Hot on the tail feathers of hungry spring robins come the first farm auctions and the job of getting the fences in order for the new grazing season. Both are of great interest to farm folks.
Auctions have been a favorite pastime of men since the concept was invented. In fact they are thought to go back to ancient Babylon, where women were auctioned to men who wished to marry them.
Today everything farmers enjoy can be found there -- from hot, greasy food, to tractors, to neighbors with whom to discuss prices, weather and who is doing what and why.
The word itself derives from the Latin augeo, which means to increase. When it comes to farm auctions, it is hoped that sales transacted therein will increase the wealth of the seller, as well as the satisfaction of the buyer, all the while keeping the wives of both calm and serene. Sometimes this is problematic. Occasionally the mister returns home to the refrain of, "You bought what?"
Some of the bigger sales leave highways clogged for miles, with cars full of folks jockeying desperately for a place to park that isn't five miles away from the action. Uphill both ways. The boss goes over to McFadden's days before the big machinery sales there, just to look over all the good stuff and talk to friends he meets there. Thus he can have most of the fun with only half the hiking.
Then there's the big one later in April over near Sprout Brook. Farmers from all over the region bring machinery, parts, tools, fence posts and hundreds of other things, to sell on consignment each year.
For the past few years the boss has helped with some of the auctioneering, a chore he enjoys mightily.
Sometimes the action gets a lot more interesting than you might expect. Ask him about the year he announced that a nice bunch of "fishnets and hookers" were next on the block. Since there were poles involved as well, he started quite an uproar, and is still teased about it today. Of course he was only selling fishing tackle, but it sure got things going.
Less cheerful are the family herd dispersals. Even when retirement is the reason behind them, there is more than a little melancholy involved in selling cows folks have worked with every day since they were born.
This year there are a lot of them. Though milk prices are not too awfully low, the cost of fuel, electricity and just about every other input for the business has skyrocketed. Add the drought, and the practice of putting corn that might have been fed to cows into ethanol for cars, and you get grain prices that have risen rapidly and stayed high.
Short crops last year because of the less than optimal rain situation have left many dairymen running out of their own feed. The same situation made hay, corn and the products thereof scarce and expensive if you can find them at all. This has led to farms that have been here longer than I have, farms with a younger generation eager to work, leaving the industry completely and forever.
Although the apple growers are enjoying this normal to latish, slow-moving spring, because it means the blossoms and fruit probably won't freeze right off the trees (and as a huge fan of apples, I am on that page with them) it means that those who graze are stumped for early feed.
Which brings us to fencing. Along with many of the Northeast's other cattle farmers, we grazed the cows quite late last year, and fed outside well into November (cows don't much mind cool weather). Thus when the ladies came into the barn for the winter the fences were in decent repair and most of the brush was trimmed back.
A trip out to trim that brush back just a little better, so that it doesn't foul the electric fence wires, revealed a situation I found hard to believe.
The wild rose bushes are already growing. No grass to speak of, but the little beggars have teeny tiny leaf knobs all along the branches and canes glowing red as embers.
I was whining about them on my blog the other day when a friend from Ohio reminded me of something I read way back when. I knew that when I was a kid, not yet even pointed in the direction of farming let alone out participating every day, someone, some heinous devil of a soul, suggested that wild rugosa roses would make good fences, with no need of repair or replacement. My friend pointed out that one person who said that stuff was none other than Louis Bromfield. Sure enough in his book "Malabar Farm" that particular gentlemen enthused mightily about the virtue of the blasted things. I wish he could help cut them down.
To add insult to injury, most of the insulators, those bright yellow jobs that hold electric wire off posts, were twisted to shreds, their ends missing completely, or at least one of the catchy-holdy things ripped off. Barbed wire lay broken and buried in the mud, so deep and so tightly clenched that it was hard to pull out, even with both hands.
In one section, down by the house, the electric wire was so wound up with the barbed wire that it took me a good 10 minutes to untangle three sections. Normally when we find something like that we blame deer. Deer simply do not get it about fences, especially electric fences, and they wreck them indiscriminately. However, this is an area where deer seem unlikely.
So what made this awful mess? The wind? Heavy snow? Maybe little green gremlins making macrame flower pot hangers for their mamas? I don't know. What I do know is that the chore of getting fences up is going to take a lot longer than expected.
Ah, well, maybe a good auction will cheer me up.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs