Saturday, April 12, 2014


American Farm Life - 1868 - Currier and Ives

A Farm-Picture

THROUGH the ample open door
of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field,
with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista,
and the far horizon, fading away.

Walt Whitman

Pasture - Liza Voronin - The Epoch Times

The Antidote: A Reading of ‘A Farm-Picture’ 
by Walt Whitman
A Project Gutenberg EBook
Walt Whitman

He was born to be a farmer. 
It was something that he was good at,
 something he knew well. 
He was a giver of life, 
an alchemist that worked in 
dirt, seed, and manure.”
Tracy Winegar,
Good Ground

The Rope - Andrew Wyeth

Sundays with Larry 

 Rope Work

Dutch Girl Leading Cow - Artist Unknown
Livestock are often moved on a farm, usually with a rope. This is not done as you see in cowboy movies, lassoing the cow and moving her with the rope around her neck. A well-trained horse can handle a cow with a rope around her neck, but a man cannot. (Sheep can be handled with a rope around the neck or around their horns if they have them.)  Cattle can be handled by one man only with a halter or a bullring in the nose. That puts the force of the rope on the end of the nose, greatly increasing leverage.
With a halter or bullring, the basic idea is to let the animal start to run, dart to the side, and then to pull back, hard. The body will keep going while the head stops, abruptly. If the animal is running fast enough and the rope is pulled hard enough, the cow will land on its back, hard. Three or 4 times hitting the ground hard will usually convince even the most stubborn cow to mind her manners. We broke several cows to lead with the braided ropes I made from baler twine. 

We usually used two ropes, with two men, on a cow the first time we tried to break her to lead. The man in front had a rope around her neck or on a halter; his job was to guide her in the direction we wanted her to go. The man on the rear had either a halter or a bullring in her nose.His job was to actually control the cow.   
Mason and I tried to break a cow to lead a few weeks after Dad died. He was on the front, and I was on the rear with a bullring. The second or third time she tried to break loose, I stepped to the side and pulled back hard to throw her to the ground. The bullring pulled out of her nose, and she attacked Mason. He had to do some very fancy footwork to escape her.

Split Rail Fence - Alexander Helwig Wyant
The only thing I could do was hit her with the bullring still attached to my rope to try to distract her. She put both of us up on the rail fence - that we were not hurt was certainly not her fault. She tried hard! We were both a little skittish from Dad’s death so we butchered her a few weeks later. (I’m glad that it was a rail fence and not barbed wire!)

There are two types of bullrings. One is a two-piece hinged device that is spring-loaded. The two ends fit in the nostrils, and the spring holds them tight and is designed to keep them from pulling out of the nostrils. That is the type we were using that day. Its obvious weakness is that it sometimes pulls out of the nose.

 The other type is made of two hinged pieces that form a complete circle. The end of one of them is sharp enough to penetrate the septum between the nostrils. Then the two ends are riveted or screwed together. That will not pull out - wish we had had one of them that day. There is a tremendous number of nerve endings in the nose and upper lip so pulling against that kind of bullring creates terrific pain. The most obstinate critter won’t fight that very long.

Dire Wolves attack a Wild Steer
A friend told me of a demonstration at a state police academy using that same principle. My friend was selected as the object of the demonstration. He was in the front seat of a car with the window open. The purpose was to give the trainees a technique to convince a recalcitrant offender to exit his car. The instructor reached in through the open window and grasped my friend’s upper lip between his thumb and the side of his forefinger. He squeezed hard, twisted sharply, and yanked. My friend said that he had never fought so hard as he fought to squeeze through that small car window! The principle is the same - leverage and pain compliance. Wolves often use the same method to bring down larger animals like moose or elk. They grab the nose, bite down, hang on, and brace their feet pulling the animal down.

From a non-farm perspective, this seems very cruel. And it is. But there is nothing more cruel than nature, and farming is very close to nature. Farm animals are not pets; they provide the livelihood of the farmers. Butchering, castrating lambs, pigs, and calves, dehorning, and docking lambs’ tails are simply part of the job. I’ve shot lambs that were deformed and sick or injured animals that could not survive. I’ve shot predators. Many times I hated doing it, but it was necessary.
I often shake my head and chuckle at the tree-huggers. They see only the beauty in nature. I see the beauty, but I also understand the cruelty.

Handling a hog on a rope is different. A halter cannot be used because of the shape of the hog’s head. We always tied the rope around the hog’s hind leg; when you pull and lift that foot off the ground, you take away much of his strength. A man can easily hold the biggest hog that way. It helps to have a man or two in front of the hog to guide him in the direction you want to go. Otherwise, you have to zig-zag him all over the place. 

Soon after I returned from Korea in the winter of 1973, I got into a fracas with a large boar hog that, to the spectators, was better than a circus. I didn’t really appreciate the humor of the situation.

A large black Berkshire boar had broken out of his lot and had come to my brother-in-law, Billy’s, house. Someone opened a gate and put him into the lot with Billy’s Shetland pony. That hog weighed at least 500 pounds so it was almost as big as the pony. The hog was looking for an opening in the fence so he ran all around it the entire day. Horses do not like hogs and often fear them. The pony thought the hog was chasing him so he ran away from the hog all day. 

Shetland Ponies - Anne Barron
It was cold, and it snowed hard all day, a heavy wet snow. When I got there that evening, the pony was overheated, wet, and exhausted. We put him in Billy’s heated garage, dried him off as best we could, and tied some blankets on him. He had at least 6 inches of ice on the bottoms of his hooves. He could not stand up on the concrete floor. We had to cut the ice off his hooves with a hammer and chisel.

