Peace and harmony on the farmony

Woke up this morning. As I did chores, sun shining on new fallen snow, puppies at my side, I felt the poet in me take over my soul. I said to myself, “This is a good time, for Mr. Ed to make up a rhyme. So here goes:

Someone said
Let’s go to Mr. Ed’s Farm
Another said
That couldn’t do any harm.

There’s a lot of things
To do and see
And most of them are
Darn near free

There’s sheep and horses
And a goat or two
Be sure to watch your step
And check your shoe.

The chickens are up
At the crack of dawn
You know when a hen lays an egg
When she sings her song

Watch out for the rooster
His name is Red Green
He looks pretty mellow
But he could be mean

Then there is Otis
The guard llama
Any intruder
Is an excuse for drama

You can visit with Gladys
And her friend Lucile
Just don’t tell them any secrets
Because they will squeal

Joe is from Jersey
Vinnie is too
If they see you coming
They will give you a big moo.

Watch out for the barn cats
They are very wary
Sticking your hand in a hole
Can be quite scary

Marshmallow and brownie
Are goats that are pigmy
They will run up to you
And say “Don’t you dig me?”

The puppies love
to run and play
They keep it up
All through the day

Poor mother Rosie
And father Winston too
Are besides themselves
And don’t know what to do

The puppies
Love to bark and bite
They grab Winston by the tail
And pull with all their might

Winston whirls around
He is quite quick
He tells the boys
Go get me a stick

Rosie looks after the puppies
She thinks they are so sweet
She makes sure
They get enough to eat

The horses
There are eight
Love to eat hay
And stand by the gate

There’s Cody and Harley
And Sam and Sue
They will pull anything
Mr. Ed wants them too

Lazy Luke likes to sleep in
Sweetie is an early riser
Mick is pretty smart
But Bud is wiser

There are two ducks
Named Cheese and Quackers
Check out their bills
They are worth a lot of smackers

The rabbits
Brown and white
Live in separate cages
so they don’t fight

Two girls and a boy
Apart they remain
That is so the number of rabbits
remains the same

There’s sparrows, starlings
and chickadees too
And lots of other wild birds
That add to the zoo.

The deer like to nibble
And they love to chew
Jumping into the garden
Is their favorite thing to do

One animal not welcome
Is the stinky old skunk
Last time he met Winston
That dog really stunk

Mr Ed gets up in the morning
To do all his chores
When he takes his nap
Mrs Ed says he snores

Mrs Ed likes to garden
And look after her flowers
She seems to possess
Magical growing powers

She planted pole beans
Along side the shed
Up up they grew
Way over her head.

The beans grew up
Almost out of sight
She jumped to reach them
With all of her might.

Not being able to reach the beans
Made her feel sadder
Not being able to jump
Made her even madder

Watching her jump
And sensing her plight
Mr Ed disappeared
Clean out of sight

Not wishing to see
His lovely wife get madder and sadder
Good old Mr Ed
Came back with the step ladder

All is well
You can see
On Mr Ed’ Farm
Peace and harmony are still free.

I am a Pygmy, do you dig me?

Don’t let him pull the wool over your eyes….

When I was in 9th grade I joined the Future Farmers Of America. Mom and Dad helped me buy some sheep for my project. My uncle Art came out and gave me some pointers on how to shear. Back in his youth, he, dad and their brothers had a flock of sheep. I think they used hand shears, a spring loaded scissor- like snipper and later a hand crank machine with a clipper head attachment. Being one of the younger ones, it was dad’s job to catch sheep and sit them for the shearer. I think he said he got 25 cents a day. The wool was sold as a cash crop. I don’t think it brought much during the depression years.

Back then I never really mastered the art of sheep shearing. I was a pretty good cow clipper, not as good as my brother Duane who won several FFA cow clipping contests, but good enough not to do any serious damage. My problem was, after being shown several times, I was never able to quite master sheep tipping. It sounds easy, but it AIN’T.

Never having a large flock, I managed to remove the wool cow clip style. I’d tie up their heads and clip them from the top down. I’ll admit, they didn’t look quite as good as the ones you see at the fair. I don’t know for sure if sheep really care how they look. I do know my sheep hid out in the woods for a couple of weeks until some wool grew back. My sister Iris gave me a hair cut one time so I kind of knew what they felt like.

I sold the sheep the summer of 1972 and used the money to buy a black, 1965 Dodge Coronet so I could go off to college. The future Mrs Ed, whom I met at U of M Morris, liked the car so I guess it worked out ok.

I went sheep-less until 1985 when we bought the farm. That fall I bought 7 Hampshire ewes. I raised some lambs, sold the wethers, and kept the ewe lambs. I didn’t have to worry about shearing until spring. I believe there were 12 when that fateful day arrived.

I was ready, so I thought. I had ordered an Oyster Clipmaster from Nasco. It came in a heavy box for it’s size. I unwrapped it like a kid at Christmas. I loved the feel of the shiny new chrome and black clippers. I carefully unwrapped the dangerously looking, razor sharp blades from their oily wrapper. I even looked at the directions to see how they were to be mounted. I remember Uncle Art telling me to have some kerosene on hand to dip them in, to keep them from getting gummed up with lanolin. (the sticky, waxy stuff that makes your skin soft and makes you smell like a sheep).

I got out my newly purchased sheep books. The ones that tell you all about the diseases that your sheep can die from. I skipped over that part and went right to the chapter on shearing. I studied the diagrams. “Set the sheep on its back. Position it’s head between your knee and something else. Make your first cut …… etc, etc. Be careful not to nick the skin, the sharp clipper blades can …. Avoid making second cuts as it degrades the wool and you will be docked at time of sale”.

About now I’m starting to get second thoughts. My first second thought was what Mrs Ed had said when I was about to order the $100 plus Clipmaster. “Are you sure you need that?”. “Are you sure you know how to shear a sheep?” And finally, “Maybe you should hire someone to shear them for you”.

