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Chapter III - The Working Farm

By dhowell - Posted on 09 March 2013

Plat map of original farm and 2 Mike Schaible parcels purchased later. (from 1915 Wash. Co. Atlas)

The 176 acre farm was made of about 80 acres of woods/marsh/pasture land and 90 tillable acres, leaving about 7 acres of dooryard/farmyard/orchard. Two railroads cut through it and two creeks joined on it in their course to the nearby River Raisin. Tillable land was fenced off in 7 fields varying in size from 5 acres to 30 acres as shown on the aerial map of 1937 (right below). The plat map of 1915 (left) locates the area in sections 3 and 10, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan.

Aerial photo of farm and later additions (from 6/28/37 government series used to administer Agricultural Adjustment Act)

In 1943 Dad added to the farm by buying two parcels of land from Mike Schaible's estate for $1000. The first parcel was 40 acres on the northeast corner containing some tillable land as well as some woods. The second parcel was 46 acres of woods on the northwest corner. On the west side the farm now extended one mile from Austin Road to the Sharon Township line.

Detail, AAA map, enlarged to show fields of original farm. (w/reference numbers added)

Crops of hay, wheat, oats, corn, rye, barley, and sometimes soybeans were rotated between fields to provide the balance of fodder and grain needed each year. For example, there might be 7 acres of oats in field #1, 12 acres of corn in field #2, 9 acres of hay in field #3, 18 acres of wheat/oats in field #4, 14 acres of corn in field #5, 5 acres of soy beans in field #6, and 17 acres of hay in field #7.

Crop rotation began when older hay fields were plowed under for corn. The next year wheat, oats, rye or barley would be sowed there. Later, hay (alfalfa, timothy, clover) would be sowed, completing the rotation. Manure was spread on fields to be planted to corn. Commercial fertilizer was used for wheat, but not for oats, barley, rye and hay. There were enough fields so cycles lasted about three years or more for hay fields. Barley, rye and soy beans might not be planted every year. Portions of some fields were set aside yearly for potatoes, sweet corn, pop corn, squash, pumpkins, and melons. Fields closer to the barns were used for corn more often because it was easier to haul manure to them. Thus fields farther away might be left as hay fields longer than the closer ones.

Many factors had to be considered when decisions about what to plant were made--inventories of what was on hand, productivity of existing hay fields, distance from the barns, the chore of extra railroad crossings, etc. Also, the soil and drainage in some of the lower fields was better for some crops than others. Through it all we managed to fill the hay mows, corn cribs and granary each year (see Education of a Farmer).

The Farm Animals

In addition to the 100 ewes and their annual offspring, we had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, a couple sheep bucks and sometimes our own bull and boar. Four horses did the work on the farm—two heavy horses and two smaller ones for speed, lighter work, and part time work in 3 horse teams. The number of cows might vary from time to time but we usually were milking seven or eight and had a couple standing by dry, bred to freshen throughout the year to maintain a level milk supply. We had one or two brood sows with their annual litters. Our flock of hens was about 75 and we raised 200 baby chicks each spring to produce replacement laying hens and broilers to be sold or eaten. Perhaps bees might not be considered farm animals by some, but we always had a couple hives of to produce table honey and some extra to be sold if anyone wanted it for a dime a pound. Bees were also needed to spread pollen on the fruit trees and other blossoming plants. Of course, there always was a dog and barn cats to control mice and rats.

Two barns, the silo, the chicken coop and the granary were involved in the chores of caring for the farm animals. Morning and night hay had to be pulled from the mows and pitched down and fed to the horses, cows, steers and the sheep. Silage was thrown down from the silo to be fed the cows and young cattle morning and evening. Ground grain feed from the granary had to be carried to the barn and added to the silage. Each working horse received a couple quarts of oats three times a day. Cows and horses were bedded with straw pulled from the straw stack and carried to stalls. When there was a brisk wind this was especially hard to do. Sheep didn't need bedding but were fed hay and grain twice a day. Ear corn and swill mixed with ground grain was fed to the pigs twice a day. Hens were fed from the granary by throwing a shovel of grain onto the ground where they always were waiting for it. The sound of sliding the granary door open was their signal to come running. A box of ashes was kept filled in the hen house so hens could dust to control lice. At times a feeder had to be filled with ground oyster shells to provide calcium for strong egg shells. Baby chicks were in a nearby brooder house and needed feed and water at least twice each day (see The Baby Chicks Are In).

Animals required more than food and water and their care varied from species to species. As mentioned earlier, sheep at lambing time required constant midwife attention. About six weeks after lambs were born they were docked and the males castrated. Ewes were drenched with worm medicine annually and had their hoofs trimmed in the spring after the long winter in the barn basement. In the spring both mature lambs and the ewes were shorn of their wool. At first Dad was his own veterinary but did not shear the sheep. However, he started to do that when electric sheep clippers replaced those operated by a gasoline engine. Dad bought copper sulfate, fluid extract of strychnine and nicotine sulphate in bulk at the local drug store to make the right dosage of drench (a 6 oz. Coke bottle) for each sheep and prepared the mixture with warm water in a large dishpan on the kitchen range. The recipe came from a handbook we called the Doctor Book because it contained information about both farm animals and humans (see again We Had Scarlet Fever - Pat Parr has this book now, in '07).

