Yesterday, unexpectedly, we began baling the first crop of hay that we secured for the rescue when we leased 20+ plus acres from a local landowner. It was unexpected because we had planned to wait until today. Mother Nature, unfortunately, had other plans. So Doug, Wade, Lenny, and Nate dropped everything to get out there and bale what had dried enough and the rest, well, it will have to sit and dry longer, especially after the storms today. Nate and Wade got busy raking while Doug began small squares and Lenny began round bales. Soon enough, it was time for me to get over there and start stacking the small squares in the barn (that the landowner is letting us use for storage…at no charge…). The temperature was in the mid-80s. The sun was beating down on everyone. It was late afternoon/early evening. Everyone had already had a long day. The squares kept getting stuck on the hay elevator. Nate was up and down that thing at least 10 times in the first half hour. We were hot, sweaty, tired, and running out of options on how to get this hay in before the rain today.
All of a sudden a truck pulled in the driveway. It was the landowner’s son. He had just completed a long day at his job and he came by to see how things were going. Seeing right away that we were having issues, he stepped right in, still wearing his work uniform, and began to help. The bales were a bit too loose for the hay elevator that we were using (again, at no charge). If we continued to try to put them in the barn with it, we would end up wrecking the elevator and/or losing more bales than we could even count as the twine got stuck and broke and the loose hay fell to the floor. Without saying much (that I heard), he walked into another shed and emerged with a tractor. He drove it up around the steep, narrow, rain-rutted drive that led to the back of the barn. A couple of minutes later, he came around the corner with another hay elevator. This one, he explained, could go into a different window and since it didn’t have a corner on it, the bales would not get hung up. He put it in place, you could already see the sweat building up on him, then walked away again, only to return with the motor for the new elevator. Then I heard him say “What the?” and I turned and looked. The power cord had been chewed off and there was no longer a plug on the motor. Expecting him to throw his hands in the air and walk away, as this was a whole lot of not his problem, instead he calmly called to his dad and asked if he had a plug somewhere as he busily began working with the wires in the cord.
I then watched as his dad walked down to the shed where the tractor had emerged from. Every step he took, he limped. His one leg and his back showing the obvious signs of a lifetime of hard labor as a farmer. But, when he returned, he had a smile on his face and readily helped his son get the new elevator running. His son then went back into the barn and I followed as he told me to stack the hay closer to the new elevator than I had been rather than walk clear across the barn where the other elevator had been dumping it. Upon seeing that new elevator was working perfectly, again I expected him to be on his way home. He doesn’t even live there after all. Instead, he began stacking the hay right alongside me. Once that first wagon was emptied and stacked, Nate and I took it back out to Doug and Wade, having completed the raking, went up to the far field to get the third full wagon and Nate and I unhooked the empty one and grabbed the second wagon. Fully expecting father and son to have retired for the day, I was once again surprised to find them still there and continuing to help unload and stack the hay.
During the time that the motor for the new elevator was being repaired, I had the time to look around at where I was. It was a place I have driven past many times, but you can’t see much of it from the road as it sits up and almost over a hill. I looked around and the view from up there is stunning. I looked at the old farmhouse that most likely has not been occupied for many years. I looked at the old barn, the shed, the old pastures, the silos, all sitting for the most part…empty… As the son stacked hay alongside me, I looked up and saw the remnants of an old basketball backboard hanging in the barn. Almost reading my thoughts, he quietly said “it’s been a long time since there’s been hay stacked in this barn.” And with that, the floodgates of my mind opened up. I asked if they had been dairy farmers. Yes. How many cows did you have? Around 60. How long ago did you stop? February. But, there hasn’t been hay up here for a long time? No, it just hasn’t been stacked. We just let it lay where it landed off the elevator, he laughed. Had your dad been a farmer his whole life? Yes. Were his parents farmers? Yes. Is this where he grew up? No, this is actually where my uncle lived. It’s been in the family since 1892, at least that’s as far back as we can trace it. Is your dad retired now? No. He’s working at Menards. How old is he? 63. Does he still have any cows? 4, but 3 of them are mine. They’re beef cows. Does he want to keep the farm? I do.
And just like that, it really sunk in where I was. What we were doing. What was happening. What is happening all around the heartland of America. And we had found ourselves right in the middle of it. The joy in “securing” our hay supply for the year was quickly tempered by the reality of how we were able to do so. This once flourishing dairy farm with the incredible views was almost haunted by the memories of happier times. The silos that stand so proud and tall on top of the hill, once filled with feed for the cows, now sit empty. The stanchions below my feet no longer hold a single cow. The pastures that once held 60 cattle, now house just 4. The fields that we are cutting and baling are “ours” because this family farm, that had been operating for more than a century, has been forced to close its doors. A 63 year old man who had been farming his entire life, is now just another number at a large corporation. And his son, who so desperately wants to keep the farm, is still there. Right by his dad’s side, helping people he doesn’t even really know, stack the hay that just one year ago, was for their cattle. Their farm. Their livelihood.
I am humbled by you. Your help, your generosity, your courage and strength during such a tough time in your lives. To step in and help the way you did yesterday when there was no reason you had to, other than the good, honest, hard-working upbringing you had. We can only hope that one day you will be able to keep the farm and restore it to its former glory. But, in the meantime, please know that your sacrifices are recognized here. That your sadness will be met with happy nickers as we bring the beautiful souls here the hay that you are allowing us to crop. That we will think of you and your family as the starved, neglected, abandoned, and thrown away horses are brought back to life with every bale we feed. And we will pray that your dad will be able retire from farming when his body says so, rather than retire from a corporation when they say so.
I am humbled by you…
We have been able to make two payments towards the land that this family is so generously letting us crop. Please consider a donation to help us pay them in full as soon as possible. They deserve it. They’ve earned it. Thank you all so much and please support our dairy farmers. They need you as much as the horses do.