Over this many years of marriage, I have almost learned to listen and pay attention when she says something like that. The young Mr. Ed, ego bruised, did the only thing he could do, sent the order in.

The day of reckoning came. I pulled on the old bibs, knowing they would be coated with greasy lanolin and smelling like sheep by the time I finished. I figured I’d just hang them on the line when I was done. Pretty thoughtful I thought.

Clipmaster in one hand, coffee can with kerosene in the other, sheep book with dog eared chapter tucked under my arm, I headed out to the barn. Upon entering the door, the sheep instinctively inched to the far side of the pen. I had fed them earlier that morning so they knew I was up to something. How come sheep always expect the worst?

I ran an extension cord from the light socket. I strategically placed my coffee can where I could reach it when the blades got gummed up. I was ready to tackle my first sheep …and they knew it.
Seven 200 lb ewes intermixed with half grown lambs, launched the “melee” maneuver. That’s when the flock moves first in a clockwise motion and then shifts instantly into a counterclockwise swirl depending on which way the catcher is approaching. It was obvious no one wanted to be first.

I grabbed a leg and pulled, hoping to separate at least one from the crowd. The momentum pulled me in to the middle of this dense mass. I was forced to let go. My next move was to grab one around the neck. Better leverage I thought. I wrestled her to the edge. It was Edith!

In those days I made the mistake of naming all the sheep. I thought I could declare them as dependents on my taxes. I didn’t. Mrs.Ed said the IRS might get a little suspicious with 12 dependents under age three.

Edith was no ordinary sheep. She was big and strong and could hold her own amongst the flock. I guess she figured it was her duty to put this bibbed intruder in his place. I grabbed Edith just like it said to in the book, around the neck, bending her head sideways. The book said this causes the sheep to lose its balance and tip onto its butt. I should have let Edith read the book. Next thing I know I am on my back with Edith stomping at my head. Not to be deterred or stomped, I sprang to my feet and grabbed her again. The adrenlin must have kicked in because I soon had Edith on her butt. The other sheep stared in amazement.

Time to reach for my the Clipmaster. When something is out of reach, six inches is still six inches. I struggled, trying to keep her feet from touching the ground where she could get some traction. I wiggled her towards the machine until I could finally catch the cord with my foot. I paused for a moment to regain my composure and gather my thoughts. I rehearsed the directions in my mind. “Start your first cut behind the ear and proceed down along the flank. Ear, flank, I had a mental picture. I flicked the slide switch on the clippers. BZZZZ. Edith freaked. Somehow she managed to get her back leg firmly lodged on my ankle. I learned then why there are no one legged sheep shearers. Down I went, Edith was back on top.

More second thoughts crept into my mind. “I can do this” I said to myself. “I have to do this”. Brushing off the straw and some other sticky brown stuff from my overalls, I gave Edith the look of a determined crazy man. She stepped away from the flock and soon we were back to where we were before, “Start at the ear…..”

Clippers powered up, blades flashing, I began my first cut. The wool peeled away, just like the book said it would. I felt the lanolin on my fingers, the smell of a freshly shorn sheep filled my nostrils. A feeling of joy began to well up in my inner soul. I was doing it! I was shearing a sheep the way it was meant to be!

I probably should have stopped there. If only there were clear indisputable signals to let a person know exactly when to quit when one is ahead. The second cut went ok, even the third one wasn’t bad. Then I did it. I had the clippers too far away from the sheep. This left a patch of wool that was too long. “Darn, I got to make a second cut. Hopefully they won’t notice when I take it in to sell”.

Now there is a fine line when it comes to positioning a clipper next to a sheep’s body. And there is a fine line when it comes to adjusting clipper blades. Too loose, they won’t cut, too tight, they get hot. I sure didn’t want them to be too loose so…. Needless to say, friction creates heat. Heat, next to bare skin … You get the picture. In order to avoid the dreaded second cut, I guided the clippers in tight. I didn’t notice right away, but Edith did.

I’m not sure what happened in the next few seconds but I can tell you what I surmised from the results. Remember the part about being careful not to nick the sheep’s skin … Suddenly the meaning of that caution became crystal clear. Not only was Edith smoking, she was bleeding. They should have included another caution “If you do knick a sheep, don’t panic and nip your fingers cause it hurts”.

So, what does one do with a half shorn crazy sheep with a significant cut on her side, not to mention a slightly nipped finger? A reasonable person may have done something different. Did I mention lanolin is pretty good at slowing down bleeding? Besides, I sure didn’t want to get docked for having blood stained wool.

My sheep book suggested putting together a shepherd’s first aid kit. It advised things like iodine, bandages, string, sutures, needles and thread. Finally I had done something right. I rushed to my special cabinet where I kept my sheep supplies. I dusted off the first aid kit which I had assembled in a piece of Mrs Ed’s Tupperware. I retrieved needle and thread. I took a part of a minute to glance at the chapter on stitching up a wounded sheep. ” Not as bad as a c-section” I thought, “This should be easy”.

“Edith, oh Edith” I called. She was having none of it. She was perfectly willing to run around half naked and wounded than to have me anywhere her. Desperate times call for drastic action. My dairy farmer instincts took over. Quick, make a stanchion to hold her head. Upon locating two stout two by fours, I fashioned a makeshift head stall. I secured it to a gate. I grabbed Edith by the ears and forced her head between the boards. I secured the top with a pretty good twine string. “Cleanse the wound” the book said. I did. “Apply iodine or other disinfectant”. No problem. “Gently and carefully pull the edges of the skin together and sew using small (some kind of surgical) stitches.

It became abundantly clear, Edith would rather risk dying. Having been drug around, wrestled on her back, scorched and slashed with a Clipmaster, she wasn’t even considering letting me practice my sewing skills.

