July 12, 2021 at 1:22 p.m.

Drought memories

By Mark [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    I have always loved rain.
    It probably stems from growing up on a dairy farm.
    I knew if we had timely rains, my parents would have a crop, and our dairy farming livelihood relies on abundant moisture throughout the growing season.
    Adequate moisture during the summer meant doing three crops of small, square bales of hay. First, we had hayracks and stacked bales behind the square baler. When I was in my teens, we had a throw baler. But, we still stacked behind the baler. We also always stacked in the barn or sheds where the hay was housed for the winter.
    Another reason I thoroughly enjoyed rain was that if it rained the night before, we couldn’t be making hay the next day. So, we would have more time to do what kids do: play and goof around.
    After a rain, we would play in the pasture and the mud puddles with our shoes off. We would also bike through any standing water we could find.
    I even like standing in the rain.
    I was also fond of thunderstorms. I liked watching them form in the west and edge closer to the farm. If we were in the middle of a thunderstorm when we were doing chores, we would wait for a lightning bolt and then run to the next building before the next one happened. I don’t think I have ever run faster than during a thunderstorm.  
    Those days seem light years away compared to this summer. In central Minnesota, where my brothers milk cows, lawns are brown, the second cutting hay wasn’t very tall or thick, and the corn is curling in some areas.
    This summer is similar to a couple others I have experienced, 1976 and 1988.
    In 1976, when I was just 8, it was quite dry near my parents’ farm south of Sauk Centre, Minnesota. We were milking 52 cows at the time, and by mid-summer, my parents bought four semi loads of hay for our heifers and dry cows.  
    The loads were trucked in from Thief River Falls,  and near the Twin Cities. One load came in shortly after breakfast, and my parents had several of us 11 kids help with unloading the hay and others stacking in the barn after they fell off the conveyor.
    I will never forget the experience for several reasons.     
    The bales were held together with wire similar to what you would use for an electric fence. Plus they were on the heavy side, 60-70 pounds a bale. Gloves were needed.
    The other unique thing about the hay was its contents. We were used to alfalfa/orchard grass. This was more of a prairie grass mix.
    The hay was used for heifers and got us through to the next year.
    A more recent drought I remember vividly was in 1988. I was attending St. Cloud State University, and during the summer months and on weekends, I worked for my oldest brother, Chuck, on his 35-cow dairy.
    That year, we had a good first crop, and then the faucet turned off. It was so dry my brother told me I might as well get an off-farm job between morning and night chores because if we don’t have any hay to make, he wouldn’t have much work for me.
    I got a job with a local excavator, Chuck, who installed sewer lines and drain fields. He needed someone to operate a shovel and lay pipe.
    Much of our days consisted of him sitting in the excavator digging in trenches for sewer pipe and me laying the pipes and then shoveling small rock around them until they were covered. Then, we would back fill the trenches.
    On some jobs, he had another dump truck driver, Peanuts, haul in the rock or the dirt so we could stay at the site and get more work done. Otherwise, Chuck would get a load while I laid the PVC pipe in the trenches.
    We also put in water lines. Perhaps the highlight of the summer was when Peanuts had something going on one night and we needed to get his truck back to an excavation site. Chuck told me he wanted me to drive it back. I was excited and a little bit nervous, mostly because I had never driven a gravel truck before.
    But the view from sitting so high combined with the sound of the truck as I changed gears was a great experience.
    We got some rain in August 1988 that produced a third crop of alfalfa. In 1989, it was dry again but not like the year before.
     I haven’t given up hope on this summer yet, and really hope and pray we get some more rain.


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