I recently recalled a moment that changed my life forever.
And that moment was shortly preceded by a sound.
And that sound is spelled something like “phud.”
I was 6 years old and spending the day at the rural home of one of my farm friends. Late in the afternoon we heard there was a new baby cow at my friend’s grandparents’ farm.
I wasn’t sure why, but apparently this was a big deal.
We drove a short dirt road to the farmyard where there was, in fact, a new cow. The problem—I quickly realized—was that this baby cow had not exactly—how do I put this delicately?—passed through the Erie Canal.
Unable to blink my city-sheltered eyes, I stared in horror at the unsolicited image in front of me: Two spindly brown legs dangled several feet off the ground and the big backside of ol’ Bessie.
Not a word was uttered—Har!—as two generations of farmers went to work at making more of that baby cow visible. But I don’t remember much of it.
What I do remember in vivid detail, however, is the sound that calf made when it fully entered this world: Phud.
To the kid who rode his bike on white sidewalks, the sound of that calf meeting the cracked dirt below was the most grotesque, appalling and horrifying noise I’d ever heard.
I think that’s when I realized that despite how Barney made it seem, farming was not the whimsical, red-and-white checkered tablecloth life I’d always imagined.
This is the baggage I’ve carried as my peers joined FFA, drove harvest truck, took summer jobs doing early morning chores and spent countless hours training in 4-H. And I’m coming to realize that because of this I know absolutely nothing about agriculture.
Well, that’s not completely true. I know that first the farmer sows his seed and stands erect and takes his ease. Then he stamps his foot and claps his hands and turns around to view his lands.
But that’s about where Barney’s farming education stopped.
I’d be a terrible agriculturalist.
For example, I don’t understand why if everyone likes steak so much the butchers don’t just make more cuts of it.
And wouldn’t it make more sense if the annual wheat harvest was scheduled throughout the summer so that the line at the grain elevator wasn’t so long?
Not to mention that a lot more stuff would get accomplished in this world if people would just breed pigs with wings.
I get especially self-conscious this time of year because when I visit the county fair I will inevitably go to livestock buildings and see cows and pigs that were expertly raised by 5-year-olds. And then I’ll see the rabbits and chickens that were expertly raised by the 5-year-olds’ cows.
Then again, maybe I’m not as pathetic as I’m making myself out to be.
In fifth grade my class hatched several cartons of eggs and I took home three chickens. That’s right—this city boy raised three whole chickens.
I kept them in a cage in the garage under a heat lamp.
But now that I think about it, I made city wimps out of the chickens, too: When the cage was left in the front yard with the latch open, all three chickens got out and ran a full lap around the cage before jumping right back inside.
I think the last one closed the latch behind him. Err… Her.
No, I’ll never grow anything besides mold on stale bread, and the only acres I’ll own will be a set of DVDs starring Eva Gabor and Arnold Ziffel.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that I look up to those who work this land and raise livestock. In fact, I have a lot of respect. Because they really know how oats, peas, beans and barley grow.