Time to regroup. “Ok” I thought to myself “she is secure and the bleeding has subsided. I was a pretty good cow clipper in my day. It will take a little longer, but I can get the wool off”. So I did. Now there still was the matter of the gash on her side. Fortunately the lanolin and iodine had curtailed the bleeding but it looked pretty bad. Wanting to spare Mrs Ed the shock of seeing a wounded sheep, I figured I’d better cover it up. Unfortunately the book didn’t specify how many and how big of bandages one should have on hand. Needless to say, I was a little short.

You know how sometimes fate intervenes just when you need it too? It was just at that moment when I looked up and saw that roll of duct tape I had left hanging in the barn the last time I fixed the water tank. It was a real “Red Green” moment. I grabbed the tape and the bandages, squeezed the skin flaps as best I could and started wrapping. A couple dozen times around the middle, Edith was ready to go.

I finished shearing the rest of the flock cow clip style without incident. Mrs Ed seemed pleasantly surprised to see the newly shorn sheep. It was probably good that Edith hadn’t quite forgiven me and was staying way back in the flock.

Shearing time is like birthdays. Once you reach a certain age, they seem to come faster. Through the course of that year, I acquired more sheep. As shearing time neared Mrs Ed asked me when I was going to shear the sheep. “You know,” I said “We have so many sheep now that it might be time to hire a professional. Besides my time is needed to work on those other projects”. She reluctantly agreed. “You are so good at it, maybe you can take the Clipmaster and give him some pointers” “Yup” I thought to myself, “you can never learn enough about the versatility of duct tape”.


A horse loggers tale

As I sit here today looking out the window at the snow swirling around in the gusting winds, I am reminded of a similar January day several years ago. It was in the early days of Wood EN Horse Logging. My logging partner at that time, Mike and I were honing our logging and horsemanship skills.

Wood EN Horse Logging is an enterprise established to utilize draft horses in custom logging ventures. Or, something useful for the horses to do in the winter time.

The logging industry is driven by technology and economics. The goal is to produce as much wood at the least possible cost. Horse logging predates the highly mechanized logging of modern times. For one hundred years, beginning with the first commercial logging in Minnesota in the 1830’s, animals provided the necessary power. Early on, oxen skidded the big pine to nearby rivers. Oxen were common on farms and more affordable than horses. Oxen can live quite well on hay, even if it is poor quality.

Horses, on the other hand, moved faster than the ponderous ox but required more expensive grain. By 1900, draft horses, had supplanted the ox. Highball logging, being able to move large loads of
over greater distances with horses, was a major technological and economic advance for the industry. As what happened in agriculture, the day of the horse began to wane in the 1920’s . By the end of WW II, farming and logging had become much more mechanized. Tractors pulled the plows. Cats and cable skidders moved the wood.

The numbers of horses in rural America dropped dramatically in the 20th century. The ones that survived lived much different lives. Where there once hundreds of thousands of “good broke teams”, modern draft horses could be classified as “hitch” horses, nostalgic farm teams, or pasture pets. Agriculture and logging evolved and changed in ways that worked against the resurgence of the draft horse. Farms became larger. Logging production based. To be economically viable, farmers and loggers needed to produce more with less. Horses where too slow and inefficient.

Wood EN Horse Logging set out to change all that. Mike and I were determined to show people horses still had a place in the woods. Horse logging, we said, is “light on the land, low impact, precision forest management”. We were providing a service to improve the forest environment,. Volume of production was secondary. We were very proud of the fact that the plantations we thinned looked much better after we did our work.

My entry into the horse logging business began with a foray into Mike’s world. Mike had been logging with his horse Spunk. Spunk was a big Belgian mare. Mike had raised and broke her to log. She lived up to her name. There wasn’t anything she didn’t think she could pull and she did it with the speed and zest of a bronco.

Rollie Miller and I went up to help Mike with a pine plantation thinning. It was a winter of big snow. Mike had spent a few weeks felling trees before the first blizzard hit. By the time we got there the second and third snows had completely submerged the downed logs, Mike and his mighty mare were exhausted. I brought Patsy and Kate, my mares to the rescue.

“So how many trees are there”? Rollie asked. “About twenty”, replied Mike. We shuffled through the drifts, we shoveled down to the stumps, chained up the trees and skidded them to the landing. Twenty trees later we took a break. “So Mike, how many tress are left?” Rollie asked “About twenty” Mike replied. This was repeated about four more times. We laughed about that for many years to come.

Back to my memory prompted by today’s swirling snow. A few years later, Mike and I were logging poplar here. We were using Mike’s horse and one of mine. Unfortunately Spunk was gone, having died giving birth. We were using her son who had been broke that summer by the Amish in Iowa. Mike raised Dumb Ass, yes, that was the horses name as a bottle fed orphan. DA lived up to his name.

Orphan horses often have personality issues later in their lives. Foals that grow up under their mother’s tutelage learn to respect other horses and their place in the pecking order. Orphans get their identity from their handler. Humans are able to exhibit kindness much better than brood mares. Unfortunately this can backfire as the youngster grows to adulthood. Full grown orphans, accustomed to getting their own way, are difficult to break to work. They are more likely to challenge the teamster and to throw temper tantrums if they don’t get their way.

The morning went ok. I worked DA single, skidding trees from the woods to the landing in a nearby field. Unfortunately from this vantage point, DA could see the other horses up by the barn. By 11 a.m. DA grew restless. Each time I came out of the woods, he got a little more biligerant, fighting me to go back in the woods. Frustrated, I went to Mike. “DA is starting to irritate me” (I was a little more direct). Mike took the lines. I am not sure what happened next but DA, lines flying out behind him, made a beeline to the barn.

