On the Farm: The Chores

This isn’t me, but that ‘s how I remember it. I had a pail just like that, and a stool like that. But I never had a hat like that!

Farm chores consist of those daily duties that just have to be done, like milking the cows, feeding the animals and gathering the eggs. In our farm, my dad took charge of all the duties, but he liked to keep us kids busy too. His idea was that the whole family should work the farm. We did have some hired help from time to time, but it seemed like us kids did most of the work.

As I mentioned previously, there were two periods of time when I lived at the Montevideo farm: when I  was about 7 and 8, and then again when I was about 11 and 12. When I was at the younger age I don’t think I did a lot with the animals—although I’m sure I wanted to. I was more restricted to the menial, mindless tasks like weeding the garden and hauling water from the well to the house. I hated that job! It was a long way to go and the water buckets were so heavy. I don’t know why I was always stuck with that job. I guess because there was no one else.

When I was at the older age, I filled in much more with the chores. My sister, two years older, helped out some too, and so did my younger brother. The chore I liked the most was milking the cows, which had to be done twice a day: in the early morning and again in the evening at about 6. Most of the milking was done by hand; I think we did have one milk machine. My dad milked most of the cows, but I did my share of the milking too—for every three cows he milked, I probably milked one; not bad for a kid. We had about 30 cows to milk, so it took us a while. And it was a real workout, especially for your fingers and forearms.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened during the school months. Did us kids help out with the chores before and after school? Or maybe that’s when we had hired-help, or maybe mom filled in. Some things, like school were just a blur. Other things I do remember quite vividly.

Yea, I remember the dirty, stinky jobs like cleaning the gutters in the barn. That job definitely had to be done every day after the cows went out to pasture, and sometime even while they remained in the barn—when it was too cold to let them go out. We would scoop out the manure with a flat shovel into a wheel barrow, and then wheel it out the barn door. And that took some strength and skill.  You had to steer it on these planks all the way to the end of the manure pile, and then dump it. And if you would go off the plank—that usually didn’t happen—it would be a disaster and a mess! Can you imagine sinking hip deep in manure, while struggling to keep the wheel barrow afloat?

Sometimes I was charged with bringing the cows home from the pasture. Usually, they would come in by themselves; but sometimes, for some reason, they just didn’t show up. So my dad would say, go find those cows!

I didn’t always like all the walking, but, at the same time it was sort of fun and adventurous: walking across the creek, up the hill and through the trees, all the while following the cow paths. If you stayed on the cow paths you would usually find the cows. Often, I would run right into them, walking slowly home. Yea, they knew their way home. They were just slow and lazy in coming…so I would hurry them along by gently swatting them with a stick.

I would also be tasked with herding the sheep, and basically just watching them. If they would get into the alfalfa fields, that’s bad news because they can get bloated and die—and that happed a couple times. And there were also cases when wild dogs or coyotes would attack and kill the lambs. All kinds of things can happen. Sheep don’t have a lot of good sense, and if one gets in trouble, other will follow. So, we had to watch them, especially when we let them roam around.

I can’t remember too much about feeding the animal; but that is, of course, the most important chore which my dad handled—but I know I help out.

Here’s one thing I vividly remember doing in the fall and winter months: I helped dad keep coal and wood in our furnace. It was a large furnace located in the basement. And since it was the only source of heat available for our two-story house, it was important that we kept it going constantly. My dad would get these old boards—I’m not sure where he got them—and we would break them up by resting them against a wall or something, and then jumping on them until they broke. And he would also chop down small trees with an ax; he also let me use the ax. Great fun! I didn’t mind the work at all. Using the ax was worth all the callouses.

When it would get especially cold, we had to work extra hard to keep the furnace going. But apparently, there are things you are not supposed to do—like overload the furnace. I guess we managed not to do that, but I heard from my dad years after we moved away, that the next resident had overloaded the furnace and the house burnt down! I never heard whether everyone got out alive or not.

On the Farm: The Farmhouse and Surroundings

This is our tractor and barn in the background. I don’t know some of these people, but I think that’s my sister behind the tractor steering wheel. She looks to be about two or three, so that would put me at one, or maybe not even born yet.

