Our Year on the Farm

It’s a Pasture Out There!

For the first meal at our new home, we ate out.

We had arrived the night before after a blissful two-week honeymoon in Maine. There was no food in the house on that Saturday morning, so we decided to eat breakfast at a small restaurant just past the planing mill. We drove among the October fields to the next village, the neat rows of wheat sheaves golden against the red barns and blue-green mountains of that idyllic valley in central Pennsylvania.

As we sat at the counter enjoying our breakfast, I was startled by the conversation of two middle-aged farmers seated nearby:

“Yep, I remember when a cow that gave fifty pounds a day was the best one in your herd”, declared the first man, pushing back his soiled John Deere cap.

The other farmer, a harmless-looking man, stroked his stubbly chin and replied in a strong Pennsylvania Dutch accent. “Dat vasn’t ferry long ago, needer. Nah, if a cah giffs fifty ponts a tay you take ‘er ott an’ shoot ‘er.”

Fifty pounds a day? Of what–butter? Cheese? Milk comes in gallons and quarts, not pounds. Suddenly, the truth dawned on me. Manure! These guys are into fertilizer! Evidently there was a breed of cattle especially engineered for its soil-enriching capabilities, a veritable peat bog on legs.

The first farmer snickered in agreement before finishing his coffee and setting his mug down hard on the counter. There was a hint of lunacy in his laugh. I was rattled. I thought these were peaceful people. They just take their cows out back and murder them?

“You mean you’d shoot them if they gave forty-nine pounds a day?” I wanted to ask. Forty-nine pounds of anything–especially manure–seemed like a lot to me. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be safe for my beautiful bride to live in this valley. I imagined her out in the yard working on her tan with bullets whistling over her head—bullets intended for hapless bovines whose straining bowels could not be coaxed to come up with fifty pounds a day.


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