By this time the weather had deteriorated. The wind had come up, blowing snow in all directions. Mike and I looked at each other. “We can’t end like this” we agreed, “if we do DA will have won”. Between the two of us we decided on the “running w”. The running w is a rope restraint system that trains a run away horse to stop on command. We figured if we could drop DA to his knees a couple times, he’d quit trying to get away. There was a lot of snow so we weren’t concerned about hurting him.

I went to get the rope. Mike caught DA. By the time we got back to the field the blizzard was in full force. Mike and I had to shout to each other as we rigged up the ropes. DA stood quietly. In hindsight, I think he was crafting his plan.

I took the lines, Mike the trip rope. Mike nodded. “Get up” I shouted to the horse as the blizzard’s intensity increased. As expected, DA turned and headed toward the barn. I laid on the lines and shouted “WHOA!” Mike braced himself. DA, in the spirit of his mother, powered ahead. I hollered at Mike “I can”t hold him”? Mike shouted back “What”? It was clear verbal communication was not going to work. I saw Mike struggling, about to be tipped from a backward brace to a front face slide. I threw the lines and bolted to Mike’s side. I grabbed the rope. For a second or two, the scales seemed to be tipping in our favor. We could feel the the horse stumble. “I think we got him” I shouted” “What”? Mike shouted back.

The struggle continued, the advantage first to the horse, then to two, slightly out of shape, horse loggers. Back and forth, back and forth. The wind whipped with an unforgiving fury. I looked at Mike’s snow crusted face. His jaw set in a “win at all cost ” poise. His gloved hands clutching the rope with a grip of steel. At that point we both looked in the direction of our adversary. The weather had turned to a whiteout.

“I think he’s out there someplace” Mike shouted. At that point we knew we couldn’t hold it anymore. Falling over laughing, we watched as the rope and the horse it was attached to disappeared into the whiteness. DA’s lesson for the day would have to wait.

Mike, a horse logging legend in his own mind, and a good friend

I gotta tell mom!

I learn stuff the hard way. Like the time I lost an ox. Yes, a 2000 pound ox, bought with investors money, gone, vanished overnight.

This is the beginning of the “Saga of Norman, the Wonder Ox”. Norman began life as a small crossbred calf, caught between the world of dairy and beef. He was half Jersey and half black angus. He probably never knew his sire and dam, at least he never talked about them. Did I mention he was a talking ox? Just kidding, although he had a pretty distinct moo.

Norman was purchased at a sales barn by Rollie and Mary Miller about the time the movie City Slickers came out. If you have never seen it you probably don’t know what “IT” is. Billy Crystal figures it out in the movie. It has something to do with “bringing in the herd”. Pretty deep stuff. Norman is a major character.

Anyway Norman got a ride to his Floodwood farm in the back of a station wagon. During the next two years or so, Norman grew large on a ration of grain and hay. He learned to lead and pull logs with a makeshift harness. Oxen that work in teams, also known as spans, generally wear yokes made from wood. Norman was a solitary beast. Rollie was an improviser. He rigged a harness using an upside down horse collar. Norman never complained. His vanity never surfaced.

Sometime between his second and third birthday, Norman made his public debut. Rollie was a lumberjack interpreter at the Forest History Center. When the time was right, Norman headed for camp, this time in an old rusty, two horse stock trailer. Rollie told me later that Norman rode better in the back of the station wagon as he “rocked the trailer” all the way to town.

Norman became the star of “Real Horse and a Little Ox Power Day”. People came for miles and waited patiently just to see him perform the dangerous and dramatic cross haul. Bill ,the blacksmith, used to marvel at Norman’s speed. “You gotta put a line on the ground just to make sure you can see he’s moving”. Norman didn’t mind, he figured Bill to be a big steak eater anyway.

One spring cancer took our friend Rollie and it looked like Norman’s days were numbered. With the help of young budding author and occasional FHC volunteer, Matt Nelson, we came up with a plan to save Norman. Mary was willing to sell him for market price and there were a lot of Oxburgers. Matt created the Norman Newsletter to rally the Normanites, a group of investors who could “own a piece of Norman” for only $50. Norman certificates were printed and the money poured in. A few people wanted their share in steaks and roasts so we had to explain that it didn’t work that way. The best Norman could do was make them a pie. Most declined.

In a short period of time, an envelope of almost enough cash was assembled. Mr’s Ed and I were able to complete the financing. It was time to close the deal and pick up Norman.

I’ll never forget the pickup. It was fly season. Norman was hiding in the back of a loafing shed with the horses and another, “someday to be ” ox. I don’t remember his name, what I do remember was that Mary said Rollie bought him to team up with Norman but never got around to train him or even make him a steer. I was just a little reluctant to go into a small shed with three, fly stomping draft horses and a two year old bull to look for a black ox. Did I mention it was dark in there?

Somehow I managed to find him, slip a halter on and coax him to the door. He wasn’t exactly happy. You see in the world of horse flies, the color black says “lunch”. Something as big and black as Norman screams out BUFFET! With me on the halter rope and Mary on the business end of a stick, we managed to get Norman over to the trailer. Suddenly the “Hey, this is a trailer” bulb turns on and he proceeds to drag me back to the shed. Did I mention it was about 90 degrees and getting hotter by the minute? Bullwackers, as the men who drove oxen were called, had reputations for cussing. Perhaps my mutterings stirred something in Norman’s ancestral psyche, because the next time we worked our way back to the trailer he put both front feet in and stood there. From what happened next, I suspected Mary and Rollie had performed this ritual before. Details aside, Norman stepped into the trailer.

The ride home was eventful. For a ponderous ox, that boy could rock a trailer. Whenever I’d stop at a stop sign, he’d Beller for help. Needless to say, I “kept her moving” as I didn’t want to answer any questions.

