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Three-Year-Old Event Still Causes Giggin’

As a farm writer, I often receive communications from readers who have opinions about my subjects and sometimes their opinions may not agree with mine. When you write an opinion column, of course you expect differences of thought among the masses and you soon take criticism for what it is worth and move on. But, when someone questions your support of an activity that began three years ago for a very good reason and puts scripture as the basis for why you should not be in support of the activity, I do feel compelled to explain.   
In July of 2013, a group of young farmers who make up the Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers organization were looking for a way to provide funds to help high school graduates in their area go to college. It seemed just about every kind of fundraiser had been tried in their county and they were looking for something unique and different to get enough money for a scholarship. Since Dekalb County is known for Center Hill Lake and its abundant fishing, as well as hunting resources, the group thought that taking one of the area’s favorite hunting sports and forming a contest would be a good idea to raise some cash for graduates.  
During the summer, most of the locals and hunters in the area around Dekalb County enjoy frog gigging. Frog gigging requires you to take a flashlight, a frog gig, some good boots and a buddy with a sack to visit a real wet area where the frogs live. There you harvest the frogs under the guidelines and rules of the area game warden, as well as the state of Tennessee. You can take no more than twenty frogs and after your hunt you can have some of the best eating from the frog legs you harvest. Dekalb County has some of the largest bullfrogs I have ever seen. Because of this fact, the idea of a “Giggin For Grads” contest was born and it’s about one of the greatest ideas I have ever heard of.  On a night in July of 2013 the first contest was held with a lot of success.  Despite the out of sorts feelings of some folks in other parts of this country that didn’t have a frog in the hunt, the event developed a lot of support from people who heard about the protest.  
As soon as the “Giggin For Grads” contest was announced, save the world and animal welfare groups got on social media to protest the young farmer’s efforts. A TV station out of Nashville even got in on the act. The fact that a group of young people were raising funds for college scholarships by means of a legal, decades old hunting sport, regulated by the state of Tennessee laws and the harvesting of a product served on the tables of Nashville’s very own finest restaurants, seemed to have not been very important in any of the news reports. The news only wanted to cover the controversy.  
That first year the protest groups acted uglier than warts on a frog. Their goal was to stop the contest, but their efforts seemed to have croaked.  
The young farmer group held tough. The community held even tougher. Other young farmers joined them and the contestant numbers grew from an expected 20-plus entries to almost 100 entries. Donations were sent to the event from people from adjoining counties and the scholarship fund grew to more than $1,000.  Due to the efforts of the animal groups more frogs were harvested that evening than planned, but that made for a better frog leg supper to celebrate the event’s success. I hear that if you want to donate this year, you can send your donations to Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers, 865 South Congress Blvd., Smithville, TN 37166.  
Instead of the hundreds who were to come and protest in Smithville that night, only four showed up with their signs. The young farmers supplied them with water and food, as well as kindness. Later in the night about five more arrived, but as one young farmer said, “Everyone is welcome to their opinion, but not their way.”  
Once again, on June I9 the Dekalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers will be holding their event to raise money for scholarships, just as they have since that evening in July of 2013.  I spoke with a representative from the YF&R group and she says they are already having calls from animal cruelty groups with all kinds of threats including those of bodily harm to humans.  
The email I received only quoted scripture and came from the state of California. I’m just impressed that we have young people willing to stand their ground on something they think is right to help someone else go to college no matter the threats.  
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  
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A Simple Cigar Box

