I can worry a lot. Seems like history repeats itself time and time again.  The weather pattern in the Midwest looks a like a big repeat of a decade or so ago when no one was able to plant to corn due to high soil moisture in the spring.  Mid April is the time in the central corn belt that folks plant hybrid corn seed.  There is a precious small window to fit the corn in their growing season.
But with all the pressure on corn for the ethanol market versus the feeding of poultry, swine and cattle, it could be a tough time for everyone including the corn farmer who can’t get it in the ground.  There is nothing any of us can do about it but it tells us how much we are at the whims of weather despite all our progress in scientific farming that lets one man in an air conditioned cab tractor farm 1,200 acres.
When I started as a “chicken doctor” back in the early 60s, folks had 10 to 12,000 birds on a farm and they ran 34 beef cows or may have milked a handful of cows.  A field man usually never left Springdale in the morning without picking up something one of his growers needed from a hardware store on Emma Avenue.
We had to haul paper starter feeders to the grower.  They were a cardboard box you had to fold into shape, and at five to a brooder, you'd get your fingers eaten up before you made them all. This would all be in an effort to help a grower get ready for a date you’d moved up, earlier than his original date, to get birds.
About 30 bales or so of straw shaken loose and spread through the house for bedding also was big job. When I started they still had screw-on lids for the gallon glass chick waterers.  Five to the stove it was a big job to wash them for the new birds.  No one ever washed them and put them up—they were done getting ready.
Then you put up brooder guard because so many houses were not insulated back then.  It was a cardboard roll that stood up as fencing, and kept the little birds at the stove’s ring of heat.
Most feed bins were home made of tongue and groove lumber and had a slide door where you filled a cart and wheeled it down the house with a scoop and filled the trays until they were big enough to eat out of the bucket feeders or what we called hog feeders.  Either way you were going to wheelbarrow lots of feed to those birds that took eight-and-a-half weeks to reach three-plus pounds.
Most poultry houses were constructed from local hardwood lumber and built with neighbor help.  Many folks built them and only owed for the “tin” and the poultry equipment.  The nylon curtains had just came into vogue by the time I got into the business.  There were no fans and ventilation was an art not a science.
There was a bad drought in the fall of 1963 and many pads for the new houses were shoved up out of loose dirt.  I was brand new and green as grass when they sent me to check a lady’s birds who’d called in and said her chickens were sick.  Her particular field man was off that day when they called me on the radio to go by and check them out.
When I opened the entry door, I couldn’t see a thing for the dust.  The curtains were closed tight too. The dust was so thick I could not see from one stove to the next.  It was a brand new insulated house and it was so dry in there it reminded me of a Sahara dust storm.  I finally found the lady and her daughter washing waterers about half way down the house.
She aggressively said in my face, “These chickens are sick ain’t they?”
I agreed.  “But ma’am you’ll have to open these curtains and get the dust out to ever clear that up.”
She got out a finger and waved it in my face and told me in no short terms, “You leave me the medicine and I’ll buy the blankety-blank propane.”
“Yes ma’am.”  I left her some antibiotics with directions how to give it and drove off.  That evening the old hands back at the office all laughed at my tale and said I was lucky to get off so easy.  One of them had seen her whopping the fire out of a mule that didn’t plow her garden to suit her.
Life was lots of fun back then.
Western novelist Dusty Richards and his wife Pat live on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas.  For more information about his books you can email Dusty by visiting www.ozarksfn.com and click on 'Contact Us' or call 1-866-532-1960.


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