No problem unloading the “car sick” beast. Don’t ask me why I knew he was car sick. Thank goodness for pressure washers. I led him to a corral behind the barn. One side had metal corral panels, the other side, a four foot high wolven wire fence. “Welcome to your new home, Norman, I’ll see you in the morning”.

Morning came. I went out to see how the old boy was doing. He wasn’t. Not that he wasn’t doing anything, he wasn’t there. The pen is fifty feet square, pretty hard for anything to hide, particularly a 2000 pound ox. On closer inspection, I noticed a hole about the size of an ox in the wolven wire. “That wasn’t there yesterday” I thought to myself. I followed the tracks. They led me to the driveway and down Foss Road. Norman was heading home! Floodwood is 48 miles from my house. “I wonder how much of a head start he got”? I thought to myself. “Better get some help”.

To back track a little bit, did I mention that Mrs. Ed wasn’t exactly thrilled about adding an ox to the already in excess herd of horses? Also she was a little uneasy about a financed ox. “What are you going to tell people if he dies”? ” “He’s a young ox, he isn’t going to die” I assured her. I never considered that he might run away.

Thinking it was best not to worry her when she was still sleeping, I crept into Matt’s room. “Hey Matt”, I whispered, “want to go on an adventure?” Sure Dad” (that was during his unquestioning period. He got dressed and we headed outside. “What’s up?” he asked. ” Normans’ gone. We got to go find him”. Fortunately I was able to get my hand over his mouth in time to muffle his response, “I’m going to tell mom”.

We headed down the driveway. “See here are his tracks” I pointed out. “Dad,, you just stepped in a cow pie”. As we rounded the mailbox, the kid came up with another one of his prodigious ideas. “I think we had better bring Snuffy along”. Snuffy was our old veteran Border Collie. He didn’t get too excited except in emergency situations. I agreed and whistled for him. He reluctantly emerged from his dog house and wondered down the driveway towards us. “Snuffy, Normans’ run away. We got to find him!”
Snuffy came alive, like a bloodhound at a prison escape. Nose to the ground, he headed down Foss Road. “Come on Snuffy, get him” Matt yelled as we picked up the pace. It is only one half mile to highway 5. Number 5 is a blacktop road. I worried we might lose the track. Halfway there Snuffy stopped. Had he lost the trail? He stared into the woods.

It is no ordinary woods on the south side of Foss Road. It is swamp, alder brush and thick dark spruce. It’s where the big bucks hang out during deer season. We know because we never go in there to look for them. Impossible to fight through. Snuffy looked at us, looked back at the swamp, back at us, shook his head and dove in. Matt and I ran the last 50 yards. No. No way. No ordinary animal would enter that swamp.

We stopped and stared at the hole in the brush. Yup, about the size of an ox. I looked at the ground. The tracks too had stopped as if the ox had been lifted into the sky by a gigantic eagle. “I think he’s in there dad” “I think your right” I replied. “I’d better go tell mom”. I pleaded with him, “We can do this son”. “If we don’t make it, then you can tell mom”.

Fortunately big oxen make big trails. We followed, climbing over trees, fighting the brush, mosquitoes as big as horseflies and horse flies as big as humming birds. “Listen” Matt whispered “I think I hear Snuffy”. I listened. A muffled bark sounded like it was coming from a distant stand of spruce.” Matt plunged ahead. Being much smaller than me he could slide under the bigger brush. As long as It kept slapping me in the face, I figured I wouldn’t lose him.

The barks grew sharper. Snuffy had something. I hoped he had not been sidetracked by a squirrel, porcupine or worse yet, a skunk. Before I could say, slow down, Matt stopped, hunched over and peered into the dense spruce. “I think I see him” Matt said, pointing to a really dark spot. About that time, probably annoyed by a yapping border collie, Norman let out a bellow. It was music to my ears!

Now the way I figure it, Norman was on his way home. At his pace it took him half the night to traverse the first half mile. When the sun came up so did the horse flies. BUFFET” they buzzed to each other as they dive bombed the black beast. Norman had simply headed for cover, to lay low until nightfall. Fortunately for us, Snuffy got his man!

Getting Norman home was a bit of a challenge. I told Matt, “Let’s play the Rollie and Mary game.”What’s that” he asked?. “”Here, take this stick and act like you mean business”. It worked. Assisted by a flock of hungry horse flies and a fired up border collie, we got Norman to the barn in record time. Just as I turned to shut the barn door, I saw Matt streaking towards the house. “Matt” I called. Too late. ” Not now dad, I gotta tell mom!”


Young Matt Nelson and Norman the Wonder Ox

Eating like a horse

Pretty quiet Sunday on Mr Ed’s Farm. Too cold to do much more than the usual chores. The animals are adjusting just fine. The new chicken coop is holding around 40 degrees, a big improvement over the old one. It’s pretty amazing how much heat the feathered fowl can give off.

The horses have been, well “eating like horses”, consuming large amounts of hay. Horses have a rather simple digestive system with one stomach as compared to the calves who have four. Horses need to eat a lot of roughage as they heat from the inside out. The hay, mixed with saliva, ferments in the horse’s intestines and generates heat. In the old days, farmers turned the horses into the straw pile during the winter. Straw has less nutritional value than hay but provided the needed roughage

Horses like to move around in really cold weather. It facilitates circulation, especially in their legs. A horse that goes down for even a short period of time when it is real cold, can get in trouble in a hurry.

Logging horses, that worked every day, required a daily ration of grain to provide energy in addition to generous amounts of hay. The rule of thumb was a quart of oats for every 100 pounds of horse. Generally the teams got grain three times a day with the largest portion given in the morning.

Logging camp barns were not heated. In fact old photos show spaces left between the logs in the walls with vents built into the ceilings. The heat generated by the horses rose up and out. The cracks in the walls brought in the fresh air the horses needed to stay healthy. Horses kept in moist, unventilated barns are more likely to suffer from respiratory problems.

