Thursday, May 8, 2014

La vida loca

I'm pretty sure Ricky Martin has never been through a spring planting season on an Iowa farm in his life but the title to his hit song is appropriate for life here at Wichmann Manor. This would account for the near abandonment of this blog in recent weeks. Got stuff I'd love to share. Got no time to do it.

The Farmer farms in partnership with his brother, hereafter known as Farmer's Brother. A few weeks ago, Farmer's Brother got rammed by a steer. Apparently he went airborne before landing hard on his butt on a cement feed lot. Ouch. There's a reason farming is consistently listed among the most dangerous professions.

He got up, dusted himself off, said some bad words and went on about his business. Now he is in the hospital, barely able to walk and battling a bacterial infection deep in his muscles. The doctors are guessing it trauma from being tossed by the steer. No word about when he will be released or any kind of estimated recovery time.

Back at the ranch, the Farmer has planted about 600 acres of corn with help from his trusty sidekick, the Farmer's Wife (that would be me) and a brother-in-law who, THANK GOD AND PRAISE JESUS, was able to take the last week off from his regular job to help.

Two men planting 600 acres of corn in 5 days translates to working 16 to 18 hour days. We're about two weeks behind on getting this year's crop in the ground and May 10 is looming large. May 10 is the mythical (or not so much) date after which you start to loose a progressively larger and larger percentage of yield if you don't have your corn planted by then.

Stress levels are high, the weather is a constant threat and the logistics of getting manpower, equipment, seed, fertilizer and chemicals at the correct place at the correct time is staggering even on a good year. This has not been a good year. Cold soil temps and drenching rain kept the Farmer out of the field through most of April. Now his bro is in the hospital, he has double livestock chores and on top of that, we're still calving.

Dewey eyed idealism about living in an agrarian utopia aside, here are some samples of the romantic things the Farmer has said to me over the last week. Most of these conversations were over the phone, since we're all going six ways from Sunday. Sometimes we have 5 minutes of meaningful conversation in the cab of a pickup while I'm ferrying him from farm to farm. I do not know how we ever managed to farm before cell phones. The phone calls start coming the minute I clock out of my day job.

"A guy's coming to pick up those calves at 6 o'clock. Can you go out to the barn and make sure he takes the right ones?" Then he hangs up without telling me which ones are the right ones.

"Can you come pick me up at the Iburg farm in 5 minutes?" Sure. The Iburg farm is 10 minutes away.

"Is it going to rain?" This, from the man who bought an iPhone and downloaded weather apps so he could get radar and weather forecasts, but still calls me to find out what the weather is going to do.

A lot of what I do this time of year is providing taxi service from one farm field to the next. This involves bumping along in assorted farm pickups down gravel roads, across fields and through waterways at all hours of the day and night. This is always good for a few comments.

"Can you drive a little faster, honey? I'm in a hurry. We haven't got all day. Speed it up a bit. We're burning daylight. SLOW DOWN ARE YOU CRAZY?"

A lot of what else I do involves food prep. Feeding farmers on the move could drive a saint to distraction and I am not anywhere near sainthood to start with. But I know that long hours of hard work requires fuel and it's not exactly like they expect gourmet meals. This is the season of the ham sandwich.

"Can you bring me a sandwich? I'm down by the creek west of the silo. " By the time I make and deliver said sandwich, he is on the other side of the creek south of the silo. Any estimated location is accurate give or take 5 to 10 acres. 

When we first got married and I was still learning the location of the various farms (all tagged with names like the Huedepohl 80, Chipmans' 40, the South Place, down by the creek, east of the pond - there was more than one pond - and other clever markers that often left me wondering where the hell I was going), I lived in terror of delivering food to the wrong guy, in the wrong field. Although I'm sure any of our neighbors would have happily welcomed a ham sandwich and brownies and Thermos of milk.

"I'll be in for supper after chores in 45 minutes, can you have it ready then? No, wait, Scott and I will be here for supper in 30 minutes. No, wait, we're headed to the Madoerin farm. Can you bring supper over there in an hour? No, wait, can you just put some sandwiches in a cooler and bring them out? We'll be there in 15 minutes." As long as I have ham and bread, the world will continue to spin.

If I'm not fixing human meals, I'm fixing bovine meals.

"Get that bottle of colostrum out of the fridge in my office, then take that little bucket of milk out of there, too, then get the bottle and nipple out of the alleyway in the barn and clean it up and heat up the milk and fill the bottle and have it ready when I get there. I'm pulling up the lane right now." Sure, just let me find my time-turner first.

This whirlwind will spin itself out soon. The crops will get planted. Then we can sit down to a meal together at a table that is not a pickup tailgate and eat food that is not ham sandwiches off plates that are not made of paper and speak in about things that are not farm related. But for now, it's la vida loca in the heartland.


  1. A big Thank You goes to our Farmers and their trusty wives for all that you you and endure for us. I hope the Framers Brother heals quickly and comes home soon.

  2. Ah yes. Exactly how I grew up :) It was a blessing when I was able to drive (at 11 years old) to help with the delivering of meals!

  3. oh my you make even hard work stories funny. I would love to come help at least with the farming part not the cooking part if I lived closer I love cows :)

  4. Fix loose! Lose is the word you want. As a writer you just have to shoot autocorrect sometimes.