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Not all farm tasks find eager learners

Tasks like dehorning cattle and castrating large boars were among the jobs Mychal Wilmes wished he could say no to.

A man in a cowboy hat is riding a horse in the background of a steer with horns. The steer appears to be moving away from the horse. There is pen of cattle also in the background.
Dehorning cattle was a task Mychal Wilmes did not relish.
Kenzie Holmberg / Grand Vale Creative LLC

"I bet my bottom dollar that you can’t do it."

The challenge involved backing a four-wheeled wagon filled with ear corn into the tight space between two corn crib wings. The odds were stacked against me given that repeated previous attempts had failed miserably.

"It’s as easy as pie," he said as he encouraged me to try one more time.

Some have an innate ability to do difficult things.

There were other tasks that I didn’t want to learn. One of them was dehorning cattle, especially those with big set of horns. The sound of the dehorning tool, the blood, and the animals’ great pain caused me to flinch.

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I also always said "no" when offered the pig-castration blade even though shoulders and back sure could have used a break.

"It’s a piece of cake," the farmer said.

A knife in inexperienced hands might cut too deep and kill a feeder pig.

Handling smaller pigs was easy, but some farmers waited to castrate until the animals were approaching 100 pounds. All things being equal, I wanted to tell the person who called for help "no," but it was impossible to do so.

mychal wilmes.jpg
Mychal Wilmes

I had read somewhere that the best time to castrate is before pigs are three weeks old. The farmer disagreed because he’d learn from his father that pigs grow faster when cut at heavier weights.

"You can’t always believe what you read," he said.

Mother — after listening to my laundry list of resulting aches and pains — said Dad decided once to castrate a large boar. It wasn’t an easy job, but the meat would help fill the freezer. It would take time before the animal could be butchered because boar taint made the meat smell and taste awful.

"It would taste worse than mutton," she said.

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She, like many of her generation were prejudiced against lamb and never prepared it. Mutton was a common meat in soldier and Marine rations in World War II and many returned to their homes vowing never to eat it again.

The farmer who delayed castrating pigs had another strange habit — he collected testicles in a pail so that his wife could fry a batch of Rocky Mountain oysters.

Headcheese, tails, feet, and ears were fine, but Rocky Mountain oysters seemed more than a little beyond the pale.

They, when coated with flour and eggs, are great, he said, adding that a little mustard makes them taste even better. Years later, communities across the country discovered that "Testicle Festivals," which featured Rocky Mountain oysters, attracted large crowds.

Mother, who had few qualms about what foods she served, drew the line on Rocky Mountain oysters. Another rule was that under no circumstance should ketchup be poured on steak.

Two neighbor boys always asked for ketchup when they ate steak with us. Mother said the boys (spoiled in her eyes because they received pay for doing regular work on their family’s farm) didn’t appreciate her cooking.

Mother was a fantastic cook, but no steak left the broiler unless it was well done. She had been taught that underdone meat was a health hazard. Trichinosis lurked in undercooked pork and there were other real and imagined health risks.

She sometimes went to great lengths to put meat on our table. When an 8-year-old dairy cow broke a leg, its meat was salvaged. Meat from an old cow, no matter its body condition, is tough as nails. To remedy the situation, she pounded steaks with a mallet and sprinkled tenderizer on it.

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We were glad when the meat was gone, but not as happy as I was when the neighbor who delayed castrating his feeder pigs stopped raising hogs.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

Related Topics: MYCHAL WILMESRURAL LIFE
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