Learning farm ropes can be shocking


Finally, wheels are turning in fields all around us. Gray, cold days filled with gully-washer rain has finally given way to blue sky and sunshine.

Though it still feels sort of like muddin’ it in, there’s no extra time to wait for dry conditions in a season like this one. There is a whole lot of catching up to do while the sun shines.

One spring very much like this one came along when I was about 10. I could finally really pitch in and help.

It made me stand up a little taller when my dad said to me one morning in the milking parlor, “I just couldn’t farm without you. You do good work.”

It felt a little bit like winning the tiara and the baton and the championship trophy all rolled in to one. For the fourth-born daughter who had always wanted to be as big as my three older sisters, this was a huge accomplishment. It made me want to do bigger and better every day.

Sneaky sisters

My older sisters, by this time, had learned a whole different way to play their cards.

“Ummmm, I don’t think I know how to do that (fill in the blank with just about any grunge farm job),” and I would be jumping up to prove that I just bet you anything I could do it!

Oh, those sisters were slick.

Like the kid in class waving their arm because they had the answer, I became the kid forever in barn boots with the determination to prove I had it. It gave me the opportunity to learn to love the mundane, like grabbing the stock cane and heading out to the far pasture with our great Bill dog, bringing in the herd for the evening milking.

The first day I did it, I got a shock. Literally.

Life lessons

When I grabbed the red insulator handle to close the electric fence behind the herd, I could have sworn my hair stood straight up just like in the cartoons.

“Oh, yeah, that….I forgot to tell you,” my sister said. “If you stand on one foot and then sort of stick your tongue out just a wee little bit, like this, see? Then you won’t get shocked. Oh, and it helps if you are chewing some gum, too.”

The next day, I searched for a piece of chewing gum and left the house even earlier to head for the dairy barn.

I loved moseying way out to call in the cows, watching our English shepherd dog show off his herding magic, going after the slow cows who always managed to work their way to the far edge of the big pasture.

When the herd passed in to the smaller pasture near the barn, I reached for that red handle to close the fence with great optimism. I knew the trick now. Chewing gum, one foot, tongue sticking out just a tiny bit, I pulled hard on that taut fence, made connection with the wire loop.

BAM! I got shocked even harder than I had the day before. This time, I am certain, black smoke rolled out of my ears.

I couldn’t wait to tell my sister she was wrong.

“No, no, I’m not wrong. I just forgot to tell you that trick only works on days when it’s raining.”

Turns out there were various tricks on full moon, high humidity, sunny days with no clouds, and a whole ‘nother trick on partly sunny days with a chance of pop-up storms.

Man, I had a lot to learn.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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