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Darn good help: Win some, lose some

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 03 July 2018
girl in field

Farming is rarely a one-man job. Very few can get by without some sort of outside “help.” Even with thin margins, having a hired hand or two makes a huge difference – if not financially, it sure helps with your quality of life.

When we bought our farm, we mistakenly thought we could do it on our own. A month of 10 p.m. dinners and missing every Sunday afternoon nap proved otherwise. If our kids ever expected to see their dad during the summer, we needed some help. That realization led us to Ike. Ike is our 16-year-old hired hand, and during the summer, he is my husband’s favorite person.

Ike moves irrigation pipe, sprays thistles and picks rock. He mows weeds, stretches fence and feeds cows. He comes six days a week and works holidays – all summer long. It doesn’t matter if it is 40 degrees or 100 degrees. The best part is he really truly likes the work.

As a teenager, I spent my summers employed as a farmhand like Ike, but I did it grudgingly. It was good for me, but rather bad for the farm. When Ike first came to work, I worried he would resent it as much as I had. Maybe he would be happier with a summer job as a lifeguard – I know I would have. Turns out, he wouldn’t. Farming is all he ever wants to do.

My husband and I aren’t the only ones who like Ike. Our daughters adore him. The 5-year-old proudly announces his arrival each morning as she watches him pull into the farmyard. If we happen to be outside during lunchtime, she will sit by him and tell him all her stories. Ike silently listens to tales of swimming lessons and Trixie the pony.

In my husband’s words, Ike is “darn good help,” and in my words, he is an “awfully good kid.” He rarely makes mistakes and works hard. He is polite, and problems are reported quickly. It seems we hit the jackpot with our hired “help.” However, at the Louder farm, everything isn’t as great as Ike. If we hit the jackpot with him, our scratch ticket has come up empty on the other kind of “help” we hired this year – our custom airplane farmer. … I guess that’s what you call it.

We are in the process of transitioning some of our farm ground into permanent pasture. We made the plan to split an 80-acre field into two sections. This field is not flat and, in southern Idaho fashion, is full of volcanic rock, both small and large. The “worst” of the field was going into pasture – around 35 acres. The rest was going into alfalfa hay. Given the topography and at the suggestion of the agronomist, we decided to have the field planted via airplane.

My husband came up with the plan and relayed it to our business partner, who told the agronomist, who told the plane company, who told the pilot. Midafternoon on planting day, we got a phone call from the pilot asking for more pasture seed. Turns out, the instructions were flip-flopped.

Forty-five acres worth of alfalfa seed was planted on 35 acres of the rocky, rolling ground; 35 acres worth of pasture mix was spread on 45 acres of clean, flat ground. It was a bigger-than-average mistake. The worst part was nothing could be done. It is a mistake that will chase us for at least the next 10 years. While we will replant the alfalfa, there would be little reward in tearing out established pasture.

Ike may be our favorite person, but that poor pilot quickly found himself on top of the despicable list, and I doubt it was even his fault.

So as far as hiring out help goes, you win some and you lose some. Like they say, farming is nothing if not a challenge. On the bright side, we will have Ike for at least another two summers, and until Ike learns to fly a plane, we will stick to custom tractor work.  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelancer based in Idaho.

PHOTO: Good help can be found … but sometimes it is better raised. Photo by Erica Louder.