Logging camp barns had wood planking on the floors. The horses had corked shoes that would have become clogged with frozen mud if they had to stand in dirt. The horses stood in tie stalls, not in corrals or loose housing to minimize the risk of injury from kicks and stepping on each other.

The majority of horses used in the camps were rented from farmers. They were only needed for the winter so it was more economical to rent them by the month rather than feed them all year. Farmers could rent out their extra horses during the winter for cash when they would have otherwise been idle. The teams came home in time for spring planting. Most camp horses were geldings between 6-12 years old.

Chet Mann once told me the best color of horse was fat. I think he was talking about retail appeal. If your looking to sell a horse, fatten and shine them up. If your buying one, look for horses that are muscled up from working. You can almost always fatten them up if your concerned about “color”.

A team of grade grey percheron logging horses.

A tough old Swede

The animals are hunkering down on Mr Ed’s Farm tonight. The northwest wind is downright brutal. The horses, normally unaffected by the weather, are hanging close to the south side of the machine shed. They rabbits are wearing their fur coats and the sheep their woollies. It didn’t take me long to do chores but I did take a couple of minutes to check on the horses water. We have an artisan well with the overflow piped out to the pasture. For many years it simply drained into a pond. When it was real cold I had to break a crust of ice over the flowing water so the horses could drink. Last fall we redid the system, running the pipe through a partially buried tank with an overflow drain pipe. I built an insulated box around the tank. I figured if there were going to be problems it would be tonight. I was relieved to see the tank was ice free, the water flowing fast enough to keep the ice at bay. The horses love it.

For some reason the biting wind and bitter cold reminded me of Oscar. I met him my first day at the Forest History Center. He was a natural story teller. One of my favorite Oscar stories was about August Swenson, a tough old Swedish lumberjack. According to Oscar, Gus loved to ice skate. One Sunday afternoon he set out down the Mississippi to see how far he could skate.

The other jacks got a little worried when he didn’t return at dark. A few wanted to go look for him but the other Swedes said not to worry, Gus was tough, a frozen river couldn’t kill him. The night got colder, the wind howled, trees froze and snapped off with loud cracks. Still no Gus. A hour past midnight, they heard him coming. They rushed to the door, pulled him inside and propped him up next to the red hot barrel stove. After a few cups of hot coffee, he told them the story.

“I skated downriver fifteen miles before I hit the open water. I was going fast enough so that didn’t bother me. If it hadn’t for that beaver, I would have kept going. Before I knew it I was in over my head. When I came up for air I found myself clinging to the ice.”. He paused. “What did you do?” they asked. “Well at first I tried to climb out but I kept slipping back. After an hour or so I figured I’d better try something else. By this time the wind had come up and it was getting colder. I figured I’d take advantage of this bit of good fortune”.

“Your up to your neck in a frozen river, it’s getting colder, how is that a bit of good fortune?”

“Well I was wearing my heavy mackinaw. I unbuttoned it, pulled it off and slapped it up on the ice. I waited about an hour until it froze down good and I was able to pull myself out”. I would have been back earlier but I had to build a fire to get my coat loose, then I had to skate fifteen miles up hill”.

It might be brutally cold out there tonight and the animals are hunkered down but I wasn’t worried as I am half Swede. I need a little more weather than this to roll down the ear flaps


20130119-205116.jpg My friend Oscar, a pretty tough Swede himself.

The horses hunkering down behind the shed.

A support group for draft horse collectors

Shortly after Mrs Ed and I bought the farm I got my first team of draft horses. As you know if you read an earlier post, that didn’t turn out so well. I am one who believes everything happens for a reason. My mistakes brought me to meet harness maker, Bernie Sampson. Like many people that grew up in the horse era, Bernie has a knack for sizing up horses and people. He is a natural and college educated historian. Having spent my professional career in the history business, I can appreciate the lessons history can teach us, if we just listen and ask questions.

I went to Bernie to buy a harness, and I got a life line to enable me to pursue my passion with draft horses. Left on my own, I probably would have quit after my first near-death experience. But I didn’t. I continued on so I could have more. I know that might sound dumb to some people, but I also believe one learns through mistakes (if you take time to reflect and not repeat them).

The next best thing Bernie did for me was to talk me into joining the North Star Draft Horse Association. Bernie and a number of other long draft horse farmers organized the Association in the early 1980s. Formed to promote use of draft horses during a time when the industry was starting to rebound from an all-time low, the Association brought horse people together to help each other and to educate the public.

One of the first events I went to was a field day at Rollie and Mary Millers in Floodwood. I’ll never forget Don Denton driving his four big black percherons. I got to see teamsters plowing, disking, cutting and raking hay. It rained but because the show must go on, they tedded hay anyway.

It was during these early years I met draft horse legends like Jim McNeil who raised and showed registered Belgians. I was fortunate to go to several sales with Jim and Sam Yoder. Jim was usually looking for a new stallion and could rattle off a horse’s pedigree like a genealogical zealot. Sam and I could sit for hours watching horses come through the ring. More than once I heard him say “I should have bid on that one.” More than once we came home with a trailer load of horses. One time we joked that Sam’s pasture was like a used car lot of horses. He had at least one of everything except American Creams.

“I should have bid on those,” he said later. Jim and I laughed so hard I think we had tears in our eyes.

Thanks to Bruce Hage from Cotton for selling me Patsy and for his uncle Bob McKay for trading me her lifelong mate, Kate. I got them when they were 4 and kept them until they were twenty. They taught me about “turning inside out.” That’s when your horses turn in and come back towards you. Suddenly your lines are useless and usually a tangled mess ensues. Patsy and Kate were what I needed at the time because they were “forgiving horses.” They taught me to try to avoid “inside out “whenever possible.

