Nelson: Wintertime Dairy Farm Olympics

Jerry Nelson Special to the Farm Forum
Farm Forum

That curious quadrennial occurrence called the Coca-Cola Visa Intel Samsung Panasonic Toyota Eat at Joe’s Winter Olympics is currently being beamed through our eyeballs and into our brains.

It’s astounding to watch those exquisitely-honed athletes performing astonishing feats of cold weather athleticism. Although the term “athlete” is used somewhat loosely regarding the event known as “curling.” I’ve never watched curling in person, but on TV it looks like the type of competition that a person could participate in even after consuming enough alcohol to pickle a tauntaun.

Many Olympic sports are patterned after activities that are useful in real life. For example, the marathon is a good stand-in for the impulse to escape such horrors as a lion or a boring blowhard. The 100 meter hurdles bears a close resemblance to the urgent need – this has happened to all of us – to sprint down a road that’s littered with random sawhorses.

So it is for the Winter Olympics. Speed skating is an allegory for swift pizza delivery and the bobsled prepares one for riding in an overcrowded bus. Ski jumping is similar to what happens when you have a large bump at the end of your slip-and-slide and hockey is great practice for using a broom to deal with the mouse that’s scurrying across your living room floor.

Many are inspired by the Olympic contestants. Some aspire to be just like them, even though this is about as likely as winning a footrace with a Thoroughbred.

Or so it might seem. As youngsters, my siblings and I all achieved competitive greatness in our Wintertime Dairy Farm Olympics.

There was never a shortage of practice opportunities for our Wintertime Dairy Farm Olympics. Indeed, practice sessions were held at least twice each day, snow or shine.

One of the main competitions was the Feed Pail Relay. This event began at the granary, where contestants would scoop up five gallon bucketfuls of grain mix. With one bucketful in each hand, the stalwart athletes would sprint across our snow-packed and slippery farmstead.

At the cattle yard’s fence, the buckets would be handed off to an athlete waiting inside the pen. The second contestant then had to negotiate a gauntlet of Holsteins that were of various sizes and orneriness. Some of the cattle were extremely impolite and would attempt to eat from the pails as they were being spirited toward the feed bunk.

In addition to the hazard of bossy bossies, the ground was littered with an ever-changing constellation of cow pies. Some of them were frozen and could trip an athlete, eliciting chuckles from the audience and demerits from the judges. Extra points were awarded to athletes who could keep their cool whenever their toes were flattened by a half-ton bovine.

Another highly competitive event was the Water Bucket Skate and Slide.

Participants would grab a pair of galvanized water buckets – pails that had been sanctioned and standardized by the Wintertime Dairy Farm Olympic Committee – and trot to our wooden water tank. Each bucket would be dipped into the tank, filling them with water that was half a degree above freezing.

The athletes would then hustle the buckets to the calf barn or the hog house or the chicken coop. The most challenging part of this event was avoiding the spillage of water onto your pant legs, which would instantly harden into an icy carapace. There were numerous and cleverly camouflaged slick spots on the trail where falls had occurred and the contents of the water buckets had solidified into an obscure obstacle.

But our farm’s most popular Winter Olympics sport was the Fox and Geese Biathlon.

Fox and Geese is a game of tag that takes place on a maze-like trail that’s been carved into an unblemished canvas of fresh snow. The game begins when one player is designated the fox by dint of being the last person to shout “not it!” The fox’s job is to chase down and tag the geese. It’s cheating if a player leaves the trail or spontaneously creates new paths.

The Fox and Geese Biathlon was conducted in a manner that’s similar to the traditional game, but with the added excitement of the geese being armed with snowballs. It’s much more challenging to catch prey that’s defending itself with icy missiles. By game’s end, the air would be thick with snowballs as both predator and prey fired at will.

That’s a brief summary of our Wintertime Dairy Farm Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is free to adopt any of our games as long as they recognize that a certain someone holds the world record for the Frozen Cow Pie Discus.

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 book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere