Never Walk Behind Pepper

For those who’d like to donate to a worthy charity, may I suggest the MFTTF, the Misfit Farmer’s Tractor Tire Fund. All contributions go directly to my bank account, which has been depleted this summer by the disintegrating structural integrity of rubber on my farm. It’s got to the point that I now look at the Amish’s horse-drawn implements with envy, and I have a lifelong fear of horses. 

Of course, my wife dismisses equinophobia. Years ago, when we purchased her old family farmstead, she was actually excited that Ringo, a Missouri Foxtrotter, was thrown in for free and ridiculed my general life philosophy that “All horses should be feared, and free horses should be feared always.” 

Haunting me were childhood memories of my cousins’ lunatic steeds: Red, Pepper, and the pony (I forget the pony’s name, though its memories are largely the most traumatic). But I do remember the pony rearing and galloping full speed toward a barbed wire fence with my wailing cousin atop. She looked like a miniature Annie Oakley. At one point, her cowboy hat, attached by chinstraps, fully deployed like a parachute and was the only thing slowing the runaway pony. Soon thereafter, my cousin toppled off the side, and the pony skidded to halt in front of the fence, which at that point was the best possible outcome.

I’m not sure whatever happened to that pony—I lost touch with it after it nearly killed my cousin, but I suspect it was probably donated to another family who needed a good free pony.

Unlike the pony, Big Red and Pepper occasionally proved trustworthy enough for excursions outside their pasture. Though I have no particular horror stories of Pepper, the frequent warning “Never walk behind Pepper” still reverberates in my mind. So much so, the pepper shaker stays hidden in a cabinet, lest I walk past the kitchen table and flinch. 

Once, my family took Pepper and Big Red on a horseback-riding trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf was really more mound than mountain, but being in the coastal plain where everything was flat, the abnormal increase in elevation achieved mountain status. I viewed much of the surrounding countryside while performing a full split atop Big Red who was intent on wandering wherever he pleased, his jockey experiencing too much paralysis to control the reins. To continue his journey unencumbered, Red eventually reared up and dropped me off on a pine tree. 

I’ve never been on a horse since, but at this point horse shoes seem a lot cheaper than tractor tires.  

How to Start Your Day Off Right

Every man has oddities I suppose, and one of mine has always been the curious desire to avoid death by heart attack. Yes, after long and careful thought, I decided long ago I would rather not experience a cardiovascular quake on the scale of the “biggun” or “widow-maker.” Truth be told, the thought of my heart stopping just rubbed me the wrong way. 

Which is why on Saturday mornings, when all sane people are still asleep, I sometimes get up before the break of dawn and apply an anti-chafing salve to my inner thighs. Called Thigh Glide, it’s quite effective at ameliorating that slightly irritating feeling that you’re running with sandpaper between your legs. It’s only downside is it smells like lard, which is apparently very appealing to creatures with a strong sense of smell. 

Admittedly, running mile upon mile when nothing is chasing me is a strange activity to prefer to sleeping in on Saturdays. But sometimes things do chase me, which I’ll soon expound upon, and the point is I prefer running to a heart attack, not sleeping–which is a point I also tried to explain to the animal control agent.

The agent looked young, like he just finished basic law enforcement school. He wore beige cargo pants, with an above average number of cargo pockets, some of them clearly filled and weighed down with tools of the animal control trade. He had pepper spray holstered on his hip. He wore one of those little flimsy, plasticky blue FBI-like jackets, but instead the back read Animal Control Department. Needless to say, the agent had the appearance of an animal control authority, and thus I hoped he would soon go hunt down and apprehend the German Shepherd so I could go about my day and get a tetanus shot at an urgent care facility. Apparently, anytime a person goes to the urgent care with a dog bite, the doctors have to call the authorities.  Thus, enter the animal control agent.

ANIMAL CONTROL AGENT: “Did you do anything to provoke the dog?”