Shearing a sheep (clipper powered from flexible metal shaft from gasoline engine)

Sheep shearing in gasoline engine days deserves a little space here. A couple men with a car and trailer drove in on sheep shearing day. They unloaded a couple folding platforms, a 1/2 horse gasoline engine and their shearing heads and set up in the sheep barn basement. The engine had a power shaft extending upward to a horizontal extension above the work platforms. Elbow joints flexed the encased power shafts extending down to the work stations. Another joint with a short extension brought power to the shearing heads which could be snapped in to drive the blades. The gasoline engine ran continuously to furnish power as needed, burning probably two quarts of fuel a day.

We had to provide a man and our wool table which was threaded with wool twine and used to tie up the fleece from each sheep. Between catching sheep for the shearers, threading and tying each fleece and carrying it upstairs in the barn, he was kept busy. Shearers had counters and punched a counter as they released each sheep. They were paid by the head. Our flock could be shorn in one day by two men, usually neighboring farmers earning a little extra money in the spring before going to work at home.

Wool table (Threaded with wool twine to tie each fleece of wool into a square bale, size of center section)

Other animals required less work which was also required seasonally. Sometimes cows needed help calving. When Katherine, one of our registered Holsteins was ready to calve, she was put in her stanchion and the breached calf pulled from her with a small block and tackle. Getting a rope hold on the slippery 200 pound calf was a trick, but one way or the other she was delivered. We did this for 12 years. Other cows delivered themselves and pasture calving has been referred to elsewhere. About all else bovines required was de-horning and castration of males to produce steers. De-horning was brutal and done without anesthetic. A large bolt-cutter type tool was used to cut off horns and the critter usually went down on its knees from the pain and shock. Blood shot up many feet into the air for a time but soon stopped. Animals had to be trussed up or put in stanchions for this. Dad developed a more humane way to produce our own hornless (polled) animals. When calves were still very young, the hair was clipped away (almost shaved) above the cells which would later produce horns. Then a stick of caustic potash was rubbed on the cells leaving enough to destroy them in a few days when the scab sloughed off. Hair eventually covered the scar and folks sometimes ask us where we got our polled strain of Holsteins.

Occasionally it was necessary to put a ring in a bull's nose to control him. A three inch copper split ring was passed through a hole cut between the two nostrils and then permanently fastened together. Then it was possible to snap a rope or lead stick onto the ring and lead the bull around. At other times a rope could be fastened to a cable to let the bull exercise. A four foot piece of log chain could be hung on the ring when the bull ran free. That way he would step on it if he lowered his head and started running toward a target, a sure way to stop him. Bulls could be dangerous and a hard and fast rule around our place was to always take a pitch fork with you when going near a bull.

Male pigs had to be castrated. All pigs had to have rings put in their noses to keep them from rooting up fences, etc. Pig rings from the hardware store came in boxes of 50 or so and were made of copper, shaped like a large, open C. The ringer tool, shaped like a pliers, received the C in its open position and when closed on the pig's nose, set the C into an 0 which stayed there. Sometimes for unruly pigs more rings were set along the top side of the snout for added protection against rooting. Only rarely was it necessary to ring the pig's ears together in front of its eyes to limit vision and control it. Boar tusks sometimes were a problem in the herd when they might be used to bully other animals--especially at the feed trough. Such boars were caught and trussed up. Then a heavy metal object, such as a wedge or maul, was put beside the tusk just before it was hit with a hammer to break it off.

Horses took little care. Ours weren't curried often but during the heavy work season some developed sores under the collar. These had to be rubbed with salve and dusted with special powder as they healed. We did not shoe our horses since they rarely walked on paved roads.

Young chicks occasionally showed signs of diarrhea. Instead of buying expensive pills, we bought potassium permanganate in bulk at the drug store for a few cents and put enough of it in a water fountain to medicate the birds. Like the chemicals for drenching sheep, this one was also a deadly poison and had to be used with care and kept away from the unknowing.

Our Chores

This collection of livestock formed the base of our production unit. We produced everything they needed except salt and medicines. Lots of work was required to maintain and renew the various breeds. Feeding was reduced to what we called chores, performed twice daily, seven days a week and fifty-two weeks a year. When one considers the demands of each type of animal it is not hard to see that many hours were involved, especially during the winter months. In summer the sheep, cows and horses were out to pasture most or all of the time and could feed and water themselves. We always felt lucky with our farm and its generous supply of water. Very few of the fields we used for pasture didn't have access to water from a creek or a pond. Other farmers had to haul water daily to animals in the pastures or drive a well for water, either pumping it by hand or by installing a windmill and a tank. (see Hiram Parr's Barn) Sheep on summer pasture still took regular care and monitoring. Each week, Sunday usually, we took a small pail of salt to their pasture, dumped it into eight or ten small piles spaced a few feet apart and counted the groups of sheep as they came to eat the salt. The tally told us if thieves or dogs had been active that week to reduce numbers of the flock. Also during the very hot weather we checked to be sure maggots weren't bothering some of them which had bled somehow and attracted blowflies. Those in trouble had to be caught and doused with medicine to kill the maggots. We used a strong mixture of creosote dip to kill them. The resulting mass exodus of struggling maggots as they came out of a wound remains a strong image in my memory.

