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Pulling Corn and Raising Kids

For this story to make any real sense I reckon that I should describe the lay out of this 100 acres that we were working to make our first run at being farmers. This 100 acres was on the edge of the Comite river swamp and was a narrow rectangle that was a lot longer than it was wide. Now understand what we call a swamp is not anything that you would see on the Discovery channel or in National Geographic. Mostly it was hardwood flats that would go under water in the rainy time of the year and for more days than not be under water from winter till late spring.  The house and barn and garden were on the highest part and then there was a gradual drop down to the river.  The biggest piece of open ground was probably not more than 10 acres and this was the first field that was not affected by the water. I can’t remember the why of it but this field was where we planted lespedeza. This really turned out to be one of our first real successes, the hay turned out better than we had hoped, and even with having to give half of it to the guy that cut and baled the hay, it paid off. We even sold enough to pay for the seed and fertilizer and as a matter of fact one of the big shots from town to this day owes us some money for what he bought. There were several patches scattered from this field over the place that were used to graze the cattle and another where we cut some grass hay later in the summer where.

On the North and South sides of the house were two little patches that between them totaled 7 acres more or less. This was without question the poorest ground on the place and these two patches became our corn ground. The North side was mostly red clay and on a pipeline right-of-way. The corn did grow here, but just barely. The South side was good ground about half red clay and half good dirt. This is where about 2/3 of the corn crop came from.

Naturally being young and learning we paid a lot of attention to how the old hands did everything. It was standard practice to plant a corn patch and put up hay to feed the cowherd in winter. Ryegrass planting had not really taken over as a way to feed cows as it did later.

Now if Ray Archuleta had been there when I started to get that ground ready to plant that first corn crop his heart would have without question stopped. I had bought what we called a pan plow, it had two discs about 24 inches across and if you had enough tractor, you could plow about a foot deep. Our little John Deere had all it wanted to pull this thing but after a few days and some evenings after I got home from work, I had those two little patches broke up. Now I had to disk it until all of the clods were broke up to the size that would let the planter do its job. By now some of you real crop farmers are laughing out loud, but you must remember we were two town-raised kids doing it the only way we thought it could be done.

The way all of this worked was simple enough. The corn would be pulled and put up in the crib and when you needed to start feeding you would load your truck and take it to town to the mill and have it grounded. The whole ear was ground, shuck, cob and all. If you had enough money or good credit you would add some salt and cottonseed meal and molasses. The finished feed was sacked and you loaded it and brought it home to unload and feed as was needed.

It was a pretty good feed. Nothing was tested but it seemed to do the job and the cattle liked it a lot and with the hay we put out the cattle did OK. To cut down waste we fed the feed in troughs that we built out of old rough cut oak lumber and just cut the strings on the hay bales and scattered it. This was before the big round bales so between dumping feed sacks and putting out square bales of hay this was very labor intensive.

Betty did not get too involved in the hay hauling or feeding because she had the kids to take care of and do all of the things necessary to keep us fed. But when it came time to pull the corn it was up to us, Betty and I pulled every ear of corn in those two patches and hauled and unloaded it into the crib. We had a two wheel wagon that hooked behind the tractor and we would pull and throw and move up and pull and throw.

Now we had to be careful when we threw the corn in the wagon because the kids were riding in it. With no babysitter we had no choice. I did have enough sense to put a 2×12 across the wagon to create a safe spot for the kids to ride and we could see them so as to know everything was all right. Karen was just a baby and still needed, and liked, her midday nap. So on one of the trips from the field to the barn Betty would take a timeout and put her down for her nap. And on each trip check on her until she had her nap then she was ready to ride again. We learned early on to keep something to eat available at all times so we hauled fruit and cookies on the tractor to keep down any nourishment crisis that may arise. Donnie would not take a nap he would ride until quitting time or the job was done provided there were frequent pee stops and these did not involve him getting out of the wagon over the side worked just fine.

This happened in the fall of 1960. We did what we thought we needed to do to get done what we needed to do. We were no different than most of the folks that we knew at the time so to us it was no big deal. Donnie and Karen survived and are both grandparents now so I don’t reckon it was that bad.



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Don Ashford
Don Ashford
My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.


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