"Who would want to read this silliness?"

 I begged her not to.  I'm not sure what is in them, though I know she is chronicling her life and day-to-day activities.   I have asked her to write down her memories of childhood and the farming years, too.  I know it will be fascinating to read them (but not now, she's very private of them at the moment).  But I dread the day I can read them, because that will mean she's gone.  I will have to guard against getting the pages soggy.

My folks lived through the Great Depression (Dad always said there wasn't anything great about it) and a whole bunch of wars and presidents and no indoor plumbing (we didn't have an indoor toilet until I was four years old) and milking cows by hand by lamplight and walking those famous miles to school in all kinds of weather.  When the sun set, it got dark.  Not much else to do but go to bed.  Today's cars and computers, airplanes and cellphones were all the stuff of science fiction.  The wave of the future.

My mom likes some of the changes.  Indoor plumbing and electric lights are definite perks.  But she won't give up her wringer washing machine and washlines.  But then, neither will I!  She said she never thought she'd live to see farming done the way it is now, though, and to tell you the truth, I never thought I would, either.

Progress..................if farming changed this much in Mom's 91 years, what will it be like in the Future? 

Maybe I'll live long enough to see time change this way of farming, too.  

I'd gladly wave goodbye to some aspects of it. 


El Gaucho said...

Your words are always chosen so well. Phrases like "malodorous slurry" make me smile, such a unique combination that so perfectly describes the semi-liquid manure. Is this just a once a year thing? Does this happen every year?

Having grown up in a big city, I can't fully appreciate everything you mention about growing up on a farm. I do understand the yearning for a more simple life that is less connected to technology and dependent on gadgets to get us through our day. I'll keep up my thus far ineffective protest against it all by not text messaging or buying an electronic book reader (a crime against nature if you ask me).

Peonies & Magnolias said...

When we first started our flower garden my Mom and I cleaned out the barn at my brother's. I had been around cows in the summers at my grandparents but never really noticed the smell until the barn cleaning. Thanks goodness it wasn't fresh or I would have never made it. haha

I hope you have a wonderful Happy Thanksgiving.


Anonymous said...

Changes ...some good some bad but cow poo will always smell the same....bad! Hoping you will have a quiet day tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Carl and the boys.
:0) Sueb x

Sandy said...

I lived in Champaign/Urbana Il for about 8 years and there were corn fields for hundreds of miles all around our town.. old barns scattered down each country road.. I loved the look and the land.
The Poo trucks, well that is new to me.. amazing how they need larger ways to get it to the larger corporate farms now.. Sad really! I'll think of you each time I buy a 40lb bag of cow poo for the garden... great shots...
Happy Thanksgiving

Sue said...

Oh dear. Well. Modern farming is not a good thing. What a shame things have been reduced to this.
Hope you have a great Thanksgiving...despite all that!

Alison said...

I hope the trucks at least let up for tomorrow, so you can have a peaceful Thanksgiving without having to listen to the trucks roaring past. I could almost smell the manure as I scrolled past your pictures.

I surely hope your mom doesn't throw out her journals. Although, yes, you finally getting to read them will mean she has passed on, they will give you a wonderful permanent link to her.

You have mentioned your older brother a few times on your blog, but you don't talk about him much in the present. Do you still see him, or have you and your mother lost touch with him?

Tombstone Livestock said...

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, I am hoping that the manure trucks are just fertilizing that particular farm for this year and it won't be an ongoing thing.

And yes farming has changed so for the good some not so good. So has technology, my new cell phone has several nice options, phones have calulators, calendars, clock and now a flashlight, as well as a phone. But, my books will have a cover, and pages to turn, got to keep some old memories alive.

Zoey said...

I guess I never thought about how the manuer got off the farm.... fascinating!

Happy Thanksgiving, Karen.

Tufa Girl said...

I just thought I knew about farming - I guess I had no clue about megafarming. Not any real close by that I would have seen this whole process. There are a great many feedlots here that are very fragrant (to put it nicely). It is amazing to see how far we have come in such a short period of time and makes you wonder if we are advancing or just going faster.

On a totally different note... Happy Thanksgiving to you, Carl, Joel, David and your mom. Hope you have a quiet day.

Pamela Gordon said...