You just never know how someone else will interpret what your intentions are until they are placed in the position to have to make a decision that can either put you in the driver’s seat or on the street walking. Over the past few days, the bank made just such a call on me that stopped everything and it was over someone reading a name wrong.  
I’m in the process of building a fence in the backyard and made a visit to a local store to purchase the needed supplies. After making all the arrangements for the delivery and installation, I prepared to make the payment. Noticing I had left my checkbook at home, I placed the charge on my credit card, knowing that I could pay it off at the end of the month when the charge came through.  
Thinking everything was okay, I was surprised the next day when I received a call from the store saying my charge had been denied. Immediately, I called my bank’s credit card department and was told that there was a charge on my account that had caused the block to be placed. The call was transferred to the fraud department, where I was questioned about an “unusual” charge to a social club that was not normal for me, thus causing the bank to block my account.  
After numerous questions relating to previous charges, dates and giving me the amount of the charge for the “social club,” the mystery of my strange behavior was finally solved. The “social club” charge was actually the fee I paid to the American Kennel Club to register by Black Lab puppy Ranger. That’s about as “social” as I get. After two phone calls and a visit to the bank, I finally had the problem resolved, and things back to normal with a fence going up the backyard. Next time, I’ll write a check.  
It just goes to show you, there are those who can make a decision without knowing what they are talking about. I assumed everyone everywhere knew what the American Kennel Club is, but there must be someone in the banking world that doesn’t.  
Often, we classify folks when we really shouldn’t and you never know where it may lead. I’ll never forget when someone classified me as an uber-conservative in a letter to the editor one time. It seems someone had determined I was an uber-conservative by a recent article I had written. They had gotten all caught up in conservative and non-conservative politics and thinking everything related to that. In fact, I had to look-up uber-conservative myself to find out what it really meant. It is someone even beyond ultra-conservative. That in no way is a description of me. If you happen to know how I was raised, we may have been called conservative today, but we were mainly conservatively without money. I have to say I do have conservative tendencies, but they are due to being reared by depression era parents.  
This month marks the one-year anniversary of when my mother passed away and if anyone was a conservative she was that. Just the other day I was going through some of her things, which consisted of nothing of monetary value, but a worth to a son that jewels couldn’t replace. There were ink pens that didn’t write, bread wrapper twisters, newspaper clippings, broken vases, spoons that didn’t match, a Mr. Coffee and our report cards, just to name a few of the treasures.  
In the boxes were also King Edward cigar boxes, containing miscellaneous receipts of years during my father and mother’s time of housekeeping. One of those boxes in particular that caught my attention contained the year’s receipts of 1960, ‘61 and ‘62. Among those receipts were notebook paper sheets filled with handwritten charges from the Farris Garage in Concord where my father took his school bus, tractors and cars to be repaired all those many years. There were charges from the Versailles Grocery containing items of a ten-cent Coca-Cola and a bag of peanuts that I can still remember sitting on the bench out front drinking while trying to wrestle each peanut with my tongue out of those little glass bottles. Each small aging sheet held listings of charges made by a farm family at the local country store to be paid at the end of the month when the milk check came in.  
That box held electric bills that amounted to only $6 and telephone bills being an extremely high $15, but there were tickets to the I.P. Burns Feed Mill showing evidence that the Read livestock ate very well during those days. But within that highly graphic box, still bright in color today, was a history of how life was for my family during a special time.  
It was much simpler than with your charging and record keeping. For sure, no one would check out your social club and I’m sure everyone knew about your dogs.        


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    
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Hold That Hog A Little Higher

