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Beautiful Binary: A Saturday in the Life of a Farmer (& his Wife)

January 30, 2012

Saturdays are big days on the farm. They are the days that all of the cows in every field get checked. They are the days that mineral and large round bales of hay get fed to each group of cows. They are the days that tractors get moved around, fodder gets taken out of the field, and corn stored away from the fall harvest gets ground up into feed for freshly-weaned calves. They are the days the barns get bedded and the waterers get checked. They are the days of projects and of maintenance and of cleaning out. They start with the light and end with the light. This past Saturday we did most all of these things listed above. We did the “rounds,” checking each group of cattle. We fed hay in the fields. But we also did some “projects,” including collecting 100 bales of straw that had been stored in the back shed of the barn since before Papaw can remember (so a long time) to sell to a local farmer and fixing a waterer in the field behind our house for cows who will graze there in the spring. Saturdays used to be our day of rest before moving back to the farm. Our day of sleepy mornings and making love and late brunches out with friends or at home with our housemates. Of long jogs and long bike rides. It was a day of afternoon lattes and bookstore ramblings, of walks down yet-to-be discovered streets and dinners in yet-to-be-discovered dives. It usually started late and ended late. But now, we have the beautiful binary.

Our Saturdays start early and end early–not ending early so much by choice, but by the protest put on by every cell in my body by sunset. Having the luxury to structure some of the rest of my week alternatively to snag an afternoon latte with a friend say, on a Wednesday (one that I must try to muster up myself, since there is not a darn good espresso machine within 60 miles. No joke. Not complaining. Just merely observing, in case any entrepreneurial spirits are in search of raw, untouched geography in need of some pioneering coffee culture…), Saturdays become sacred. Sacred days of hard labor, days where I actually feel like my presence on the farm is less of a passive act of “keeping my husband company,” (are you having visions of my spreading a checkered picnic blanket out on the hay and unpacking neatly wrapped sandwiches and pies, with crisp, suar-filled ice tea?) and more of a productive act of laboring in a way that allows for (close to) twice the amount of accomplishment than if he had worked alone. What’s the ecclesiastical wisdom again, that two are always better than one, for they have a better return for their labor? I will add, two are better than one, because it’s always better to laugh at Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me with someone else…(please listen to Saturday’s show with Newberry Award winner Jack Gantos. You’ll laugh your pants off!).

So here we are. Lazy Saturday brunches have become Saturday dashes into the house around 2 to shovel something into our mouths before dashing back out to beat the fleeting sun. So although there are no bike rides or jogs, there is the lifting bales of hay and the cutting of their strings and throwing them from the truck (and being proud of yourself when you can do it faster than him), and although there are no leisurely strolls through bookstores (I’ll save that for Wednesday afternoons in the kick*ss book section of our thrift store), there are moments of the most striking light washing across yellowed winter fields and casting shadows across the backs of herds of cows whose winter coats make them look more brown than black.  Life is in constant motion, in a constant state of change. Our routine today is tomorrow’s memory. Yet somehow, the previous moment, the one we’re living in right now, and the one yet to come are all a part of who we are. Here are a few photographs of today’s moments, todays Saturday routines which characterize our lives.


Jason gets a round bale of hay out of the field with a tractor and brings it to the cows in the "Painter" field (named so because a long time ago, before it was the Bowman farm, this field was owned by a Painter). In the winter, the cows and their calves always have round bales available. Sometimes in addition, we feed more square bales from the barn, loading them on the truck, then cutting them off one by one as Wile drives the truck up the hill (really, it's in low gear creeping along. But it looks like he's driving!).

The cows stand by curiously as we cut and drop the bales.

We repeat this process about 3 times until the feeder is filled, and do so in two other fields of cows. Feeders get filled about once a week--more if there is a lot of snow on the ground.

After feeding grain to the weaned calves in the barn and hay to the cows and their young calves in the field, we go to the back of the barn to clean up some old straw. We need 100 bales of straw for a local farmer, so we have to dig through each bale to find the bales with two strings securely tied. Strings would be missing because of age, being on the ground, or being eaten through by mice. Jason stands up on the mow of straw and throws down bales to me in the rickety old wagon, where I stack them five high.

Wile resting on top of the loose straw after his hard morning's work of mouse hunting in between Jason's feet while Jason pulls out and throws down bales. This "spreader," used most often to spread manure over a field, is filled with the loose straw we cleaned up that morning. One of these spreaders of straw was spread in the barn to bed it up and protect the cows from too wet or too muddy an abode. Jason re-beds the barn every few weeks, depending on moisture, with either fodder (corn stalks and husks that have been dried in the field and rolled into a bale) or straw (the dried stalks of wheat and other cereals after the grain and chaff have been removed).

Jason and Wile examining the barn that has just been bed with loose straw for the calves.

Pulling the straw wagon down to his aunt's farm, where the local farmer who is purchasing them can come pick them up at will

Jason digging a ditch around the pump and waterer whose pipe has a leak below ground. Jason is repairing this for the spring when cows will graze here behind our house.

At this point, Jason is racing the fading light, and I am, well, pooped. Mostly just hanging out by the big hole he's torn in the ground, handing him a tool or two, staring at the mountains and the clouds. By this time in the day, just past 5, we have been working non-stop since 7am. Does his energy ever stop?

Sunset through the truck window, as we drive down to feed the calves in the barn their evening meal, and to ride through the fields to keep an eye on all the cattle.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2012 8:46 am

    What a beautiful post! Love to hear about your daily life on the farm. xoxo

  2. Katie permalink
    January 31, 2012 8:47 pm

    What a lovely, lovely post and I am in awe of the energy you two have. And yes, I loved Wait Wait this week too!

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