ME: “No, I was just running. It came charging at me from the front porch of a house. I tried to keep my head down and just keep moving, but it bit me.”

ACA: “Were you on the shoulder of the road or the road itself?”

ME: “I was in the middle of the road,  trying to flee the dog.”

ACA: “Can you describe the dog?”

ME: “German Shepherd. Brown and black, pointy ears, vicious temperament.”

ACA: “What did you do when it bit you?” 

ME: “I turned around and kicked it in the head. And then a person in a car stopped. He got out and started yelling at the dog and it ran back toward the porch. ”

ACA: “Do you know who owns the dog?”

ME: “Well, I assume, the old lady hollering from the front porch.” 

ACA: “Did she say if it had its rabies shots?” 

ME: “Yes, she said it had its shots.”

ACA: “Well, we still recommend you get a Tetanus shot in case of infection. And even though she said it had its shots, we’ll quarantine the dog for 14 days to verify it isn’t acting suspicious. If we notice any suspicious behavior, we’ll notify you, at which point you’ll need to get rabies shots.”

ME: “Great.”

ACA: “Last thing, I’ll need to take a picture of the bite.” 

It was at this point that the young animal control agent and I took our relationship to a whole new a level. I pulled down my shorts, and showed him the bloody bite marks of canine teeth on my inner upper (and I mean inner and upper) left hamstring, a region underneath bits of my anatomy that no man save a proctologist or undertaker ought to see.

I’ll spare you the picture of the bite. On a positive note, though, this happened several months ago, and the dog did not exhibit suspicious behavior, so I didn’t have to get rabies shots. Plus, I’ve nearly got all my anti-freeze saved up for a nice gourmet marinade on a expertly-selected, finely crafted dog food that smells a lot like lard.

Farewell, Biscuit Pan

My mom loves me unconditionally. I know this because I accidentally threw away her biscuit pan and she didn’t commit filicide (the formal word for offing one’s offspring, which I felt really uncomfortable searching Google for).

As keeper of our family buttermilk biscuit recipe, my mom is the only one capable of wielding the biscuit pan and harnessing its full power, the power to create biscuits that no mortal mouth can resist. 

My mom takes her biscuit-making responsibilities seriously and even travels with her biscuit pan. Her biggest fear, beside snakes, is being caught off-guard with an unfamiliar pan of unknown cooking properties. “Cooking in a strange oven is hard enough,” she says.  

Her biscuit pan is tried and true, or at least it was before I threw it in a trash compactor. It had been passed down from my grandmother to my mom and had a waxy patina from decades of Crisco applications.

Usually, I’m not one to destroy a priceless family heirloom, but my mom and dad came to visit us one weekend and my mom packed the pan in a cardboard box which she set right beside the kitchen door, which also happened to be right beside our kitchen trash can, in the same spot I normally stack overflow trash that needs to be taken to the dump. I just assumed that box was full of overflow trash and put it on the back of the truck, and now our priceless family heirloom resides somewhere in the Cleveland County landfill, with seagulls flying gracefully overhead. 

My mom thought I was kidding when I told her I had thrown that box away. When she realized I wasn’t, a look of panic momentarily washed over her face before she quickly regained control of her facial expression and tried to laugh it off. “Oh, well, it’s only a pan,” she said. 

But I felt terrible. That biscuit pan was a symbol of all that was right and true and honorable in the world. Sure, some of the biscuits produced on it probably contributed to the family’s cholesterol problems, but that’s a small price to pay for having a superhuman mom, one who laughs in the face of adversity and fights the world’s evils with one pan of buttermilk biscuits at a time–even if it’s a new pan without the Crisco patina. 