It was a beautiful Tennessee spring morning when I pulled in the long gravel driveway of Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie’s farm. The hills behind their house this year, once again, are bathed in hues of deep greens due to all of the rainfall that we have received. But their driveway did show signs of a whole lot of rain with some pretty deep ruts cut by several inches of rain that used their gravel drive for a riverbed the last few weeks.      
When I got out of my car, I was trying not to show how this year’s pollen was using me as a source of attraction. Uncle Sid never has problems with allergies and he blames the problems on “foreign” plants brought in here to bloom pretty, which only makes people’s noses bloom instead. There was no way I was going to let him know that my head resembled a too tight drum.  
Of course, Aunt Sadie met me at the front door wiping her hands on her apron and led me through the house to the back porch where Uncle Sid was looking at the mail while enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. There, setting on a white painted round table, was a plate of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and a pitcher of ice cold milk just waiting for someone like me to help myself. I just wished I could have tasted Aunt Sadie’s homemade delights.  
Her cinnamon rolls are the real things, too! Uncle Sid wouldn’t allow any of those canned types to be placed on the table at their house. He has complained for years about canned biscuits causing marriage problems in the home. Uncle Sid puts a lot of stock and value in good homemade biscuits to the point where he thinks that a plate of biscuits and preserves can solve any problem you may have. He once said, “It use to be housewives would pride themselves on their homemade biscuits, but now across America in subdivisions early every morning, ladies are up popping open those canned biscuits on every street to the point where it sounds like a young war.”  
After exchanging pleasantries and taking my seat in a lime green metal chair near the table to share with Uncle Sid some of Aunt Sadie’s cinnamon rolls, Aunt Sadie asked me how things were going. It had been a pretty demanding week and I sort of complained about how hard I had been working lately, not mentioning the allergy problems. I even made the statement of not having enough time to get things done the way I really wanted them to be completed.  
“Boy (I’m 66 and he still calls me boy), time - and how you use it - is all up to you,” Uncle Sid said while biting down on one of Aunt Sadie’s cinnamon rolls.  
Thinking to myself that Uncle Sid had never worked for anyone other than himself, and had spent his entire life on this farm, I assumed he knew very little about today’s world and the problems with modern-day time management, as well as the political world. “That’s true, but today it’s tough in the political and business world Uncle Sid,” I answered the old man while pouring myself a glass of milk.  
Setting his plate down on the porch table he pushed back in his chair, and I could tell I was about to get a lesson in time management. He looked at me and said, “I was walking several years ago, as a young man, over on the Haint Hollow Road near old man Howard’s farm, when I passed his orchard and saw him out there with a small pig under his arm holding it up to the apple trees. He was letting that pig eat apples one at a time. After it would finish one apple, he would move to another for the pig to eat.”  
He paused for a drink of milk and continued, “I stood there and watched him for a while and asked, ‘What you doing Mr. Howard?’  He just kept holding that pig up to that tree and answered, ‘I’m feeding my pig.’  To which I said, ‘Ain’t that awfully time consuming feeding a hog that way?’”  
Uncle Sid then leaned back in his lime green porch chair, looked straight at me, and said, “To which Mr. Howard said, ‘Yeah, but what’s time to a hog?’”  
With that, Uncle Sid got up and headed out to do his morning chores and left Aunt Sadie and me to ponder that time management story. And you know, a lot of the things I do everyday is sort of like feeding apples to a pig from an apple tree and I often wonder what is time to a hog? Welcome to the world of politics.        
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at  
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Nothing Can Stop The Desire

Whenever I have the chance to meet up with a group of friends, there is always one question that never fails to get asked by someone during casual conversation about how I’m enjoying being a county commissioner. I really don’t know if the word “enjoying” is proper to describe an elected office or not, but many times I get the feeling most individuals think there is something acutely wrong with me when I usually answer that it is everything I thought it would be. It does require long meetings, missed meals, phone calls with interesting concerns, and expectations of magic wands that makes everyone live happily ever after without leaving payment in kind.  
I must say, so far it has been exactly what I signed up for when I turned in my papers to qualify over a year ago and won. That is until Palm Sunday, when I got a text message from our local sheriff advising me of a problem in my district that needed my attention or at least come by to see what had happened over the weekend.  
The text arrived while having lunch with my family after church, so after finishing our meal and telling them all good afternoon, I proceeded to the far corner of my rural district to the Journey of Hope outreach center operated by the Midland Baptist Church. Within this small community outreach program, more than 600 families a week benefit from volunteer’s efforts to provide needed food and clothing without a lot of questions asked. When traveling near the old school building that was turned into the Journey of Hope facilities, there usually is a traffic jam, as those in need fill the building looking for food for their families, while also receiving a smile and kind words from those who administer the program.  
But, that Palm Sunday when I arrived, there were no lines of people looking for food and the parking lot had sheriff vehicles instead of bread trucks. As I walked through the old school building’s doors, I walked across crushed glass from broken front doors and the smell of pickle juice permeated the air, due to someone taking cases of dill pickles and smashing them throughout the building.  
But there, among turned over shelves, destroyed food and broken commercial refrigeration units in a building that once held hope for many, but now looked like a war zone, were the volunteers assessing the damage of all their hard work.  On Saturday evening, some very unconcerned and seemingly heartless individuals entered the building and spent their time breaking or destroying anything that came into their sights. I even saw eggs thrown at a picture of Jesus. What they apparently saw as fun was nothing but a direct attack on a program that was placed there to help and heal.  
Thousands of dollars of damage was declared on Journey of Hope that night, but the following Monday more than 60 volunteers were on the scene rebuilding. In fact, their determination gives me the impression that this outreach will be even better and stronger.  As I visited the following day, those who were involved driving nails and mending clothing said that they had already forgiven those who had trespassed against them. The smiles were back, and yes, by the end of the week there was food on the shelves, with many of the people’s needs being taken care of once again.  
By Tuesday of that same week, three young men were arrested by detectives and charged for the crimes. The reason they gave for what they did really stunned me. These three men, within the ages of 19 to 21, said they destroyed the Journey of Hope food pantry because they were “bored.” For a very important reason, that was one word that was never allowed around our farm when we were growing up. If you even looked bored there was a set of limb clippers that would fit your hands to start cutting out fence rows or you had to move baled hay from one side of the barn to the other and then back again.  
I still have plenty of fencerows that need working, so if a 20-year-old gets “bored” they are welcome to come help, rather than take food from the needy. Maybe they should also be fed pickle sandwiches for a while, since they enjoyed spreading their contents for others to clean up.  
If anything, I was renewed to see the volunteers who jumped right back in and showed that their desire was to do the work that Journey of Hope was designed for. It is great to see that no matter what adversity is thrown at those who believe in what they are doing, it will not stop their desire to do good.            
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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A Good Stern Look Does Wonders

