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The Last Windrow: Try tackling a farmer's chores on a rainy day

Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

Rainy days get me down. On that little Iowa farm I grew up on, rainy days really got me down.

Rain is essential to farm country. It has always been that way. Either too much or too little is not desired. Just the right amount of moisture is sometimes hard to come by.

This year, farm country is experiencing more than the desired amount of rain in most areas. Planting has been delayed in many areas and impossible in others.

There were other reasons that I didn't look forward to a rainy period on the farm. Not being able to do field work didn't mean that you didn't find something else to do to occupy your day. My dad was great at finding alternative forms of labor "opportunities" that didn't quite match my thoughts of a positive experience on a rainy day. I would have much rather spent a rainy day on a river bank fishing for catfish.

Milking a small herd of cows and selling Grade A milk meant that our barns needed to come up to some kind of standard in cleanliness. Usually a rainy day meant you would find us in the milk barn with a bag of lime at our side and a stiff broom on the other. We spread the lime and swept that concrete until our arms hurt.

There was little pleasure to be had in this task and the pay was poor. I think it went something like a "room and board" kind of a deal.

My cousin, Charlie, would visit our farm from time to time and somehow he got pleasure out of "liming the barn." My brother and I were happy to hand Charlie the broom and let him go at it. He really did a nice job. We enjoyed watching him and patted him on the back when he finished.

A rainy day also meant fixing machinery. Tractor engine oil was changed, cultivator shovels were replaced, mower sickle blades were sharpened or replaced, a broken hammermill was repaired, and combine belts were changed.

If you were fortunate enough to have a welder, broken pieces and parts were welded back together. If you had a flat tire on the manure spreader and it was raining, you might either fix it yourself or haul it to the nearest tire repair shop and let them struggle with it under the cover of a roof.

There was one rainy day task that was really to be avoided at all costs. When all other tasks seemed to be completed, it was time to clean the chicken house. Now, for all of you out there who think that raising chickens is pure pleasure, let me tell you that the one rainy day task that I hated more than any other was that of cleaning out a chicken house.

The chicken coop had been gathering whatever a flock of chickens can deposit over a month or more. From the first fork-full to the last my eyes watered, my lungs felt like someone had lit a fire in them and I held my breath like a pearl diver.

When people ask me how I like my work today I remember that chicken house and I never complain about any modern day task. I guess in a way cleaning the chicken coop has shaped my attitude about what real work is.

I watch some of the rural farm TV shows today and I don't think I've ever seen any of them portray what farmers actually experience on a rainy day or any day for that matter. All we see is some gleaming tractor pulling a 24-row planter across the landscape.

We don't see a farmer checking his stock at 3 in the morning when he's heard some threatening sound coming from the livestock yard. We don't see them wiggling under a machine in the mud as they try to change a gear or a bearing.

We see only the glitter and glamour. We don't see them cleaning the chicken house on a rainy day.

It's been raining a lot around here lately. I think about cleaning that aromatic chicken house long ago as the rain trickles off our present day roof. We've got it pretty good.

See you next time. Okay?

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