The Draft Horse Association is where I met many other good people. I met Jerry Holmes and Duane Barrow when they came to help with a logging job. I have many good memories of Jerry helping me with the oxen at Blackberry. Duane, who is club president, is not only a good leader, he is an excellent teacher and gives selflessly of his time and experience to those of us who have so much more to learn.

Tomorrow is the 2013 NSDHA annual meeting. I look forward to this and the quarterly meetings to see old friends and meet new ones. I jokingly refer to the club as a support group for draft horse collectors. It a place where you can learn new things and hear stories that make you feel that what you did for your last near death experience is not as dumb as you thought.

As club secretary, this is where I keep the good stuff.


“So, how many horses do you need?”

Did you ever do something that you knew you shouldn’t have done but did it anyway? I don’t hardly ever do this without first considering the ethics of the situation and the risk of getting caught. 99 percent of the time I talk myself into doing the right thing.

But sometimes the temptation is just too much.

Some years ago I got a call at work.

“Hi Ed, I was wondering if you could help me out? I know you have draft horses and take really good care of them. I have a really nice Belgian mare. I use her for logging. She is a wonderful horse and I just love her.” Ok, I’m thinking, what’s the catch? “I was wondering if you wanted to buy her? I am leaving the area and have to sell her immediately.”

I reacted quickly. “I don’t think so. I already have more horses than my wife thinks I need. Besides, I’m sure I don’t have the kind of money you need for a horse that wonderful.”

“But Ed, I’m desperate. I’m leaving tomorrow. She is tied to a tree in the woods. I left her enough hay for a day. I’ll tell you what, you can go look at her, if you like her you can take her home and keep her as long as you want. We can work it out later.” The image of a poor horse tied to a tree all alone in the forest was more than I could bear.

“Ok, give me some directions.”

A little background on horses and Mr. Ed’s Farm. Other equine collectors may identify with this.

Mr. Ed: “So, I heard about this horse…”
Mrs. Ed: You don’t need another horse.”
Mr. Ed: “But it’s a good horse.”
Mrs. Ed: “What’s wrong with your other horses?”
Mr. Ed: “But the horse needs a good home.”
Mrs. Ed: “If it’s such a good horse, why do they want to get rid of it?”

Then comes the perplexing question: “How many horses do you need anyway?”

So here was my dilemma. At that time I had a small herd of sorrel Belgian horses (let’s say more than you can count at a glance). A desperate horse friend needed help. A broke logging horse was out in the forest all alone. No money down, no checks to be made out, i.e., no paper trail. All I had to do was go look at her, then make my decision. Here’s where I hit the slippery slope.

After Mrs. Ed left for work the next morning, I set my dubious plan in motion. I called work.

“I’d like to take a vacation day, to deal with a personal matter.” No problem, no questions asked. I changed into my chore clothes, hooked up the stock trailer and headed out.

Now I made sure I was careful in writing down the directions. Take this highway to this county road to this township road to this logging road, take the fork to the right, don’t slow down when you hit the low spot….

“You do have 4 wheel drive? Jeanie should be tied to a big pine. If she’s not there, check with the farm on the next road over. She usually goes there when she gets loose.”

Anyone who has ever turned down a remote one lane road heading slightly downhill with a twenty foot stock trailer knows the feeling I was experiencing. I kept looking for the big pine with a horse tied to it. It was amazing how many trees there were without horses tied to them. Fortunately it had not rained for a few weeks when I hit the low spot, no problem. The sound of scraping brush kept me alert. I breathed a sigh of relief when I came to a clearing with a big tree with a horse tied to it. There she was, a big blonde sorrel Belgian mare, looking at me with soft brown eyes. She nickered to me as I approached and nuzzled my shoulder when I walked up. “Hi Jeanie, would you like to go home with me?” She looked toward the trailer and nodded.

With a little finagling, I got turned around and headed out, horse safely secured in the trailer. I got home shortly after noon. The other horses lined up at the fence when I unloaded Jeanie. I don’t need to tell other horse people this, but putting a new horse directly into a herd is usually not a good idea. There tends to be some serious fighting that goes on until a new pecking order is established. Fortunately, I had a corral adjacent to the pasture where I put new horses until they can become acclimated. It was behind the barn where Mrs. Ed never goes.

The other horses rushed the corral to investigate this newcomer. I led Jeanie in, thinking to myself, she really fits in size and color wise. I unsnapped the lead rope and stepped back to watch. As I expected, Jeanie walked up to the fence, neck outstretched, sniffing the air, gingerly touching noses. What she did next still amazes me. It reminded me of a horse we had seen performing at Circus World. She backed up a few feet and, with the grace and agility of a white tail deer, leaped over the six foot corral panel without even touching it. The other horses must have been impressed too because they just backed away and went about their business.

By the time Mrs. Ed got home the herd had wondered off to distant pastures. Jeanie blended in. I breathed a sigh of relief. All was well for about two weeks. I believe it was a Saturday morning. The horses came up for a midday rest under the shade trees by the barn. I was working on some piece of machinery in the yard. I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye. I fumbled with a rusty bolt.

Mrs. Ed: “Hi, how’s it going?”
Mr. Ed: “Pretty good, why do you ask?”
Mrs. Ed: “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”
Mr. Ed: “No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
Mrs. Ed: “Isn’t that a new horse in the pasture?”

Time for some quick thinking. “What horse?”

“That one.”

“Wow, you’re right. That’s a nice horse! I wonder where she came from? Can you believe my luck?”

“How did you know it was a ‘she’?”

Jeanie stayed with us for several years. She did have some idiosyncrasies. When I used her for plowing, she never wanted to turn to the right. So we adjusted by always plowing to left. Jeanie was OK with that. As a logging horse, let’s just say she was efficient. Once you hooked onto the log, it didn’t take long to get to the landing. Get tired? Simply keep a tight grip on the lines and she would add you to the load.