As I looked through a display of brightly colored packaged seeds at Kelton’s store the other day, I saw some okra that reminded me of Uncle Sid. Okra is one item that Uncle Sid considers a weed and one day I discovered he and Aunt Sadie had totally different views on the plant. It was also a day I was taught a lesson or two about politics.  
It was a spring day fit for planting a garden. The late April sky was overcast, the humidity somewhat high and the white frame farmhouse of the old couple was totally dark. When I arrived I knew exactly where they were.  
I walked on around the house to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were in the middle of a family discussion at the beginning of a newly planted row in their closely manicured vegetable garden. Aunt Sadie saw me first and met me rubbing her hands on her apron so she could give me a hug without soiling my clothes. After exchanging pleasantries and taking my place at the beginning of the garden row being planted by the two aged agriculturalists, Aunt Sadie asked my opinion on when does it become too much okra when you are planting your garden. Seems that had been the discussion the two were involved in when I arrived and I had become a third party in determining what amount of the green podded plant was to go in this year’s garden on their farm. Uncle Sid had said nothing, which indicated he was not at all in agreement with Aunt Sadie’s plans for the afternoon, and it also sent up a red flag to me on how I should be answering the question. I knew he was the head of the household on this farm, but I also knew that Aunt Sadie was the neck that controlled the direction of the head. Plus, there was the smell of a freshly baked cobbler coming from the kitchen’s windowsill just a few yards away and I didn’t want to miss any of that dish later.  
Being a college graduate, a newly elected county commissioner and a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, I said, “There is never too much okra, is there? What do you think Uncle Sid?” Boy, was I out educated and birth righted with his answer.  
Leaning on his garden hoe and kicking a dirt clod with his old brogan, he answered, “It’s a known fact that common or uncommon insects won’t even eat okra. If a bug won’t even eat it, why should we?  It is related to cotton and hibiscus plants, which don’t sound very appetizing, plus, when you boil it the stuff turns into something sort of like pond scum.”  
From those statements, I got the feeling the old man was not very interested in planting okra. But, as I glanced at Aunt Sadie, I saw a look from her eyes, bypassing me and going straight to the source of the recent comments on okra. Uncle Sid saw that look as well, and he, too, was receiving the same vibes as I was from that little white-haired lady with her hands placed firmly on her hips.  
“But you know,” he said rubbing his chin, “Okra fried in good Martha White cornmeal and placed alongside Sadie’s homegrown tomatoes can’t be beat. Boy (he still calls me boy even though I’m 66 years old), okra can be boiled, pickled, steamed and fried. And the interesting thing is that it still tastes like okra no matter what you do to it. It arrived in these parts way back in 1806, and if it had not been for okra seeds during the last days of the War of Northern Aggression, our kin folks wouldn’t have had a replacement for coffee when times got real tough. In fact, just thinking about a good cup of coffee and Sadie’s cobbler over yonder in the kitchen window makes me want to plant both those rows of okra that Sadie ‘suggested’ a few minutes ago. What do you think Miss Sadie?”  
Later that afternoon the cobbler was certainly good and it’s amazing what can be done in the garden when it involves a cobbler and a stern look from a headstrong little old lady.  
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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What T-Shirt Should You Wear

I love my state this time of the year! You can tell you are in Tennessee when the days begin to warm and the trees change from dark brown to colorful pastels, as well as by the number of festivals being held across our volunteer state. Spring, along with fall, is a wonderful time to celebrate the changing of the season after “Ole Man Winter” ran us all indoors for the past several months. It also gives us rural types a real good reason to get out and enjoy a whole lot of celebrations that relate to numerous things.  