A little later, the two owners of the hog came to get him. They hadn’t even brought a rope so they borrowed one from Billy’s neighbor, Jimmy, 100 feet of 1-inch rope. They made a noose in the rope and started to put it over the hog’s head. With a rope around his neck, that hog could have dragged all 5 of us anywhere he wanted. I asked them what they were doing and if they had ever done that before.

 It didn’t take long to establish that the hog had a lot more sense than both of them. I explained what would happen if they did that and that putting the rope on the hind leg would be better. They replied that since I knew so much, maybe I should show them how to do it - my big mouth got me in trouble again.

I had handled hogs all my life and knew that Berkshires, as a breed, tend to be more calm and easier to handle than most. I had raised a Berkshire boar and had almost made a pet of him. So I felt fairly confident. I did look 2 or 3 times at his lower tusks. They were long, exposed, and sharp.

A boar can do a lot of damage just hitting your leg with the side of his head - he doesn’t have to bite. And those wounds are awfully tough to heal - there is usually a lot of infection. But he seemed quiet so I eased into the pen, talked to him and petted him until he was accustomed to my presence. I fastened the rope to his hind leg. With 100 feet of rope, about 20 pounds, coiled over my shoulder, I was ready to move him. I told them to open the gate and get about 10 feet in front and about 10 feet apart to guide him. They did open the gate - one out of three was pretty good for them. Talking to them was a bit like talking to a fence post. I had a better conversation with the hog.

So I zig-zagged the hog, through a foot or so of snow, down to their car. That’s right, a car. They were planning to haul the hog home in a late-’60’s Chevy Biscayne 4-door sedan. They had removed the back seat. They thought they could put an ear of corn in the cart, and the hog would simply walk up into it. Animals don’t like going into dark, confined places, and they especially don’t like stepping on something and feeling it move under them, something like a car or truck. I got him up to the car door 3 or 4 times, but we couldn’t push him in. Despite my repeated warnings, the two owners kept getting too close to his head. I knew we had a serious accident just waiting to happen because the hog was getting pretty upset, probably from the sheer indignity of the entire situation. I decided to try another approach. I gave Jimmy the other end of the 100-foot rope and had him run it through the back seat of the car from the other side and back to me. I then tied that end of the rope around the boar’s chest and knotted it low on his side. I told Jimmy that the next time I got the hog up to the car door to pull like the devil on that rope. 
I hoped that would pull the hog off  balance so I could push him into the car. I’m not sure if Jimmy had much experience handling livestock, but I’ve never met a man with more common sense and reliability so I knew he would come through. It worked perfectly. 

 That hog was so long that with one door closed, the hog had to hold his head up to get the other door closed. When the owners got into the car, the weight shift upset the hog. When the engine started, the hog put his head up over the front seat, directly over the driver’s shoulder. One of the owners said that he wasn’t sure he liked that - the most intelligent thing either had said the entire evening. There is no way I would have driven that car with an unrestrained boar hog in the back seat. I suppose they did get him home. It’s a shame that a fine animal like that was owned by such idiots.

 Billy’s wife Dollie had had a mastectomy that day, the first step in her 15-year battle with cancer. Billy was too upset to be any help. If fact, he laughed like a fool the entire time. It was probably the best therapy he could have had.
Twisted Rope - Ronald Wilkinson
Another use of a rope with livestock is to throw an animal to the ground and to restrain it. That is particularly useful when castrating or medicating large animals. I’ve seen it done a time or two, but I cannot remember the details. The rope starts from the halter and goes around a hind foot, and then back around a front foot, I think. After it is wound around the different places, pressure on the rope puts the animal to the ground and restrains it there - a very useful technique. 

Pigs - Laurie Justus Pace
 Skip a Rope
Cargill's debut release on the country charts
 and his most successful single. 
His sole No. 1 on the country charts,
 Spent five weeks at the top and
 a total of 16 weeks on the chart. 
Henson Cargill - 1967

Sustainable farms are to today's headlong 
rush toward global destruction 
what the monasteries were to the Dark Ages: 
places to preserve human skills and crafts 
until some semblance of common sense 
and common purpose returns to the public mind.”
 Gene Logsdon, Living at Nature's Pace: Farming and the American Dream

The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends
From the musical
1943 Musical
1955 Film!_%281955_film%29

The Farmer and the Cowman 

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
The cowman ropes a cow with ease,
The farmer steals her butter and cheese,
That's no reason why they cain't be friends.

 “We have neglected the truth 
that a good farmer is a 
craftsman of the highest order, 
a kind of artist.”
Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural 
"Farming is a profession of hope."
  Brian Brett

"The first supermarket supposedly appeared 
on the American landscape in 1946. 
That is not very long ago. 
 Until then, where was all the food? 
Dear folks, the food was in homes, 
gardens, local fields, and forests. 
 It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. 
It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard."
Joel Salatin,
Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

Fecal Farm
© Kenneth J. Miller 
My horse is there in front of me
Clip-cloppin' down the road.
He stops and flips his tail straight up
And drops another load.
My cows dump in the meadow,
My chickens foul their coop,
And flies are buzzin' 'round and 'round
Eatin' all that poop.
The sheep are out there bleatin'...
I gotta' get a grip!
The stupid things are standin'
Knee-deep in their dip!
I swear on this here farm
There's every barnyard species,
And each and every one of them
Is makin' tons of feces.
I'm tired of smellin' livestock.
I'd like to take a nap.
But I can't sleep 'cause I dream of
Hogs wallowin' in their crap.
Now my wife is in the kitchen
Cookin' soup du jour,
But nothin' smells real good to me;
I'm surrounded by manure. 

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