How to Make Money Farming

Life is full of little ironies. A few months ago I was on a podcast–and get this, the name of the podcast was Farm4Profit. They needed someone to do a segment on beekeeping, and somehow they found me. Apparently, they didn’t know I have a blog called The Misfit Farmer, where I dispense questionable farming advice and mostly enumerate the many ways I’ve lost money farming, beekeeping being one of them. Instead, because I write for a beekeeping magazine, they thought I was a beekeeping expert, obviously having never read any of my articles, which would have quickly dispelled them of that belief.  The point here, though, is I feel like I short-changed the nice guys at Farm4Profit. Admittedly, I was very nervous, having never been on a podcast before, so I’d like to make it up to them by providing some surefire ways to make money farming and beekeeping. 

The great news is I’m often too busy chasing swarms over the horizon to fool with paperwork, so I haven’t filed for patents on any of these lucrative ideas yet. That means you’re free to make millions off them without worrying about patent infringement. In fact, just a nice hand-written note and 10% royalty on sales for perpetuity is all I ask. So without further ado, I present your path to future fame and fortune (don’t everyone rush to apply for Shark Tank all at once). 

Biodegradable diapers with a built-in wildflower mix. Just let your baby add fertilizer, then plant, water, and wala! In a few months you’ll have a little tuft of wildflowers for your favorite vase.

Organic Clay-Doh. Put red clay in a little plastic cup-like container, market it as Organic Clay-Doh, an all-natural alternative to Play-Doh.

Stingers Home Security Company. Place mean bee hives at strategically-placed positions around houses to deter home invaders.  

Whirlpool Washer/Extractor Combo. For a piece of equipment that only gets used a couple of times a year, honey extractors are big and take up a lot of space. A honey extractor that doubles as a washing machine the rest of the year would sell like hotcakes to hobby beekeepers. 

Beemorang. A hive tool shaped like a boomerang. When you accidentally sling your hive tool into the atmosphere because a bee just performed a torture technique by inserting its stinger under your fingernail, the hive tool will come back to you.  

The Lil’ Loader Seat. If you’re tired of toting your offspring around the farm or pushing them in the stroller, the Lil’ Loader Seat,  a baby car seat for your tractor’s front-end-loader, is for you. 

Kudzu Cologne. Ever traipsed through a Kudzu patch beside a pond while searching for a jon boat now hidden by vegetation? Well, I have. And I can tell you that Kudzu has a quite pleasant aroma. Kudzu would be a very easy crop to grow. 

Cow Obedience College. Tired of having to reimburse your neighbors for the shrubbery your fugitive cows ate? That’s not a problem when your cows have graduated from Cow Obedience College. 

If anybody else has some ideas they’d like to add to the list, let me know. I’m all about sharing the wealth. 

How to Bid on Livestock like a Pro

The sale barn, where livestock is bought, sold, and sometimes bartered in the parking lot,  is your local hub for agricultural activity. It’s a good place to connect with other farmers—just  don’t yawn or scratch your head because you might accidentally buy a cow. Such faux pas are  common among newcomers to a stockyard. 

As a child, perhaps you longed to be a professional sale-barn bidder. Or perhaps not. But  in rural culture, it’s nearly as common a dream job as a cowboy, county agent, or veterinarian.  Even full-grown adults, while listening to an auctioneer jabber endlessly, have been known to  daydream about life as a high-profile livestock trader. Unfortunately, daydreaming is a sure sign  you’re an amateur buyer. Professional buyers sit stoic in the crowd, impervious to the hypnotizing  effect of an auctioneer’s voice, bidding with nearly imperceptible winks, head nods, and twitches.  Rumor has it, the best sale-barn buyers can blink Morse code with their eyes. 

Professional buyers are rock stars of rurality. After thundering into the parking lot with a  livestock trailer capable of hauling a small herd of elephants, a professional moseys over to inspect  the bovines while awestruck onlookers ask for autographs on bidding cards and advice on buying.  The professional obliges, scribbling a pithy line like, “Buy low. Sell high—High Bid Hal.” Hal  then enters the arena fashionably late and sits proudly in his reserved seat in direct line of sight of  the auctioneer. Moments later, a murmur ripples through the crowd when Hal buys his first of  many cows. 