Wow, I can't believe they're pumping that much poo onto the fields around you. Gross. Farming sure has changed. My hubby grew up on a farm near us but he decided to be an electrical engineer instead and his father encouraged him to do so due to the difficult farm life. I'm glad your mother is writing down some of her life story. It will be an interesting read for future generations. Happy Thanksgiving to you! Blessings, Pamela

africanaussie said...

I don't know if you have ready any of Michael Pollan's books? It was through his books I learned about pollyface farms. Now that is a farm I would love to visit. I worry about what is in that meat produced in such large unnatural quantities, and gosh are they going to grow things in that manure? I love hearing your memories of the old farming days, even if it was hard work, and I am sure people were healthier then. I wish we could strike a happy balance.

Tombstone Livestock said...

food we ate years ago was much healthier, the number of recalls for e-coli in spinach and lettuce, samonella in eggs, BPA now is a concern in canned soup, makes you stop and think. If we fertilizer our gardens with cow, horse, sheep, or goat manure are we exposing ourselves to e-coli. I know the recalls were due to animal manure contamination in lettuce and spinach.

Karen said...

El Gaucho, they used to haul manure every time they took a crop off, such as cutting a hayfield. Then they would simply drive all those semis into the field and 'pour' it on top of the cut field and let it sit there until it dried up. That was the worst. It smelled horrible for a couple of days, and after that it was slightly tolerable. Then the hay would grow again in a few weeks, they'd cut it and haul it all home with different semis and then repeat the process with the manure one more time. I'm not sure, but somewhere along the line the laws must have changed, because now if they are going to spread manure, they have to either inject it or spread it on the field and work it under ASAP. This would mean a hayfield would not be getting two or three coats of manure a year because hay is not typically plowed under every year. So, lately our misery with manure hauling has been limited to the fall unless they decide mid-season to rotate a crop and then it could be anytime. That said, this operation has to be hauling manure somewhere day in and day out. They rent hundreds and hundreds of acres in our county and beyond. I'm sure I'm probably boring everyone with my tales of the farm, and I apologize, I know it's so hopelessly mundane. That's me, though, Mundane Woman. And yes, I agree with you 100%---a book just begs to be read page by paper page, not screen by screen!

Sandy, I think old manure can smell almost worse than fresh manure, so you are to be congratulated on your barn-cleaning courage! Have a Happy Thanksgiving, too!

Sueb, With any luck, they'll take a break for Thanksgiving dinner, anyway. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!

Karen said...

Alison, I know, I hope she doesn't throw those journals out...I've begged her to keep them. My brother, Bob, was thirteen years older than me. We were not very close growing up as he was an only child until I came along. He joined the Army during the Viet Nam war when I was six. After his tour of duty was over, he married but ended up moving multiple times all over the United States. We kept in touch by writing to each other and actually grew closer as we aged. The last time I saw him was in 1987, which was eight years before his life was tragically ended at age 50. He was living in Utah at the time and was riding his bicycle on a Sunday morning and was struck from behind by a drunk driver. He was my only sibling, and I miss him. I kept all of his letters and love to reread them. We were very different in some regards, but very similar in others. He had a great sense of humor!

Karen said...

Tombstone Livestock, I know technology is good and bad, isn't it? The manure thing is every year, but this year is especially intense because they have open ground after the corn was harvested. I know about the worries with ecoli and other things, like well water pollution, these are all valid concerns. I just don't know what the future will hold nor what the right answers are.

And I agree, I love to read 'real' books, not virtual ones.

Indie said...

It is sad about how hard it is for small farmers to make a living. My grandpa was a dairy farmer, and I remember growing up the land all around there was dotted with many small farms. Now there are hardly any farms there - most people have had to sell. My grandpa's barn and many of the cows were lost in a fire, and even though my uncle tried to run the farm afterwards, it was tough to make a living. He now grows some corn and has a small herd of beef cattle. Things are definitely not the same.

There is definitely no place more beautiful, though, and I love seeing barns and silos. There is such beauty and history to old barns.

lilraggedyangie said...

WOW ...such an amazing post , so well written and such an accurate first hand look into the life in rural America! Sadly I too have seen the life of the farmer change in my 36 years on this earth and it breaks my heart , my grandchildren will never know what farming is the only thing that will be left may be a few mega farmers or all imported food! I saw a bumper sticker on an old pickup truck the other day and it made me giggle yet wanna cry it said "God Bless America and the Farmer that feeds your A$$!" , so true ! Thanks for the journey today I enjoyed it , it even brought a tear to my eye! hugs lilraggedyangie