Somewhere along the way, we “worked it out” and I bought Jeanie. She was such a good horse that I took her on a trip with me to Kalona, Iowa. I thought she would enjoy a good horse sale. Believe it or not, a fellow there liked her and even offered me some money. I called home. “A guy liked Jeanie and offered me money for her, so I helped him out.”

Mrs. Ed: “So what are you going to do with the money?”
Mr. Ed: “Well there’s this gelding…..”

Then came the question I have never been quite able to figure out the answer to: “So, how many horses do you need?”

There she was, a beautiful blonde with soft brown eyes.

The night the bull got out

Any kid that grew up on a dairy farm remembers being told “Watch out for the bull,” “Stay out of the pasture, the bull is out with the cows,” and “Don’t tease the bull.” We heard stories about farmers who had been killed by bulls who had gone mad. As kids we took these warnings very seriously.

That is why the night the bull got out remains a vivid memory in my mind. It was summer, the time of the year when the cows are turned out to pasture after the evening milking. Dad usually kept a Holstein bull on the farm. The bull was kept in a special stall secured by a heavy duty stanchion. The bull usually resigned himself to his captivity, but every once in a while he would test his constraints.

On this particular night we had finished milking, had supper and sat down to watch TV. I don’t remember why, but I know Dad was not home. We always had a dog on the farm. They serve as sentries, quiet when things are normal, but quick to sound the alarm when the situation calls for it. Our living room had a south facing big picture window that overlooked the garden. It was nearly dark when the dog let loose with a flurry of angry barking. We went to the window. His bark became sharper, and closer to the house. Our first thought, a skunk! Shut the window, quick! Then we saw him. He was black and white, but much bigger than a skunk. THE BULL was in the yard, looking into the window at us.

Mom assured us we were safe as long as we stayed in the house. No problem there. I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose the bull wandered off into the night. I suppose Dad caught him by the brass ring in his nose and put him back in his stanchion. I do remember a chain looped around the top of the stanchion after that.

To this day I always proceed with caution when going into an unfamiliar pasture … Or a new situation. “Watch out for the bull” is good advice to live by.

Dad and his prize bull

Beware of a free chicken

Great grandson of Shorty stands guard.

Every kid who grew up on a farm seems to have a mean chicken story. I was reminded of one last night. Several years ago, when Matt was a little kid, I bought some pullets from my brother. We were getting into the chicken and egg business and “ready to lay” pullets put us on the fast track. We had the hens in cages and I was about to leave when my niece, a really sweet kid, came up with a shiny white rooster snuggled in her arms. She said “Uncle Ed, would you like to have Shorty?” Twenty four hens, I figured a free rooster with a funny name like Shorty, couldn’t hurt. Besides, she was so cute I couldn’t say no.

Shorty was a white leghorn. Leghorns are a small breed of chickens but widely regarded as the queen of the layers. They are popular with commercial laying operations because they lay lots of big white eggs for the first year of their lives. Unlike dual purpose breeds, chickens that can both lay eggs and are large enough for a Sunday dinner, leghorns, particularly the roosters, are not in great demand. Perhaps Shorty knew this when he came to our farm with a chip on his shoulder.

Back in the day, we subscribed to free range chicken raising. After a week or two of being acclimated to their surroundings, I threw open the coop door and let the chickens chase bugs and scratch in the dirt. This coincided with young Matt Nelson’s sandbox days. The sandbox was adjacent to the screen house, which was about 50 feet from the coop.

It was early in the day. The chickens, up with the sun, had scattered across the yard. Mrs. Ed heard the screams from deep within the house. I heard them from the sheep barn. We both came running. “Mom, Shorty is after me!”. Sure enough, Shorty, the little white rooster, was in the attack mode. His feathers puffed out, neck arched, he was determined to drive away this intruder.

By the time I got to the barn door, Mom had already sprung into action. As she flew out the door she grabbed a broom. “Shorty!” she screamed “Get away from him!”

A battle ensued that can barely be described in words. An angry mother in her bathrobe, armed with a broom, charging a very feisty rooster. Round and around they went. Mom swinging the broom with the vengeance of an out-of-control hockey player. Rooster, spurs slashing the air, charged and retreated with each swipe of the broom.

There are times when a person should think before he starts laughing. I learned an important lesson that day. To make a long story shorter, Mom won the day, and Shorty had to slink away to fight another day.

In hindsight I don’t think Shorty was a name of endearment, rather it was a “cowboy” name. A cowboy named Shorty conjures up a little fellow with a chip on his shoulder. He is a fellow who needs some puffery to make other cowboys take notice. He is someone who wears his spurs proudly and is not afraid to use them.

Needless to say, the chicken’s days of free ranging came to an abrupt end. Shorty wasn’t happy. I carried a stick with me when I went to pick eggs. Fall came and so did an idea I got on a pheasant hunting trip. We walked for miles in search of the wily birds. When we got anywhere near they flew off leaving us frustrated. Idea! I’ll get some hen pheasants and cross them with Shorty. They will produce rooster pheasants with attitudes. Imagine going into a cornfield where the birds charge the hunter! It would revolutionize the sport!

Shorty lived for many years. One morning, well into his mid-life. Shorty flew the coop. He joined the band of outlaw chickens who were hatched by rogue hens and roosted high in the cedar tree by the workshop. When I passed the tree going to and from chores, I could feel his one good eye following me, I made sure he could see my stick.

Shorty, who once spread terror on Mr Ed’s Farm, disappeared sometime during the winter, perhaps the victim of a roving coyote or fox. That would have been a fight to see. Shorty’s legacy lives on in the band of wild chickens that still roam the farm today.

Did I mention a marketing idea I have? Any kid that can catch a wild chicken on Mr. Ed’s Farm can take it home! How can anyone turn down “a free chicken?”