The Lazy Farmer plants alfalfa

The Song of the Lazy Farmer provided many chuckles for rural readers in the 1950s and 1960s when I was a boy. It was a regular feature in the Farmer’s Advocate. It’s still a mystery who penned it – the guess was that it probably was a teacher, professor or somebody educated who wanted to keep his identity private. There was never a name or any indication of who the author was. Could it have been penned by a preacher? Maybe. The popular fictional column in Calvinist Contact about Dutch immigrants Arie and Katrien Dof in the 1950s entitled Arie and Katrien in Canada was written by a Christian Reformed minister who also remained anonymous for many years.

The Song of the Lazy Farmer was published in U.S. and Canadian farm papers for over 30 years. An elderly man told me he read The Lazy Farmer when he was a young man in the late 1920s.

This little gem from the weekly Canadian Countryman on June 20, 1931 promoted alfalfa hay as a crop. Alfalfa was a new crop back then and didn’t become popular in Ontario until the 1950s and 1960s when a crimping machine was developed so the juicy hay dried quicker. In 1964, Sperry New Holland developed the Haybine mower-conditioner and it was the first invention to combine cutting, conditioning (crimping) and windrowing into one machine.

“Of all them other crops of his, my neighbor says alfalfa is
The best that grows from out the soil, it pays him better for his toil
Than any other crop that grows, he says there ain’t a cow but knows
Alfalfa hay is what she needs, she can’t make milk from straw and weeds.
Alfalfa hay is good for kine, it puts the finish on the swine,
It makes the chickens lay more eggs, the horses all kick up their legs
And prance about when they are fed alfalfa ere they go to bed.
With good alfalfa in the mow he makes a profit from each cow,
Good green alfalfa, full of leaves makes farmin’ pay, so he believes.

“I tried it once, and then I quit, because there wan’t no end to it.
I’d hardly start to plowin’ corn before the buddin’ shoots would warn
Me that there must be no delay, I’d have to start to makin’ hay.
And so I’d work away and sweat for ev’ry ton of hay I’d get.
I’d hardly git it put up when that blamed alfalfa’d grown again.
The second crop must be put by the hottest weather in July,
Another crop or two in fall I’d have to pitch, and that ain’t all,
All winter long I’d have to sit and milk my cows, from out each tit
I’d have to milk a pail or two, that’s what alfalfa made ‘em do.
I git the backache to this day when I think of alfalfa hay!”

Avoiding work
As the title implies, each segment was written from the point of view of a less than energetic farmer who preferred commenting on the passing scene, eating, fishing, hunting or just napping in the shade, to actual farm work. Ironically, his land, cows, swine, chickens and himself were all benefiting from this marvelous crop. The soil was producing many cuts of alfalfa.

Things soon changed in 1931. The Dust Bowl years started that summer and by late 1934 the Dust Bowl area extended over 97 million acres in the U.S. mid-west. Had the grassland sod not been plowed up to grow wheat, and alfalfa planted instead, the drought and dust storms would not have been so severe. Alfalfa plants have a very long tap root that takes moisture up from deep in the soil. Song of the Lazy Farmer doesn’t mention that great advantage of alfalfa.

  • Meindert was born in The Netherlands in 1949. The family immigrated to Canada (The Ottawa Valley) in 1953. He’s a life-long cattle farmer, enjoys traveling, reading, writing, gardening, bush work in the winter cutting firewood and country life. He’s been a columnist since 1987 writing for many newspapers and is currently the bulletin editor at Hebron CRC in Renfrew, where he is a faithful member.

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