Farming, journalism, and a New Year

As I look upon a new year, in a new location for me, I’m drawn not to the differences in my chosen community but the similarities I see.

Posted 1/03/14

By Pat Ratliff

I recently moved to Manning, to work in Killdeer. Previously I had worked just north of Seattle for eight years.

But I grew up in southern Oregon, and farmed the family farm with my father and brother. We farmed mostly potatoes (we called ourselves spud rats), hay and wheat, occasionally growing barley and peas as cover crops. During the winter months, we owned a packing shed and packed our, and other farmers potatoes, selling mostly to the LA and S.F. Bay Area markets.

We’d also feed cull potatoes to steers during the winter but didn’t keep them past the early spring. I think I enjoy Dean Meyer’s column about ranching so much because I always thought there was a better side to the cattle business.

My experience was walking through a foot of mud to herd them into pens to brand or ship. I seldom saw a steer on dry ground, and never knew any of mine to walk on grass.

But back to the spuds. We lived in the high desert, south of Klamath Falls on the California-Oregon border, about 4,100 ft. elevation. Winters were cold, but not “North Dakota” cold.

Summers were perfect, extremely dry, with most days in the 75 -85-degree range. Nights were cool, usually in the low to mid 40’s.

The differences between there and here mostly have to do with water. Everything we grew was irrigated.

The spuds take an incredible amount of work, putting out solid set pipe, irrigating, not to mention planting and digging.

I put up with it, but my heart was into raising hay. I loved the haying.

Everything we raised was straight dairy quality alfalfa, mostly going to dairy’s on the northern California coast or southern Washington.

They paid good money, but of course wanted perfect hay. We baled 3-wired square bales and I drove a New Holland bale wagon for more years than I want to remember.

A big difference I notice about hay “there” versus hay “here” was we tried to get the hay off the field the day it was baled. Everything went into hay barns, and the quicker we got it off the field the quicker we got the water started again.

We’d get four cuttings on a good year, and two or three day of extra watering each cutting would give us a lot bigger fourth cutting, which was worth much more than the other three.

Imagine my surprise when my wife and I drove from Dickinson to Killdeer our first day here (I’d never been to North Dakota before, let alone Killdeer.) Green fields with swathers going and lots of bales of great smelling hay; I knew I could call this place “home” before we ever got to Killdeer.

Upon seeing Killdeer, things were even better. A great small town (I grew up in Merrill, Oregon, population 850.)

I felt “at home” before I ever got out of the pickup.

I also work in New England one day a week and see even more farms and ranches. Could it get any better?

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this.

To make a long story longer, let’s just say this is my “New Year’s column.”

I’m thankful for landing in Killdeer. I’m thankful to get to work in Killdeer and New England. I’m thankful for the great people I’ve met and become friends with, and the ones I’ll meet soon.

I’m thankful to be around “producers,” those who feed people and animals with their labor; grounded people who understand the value of a hard days work and where their milk and their steaks come from.

If I haven’t met you yet, I hope to soon. Stop by the Herald office and say hi sometime, the coffee’s always (usually) on.

And finally, I will admit seeing all those bales left out in the fields drives me crazy, but I now understand why, and I’ll get used to it. I’m new here, and still learning.




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