Just Thinking Out Loud

Farm junk drawer


What do you do with a winter like ours? Things you could only imagine.

Many of the projects on the bottom of the to-do list have suddenly pushed their way to the top of working projects. Technically, it is still winter, but the 70-degree days push us to find jobs we never seem to have the time or the right temperature to complete. It is too nice to be inside the house with spring cleaning, but it is the perfect weather to start those projects outside around the farm without the threat of frost bite. Since it is too early to be in the fields, we need to be doing something productive.

Anyone walking into our yard would never see these jobs, unless they knew where to look. The dark hidden corners veil unsuspected treasures from long ago buried in various sheds around the farm.

We started with the old milkhouse connected to the hip-roof barn which houses our young, weaned calves. I can barely walk into this room without feeling claustrophobic as cobwebs stretch across the doorway. Nervously, I keep an eye on where I am stepping, afraid of a critter scurrying to a quick escape. I hit a quick, sharp, high note of surprise when I spot a mouse slipping out of its hiding spot, but I can tolerate them. Anything bigger is a much louder and higher note with feet stomping as I try to find my quickest escape route. My greatest fear is a rat crawling up the inside of my pant leg. Luckily, none were found during any of our jobs.

The milkhouse has served as the kitten playpen to protect wandering kittens from the large hooves of switch cows lumbering through the barn. We have been able to lengthen the lifespan of many farm cats with this system. It also makes it easier for little visitors to the farm to find and play with the kittens.

We also use this space as a warming box for frozen calves. The big, blue-domed hot box takes up most of the floor space of this small room. Fortunately, we have only had to plug in the heater once this winter, so our trips into the milkhouse have been limited.

Mostly the milkhouse is the catch-all junk drawer of the farm. A large collection of used and busted water cups is scattered across the floor. Empty 5-gallon buckets are piled in any open space. Other “valuable” items are stuffed on makeshift shelves. As with any good junk drawer, it needed to be completely emptied, cleaned and restocked in an orderly fashion. This is not a high priority job in any given year, but this was the year to get it done.

Heavy cast iron water bowls were lined outside of the milkhouse awaiting their fate, salvageable or junk. As Mark examined each bowl, I focused on swiping right and left at the cobwebs stretched across the room. The ceiling and walls were all swept down, and the floors were cleared. It was refreshing to see rays of light filtering through the window despite the billow of dust generated by all our cleaning.

The saved water cups were stacked along open shelves. There are more cups than we will ever need to replace, but at least the busted ones are moved out of the way. I turned my attention to the other shelves in the room. I started to clear away old short chains, rusty clipper blades and other junky things. 

Mark spotted a contraption of three strands of connected chain links I had thrown in the junk bucket. He quickly retrieved a lost treasure. He tried to explain how it was a neck chain that looped around the cow’s neck and the other two chains connected to the front of the stall to tie her in place. I didn’t really see how we would ever use this chain again, but Mark hung it on a nail to remind him of how things used to be. At least it was put away in a neat manner.

Once the milkhouse was restocked, we continued our cleaning frenzy in different buildings. I moved on the granary, which houses many enterprises in the different bays. There is a bay for my gardening supplies, another for pelleted calf feed and one for all the show tack. Bags of mineral and milk fortifier are stacked along the walls. Once clean, there are now fewer places for critters to hide from hungry cats.

Mark’s next project to tackle was the work bench in the machine shed. This is a project area I have spied for many years but didn’t dare start. You see, it seems everything has at least seven lives or uses, be it cats, nails, boards, chain links, pieces of rope and strands of wire, and I would have thrown out “good stuff” that could be used. I don’t know how many pails of rusty, bent nails Mark has filled. Apparently, there is a limit of usefulness or maybe a lack of storage space.

I’m sure one of those pails is ear marked to be buried next to the root ball of new apple trees. An old farmer told us many years ago to add rusty nails to the hole when planting fruit trees. He said the trees need iron, and this was a great way to help the trees produce more fruit. Apparently, this isn’t quite true.

According to Laidback Gardener, “It’s easy enough to understand the basic concept behind this myth. If a nail rusts, it’s because it contains iron, and iron is one of the minerals that plants need to grow. Once people understand that iron is essential to plant growth, imaginations run wild. The problem is that iron produced by rusty nails is iron oxide and is an insoluble compound that is unusable by the plant. So even if you fill the ground with rusty nails, it changes almost nothing for the plants.”

I’m not sure where all these buckets of nails and busted water cups will end up, but I do know they aren’t going back in the junk drawer.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark Schmitt started an adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.


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