Those of us who are native Tennesseans have the unique desire to want to hold festivals to honor food, animals or some type of produce. It must be in our nature, because if you check the coming events section of most of our reading materials you will find the majority of our festivals support those three areas of our culture. We honor the mule, bird dog, fainting goat, bee, horse, cornbread, strawberry, poke sallet, soybean, cotton, catfish, apple, peach, molasses, kudzu, pig, and many others too numerous to mention in this limited space.  
Being one who really enjoys this time of the year, I’m glad all these festivals occur and urge others to pull on their favorite tee shirt (which the majority look better on the item being celebrated) and head out this weekend to see some type of Tennessee festival at its best.  
Being somewhat of a specialist in good country cooking and also a bit on the unusual side, I was invited for a number of years to be a judge at the Annual National Cornbread Festival for the 4-H Division Cook-off in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Due to a few tummy surgeries I turned that job over to a very capable coworker, and now stick to judging my own cooking, which is pretty good if I do say so myself. If you have never attended the National Cornbread Festival, then you had better plan to be there the last weekend of April, because it is the event of a lifetime.  
For a cornbread lover like me, just to savor the smells and tastes of everything cornbread in one day's visit was almost more than I could stand. And then to have the opportunity to taste the ten best recipes of cornbread out of more than 100 entries from 4-H members from all parts of the country and this state, you had to know that I was in "country cook'n heaven."  
I got VIP parking, a large rosette judge's ribbon and several goodies from festival cook-off sponsors Lodge Cast Iron Cookware and Martha White. For a southern fat boy, what more could you ask for? But the greatest part of the day was meeting and judging the contest for 10 of the most charming 4-H members you would ever want to meet.  
They were elementary students, but they all had just as much determination and skill to compete as the adults, who would bake their goods during the afternoon national contest.  
The contest is held early in the morning and each contestant has to prepare their own recipe on a stage before hundreds of watching festival goers. After mixing their ingredients, they bake their cornbread creation on stage for the judges. They are judged on appearance, creativity, presentation, cooking techniques, product color, shape, crust, texture and most importantly of all, flavor. And by the way, they must prepare their recipe in cast iron cookware. As I always say, "Anytime you encounter cornbread made in a cake pan, you're dealing with imposters."  
The cornbread dishes I’ve tasted those past years were all really good and trying to pick a winner was tough. I ate enough cornbread on those judging days that all I had to do for supper at night was drink water and swell.  
It is a treat to see these kids put all their efforts into being the best. Lodge and Martha White are to be congratulated for promoting the town of South Pittsburg, but most of all getting these young people a chance to “make the best better.”  
During the festival you can tour the Lodge plant located in South Pittsburg, see hundreds of arts and crafts, watch the cook-off, go down Cornbread Alley and basically have a really good time.  
Maybe someday they will let me judge the big contest or even enter the Celebrity Cook-off. Just don't put me up against those 4-Hers. They are good at what they do.  
Hope you are packing your t-shirt right now and heading to South Pittsburg.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.  He may be contacted by e-mail at
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Is Cousin Clod Happy?

