Header photo: threshing machine cc BY-SA 2.0
Today’s post comes from Jim Tjepkema.
My Grandparents operated a small dairy farm that was run by my Uncle after my Grandparents retired. I visited that farm with my family on many occasions when I was young. It was a small farm that was still being run in some of the same ways that it was operated when my Mother was young. On those visits I learned about some of the old traditions that characterized farming in the Midwest many years ago.
One of my most treasured memories from a visit to the old home place was the time we were there when my Grandparents were hosting a threshing party. Before farmers had combines that threshed grain in the field, stationary-threshing machines were used and bundles of grain were brought to those machines. It was called a threshing party because a group of neighbors gathered to bring the grain in from the field and thresh it. The threshing party I observed included a big noon meal, prepared by my Grandmother and women from the neighborhood, to feed the threshing crew.
By the time I made my first visit to the farm they had switched from using horses to using tractors for fieldwork. However, they still had one of the draft horses that had been used to work the fields. One of the years when we visited at Thanksgiving there was a small patch of corn still waiting to be harvested. My Uncle hitched the horse to a wagon and we helped him finish harvesting the corn by hand picking it and throwing it into the wagon. I was surprised to find out that the horse was able to move the wagon ahead without anyone riding in the wagon.
I learned more about the old farm during an extended visit when I was old enough to help my Uncle with fieldwork and milking. Modern milking machines were used, although there was no bulk milk tank. Pails of milk were carried to the milk house and poured into cans that were kept cool in a tank of water. When my mother was young, they sold milk by bottling it on the farm and delivering it to homes in the nearby town. The milk that my Uncle produced was hauled in cans in the back of his pickup to a local cheese factory.
My brother and I helped my Uncle with haying. We helped load bales of hay onto hay wagons and then unloaded them into the barn. The farm still had some equipment for handling loose hay including a hay loader. I saw this equipment in action when it was used to harvest wild prairie grass, which was piled on top of bales of hay that were stored outside. My Uncle showed me how to use a pitchfork to stack the wild hay on the bales in a manner designed to shed water, thereby protecting the bales.
I have described some of the highlights of my visits to the old family farm. Some other memories included: playing in the hayloft; taking the cows out to pasture; watching the birth of a calf; and feeding the pigs. I was lucky to have seen the tail end of some of the older ways of farming practiced by my Grandparents and Uncle. In fact, farmers interested in becoming more sustainable have recently rediscovered some aspects of those older farming practices..
What older ways of doing things do you fondly remember?