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The Shepherdsville Times: Changing Times

...Farming, and rural life in general, has changed so much in my lifetime it's hard to believe. Communications, for example. Radio, TV, telephone. Cell phones, computers. Most farmers have two-way radios, a cell phone, and a GPS unit in their big, sound-proofed, air conditioned tractors. Many use an on-board laptop computer. And everyone has several motor vehicles. We don't live in a four mile an hour world these days...

Jerry Selby muses on changing times in rural America.

My dogs got all excited about something on the road. Our black top country road gets quite a bit of travel, and they are not impressed by large tractor-trailer rigs, huge articulated tractors, or even construction equipment. But what really impressed them as alien and suspect was a neighbor lady on a saddle horse, trotting along the grassy berm. Not something they see more than once a year or so.

Farming, and rural life in general, has changed so much in my lifetime it's hard to believe. Communications, for example. Radio, TV, telephone. Cell phones, computers. Most farmers have two-way radios, a cell phone, and a GPS unit in their big, sound-proofed, air conditioned tractors. Many use an on-board laptop computer. And everyone has several motor vehicles. We don't live in a four mile an hour world these days.

There are occasional rural folks who keep a few chickens or maybe a goat or a pony. Or some exotic animal like a llama or a pair of ostriches or emus. I know of one fellow who has a small herd of buffalo, which he sells to specialty slaughterers who supply gourmet restaurants.

When I was a kid, almost every country family had a milk cow or two, a hog or two, and a small flock of chickens. Draft horses were not uncommon yet. Most people raised huge gardens, and counted on providing most of their own food. Most midwestern farms had a smoke-house, a wash-house, a barn, machine shed, a corn crib, maybe a silo, and of course an outdoor toilet. Even those who had electricity, and therefore the possibility of indoor plumbing. A well with a hand-powered pump, a horse tank, and often a windmill. The usual method of grass mowing was to tether a calf or a sheep out there for a day or two.

There are not too many of us who still remember how to milk a cow by hand, or kill and dress a chicken for Sunday dinner. Even fewer who'd want to try. The milk producers with a thousand cows, poultry raisers who can house ten thousand birds, and pork producers who keep three thousand sows and produce three litters a year have replaced family farms. Times do change.

I asked a biologist what was happening to those birds and animals who are displaced by urban sprawl and new farming methods. By lack of fencerows, permanent pastures, weed seeds, and insects. The answer is that they are, increasingly, finding ways to live in cities and suburbs. Crows' winter roosts are mostly in cemeteries and parks now, since country woodlots are becoming scarce.

In some other States, elk, moose, and black bear are finding homes in suburbs, dumps, and such places. Hawks and other birds of prey are moving into tall buildings downtown. Water-lovers like ducks, geese, mink, muskrat and turtles enjoy run-off ponds. Raccoons, opossums, and skunks are competing with stray dogs and cats in city neighborhoods.

Deer often munch suburban flowers and vegetables. Coyotes follow the deer, and frequently become adept at harvesting the occasional cat or small dog.

After the past fifty years of urban sprawl and drastic changes in farming methods, there are fewer trees, weeds, fence rows, orchards and pastures, but also fewer people and less frequent human and farm animal traffic. I expect there are places within eyesight of my place where no human or large domestic animal has set foot in forty or fifty years. That means that small wild animals may never have seen a man or a cow or a horse or hog.

During the past fifty years, several birds and animals have been successfully reintroduced. White tailed deer, coyotes, beaver, otter. Wild turkey, bald eagles, peregrine falcons.

In my part of Indiana, snakes and turtles are less common than they were. Permanent pasture and water troughs have mostly disappeared, so that cover, food, and water are all in short supply for those who are low to the ground and perhaps no too speedy.

Sure do wonder what this part of the world will be like in another fifty years. Maybe I will be able to find a way to hangout without bothering anybody.


Jerry Selby

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