The Cow Dump Derby …

Okay, so I read in the local bird cage liner the other day that the state legislature is talking about gambling again. Those in favor of gambling say it’ll bring lots of cash money into the state that will benefit both private and public bank accounts; those opposed are worried that that money will come at the cost of the state’s reputation for fair play and folksy fun. They say gambling is just not part of the New Hampshire tradition.

Hmmmm. I’m guessing that most of those politicians never spent much time on a farm … where clusters of Diamond Jim Bradys in bib overalls would wager on everything from when the cow would calve to whose glass of lemonade the next fly was going to land on. Here at the Dimond Hill Farm the high rollers were typically found on the front porch, where the collection of old folks and odd characters who planted themselves in the row of whitewashed, ladder back rocking chairs were never lost for entertainment.

From spring planting to fall harvest, the porch sitters seemed to have opinions about everything that went on and everyone who walked by. As mothers, aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmothers shelled peas or shucked corn or cut up fruits and vegetables for supper, old uncles, friends and former farm workers commiserated about the way things used to be (which, invariably, was better than the way things were at the moment).

Sometime around four in the afternoon things started to perk up a bit as the porch sitters began jockeying for a clear view of the state highway that separates the farm proper from the hayfields and cow pastures across the road. The cows seemed to sense the excitement, as well, as they wandered over toward the gate and milled about, waiting to be led across to the barn to be milked, fed and watered. They were, however, totally unaware of the part they were about to play in the afternoon sweepstakes.

As cattle crossing signs were set out to stop commuter traffic, the hired hand moved toward the starting gate, teasing the eager porch sitters a bit by pausing to light a cigarette along the way. For their part, the 30 or so cows were lining up according to their own custom, with the dominant female taking her place in the lead as the other girls pushed and shoved and mucked about in anticipation of the draining and feeding that lay ahead.

The porch sitters had nicknames for many of the cows, mostly based on some production trait or personality quirk: The Big Red One, The Frisky Young One, The Pretty One, The Angry One, The Butter Maker, The Car Sniffer, The Runner, and so on. Every afternoon the porch sitters would wager on which cow would drop a manure flop nearest to the yellow center line as they crossed the road. Each porch sitter had his or her favorite, of course, and there was a lot of handicapping going on, as this was high excitement in the days before scratch tickets, cable television and computer card games.

Bets were placed as soon as the gate was opened, and there was more activity on that porch during the ten minutes it took to get the cows across the road than during all the other minutes of the day strung together. One porch sitter or another would keep up a running commentary as the others yelled instructions to their chosen champion, urging them to let loose at just the proper moment.

Every so often a flop flap would erupt and the porch sitters would send one of the young people out to the road with a yardstick to determine which dump was, indeed, closest to the centerline. A drop directly on the line was cause for much rejoicing and backslapping, which the most seasoned commuters understood while the others were left scratching their heads and wondering what the heck was holding up traffic for so long.

Occasionally, an impatient, out-of-state driver would lean on his horn, which caused the whole herd to let loose. When this happened, all bets were off as this was the days before DNA testing and there was no conclusive way to settle an argument over which cow went where. As the last of the girls crossed the street the shovels would come out and the whole mess was cleared away. Then the signs were taken in and the commuters set free to go about their business, some smiling, others muttering under their breath.

It’s likely that many of you might not consider bovine bowel movements to be good entertainment, but up here on the farm we often are left to find our own fun. And while the cows are gone now and many of those old porch sitters have long since placed their last bet, a new crop seems always ready to fill the seats, rocking away the summer days enjoying the view and spreading their own brand of manure. So come on up and visit us at the farm stand sometime – we’ll keep a chair open for you.

Well … enough said.

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