Red Hat ladies a-flutter after farm visit

Published 7:17 am Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bill and Ann Sanders have pullet houses at their 1,000-acre farm in Goshen, so, they’re accustomed to being around feathered things. However, they probably weren’t quite prepared for the purple and red-feathered friends that emerged from an automated machine on wheels on a breezy November Monday morning.

The Red Hat Ladies from Brundidge flocked out of the van with feathers a-flying and teeth a-flashing, obviously happy to be down on the farm.

The Red Hat Ladies’ visit to the farm was both their November outing and/or airing and an event of the 2008 Pike County Farm-City Week which began Friday and ends on Thanksgiving Day.

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“The Red Hat Ladies’ visit to the Sanders’ farm was the highlight of my week,” said Jenniffer Barner, president of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce sponsor of Farm-City Week. “It was humorous to say the least. Everyone had a lot of fun, but I was surprised that most of the ladies didn’t know as much about farm life as I thought they would.”

Barner said, in general, urban dwellers seem to know less about farm life then rural residents know about city life.

“A lot of people don’t know much about where their food comes from,” she said. “And, too, many farmers also have jobs in town so they are more familiar with city life. But inviting a group of ladies to the farm brought a different aspect to Farm-City Week. It was very successful and it will probably be an idea that we’ll expand on next year.”

And, if the Red Hat Ladies have anything to do with it, they just might want to participate again. On the farm, the ladies were like little girls, climbing into the combine, onto the tractors, chewing hay straws and doing whatever Bill Sanders said, “don’t do.”

“I wouldn’t go in around the cows,” Sanders said. “I don’t think they would hurt you but ….”

What’s the use when Red Hatters are a-flutter?

When the ladies were corralled, they seemed very interested in what the fourth-generation farmer had to say about the farm that has been in his family since 1905.

Sanders explained that the mainstay of the farm in years past was peanuts. Today, however, he grows corn and soybeans and has 150 “mama cows.”

When he talked about a “board” auction, the ladies evidently had images of “Yella Wood” on the auction block. But Sanders quickly explained that a group of local beef producers will get together and sale their cows to buyers from places like Oklahoma and Texas who come to their farms, look over the cows and then sit down around a table and bid on them.

“They load the cows up on trucks and take them to big feed lots to get them ready for market,” Sanders said. “Selling cows that way, we get from $50 to $60 a head more than we could get selling them locally.”

The ladies might not have understood the concept of a board auction but they certainly understood the “economics” of it.

“That’s smart,” Sarah Fleshman whispered.

The Red Hat Ladies quizzed Sanders about the uses for soybeans and were seemly astonished to learn that soybeans are used in many of the cosmetic products they use.

“Well, farm on!” they said laughing.

Sanders explained that he has stored most of his soybean crop, waiting for the prices to go up.

“Prices are lowest right after the harvest when there’s a large supply,” he said. “So, it’s best to store your product until the prices go up or until you need the money.”

The Red Hatters were interested in irrigation and the why-fors of it.

Sanders explained that there are no “averages” on the farm.

“You hear about average rainfall and average temperatures,” he said, laughing. “Well, I’ve been farming for 30 years and I’ve never had an ‘average’ year. So, I irrigate. Irrigation is my salvation.”

Sanders told the ladies that the water for his irrigation system is pumped out of the river.

They strained their necks like giraffes looking for the river but quickly turned their attention to a “yoke” Sanders held in his hands.

“I’ll give $10 to anyone who can tell me what this is,” he said. Sanders would have been safe offering them a thousand dollars.

“It keeps the cow’s head from going through the fence,” Martha Price said.

“It’s a yoke to hitch it to a wagon,” said a city gal who begged not to be identified.

“You don’t hitch cows to a wagon,” another said and the others burst into laughter.

Everyone finally gave up and Sanders explained that the yoke was used to protect the cow’s milk after the calf had been weaned and that took some “real” explaining.

“What?” one lady said.

“Shhh. I’ll tell you later. In the bus,” another said, putting a finger on her lips.

Sanders told the Red Hat Ladies about the ear corn he keeps to feed the calves when they are weaned. He told them that his hay crop was the best in three years and that he puts his bulls in with the cows in April so they’ll have uniform calves. And, he told them about his pullet houses and how he starts each batch with thousands of day-old biddies that cost about $3 a piece.

The poultry company that Sanders contracts with provides the birds, the feed and the medication. He provides the environment and keeps watch.

“I keep the birds 21 weeks and they grow to about six and a half pounds,” he said. “When they leave here, their cost is about $12 apiece.”

“How can we buy chickens in the grocery store for just a few dollars,” asked Nellie Sue Helms.

Sanders tipped his cap back slightly and thought a minute before he spoke.

“I’ve got pullet houses,” he said. “These aren’t the kind of chickens that you buy in the grocery store. They lay eggs to make the biddies that grow into the chickens that you buy to eat. One of my houses will produce about a million chickens through their eggs.”

All of the talk of chickens whetted the Red Hat Ladies appetite for lunch. They thanked Bill and Ann Sanders for a fun and informative day on the farm.

As they made a beeline to the bus, one of the ladies said, “I remember when we used to wring the chicken’s neck …..”

“Let’s don’t about that!” rang out from the chorus.

The Red Hat Ladies left the Sanders farm with feathers a-flying and much more knowledgeable about life on the farm.