I suppose there are advantages to living in a desert. For one, allergy season is probably pretty short. Without vegetation carpeting the landscape, the human immune system must have little to overreact to. Here, in the borderlands between the subtropic and temperate climes, my white blood cells are currently waging war against any trace of pollen trying to invade my pores and orifices. My body’s attempt to expel the invaders has mostly expelled lots of bodily fluids through my runny nose, watery eyes, and rapid-fire sneezes.
Still, I’m trying to find the silver lining in the pollen cloud–maybe there are advantages to having allergies, evolutionary speaking? For one, if I ever get lost in the middle of the night in a hayfield, I’d be more likely to survive since search and rescue would easily locate me because they’ll hear me sneezing from a mile away. Two, bad allergies provide a legitimate excuse for skipping events with in-laws without incurring the full-force of a spouse’s wrath. Yep, even for a trophy husband like me, my wife doesn’t mind if I miss a family function when I’m under the influence of allergies and can’t speak coherently without sneezing and sniffling.
The biggest advantage, however, to allergy season is that sales of our honey go through the roof. I feel a little bit guilty on this count. I’m not sure there is much truth to the theory that local honey actually helps with allergies. Case-in-point, as someone who ingests an inordinate amount of honey from my own farm, my allergies have only minimally improved, progressing from wretched to merely miserable.
That said, I know many good upstanding people who swear that local honey helps their allergies. According to my allergist, I’m mostly allergic to pollen from the grass family, and supposedly bees don’t pollinate grass species because they’re wind pollinated, so maybe I’m not the best case study (that said, I see a lot of bees pollinating my sweet corn, which is definitely a member of the grass family).
Sometimes I wonder how my ancestors from bygone days survived allergies without the use of Allegra and Zyrtec and Benadryl. If I lived back then, the month of May would have eventually taken me out, with my headstone memorializing the exact date in May that I finally lost my battle with hay fever.
Anyway, here’s hoping you survive allergy season this year!
I am not sure what’s the bigger bane of my existence, dead batteries or flat tires. Both have a way of taunting me that is entirely unbecoming of inanimate objects. Just yesterday a tractor battery went, “chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, click” which translated into English means, “You dimwit farmer, did you really think you were going to quickly crank up and go get a hay bale, then be back inside ten minutes later eating supper with your family? Think again, sucker.”
Ten minutes later, I not only had one dead tractor battery but two. I had now drained the battery in the other tractor by trying to jump off the first tractor. That meant I had to get my truck involved. Thankfully, my truck battery has proven more reliable than my tractor batteries, meaning it only dies bi-annually instead of annually. With the truck, I finally resuscitated the tractor and could now get a roll of hay for the cows. So twenty minutes fooling with batteries, ten minutes fooling with a hay tarp, five minutes opening and closing gates, ten minutes chasing a cow that snuck through a gate, and five minutes cutting strings off the hay bale equals thoroughly cold food when I finally made it back inside to eat supper.
“What took so long?” my wife asked.
“Dead battery,” I said.
“You’ll probably want to stick that in the microwave,” she said. “and by the way, can you check the air in my tires. My light came on today when I was driving home from work.”
Alas, a poor dirt farmer like me basically spends six hours a day sleeping, eight hours at work to pay for my farming addiction, and my remaining hours trying to keep my farm from falling apart, which isn’t easy when unruly batteries and tires are involved.
I take consolation in the fact some farmers have it worse than me. My neighbor keeps a battalion of broken-down tractors in the weeds just to keep a couple of tractors running and operational. How he remembers which parts he has already robbed off of which tractor is beyond me. He more or less mimics the frantic searching method of a bird dog, bobbing in and out of overgrown tractor thickets, to flush a needed part. On a good Saturday morning, he can bag his daily limit of parts and have them marinating in WD-40 by lunchtime. On a bad Saturday morning, he’ll have to go an actual tractor dealership to acquire his needed part, at which point someone will need to resuscitate him from sticker shock, but that’s farming.
Not to get religious, but one thing I find interesting about the story of Adam and Eve is the fact that God punished the first couple by farming. That seems about right. Out of all punishments in the primordial soup, and I’m sure there were some tasty ones in there, God chose boring old “soil cultivation” as his foundational punishment. Eventually, God added some spice with plagues and floods and such, but those wouldn’t add nearly as much misery without farm crops to ruin.
The point here, though, is farmers are gluttons for punishment. Year after year, farmers come back for another round of woe and bear the weight of original disciplining. In my innocence, I used to think farming was fun and exciting (a belief quickly dispelled when I planted and picked a quarter-acre patch of strawberries by myself), and I see a lot of new farmers come into the agriculture office where I work thinking the same thing. But most quit after a few years–sadly, can’t take the pain.
Not to get even more religious, but I’ll bring up another point. Right there in Genesis, written thousands of years ago, are the first documented descriptions of the two farm paradigms: (1) the organic, ideal, untainted, natural, sustaining garden planted by God and (2) the cursed and fallen land outside it, destined to be worked by the toilsome efforts of man. Whatever you make of Genesis, the point here is the two conflicting paradigms of agriculture are accounted for thousands of years ago.
Humanity has been in a state of cognitive dissonance ever since. Which is kinda reflected in my own thoughts about agriculture: I support farmers who shoot for a higher ideal (we may not be able to get back into the garden, but maybe we can get closer to it). Meanwhile, I also support conventional farmers who undergo the toilsome and often thankless labor of feeding the vast majority of Earth’s inhabitants, and in so doing bear the brunt of original disciplining while the rest of us eat and critique their farming methods.
The way I look at it, there’s no perfect paradigm of farming, no perfect farm, no perfect farmers. Just people, most of whom are exhausted and trying to make it through the day, doing the best they can with their particular helping of primordial soup.
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.
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).
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.