Since I no longer drive to work, I now am pleasantly awakened each weekday to the sound of my favorite radio station WSM and the Bill Cody program. “Cody In The Morning” is one way I start the day and have been doing so for sometime. His radio show is like a radio program should be on a station with a legacy like WSM.  It has always been a mainstay in my family and has also been around ever since I came into this world. As a matter of fact, we had an old brown Philco radio bought at the local Firestone store that sat on top of the white, green-trimmed cabinet in the kitchen that only would pick up “The Air Castle of South.” I still think it ought to be the law that all kitchen radios be tuned to a local AM station and the radio knobs pulled off so the station can’t be changed.  
At high noon each day back on the farm we always stopped for dinner, to not only eat, but also to listen to the market report on John McDonald’s Noontime Neighbors radio program. Whenever that dinner bell would ring you knew it was time for us children to get quiet because Daddy had to hear if the livestock market was up or down. The results of that market report also helped with his attitude when we went back to work in the field. Always liked it when they said the market was up.  
During my time of listening recently to the Nashville station, not only at home but also in my pickup, I heard a commercial that dealt with a certain brand of chicken you could buy at your local grocery. The thing that caught my attention in the advertisement was that they were referring to how happy their chickens were back on their farm. They said their birds didn’t receive antibiotics or other drugs like other chickens grown on other farms, and that they lived in special houses that helped keep their chickens healthy and happy.  
I appreciated the image the commercial presented, talking about the health of their fowl and that they were taking extra steps to keep their product safe for the consumer. It’s good to know that poultry producers are very aware of providing clean, safe and comfortable housing for their chickens and the consumer’s concerns are always a part of maintaining their operations.  
The thing that I have a problem trying to understand is how to tell if a chicken is happy or not. Telling folks your chickens are healthy and content is understandable, but saying they are happy is somewhat hard for many of us country residents to grasp. I raised chickens for years and was even the grand champion winner in my county 4-H club six times in a row for having the best group of twelve pullets. I have even had the grand champion Rhode Island Red rooster at the Tennessee State Fair, but I have yet to hear a chicken laugh. I can’t even tell if a chicken is smiling or not. They all have that sort of silly look with their mouths open, but I don’t think that means they are happy. Cousin Clod has a silly look and also walks around with his mouth open at times and I know for a fact he is not the jolliest person you would ever want to meet.  
Maybe they cackle every now and then, but does that mean they are happy? A lot of people think because a hen cackles after she lays an egg she is proud and happy of the accomplishment. I think she is just glad that the ordeal is over for the day and she doesn’t have to think about it again until tomorrow.  
We are still trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. Nobody really knows why the chicken crossed the road. Is it true that the term dumb cluck comes from an observation of the abilities of chickens? Do we run around at times like a chicken with our head cut off? And, just what are the Colonel’s secret ingredients in his fried chicken recipe?  
Who would have ever thought all of this high level fowl pondering would have resulted from a WSM radio program. Maybe you would have thought it considering the shows content, but I still am not sure that a chicken can smile or be called happy.            
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    
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Wash Your Hands Around Chicks

The last few weeks as I have visited my Coop to pickup things needed for around the homestead, I have heard a distinctive sound that shows up this time of the year and it is not tractors running preparing to plow fields. It is a peeping sound coming from hundreds of chicks and ducklings that have arrived at the stores so farmers and homeowners can restock their flocks for the coming year. Many people think it has something to do with Easter baskets and the celebration of spring, well, I hate to bite the ears off your chocolate rabbits, but that is not the reason they are there.  

Growing up on a farm, we always had baby chicks around due to the need for eggs. As a child, I was use to their being a part of the farm surroundings, but can remember when we would go into town on our Saturday visits to the square around Easter time to find brightly colored chicks for sale at the local Woolworths. They caught my attention because we never had any chickens that were pink or green. After my mother explained to me that those Woolworth chicks had been colored with food coloring and were probably not healthy, I soon lost my interest in dyed chickens. I found that the marshmallow Peeps were more to my liking and they stayed put in your Easter basket.  

There are those who still think it is cute to give their child a live chick or duckling for Easter, but coming from the farm, let me suggest you keep it to a toy one instead. Small children really don’t understand the care for these small creatures and the fact is that they are babies too, needing proper handling that a child can’t give.  

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture in a recent press release also mentioned the importance of avoiding baby chicks and ducklings for holiday gifts. They can also carry Salmonella germs causing extreme abdominal problems. “Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies even when they appear healthy and clean,” Tennessee Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Jones said in the recent TDA news release. “Those germs can also get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes and other items where the birds live and roam and can be found on the hands, shoes and clothing of people who handle the birds or work or play around them. We recommend families leave handling of live poultry to people trained in their appropriate care.”  

The release went on to say that you also do not let children younger than five, elderly persons or people with weak immune systems handle chicks, ducklings or other live poultry. If you do come into contact with a bird, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after.  

Being a 4-H member also taught me the importance of cleanliness, and with poultry as a major project of mine for many years, I know the importance of washing your hands around chickens. Each spring I would start out with 100 chicks and after having to feed, clean the chicken house and gather eggs, they weren’t as cute at the end as at the beginning of getting them.  

