The Farm Hand

February 8, 2012
Riverside CA

Who has ever heard of stooking? Some of the best years of my youth were spent toiling in the fields near my grandparent’s cottage stooking grain. During the August harvest season the oat and wheat crops that had grown from seed since spring needed to be cut and dried in the sun. A machine called a sheaver would cut the grain stalks and tie them into bundles called sheaves. My job was to follow behind this sheaver and pick these bundles off the ground and set them up so they could lean together and dry in the sun. This was called stooking the grain and I remember doing this even with my mother and brother.

Have you heard of thrashing? About two weeks after the stooking, when the sheaves of grain had dried in the late summer sun, the thrashing process would begin. A huge smoke belching clanging monster of a machine called a thrasher would arrive to strip the grain from its stalks on these sheaves and then separate it from its husks. My job was to feed this brute of a machine all the sheaves it could devour. From one end of this monster machine would pour the golden grains of oats and wheat and from the other end the chaff and straw would spew out. Stooking and thrashing grain became one of my routine summer jobs growing up at my grandfather’s cottage. In those days I was a farm hand who also bailed hay, milked cows, fed chickens and pigs, repaired fences and shoveled a lifetime of manure. It was often back breaking work, but it made me strong and capable.

Another of my farm jobs was less savory. It was to evict groundhogs from their homes in the grain and hay fields. A groundhog is a gopher like creature that lives in Eastern Ontario, except it’s many times the size of your average Southern California gopher. It’s immense, the size of a small dog, and it borrows tunnels and lives in the ground in colonies like a gopher. The problem is, it creates an extensive network of tunnels and mounds the dirt up from these tunnels. It’s almost enough to fill a small a dump truck. These mounds create a dangerous situation for a loaded hay wagon and tractor. They can easily upset the whole load and these holes can break the legs of cattle and horses if they step in them when they are running.

What is the procedure to evict a determined groundhog colony from its home? Its certainly not a task I enjoyed, but it was something that brought joy to the heart of the resident farm dog. The way a dairy farm worked in those days was after each milking the milk would be stored in huge metal containers and submersed in a vats of cool water. Every two days this collected milk would have to be trucked to a local cheese factory for processing. One of the byproducts of making cheese is whey, lots of whey. My job was to take this milk to the cheese factory and then return with a huge tank of whey pulled on a wagon. I would then tractor this wagon of whey out to the groundhog colonies in the fields and then pump liquid whey into their burrows to force them out. Once they came running out, the farm dog would chase them down, catch them and break their necks. It was a gruesome, but an effective process. And I hated it. I don’t even want to think about the karma I must have accrued.


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