FARM LIFE FROM A FARM WIFE: Remodeling projects have to be bad to be good

Kay Reminger

In 1997, we had a heifer barn built with three separate pens dividing the animals by age and size, transferring them out there from the main barn just after being weaned off milk. Moving from pen to pen to accommodate their growth, they’d be artificially inseminated when ready and then relocated back to the cow barn just before calving. We had purchased a standing silo from a neighbor and had that moved over for feeding. We ran a water line underground in an 8-foot trench, directing it from the northeast end of the barn up to the heifer barn.

When we sold the cows in May 2016, we had seven or eight heifers left. After selling them that summer, we had no need to keep a water line going to the heifer barn. In any event, it would have frozen solid with no cows to keep it open. We disconnected that line and installed a hydrant closer to the barn in case we’d have animals out there in the future.

Fast-forward to 2022. We’ve been housing dry cows and first-calf bred heifers for a couple of years for my brother and his sons. They approached us with the proposition of converting our almost-empty heifer barn to be able to house approximately 46-month-old calves. Remodeling usually comes with some headaches, and this adventure was no different. My mom had always said remodeling “has to be bad to be good.”

To have young stock back in the heifer barn, it needed a water line installed. The line went back in — this time from the hydrant, burying it in an 8-foot trench so it wouldn’t freeze in the winter. The headlocks were repaired, welding in places to reinforce; some busted fence rails had to be re-welded, as well as a waterer installed. Twelve-foot-high, 6-by-6 structure poles were replaced, and a strip of plastic panel had to be put up in one section on the roof. Otherwise, the building itself was intact.

My husband and nephew cleaned out the back of the heifer barn pens with skidders, scraping it down so gravel and then limestone screening could be filled in. Corn stalks shredded and baled in big rounds this spring and stored in our barn will be used for bedding on top of a layer of sawdust.

Limestone screening was also hauled along the front right hand side of the feeding area as a base to dump the feed. We had a couple of fellas come last year to demolish two silos on the property, and the area where the one had been by the heifer barn was smoothed over and filled in, making feeding and cleaning easier as we drive over it.

The gates were checked and new or good-used replaced old. Just behind the heifer barn an outside pasture area about 60-foot long by 20-foot wide was fenced in using cedar posts from our swamp and panels left over from our Angus pasture fence. We reuse as much as possible, plus utilize natural resources from our land. This outside pasture area is where the animals will be partitioned off so my husband can clean their pens easier.

One day I even got out there and lent a hand, hopping into the skidder dumping limestone in post holes to secure the posts and picking up ends of panels to haul them over in place. I’d hold stuff while they pounded. Every hand helps.

During the remodeling, I sometimes felt helpless; there’s only so much physical labor I’m able to offer. So what do I do when I can’t do anything else? I do food. I ran popsicles, cookies, tubs of thermoses filled with ice cold water and buckets of chilled watermelon out there, giving the fellas a short reprieve from some pretty hot working conditions.

While the remodeling was going on, the pigs in the next door pen ran in circles for the first while until they got used to the idea of the busyness. Rona, our red Hereford, was stuck in there too during the project. They’re all pretty much the same color! In order to feed the pigs and Rona, we had to move their feed bunk and water. I had to make sure they each stuck to their own food; Rona likes ground feed and the pigs like cracked corn. The pigs would huddle around her corn and she was nosing in their grain. Taking a long-handled stick, I tried to get them all back to their own food trough. It was a circus.

After much time and effort the calves got hauled over, and it’s been working out great. My brother, his boys, a hired hand and my husband and sometimes me, all contributed to the mission. My mom’s declaration of remodeling projects, “It’s gotta be bad to be good” is spot on.

(“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Ephesians 2:19-20)

Kay Reminger was born and raised on a dairy farm, and she married her high school sweetheart, who happened to farm for a living in Leopolis. Writing for quite a few years, she remains focused on the blessings of living the ups and downs of rural life from a farm wife’s perspective.