My chicken house was country-fied. The chicken nests were made out of wooden apple boxes nailed to the wall fairly high off the ground for a youngster.  It was my job when I got home from school to feed the chickens and gather the eggs.  Feeding the chickens was not that big of a deal, but reaching high over my head to get the eggs out of the nests was a different matter altogether.  The nests were just high enough for me not to be able to see in them, so I had to reach really high and feel around to locate next morning’s breakfast.  

I had heard all of the stories told by local old timers of finding snakes and other varmints in the nests and was always careful to feel my way along slowly as I reached above my head in the darkness. However, one spring day, I guess the call of going hunting in the woods with my favorite dog after gathering the eggs caused me to forget my concern of what just might be lurking high up in the darkness.  

I reached high and fast to get the hens’ daily donations.  However, what I felt was not the usual oblong shape of a brown egg from a Rhode Island Red hen; instead, it was warm and furry and seemed to cover the entire area inside the nest. I withdrew my hand hoping to have all of my fingers attached where they were supposed to be.  Before I knew it, I was in the barn lot making tracks to the house, with brown hen eggs splattering the trail that I was making through the jimson weeds.  

Once safely on the back porch, I sounded the alarm that the hen house had been overtaken by wild animals. Mother summoned my father to get the gun to protect the unsuspecting hens.  

With the entire family in attendance, we approached the dark structure near the garden with utmost caution.  My father slowly strained his eyes to adjust to the light of the darkened house and looked over in the nest.  With a laugh that only a father can utter when he has something of embarrassment on his child, he reached in to withdraw six gray kittens that our old cat had deposited in the nest earlier in the day.          


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at    

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New Companion

A few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and get something that has been gone from my life for over six years. Since the day I was born there has been one with me, and after losing one that had been very special to me, it has been hard for me to get another one until just recently. Oh, I have thought about it a lot, but she was so special that I just couldn’t make myself get another friend like her. However, I met the perfect one in mid-February, and in about five weeks we will be united for some great times. Yes, it is true - I’m getting a new farm dog.  
When the term farm animal is mentioned in conversation or in writing, most of us assume the obvious and think of a cow. Cows are important, along with sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and other animals that are vital to production on today’s farms. You can’t pickup a child’s book that has farms as its subject without the first thing you see being one of the aforementioned animals. But, there is also another animal on every farm across this land that has to be there to make a farm a true farm. All across America each and everyday, farmers and ranchers rise bright and early to face a day’s work with a farm animal at their side that has been on every farm since the early settlers arrived in Jamestown to create the “New World” we enjoy today. That animal does not produce food, does not plow the fields or even haul the produce, but the farm dog is just as important as any animal that graces the pages of any “Old McDonald” storybook.  
In the job I enjoyed for over forty years, I had the opportunity to spend numerous days on Tennessee farms with farmers who usually had a trusted farm dog nearby. They often rode inside or in the back of pickup trucks, eager to let the wind blow around their ears and usually with a tail wagging at a velocity that could power a TVA generating plant. I’m planning to do the same with Ranger in the coming years.     
Many are used to herd livestock, as well as protect other farm animals from wildlife not very kind to domesticated farm animals. But, most are companion animals that become a farmer’s best friend during long days of farm work. They are always there to support, greet and be a listening source that seems to understand when things are not just right, but attempt to make it right with a look that only your dog can give you. Hopefully, Ranger and I will become buddies just like that.  
In past articles, I told you about my late farm dog Sally. We adopted her when she was two, and as a very large Dalmatian, she never lacked for energy. She was never able to herd livestock or even go for help in an emergency, but every afternoon when I would arrive home, there she would stand with her tail wagging and her tongue hanging out, looking as if she had the biggest smile on her face (if dogs can smile) that you have ever seen. Her long pink tongue was always hanging to the side of her mouth and her thought cycle was almost as short as mine. But, when Sally and I headed out into the Tennessee woods of our farm on a fall afternoon for my walk and her run, she could transform my day of disaster into an afternoon of thinking about what is really important.  
She had the ability to make me see the beauty of a fall setting sun, listen to the evening call of a Bob White quail, and watch her enjoying herself in the browning farm fields. She could always accomplish what she does best, which was making me feel good. She loved without asking for anything back and was always there when I needed her.     
My new companion-to-be is a black lab pup named Ranger. In my retirement he will become my friend who I hope will teach me just as I will attempt to teach him. Together we will never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride with the windows rolled down. He will probably be the one with his head sticking out and tongue flapping in the breeze, but who knows, it could be fun.  
Together, I feel we both will have to learn some obedience and I’m sure he will understand that we will need to take some naps along the way, in addition to the runs and romps in the woods.    
Yeah, I’m looking forward to Ranger becoming a good farm dog, but most importantly of all, a very good friend.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at
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Don’t Tell An Agriculturist There Are No Farmers

