Nelson: Dairy Farm Olympics

Farm Forum

The Olympics have arrived, that international pageant of physical perfection and multinational corporate advertising.

Like many guys, I watch the Olympics and something in my reptilian brain whispers, “I could totally do that too, if I felt like it.” This despite my being firmly ensconced in middle age and the athletic event in question involves more leaping and twisting than a herd of ferrets performing a trapeze act.

One category of Olympic events that I wouldn’t consider attempting is anything that has to do with water that’s deeper than a dime. I was born with a congenital fear of water, which has led to a tragic lifelong swimming inability. My aversion to water is such that taking a shower can induce mild panic if too much of the deadly fluid sprays onto my face.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t admire aquatic athletes. On the contrary, I feel that their hydraulic achievements are death-defying feats from some fanciful parallel universe. It’s similar to a turtle marveling at a bird’s ability to fly.

Other than water-based sports, there are few Olympic endeavors that I feel might be beyond my capacity. This confidence arises from the victories I experienced as a kid when my siblings and I participated in the Dairy Farm Olympics.

A primary Dairy Farm Olympic event was fencing. This involved two types of fencing, one that had to do with barbwire and the kind that meant swordplay.

The barbwire fences that confined our herd of Holsteins were ancient and prone to failure. The cows would often escape from their enclosure and gallivant about, looking for gardens to trample and leaving steaming calling cards on the lawn.

Our parents would command us kids to scramble through the tangle of our farmstead’s grove and chase the roving bovines back toward their pen. As we did so, we picked up sticks that could be used to prod pokey cows. We soon noticed that the sticks we chose were about the same length as rapiers. Impelled by innate athletic competitiveness and inspired by pirate movies, we would spontaneously begin to sword fight.

No blood was ever shed. The winner was determined by whose stick, I mean sword, broke first.

Another popular contest held during the Dairy Farm Olympics was the combined shot put/ discus throw. We hurled massive bales of compacted alfalfa instead of those weenie cast iron balls and discs.

There was a fence line feeder behind our barn. Each summer, we built a soaring stack of hay bales near the feeder. It was as if the cows had a supermarket right next to their living room.

The distance to the feeder grew as the haystack dwindled. We learned that we could reduce the mileage that we had to lug the bales by hurling them, shot put-like, from the top of the stack. We even used the classic shot put windup for our throws. There wasn’t any penalty for stepping out-of-bounds (off the edge of the stack) other than the one levied by the force of gravity.

After arriving at their destination, the bales’ twines were removed. The bales were broken into slabs which, we discovered, could be distributed to the cows by hurling them like green, rectangular discuses. Some might call this lazy, but we simply saw it as competitive fun.

Perhaps the most challenging Dairy Farm Olympics event was the Dead Car Start.

Our field car was a 1953 Chevrolet sedan. We used the old beater to haul fuel out to the field, run for parts and generally beat around. Its starting system contained six volts, which meant that you had just six seconds of cranking before the battery died.

The Dead Car Start began with the entire crew pushing the Chevy from a dead stop. This tested both upper and lower body strength, along with your ability to mutter imprecations about the driver under your breath.

Once the car had attained sufficient momentum, the driver would hurl himself behind the steering wheel, jam the transmission into second and pop the clutch. If the Olympic gods were smiling on you, the engine would sputter to life. If not – or if the dunderheaded driver had neglected to put the ignition switch in the “on” position – the entire process would have to be repeated.

The Dead Car Start was a team sport. A person could attempt the solo version, but only if a favorable hill was available. Solo participants often found themselves involved in a subcategory called The Long Walk Home.

So as I watch those excellent Olympic athletes receive their gold medals, I can’t help but think, “Good for them. But I wonder how they would do in the Baby Calf Catch?”

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.