A pair of mink walked through the barn’s big sliding door during milking time — a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that sent me running for a scoop shovel.
Dad said the mink had been released from a neighborhood farm by animal rights radicals who, against all common sense, thought the animals might survive in the wild. Trespassers released thousands of minks over the years across the country and vandalism cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Activists have gone undercover to film animal and poultry abuses across the Midwest. A backlash against such activity has inspired several states to enact laws that make their actions a crime. Dubbed ag-gag laws by animal rights groups and others, the rules have met stiff resistance in courts.
The barn-visiting mink disappeared almost as quickly as they came, but other visitors also came to call. One was a more than 10-pound Muscovy drake, who flew in, hit me flush in the back, knocked over the contents of a step saver, and left before he could be harmed. Friends thought it a bit fishy when I explained the reason for the back injury.
A skunk caused a stink when it walked through the barn door. Dad, who chased it back from whence it came, explained that it wasn’t a skunk — it was a civet cat. I later learned that North American civets are relatives of racoons, which makes them different than a similar cat found in Asia. Civet cat meat is a delicacy there.
Other visitors were more welcome, including a runt given to me by a neighbor who said that with enough milk, Arnold would prosper. The pig grew to nearly 300 pounds but disappeared not long after. It was suspected, but could not be proven, that neighbor’s hunger for chops, roasts and bacon led him to reclaim Arnold.
Dad, in the days before the barn was outfitted with drinking cups, watered cattle with a large metal tank in the yard. A few bullheads were put in the water to cleanse algae from the tank. It was an inviting target when it was hot and humid, though Mother banned doing so.
Her reasoning involved an ill-fated cousin, who after a long day threshing grain, cooled off in a tank and came down with a fatal case of pneumonia. It may or may not have been an old wives' tale, but we took it as gospel.
Mother was a daily barn visitor for a few years after the switch was made from milking cows by hand to Surge buckets. Dad said that because one cow didn’t tolerate a bucket, it was Mom’s responsibility to milk the cow by hand.
“Ma’s Cow,’’ as she was named, produced the best line of milkers in the barn.
The barn was usually crowded with five brothers, two of whom milked and three who mostly talked. Plans were made about crop rotations, land purchases, seed varieties, and timing of steer and cull cow sales.
Since I was by far the youngest in the crowd, my silence on such matters was appreciated and enforced. At best, planning distracted siblings from using me as a punching bag. One brother considered himself a boxer and used me as a breathing punching bag. Rules against striking the face existed, which limited pain to shoulder blows. Watching pro wrestling inspired others to try out moves they had seen on TV on their fleckless brother.
The sleeper hold didn’t work but arm bars and twists certainly did.
I laugh at those memories when driving past the old home place. The hayloft where bale forts were built against Dad’s wishes no longer exists. The twisted and collapsed roof came down years ago.
The two silos that I climbed to pitch silage and haylage have stood unused for years. They are towering monuments to a lost time when the barn was home to great decisions, laughter and just a little bodily pain.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.