Rural writer Lawn Griffiths was so immersed in the milieu of farm work during the years he was growing up in Iowa that it took him years to realize that he had been part of a grand venture of human, animal, and plant life all thriving together.
With his head to the ground, he did his chores and followed the instruction of his parents who expected much of everyone carrying out his or her roles in the farming mission.
The author of Batting Rocks over the Barn—An Iowa Farm Boy’s Odyssey, Griffiths concludes he didn’t behold the fullness of his experience during those years, until he left the farm and went off to college. Then during his late twenties and early thirties, he had the opportunity as a daily newspaper farm editor to reflect on his farm years in weekly newspaper columns. In his “Rural at Random” column, Griffiths took the opportunity to zero in on segments and aspects of his days on the Grundy County farm. Much of his focus was on what it was like to transport pullets on a cold November night or to fetch the dairy cows during a rainstorm from the pasture or going to a one-room country school.
For example, he didn’t grasp until later how much life he was often responsible for sustaining on that farm at a given time.
He could be tasked with the lives of dairy cows from feeding them grain, hay from the haymow, or silage from the silo to getting them out to pasture. He could be responsible for a barn full of mother sows, each with a litter of a dozen baby pigs. There was a routine in turning the sows out of their stalls to an outdoor feeding floor and back in later. Herds of sows and pigs of all ages had to be fed and bedded down, kept in pastures, and watered. In the hottest period of summer, Griffiths may have turned on a hydrant and create a mud pit so they could cool off.
He was expected to feed as many as a thousand laying hands in four separate sheds. There was work to clean the manure from them regularly. Sometimes, he had to take care of baby chicks, as well as the pullets that they would become en route to being laying hens. There were days of feeding the dogs and the ducks and guinea hens and geese.
He would have a hand in the life of the corn and oats growing in the fields where he fought weeds with cultivators, hoes, and sprays. Sometimes, he ended life—such as weeds and the insects that swarmed around the cows all summer day.
He would bury dogs in the grove, have a role in getting a rendering-works truck to come to the farm, and with a cable, pull a dead cow or hog from a building and hauled off to turn into tankage.
Griffiths was trained to handle some or all the chores and field work that served the animals and crops to advance the mission of the farm and the farm family. He was witness to the birth of calves, pigs, kittens, ducks, and other critters. The lives of livestock were often short. They went off to the sale barn or packing house. So was the cadence of life of the Iowa farm.