While stopping by the Quickity Sack the other day to pick up a bottle of water, a farmer saw some of his discussion buddies conversing around the coffee drinkers table. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather, county politics and how well he cleaned up. They were kidding him about his Sunday-go-to-meeting wear being his attire during the middle of the week. He explained to them he was on his way to Nashville for a National Agriculture Week celebration to honor farmers in Tennessee and needed to look his best. Of course, he heard the usual comments about it would take more than nice clothes to do that.
That comment didn’t bother him, but one of the guys made the statement that there are no longer any farmers around and they shouldn’t be all that concerned about having an entire week to celebrate that in his county, as he downed his sausage and biscuit with a carton of milk.  
Delaying his trip for a few minutes, he looked at his sausage-eating friend and commented that the only marketing concern a Tennessee farmer had in past years, when selling his crop or livestock, was the price he would receive down at the local sale barn or grain elevator. He didn’t concern himself with what is being exported overseas, the need for soybeans in Asia, or even what is being bought on the west and east coasts. His primary concern was what is being paid for his product in his own hometown.  
His friend stopped drinking his milk and looked at the dressed up farmer with somewhat of a “what” smirk on his face. He continued with his stump address in front of the Yoo Hoo box. He continued on by saying, “Today that has all changed. With the world population at 7.3 billion as of this month, and expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050, the Tennessee farmer has to focus on the global challenges, as well as the local agricultural concerns. With exports from our state of raw agricultural products totaling in the billions of dollars, international trade and continued changes in farming technology worldwide, trade issues have major impacts on Tennessee farms.  A world event thousands of miles away from a Tennessee farm can change a farmer's commodity prices immediately.” He now had the attention of all the coffee drinkers.  
“You said the number of farmers has decreased around here and you’re right,” he said to his sausage-eating friend. “But you’re wrong about there being none left around here.” He was now in his prime National Ag Day speech mode as he continued to address the captive audience. “Technology is allowing farms to get larger,” he said. “Fewer farmers are producing more, and the trend has no visible end. Less than two percent of our population today produces the food we eat. More than three million people farm or ranch in the United States. More than 74,000 farms are located in Tennessee. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99 percent of those farms and the thousands of people who receive their incomes from agriculture are a major source of our economy as well.                                                      
“So many today have been brought up with fairy tale books of farms that relate to growing our food the way we use to do it so many years ago,” he continued. “Farm equipment has evolved dramatically from the team of horses used in the early 1900s.  A new technique called ‘precision farming’ boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellites and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protector applications to local soil conditions. Today’s four-wheel drive tractors have the power of 40 to 300 horses. This makes for a large capital investment, as farmers pay anywhere from $97,000 for an average 160 horsepower tractor to $270,000 for a four-wheel drive model.  
“Today’s combines can harvest 900 bushels of corn per hour or 100 bushels of corn in under seven minutes! With modern methods, one acre of land in the U.S. (about the size of a football field) can produce: 42,000 pounds of strawberries; 11,000 heads of lettuce; 25,400 pounds of potatoes; 8,900 pounds of sweet corn; or 640 pounds of cotton lint. The efficiency of U.S. farmers benefits the Tennessee consumer in the pocketbook. Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world.”                                                                        
As he turned to go out the store, he looked back at the stunned faces and said, “No farmers you say. The other day, I saw a bumper sticker that sums up the importance of a Tennessee farmer very well. It said, ‘If you don’t eat, don’t worry about farmers going out of business.’ And fellows, don’t ever stop a man who is the keynote speaker and needs to practice!”  
March 18 is National Agriculture Day.  Take time that day to celebrate America’s agricultural industry. Remember - no farmers, no food.    
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at      
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