Of course, we all can’t be as suave as High Bid Hal, but I’ve studied his behavior and  gleaned some helpful tips on how to resemble a professional sale-barn bidder and strike fear in  your bovine buying competition. Follow these tips, and you’ll resemble a competent procurer of  livestock in no time. 

Do your homework

Don’t arrive at the sale barn and start buying willy-nilly. Although  professionals do this, buying willy-nilly is considered an advanced technique that takes many years  to master. Instead, spend time at your stockyard studying the process. Also, learn the markings.  Often cows will be marked with spray paint or a sticker. Different colors represent different things.  For instance, a red dot might mean “steer” or a yellow dot might mean “confirmed pregnant.”  Thus, a red and yellow dot together would mean a confirmed pregnant steer, in which case you  should buy that miraculous animal. 

Show No Emotion

Don’t smile at the sale barn. Don’t make eye contact with humans.  Such behavior is considered a sign of weakness. It’s best not to attempt jokes either, unless you’re  the auctioneer who will likely impersonate a stand-up comic before the sale starts. Whatever you  do, don’t laugh at the auctioneer’s jokes. The auctioneer is merely trying to loosen up the crowd  to encourage bidding. But if you’ve done your homework, you’ve heard these jokes before.  Auctioneers rarely come up with new material. 

Walk the Catwalk

Strolling the catwalk is an essential job function for supermodels and sale-barn bidders alike. At a stockyard, the catwalk is  the elevated walkway that allows you to view animals in the pens below. If you’re a sale-barn  novice, practice your walk at home, especially if you’re afraid of heights. Many professional sale barn bidders prefer a mosey, though you can try a saunter or amble. Advanced sale-barn stars will  often have a trademark “hitch in their gitty-up” that sets their walk apart from amateurs (If you’re  a British farmer, please visit the Ministry of Silly Walks to search for trademarked hitches. America has no such regulatory body, so trademarked walks here mean nothing. If you don’t like  Monty Python, please disregard the previous joke). 

Don’t fall

Have your bidding card ready:

Nothing says amateur like fumbling to find your bidding  card, which contains your all-important bidder identification number. Livestock sales are fast  paced. For instance, a typical cattle sale might go as follows: 

“A good steer, who’ll give me a dollar fifty—fifty cents, fifty cents, fifty cents? Alright,  dollar forty, looking for forty, looking for forty, looking for forty to start. That’s a good  steer now. Someone start it. thirty-five cents, thirty-five, thirty-five, thirty-five, looking for  thirty-five cents. THIRTY-FIVE—top right corner! Now forty, looking for forty, huhmana  huhmana forty, huhmana huhmana forty. FORTY over here! Now forty-five, forty-five,  forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, forty-five, looking for forty-five, looking for forty-five,  looking for forty-five. Now looking for forty-two. Down low, FORTY-TWO! Now forty three, a dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three, dollar forty-three. That’s a good steer, good  steer, good steer. Forty-three, looking for forty-three, huhmana huhmana huhmana forty three. FORTY-THREE—top right! Now forty-four, forty-four, forty-four, forty-four,  forty-four, forty-four, huhmana huhmana forty-four looking for forty-four. Going once,  going twice, sold FORTY-THREE! Top right corner!” 

Though seemingly impossible, all this verbiage is uttered and the steer is sold in five seconds total.  And the process is repeated instantaneously with another cow—if, that is, the previous buyer had  his or her bidding card ready. If not, the whole auction comes to a jarring halt and people glare.  Whatever you do, don’t get flustered and flash your card upside down—you’ll be laughed out of  the arena. Though speed is important, it’s better to draw slow and shoot for accuracy than fall  victim to vicious sale barn humor. 

Having read these tips, you’ll soon achieve stockyard stardom. If in doubt, just remember:  buy low, sell high. It’s that simple.