Real farm life is often not made-for-movies romantic

Holstein dairy cattle grazing
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

“You can spend eight hours at the gym every day, but then who would bale the hay? You can iron your shirt and polish your boots, but then you may as well put on a suit. The glitter and the glamor, the fortune and the fame, the sugar-free soy vanilla lattes — leave all that to the folks in the city, cause country ain’t never been pretty.” — lyrics of Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty, written and performed by Cam.

There is no doubt that the cinema world has long romanticized many things, but none has been done quite so over the top as Hollywood’s polished take on rugged ranching.

I think of all the cowboy classics that were produced by the barrel load every year of my youth, portraying men returning from a long cattle drive looking spry and perky.

It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I realized those fellers seemed mighty spiffy and had a little too much skip in their step for having just endured such a long excursion out in Mother Nature.

Something missing

There might have been a little dirt placed just a wee bit too perfectly across a white shirt, but where was the grime and the grumpiness?

It took until a few more years had passed that I knew the fib factor was in even higher gear than I ever contemplated. The vibrant smiles which revealed nearly perfect pearly whites, followed by a quick hug and kiss for the girl who had kept the home fires burning made me groan at the mythical story line.

Any woman with a working nose would have likely turned away or maybe even passed out from the fumes coming off of her weather-beaten cowboy.

Sunday night television brought us the Bonanza gang, blazing across the screen from The Ponderosa in to our living room. Little Joe and Hoss were great guys, but it sure seemed they never really did a whole lot of farm work, and not a speck of grime ever splashed them silly.

Trading places

While other girls my age had a crush on Little Joe, I just dreamed of trading places with him when the alarm clock went off at 4:30 every morning.

Somewhere there is a picture of high-school age me and my milking parlor buddy and classmate Paul Fulk, snapped at the end of a hot summer evening in the milk house. We had spent the entire afternoon baling hay, then had to get the cows milked.

It was one of those early summer days that sent the cows in to the far pasture, grazing on lush grass.

My ratty old white T-shirt was just about as filthy as it could possibly be, a chaff-covered red bandanna covering my head. The shirt Paul wore, with sleeves chopped off, was so ripe with grime and gunk that there is really no way of guessing what color it once was.

Green surprise

A heifer had blessed me with the type of fresh greens baptism that is only made more lasting by the splash of her tail. Like a rare type of tie-dye, the tail had splashed the dip cup I’d held in my hand at the time, which left a vibrant orange similar to a wild game of dairy barn paint ball at close range.

The scent of iodine-based teat dip and springtime cow nearly jumps off the old photograph.

I can tell you neither one of us was ready to greet anyone with a happy-to-see-you hug. Not unless it was to play a dirty trick on someone.


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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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