making fodder and other ponderings . . . by One o’the Nine

Providing food for family during the great depression was not a great problem for farmers in the farming community I grew up in. As far back as I can remember, though I never thought of it at the time, we had sufficient food and, in fact, totally sustained ourselves. Cattle and hogs were slaughtered at the appropriate times of the year, and properly stored in the custom of the times in the smokehouses, or in the local ice house in rented vaults. Meat, like money, had to be used in measured amounts so as to last throughout the rest of the year when there was none. Vegetables were grown almost year-round, and there was always the dried beans and legumes and another alltime southern favorite, grits!

Farm animals had to be fed as well, as they were part and parcel of a successful family farm and did much of the heavier tasks each day. I remember that in spite of the relatively mild, north Florida winters, by the time spring crop planting time came around mules and cattle showed a disproportionate amount of ribs on their bellies below their bony, swayed backs. One of my jobs in the fall each year was to shuck the dried corn and daily grind the corn from the cobs to use as supplemental feed for stock. I’d scatter corn about the chicken yard and watch all the chicken scramble to get their share. And to think, they had to peck around an open yard littered with chickens**t and other debris in order to eat it. I don’t remember one animal or chicken ever complaining.

Here’s a memory from One o’the Nine, originally published in a freepress newspaper in North Florida in the 1980s, explaining one of the foods that kept animals going in lean times.

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Fodd009_9-3er, cornstalks, and hay and straw, is defined as coarse food for horses, and sheep, etc. Anyone who grew up on a north Florida farm prior to World War II will remember fodder as corn leaves that have been pulled from the cornstalk and dried and bundled and then used as horse or mule feed.

I can remember as a boy when the latter part of June and early July was fodder pulling time. We would strip the leaves from the corn stalks by placing both hands near the tassel of the corn, then stripping downward until the leaves were gone. When each hand was filled with leaves, they were combined and then wedged between an ear of corn and the cornstalk. Usually, if the sun was shining hot, the leaves dried in about 24 hours and were then ready to bundle.

To make a bundle of fodder, you took dried “hands” of leaves and put them together until you had a bundle of the approximately size; then you’d take about six leaves as a binder, wrap them around the bundle, tie it in half knots, then pitch the bundle on the wagon.When the wagon was loaded, the fodder was taken to the barn and stored in the loft.

I can remember as a youth that the fodder loft was a favorite place to play, especially when company came and there were children. The fodder loft was off-limits for playing if Papa knew it, but we usually would take a chance and play on it anyway.There were times when someone would fall through the fodder to the floor which was about eight feet. Several of us had the breath knocked out of us, but luckily no one was seriously hurt.

When someone did fall, Papa and Mama never knew about it because we knew we’d get our behinds blistered for playing where we weren’t supposed to play. During the 1930’s, fodder was worth three to five cents a bundle if a market could be found. I remember a man, Mr. Jack, had borrowed ten dollars from Papa and paid him back with fodder.

One of my older brothers and I had to take the two-horse wagon to Mr. Jack’s and haul the fodder back home. Mr. Jack lived across the Olustee Creek from us, and to go across the bridge would have been at least three miles further, so Papa told us to go the closest way by going down an old primitive road and crossing the creek at Johnson Ford.

We had no problem finding the creek with an empty wagon, but when stacked on the wagon it was a different story. When we were returning with the load of fodder we were both scared the fodder would fall off as the wagon swayed according to the terrain.

When we reached the Ford with the load of fodder we held our breath and our hearts were pounding as we went down the steep bank and into the water. We got through the water and started up the bank, and–you guessed it–at least half of the fodder fell off the wagon. Here were two kids about 10 and 12 years old to reload the fodder.

My older brother stayed on the wagon and pitched the bundles of fodder to him, and he stacked them on the wagon. After we got the fodder reloaded we went home without further incident except that the fodder was leaning to one side and we were scared it was going to unload again. But it didn’t until we got to the barn door and we slid down off the fodder, it unloaded on top of us. But at least we didn’t have to reload it; we just threw it into the barn so it could be stacked in the loft.

Papa always had us feed our mules and horse twelve ears of corn and one bundle of fodder for the noon feeding, and twenty-five ears of corn and two blocks of peanut or pea vine hay at the night feeding. Our mules and horses didn’t eat breakfast, but they usually made up for it by trying to eat whatever they could while we were plowing. There were times when we had to use muzzles on the mules to keep them from eating the corn while we were plowing.

Those were the days when families worked hard, trusted God, and paid their debts even if it was with bundles of fodder instead of cash. People were proud of their being known as people of their word. The word was their bond. There was no need to have a written agreement, as a person’s word was just as binding as a written contract. Seldom was a lawyer needed to collect a debt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if things were that simple again?

Postscript: Never, never, never did I ever slide in Grandpa’s fodder stash, but I remember very well talking my younger cousins into hiding in the corn barn in late summer where the corn from all those cornstalks that made fodder had been stored. The dried corn was stacked, helter skelter, descending from nearly flat at the doorway to as high as 8 or 10 feet in the back. As children we didn’t weigh enough, fortunately, to bog down and get buried as the adults must have feared. It was an art to climb to the top of the stack carefully enough and squiggle and bury your bum just deep enough to stabilize you while you sat–as still as possible–trying to stay quiet so the grownups wouldn’t discover your whereabouts and ruin your daring adventure. As I mentioned, I had talked my younger cousins–boys as well as girls–into going into the barn with me to hide. It was mostly dark with slats of sunshine coming through the cracks. That gave me a great idea: tell ghost stories–sort of a tradition in the larger family as I heard my father do many times about ghost horses in the sky and such. The idea was, of course,  to see who would get scared first, the boys or the girls. I must have been a great storyteller because the first thing I knew, I was bogging way too far down in the corn in near panic in my haste to get down and out of there, into fresh air and sunshine. The boys, I’m glad to say, weren’t far behind. Imagination is wonderful, almost as good as memory.

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