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Cleaning Out the Corners of the Barn

Jan 26, 2024Jan 26, 2024

Barn party. The very sound of those words seems to indicate that fun lies ahead — and it does, but not before the barn gets a good cleaning.

For several years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Dennis and I held a Pasture Pals Party at our farm for the neighbors surrounding our pasture, as well as others involved in our beef cattle operation. Attendees sat on our porch and patio, with food set out for them on our kitchen island. Dennis and I provided hot sandwiches and drinks and, at their request, the neighbors each brought a covered dish to share. It made for an enjoyable get-together.

This year, we decided it was time to bring back the event, but with a twist. Dennis still works from our dining room table in the area that would be needed for the party in the event of rainy weather. And, a contractor was due to start remodeling our bathroom. So, we decided to switch things up and hold the party in the upstairs of our barn.

We knew it needed a good cleaning — and we were oh-so-right about that. Looking around at the accumulation of hay and straw chaff, baler twine, random tools, boards, and cobwebs galore, my first thought was that perhaps we should postpone the event from mid-September until closer to Halloween, so we could pretend the existing "décor" was intended to be spooky. I was ready to buy some fake spider webs and string them around to disguise our existing "all-natural" spider webs.

Ultimately, we decided to stick with the September date and "get ’er done." This involved plenty of dust, dirt and relocation of non-essential items. After a lifetime of living on this farm, I was particularly struck by the numerous reminders about how much agriculture has progressed. It turned the barn party into a history lesson for me.

Let's start with the host of bale strings strewn around the floor. Some were neatly bundled, but more were laying loose in single strands. I was in no position to complain, since I was frequently the one who had removed them from the giant bales of straw or wrapped hay. They made a colorful appearance in either blue, orange or yellow plastic, and unlike the bale strings of yore, they were quite a few feet in length to span these oversize bales.

In a corner of the granary, I found much shorter pieces of baler twine — the old-fashioned kind made from light-colored sisal and used to secure the much smaller bales of hay and straw dating from my youth. Those bales were sized to be picked up and tossed around by hand. In contrast, the big bales of today require mechanical handling with a skid loader or a tractor with bale spears. Since this is the kind of twine now most-often seen in country-style décor, I saved a bunch of them.

As I gathered up some of the woven plastic feedbags currently in use, I couldn't help but remember the days when feed sacks were made out of coarse burlap. They had their feed mill's name printed on them, so you’d know where to return them for a refill. Of course, with new biosecurity concerns, it's too risky to circulate used feedbags between different farms nowadays. Likewise, the wooden pallets on which we receive our larger orders of feed are also not returnable, so we’ve accumulated a bunch of them.

Shovels have come a long way. In recent years, many shovel heads are made of sturdy plastic. That sure has made my life a lot easier, whether I’m shoveling silage into the feed cart below or digging out of a snow drift. I found several of my dad's heavy old metal shovels upstairs in the barn. I absentmindedly grabbed one of them while cleaning, thinking it was my plastic one. What a rude awakening that was.

Our granary called to mind the days when the combine dispensed wheat and barley into burlap sacks, which were eventually picked up and toted by flatbed wagons into the barn. I came upon one of our old "bag trucks," which I had once used to transport those sacks from the wagon to a standing position in the granary to await pickup by whichever cooperative had purchased our grain that year. I always liked the friendly sound the bag truck's steel wheels made rumbling across the wooden floorboards of the barn — it reminded me of thunder, so I never came to fear thunder.

Those same flatbed wagons transported hay and straw bales from field to barn in the summer. Then in autumn, they were adapted to carry newly harvested ear corn back to the farm. My dad added wagon sideboards around 24 inches tall to hold a big load of bright-yellow corn ears. The sideboards themselves were painted green to match his Oliver tractors. We found several of those sideboards upstairs in the barn, and even some little extenders to make them a few inches higher for carrying more per load.

The granary also held an old grapple, once used to transport loose hay from wagons to the haymows, via a track and pulleys running along the peak of the barn roof. At least that was one thing I wasn't old enough to remember being in use.

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