Farm Progress

Your Place and Ours: For many during storm season, the standard fitness regimen becomes cleaning up the farm.

April 6, 2017

4 Min Read
UP A TREE: Fallen branches at farms can be be a problem. A large branch in the middle of a field can damage a planter, a sprayer or other equipment.

By Diane Becker

Reach for your toes. Stretch those quads. Lift that weight high over your head and hold it there. Walk briskly, put down the weight then bend over, pick up another weight and repeat over and over again. We're talking an intense fitness session, and it's not even in any gym. There's not a barbell or treadmill in sight. The venue is the middle of a farm field, as this is stick-picking time in Nebraska.

Pretty much anybody with a yard and a tree knows something about picking up sticks. Where there are trees, there are going to be branches on the ground needing to be dealt with. High winds and a tendency for Nebraska to get severe thunderstorms means every kid probably has to pick up sticks sometime in his or her lifetime.

Farm kids, though, know what it's like to pick up acres of sticks. These sticks won't have fallen on a nicely manicured lawn but on a rough terrain of cornstalks or bean stubble.

When you've got farmland and trees anywhere near it, fallen branches are going to be a problem. When still attached to the tree, they're already a pain as these branches are apt to brush against the combine or tractor. When a high wind comes, any broken branches are going to fall into the field in the way of the farming operation in the spring. A large branch left in the middle of a field can damage a planter, a sprayer and who knows what else, so it's a priority in the spring to clear the field of them. This sort of branch encroachment made up of just a couple downed pieces of timber is easy enough to take care of. Drag it off into the shelterbelt and farm on.

The challenge is when there's an avalanche of branches.

Growing up, we had a low area of the farm that would be flooded occasionally. Once the waters had receded, there would be all sorts of tree branches that had been washed in from other people's farms. We'd get our boots and gloves on and climb in the back of the pickup like a crew of soldiers headed for work detail. Once there, we'd fan out to try to get every branch picked from one fence line to the other.

You need a good eye for branches or you're apt to trip over one and end up face down in the dirt. Your brown jersey gloves aren't going to help you much then. You learn to keep an eye out for those sneaky rogue branches.

Even with a good eye for foreign material, you might reach for a branch that looks like it's 2 inches thick, but you find the other two-thirds of it was buried in the dirt. You'll regret going after this particular piece of wood as you're dragging a log instead of a branch to the pile.

It's also possible to pick up a large branch, pull it up and have it turn and hit you in the face with an offshoot. It's another hazard of the stick-picking exercise regimen.

Once in a while there will be a log that two people will have to throw into the loader bucket or onto a flatbed. (The bigger the branch or log, the farther away it will be from the flat bed, you know.)

It's usually the dad that's driving the loader around and pointing at logs or particularly large branches he wants the people on the ground to throw in the bucket. The flatbed works, too, but doesn't follow you around as nicely as the tractor. You also have to make sure you don't fling the lighter branches completely over the flatbed and onto the ground on the other side.

Choose your fellow stick-picker-uppers wisely. If they're haphazard stick flingers, there's a good chance you can get a branch graze the top of your head as it's flying by — most of the time by accident, but not always.

We have occasionally taken out a row of trees that had outlived its usefulness. Even if a bulldozer has buried and burned the trees, there are always leftover branches to pick up. Some roots are disguised as branches, so you'll go pull up a good-sized branch only to tug on it for a long time because it's still connected to the main lode below. Those you'll leave to someone either stronger than you or who has a hacksaw handy.

Field-retrieved sticks are apt to come in all shapes and sizes. My mom kept an interesting piece of field driftwood in our landscaping for years. I've never found any branches that I wanted to take home with me. My goal was to just get the job done and possibly have enough to have a hotdog roast when we set them afire later on.

One two, tie your shoe. Three, four, shut the door. Five, six, yep, it's time to pick up sticks.

Becker writes from Madison.

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