My most pleasant childhood memories, up to about age 12, was my life on the farm. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we moved around a lot as a family, so it has been hard to keep all the memories straight in my mind, as far as how long we lived at each place. But the farm near Montevideo, Minnesota was the most memorable to me. And I think we lived there at three different times: from my birth to about age thee (which I don’t remember at all), then from age 7 to 8, and then also at a later time when I was about 11 or 12. In between those times we lived at 3 or 4 different houses. Don’t ask me why. But the farm near Montevideo was by far the best place, the best farm.

The Montevideo farm house and buildings were located in an area where, they say, use to be an Indian camp. If you were to look down from above on the area, you would see the farm house and buildings in the middle, surrounded by a winding creek. Then, beyond the creek, in a larger circle, the elevation steeply rises until it reaches the top, where it levels off into beautiful alfalfa and oat fields.

Actually, the creek only goes three-quarters of the way around, to leave room for the long narrow driveway which went out to the main gravel road. To the right, a little way down the road there is a bridge, under which the creek runs. To the left of the driveway the road sharply ascends and then branches off to the left and right to other nearby farms. (I should explain that none of the buildings, including the house are still there. I’m not sure about the driveway, but I’m pretty sure the creek remains. Yes, the last time I looked at a satellite map the creek was still in the same general area.)

The large, dirty white house was built on a small hill. The area was level in front, but lower in the back. It was a two-story house, but in spite of its size it didn’t have many rooms. The kitchen and dining area were all one room. The rest of the main floor was open with just one small adjoining room, like maybe a pantry or a sewing room.

And there was no bathroom in the house, but we had a three-hole outhouse outside; and in the wintertime we used a large pot with a toilet seat on top. We put Lysol in it to cover the stink. Nobody complained.

We also didn’t have running water. Oh, there was plenty of water, but not in the house. We had to walk down by the barn to get it from an artesian well. Hauling the water was usually my job. For a little guy, it was a big chore, especially since it was a long way to go, about 60 or 70 yards.

The second story of the house was where us kids would sleep. It was a large open area. Okay, I guess it was really the attic. The rafters were showing and nothing was painted; it was all bare wood. I suppose for a country house it was normal. Anyway, in the winter time it was cold up there, with only one small vent to let the warm air come up from below. I remember in the morning, after getting up, we would huddle around that opening to get warm.

The barn (pictured above) was a great place to hang out, especially in the morning when the cows were all in their stanchions, eating hay and being milked. Ah, to see those contented cows gave me a feeling that all was well in the world. Our dog brownie and the cats hung out there too, waiting to get some fresh cow’s milk. Everyone was happy in the barn, and busy. The cows had to be milked and fed; and later, after they went out to pasture, the gutters, full of manure, had to be cleaned out—scooped out and hauled outside. We had nothing fancy. We just wheeled it out the barn door into a wheel barrel and dumped it outside in a big pile. Later we loaded some of it up in a manure spreader and spread it around on the fields. We even used it on the garden—and boy did that work. We had the best watermelons you ever saw—until the pigs got into it. But that’s another story.

As with most farms, we had a silo adjacent to the barn, which we used mostly to store silage. When it was empty, sometimes we climbed up the ladder on the silo, even though we weren’t supposed to. I don’t think any of us ever got all the way up; it was a long way up.

Above the lower part of the barn, where the cows were milked and fed, was the hay loft. It was a great place to play. But I can’t remember playing there much; we had too much work to do—the chores! I will get to that later.

I want to tell you about the other places. Sort of across from the house was a shed we called a grainery, where oats were stored—mounds and mounds of oats.  Sometimes we would jump around in there and get buried up to our waste. And sometimes we would see mice in there, crawling around in the oats. I never liked seeing mice…anywhere, except in a mouse trap.

Between the house and the barn, we planted a large vegetable garden. My dad and mom planted it, and it was my job to pull the weeds. Some days I worked at it for hours. I didn’t mind it too much, but my mom would feel sorry for me. I remember one time she said to me, “Oh, you’re such a good son, you’ll get your reward in heaven.” From that point on I started to think a lot about what heaven might be like. My mom probably wasn’t aware of it, but her words at that moment became a turning point in my life; and in just a few years I would give my life to Christ.

From the garden going toward the creek was a muddy pig pen—where I remember one time my sister jumped in and was coated with black mud from head to foot. I don’t know why she did that. And she was the smart one! Next to the pig pen was the chicken coop with chickens, and then down the hill to the left was a large rickety sheep barn. At one time we had, I think, over 500 sheep.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Next time I will tell you about the chores, mainly my chores.