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Woodworking: Remembering all the good ole' ways farming was done

I recently read in a farm journal that the powers-that-be have named the site of a future Farm Progress Day site.

It's on a sizeable dairy farm in southern Wisconsin. The story called it a "family farm" and noted it had 75 employees.

Seventy-five hired men?

They're probably not older Norwegian bachelors who babysit the family's kids when Mom and Dad traipse off to the state fair.

And they probably don't walk into town to spend their monthly paycheck at one saloon or the other, like my brother's hired man, Adolph.

And they probably won't drive 100 miles to attend the funeral of their boss 60 years from now, as our hired man, Leroy, did when my father passed on to the Silo Room in the Sky several years ago.

It's a brave new world we're heading for when every farm will have 75 hired men.

Most of them won't know how to tighten a fence with a wire stretcher, won't know how to plant corn in straight-as-an-arrow rows, won't know how to slam the milk strainer hard to get the last of the milk through the manure-flecked cotton strainer pad, a pad for which the cat waited anxiously, unaware that it would clog him up when eaten.

What they'll do is milk all day, take a breather and milk all night. Sort of a latter-day Henry Ford assembly line agriculture.

Some of my friends were hired men who never got paid.

They were called "the farmer's kids."

They were the ones who wore royal-blue FFA jackets even when they went off to college.

One friend who grew up in the Red River Valley remembered that the neighbor boy who was always running off to state FFA meetings and whose father said FFA stands for "Forgot to Feed the Animals."

A few weeks ago, some of us former hired men sat around the dining room and drank coffee at Family Fresh on Senior Citizens Drink Free Day. (If your dad didn't pay you wages, you grow up watching your pennies.)

As we sipped our coffee we reminisced about those good old days before farmers had 75 hired men.

Lee talked about several arcane subjects like the Japanese guys who arrived in his village in a big Chrysler every early spring to determine the sex of the little chicks at the local hatchery.

"They'd give them a little squeeze and the girls would end up in a box for mailing and the boys ended up in a vat of water."

That got Vernon going and he was off on a verbal rampage about how his father kept 1,200 chickens.

"He made more money on eggs than he did on milk."

Nowadays farmers have 100,000 laying hens who live in tiny cages that rub most of their feathers off. But Vernon's father was no slouch when it came to clever farming practices.

"When the new chicks got big enough, he transferred them from the brooder house to a small building on skids. We'd hitch a team to it and pull it out into the pasture. We opened up the sides and the chicks were free to go partway outside, where they relieved themselves. When the manure covered up the pasture, we'd just hook up the team and pull it somewhere else."

On the following spring, the pasture had some very green and lush spots and some not so lush and green.

Then Vernon changed topics, fixing his gaze on the farm kitchen and how his mother canned chickens, whole chickens in wide-mouthed Mason jars and all of us remembered how good it tasted after marinating in its own broth for a few months and the meatballs. Oh, my, the meatballs.

Kerm was younger, so didn't remember the canned meat, but did remember the International Harvester chest freezer his folks bought after World War II.

Talk about modern.

He didn't 'fess up but the rest of us figured that his father most likely paid him.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.