Some of our chores were quite seasonal while most went on the year round. Baby chicks from the hatchery took a lot of care the first few weeks. (see The Baby Chicks Are In) Sometimes a hen would set on a nest of eggs and produce her own brood of chicks. These broods were usually put in a hen coop and had to be fed and watered several times a day. The hen coop was an a-frame large enough to hold the hen. Slats kept the mother in the coop while the chicks could go in and out during the day. At night in the coop the hen kept her chicks warm and protected from predators.

During the lambing season Dad practically lived in the barn, often going out eight or ten times to separate ewes from the flock as they were about to give birth and thus assure fewer orphans which resulted when a new mother lost her newborn among the flock and then refused to own it, that is, let it nurse. Such orphans would have to be bottle fed several times a day to keep them alive and to add to the lamb crop, a chore to be avoided if possible.

Sows about to farrow had to be separated from other pigs because often the newborn piglets became food for adults. Cows about to calve were not a major item when they calved in the barnyard or a box stall. But at pasture a cow would hide herself to calve and then leave the calf hidden. We had to search for the newborn and be sure the dog wasn't around, for the new mother would fight to protect her offspring. Mother Nature must have left this instinct in domesticated cows which normally paid little attention to the dog shepherding them as they went from barnyard to pasture.

Separator with platform for smaller cream pan, (note vise for bowl assembly)

Part of doing chores was the job of toting from house to barn and back again. Milk caused most of this work. The cycle started with milking twice a day. Milking was done by hand and four or five milk pails were needed to hold the fresh milk. These had to be carried to the house where milk was processed in the back room. Milk was strained as it was poured into the cream separator. The separator was turned by hand to spin the skim milk away from the lighter cream. Skim milk was collected in swill pails to be later carried back to the barn to feed the pigs. Sometimes some of it was saved in clean containers for cottage cheese.

Galloway Cream Separator

The cream was collected in one of many small crocks we used to hold cream until there were about 3 gallons to churn. We had two churns--a crock churn with a wooden dasher to pound (dash) the cream until "butter came", which could take 20 minutes. The other one was a barrel churn made like a wooden barrel and hung on a frame so it could be spun slowly with a crank. The trick with this churn was to turn it slowly enough to slosh the cream on each turn. If it went too fast, centrifugal force held it in one end and it wouldn't churn. From either churn the fresh butter was carefully lifted by hand out of the churn, placed in a wooden butter bowl and worked with a ladle to extract excess whey. Then salt was worked into it before packing it in crocks of various sizes or made into rolls to be sold. Buttermilk left over after churning was dumped into the swill pails for hog feed unless needed for cooking. With a little salt and the tiny butter flecks still remaining, it made a refreshing, cool drink; it also made wonderful pancakes and biscuits.

Dasher Churn

Each time we headed for the barn for chores we had to check to see what pails were full enough to carry along. The empties had to come back eventually and since we couldn't put milk in them, they were always an extra, not unlike the empty milk pails which had to be carried out when we went to milk. Eggs were easier and could be collected once a day unless it was zero weather when we had to do it oftener to keep them from freezing. In summer they had to be candled, that is checked over a light, to be sure they weren't spoiled.

Barrel Churn

Though it was not a part of the farm work itself, the household chore of washing milk pails and the separator had to be done. Pails and the strainer were washed once a day and the separator every other day in summer and perhaps less often in winter. In addition to the farm products we had to carry all drinking water from the well tank into the house. If the cistern was dry we had to bring all our water in this way adding greatly to the toting we usually had to do. For various reasons I had to help with the milk dishes when Mom couldn't do them--which wasn't very often. I hated the separator especially since the bowl had to be disassembled, carefully rinsed in cold water before being washed in homemade soap water which didn't cut the grease very well. Also, the 20 or so discs which separated the milk from the cream in the bowl of the machine couldn't be rearranged during cleaning. They had to be carefully strung on a device that reminds me of a very large safety pin. After washing and scalding (we used boiling water generously on all milk dishes to purify them) they had to be replaced in the clean bowl. Unless they had been kept in the order set by the factory, they wouldn't balance and the separator was inoperable. An extra large dishpan had to be used to wash the milk pails and the separator parts. We had a 16 quart pail, some 12-14qt. pails, the strainer, and the separator tank which was large enough to hold two or three pail fulls. Lastly, the clean separator had to be put back together.

Detail of discs, part of bowl which spun to do the job