Friday, June 17, 2016

The Farm Boy Workout

One of the things I missed from being raised in ranch country was the work. No running water, we (I) packed it from the creek in five-gallon buckets. Enough for all household use and enough for all the animals that were penned and couldn't get to the creek themselves. The first two years, until dad installed a pump for the garden, that was watered by hand as well. Packing water. And splitting wood. And building and repairing fence. Putting up and repairing outbuildings. Milking cows.

Ranch kids tend to be really strong for their size. It's a side effect of manual labor as a way of life. But not all manual labor. There's a pretty nice whiskey called "Monkey Shoulder" named after the guys who shoveled coal. Lifting and tossing shovelfuls of coal for ten or fourteen hours a day, day in and day out will make you immensely strong-- in one motion. And kinda bind up your body for other motions. Not even talking about repetitive use injuries.

Ranchwork, you might spend a week digging postholes in rocky terrain. Shoveling is good exercise, but using a tamping bar ( six foot long, inch and a half thick steel bar pointed or wedged on one end, flat on the other) is a nice core workout. The next week pulling barbed wire. Summer bucking bales of hay and moving irrigation pipe. Splitting wood all year, but mostly in autumn. Packing water and milking the cows and goats every day.

The work is unpredictable. It was never three sets of ten reps. You bucked as many bales of hay as you had. Sometimes you could choose the pace, but if you saw dark clouds all of the hay had to be in before the rain got to it. You milked until the cows were out of milk. Total muscle failure or cramps in your hands? Tough. Stretch it out and keep going. We had a hard milking cow and at first my hands were going to muscle failure two to four times a session. Twice a day. Every day.

There were no rest days. My friends who work out scientifically insist on the importance of rest days, but cows make milk every day. I think the body adapts to the conditions. Hmmm. Hitting one of the science versus experience paradoxes.

And little of this was working with ergonomically designed tools. Barbed wire is designed to keep cattle in, not to be carried or tensioned by human hands. You have to hold big buckets away from your body to keep your legs from brushing them and spilling it. And, nature of water and gravity, you always carry the empty buckets downhill and the full buckets uphill. Rat bastards. T-posts are ridged and nobby and carrying bundles of them digs into you.

One other thing that distinguishes ranch work. You worked hard at being efficient. Some days you were going to work all day and nothing was going to ease up until dark. So you used your whole body whenever you could instead of isolating. You rested or even just rested a part (like hammering staples with your left for awhile to rest your right arm) whenever you could.

Feeling nostalgic. Our little herd of goats, which is planned to be four permanent with 2-4 kids a year for meat is now at nine and they've denuded the fenced parts of the property. So K and I have spent most of the last two weeks (lots of breaks for other obligations) building fence to give the goats access to another huge stand of blackberries. Days of hacking paths through blackberries with machetes, cleaning the paths up with clippers, raking. Digging post holes and pouring concrete to set them. Pounding t-posts. Manhandling rolls of hopefully goat-proof field fence. Tensioning wire and pounding staples. Last couple of weeks I've been working like I was a kid again. And loving it. But feeling it, too. All the joints make noises of protest in the morning. It's been a good couple of weeks.

12 comments:

Tony said...

My dad has meat hooks for hands; comes from "squeezing tits and shoveling shit" on a dairy farm until he left for college at 18. I never farmed full time, but spent summers on my cousins hog farm; Dad suggested the way to manhood was to pick up a baby pig and carry it around the barn 3 times. Do that every day until the pig reached 200 pounds and I'd be a "man". At about 25 pounds I realized 200 pounds of kicking, biting, pissing, shitting, squealing pig might was going to take more "man" than I could hope to be. Still a pretty good workout though...

Today I can still do a days work, but it takes me a week to finish and a week to recover...

Tony said...

He also comments "Cows don't give milk, you have to take it from them."

Elias Montemayor said...
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Elias Montemayor said...

Now that I'm older, I'm envious of people who had that experience when they were younger; the type of work that builds character. My father and his father did ranch work like that in addition to migrant field work. My father wanted to spare me to have to go through that. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been better for it. Toughest job I ever had was unloading 18 wheelers all day for a warehouse in sweltering 100 degree south Texas heat. After I recently moved houses and unloaded a 26ft uhaul full of appliances, furniture, boxes and such, I was actually feeling nostalgic about that job. In fact I was just talking to my father yesterday about how I miss that type of work; that there was something about hard manual labor in which-in spite of the exhaustion at the end of the day-there was always a concrete sense of accomplishment.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I grew up on a farm and we didn't have much money, my chores were brining logs up from the woods for sawing and splitting, stacking and then bringing in to burn, filling the coal scuttles for the stove that was the main source of heat in the winter.Shifting hay bales, feeding the cattle on christmas morning... When we needed stone for a building project, you walk down to the stream and carry it back... clearing paths in the woods, doing fences... miis it and the place it hapened

Philip N said...

Hey Rory,

Sorry for going off topic here, but I could'nt seem to find an email to ask you this question... Will you be in London, UK or even Sweden in the near future? I've just started reading your books and watched your DVDs and have become very interested in the field of Self-defense. Also, Is there a schedule on the net when and where you do seminars?

Thank you!

/Philip aka Big Swede

Vaughn Heslop said...

Science vs. Experience thoughts

Rest days leads to bigger/greater/more efficient growth per workout/labor time.

Ranch work had many more labor times, which as pointed out, could not be avoided. Even though less efficient, more labor overall.

Toby said...

Phillip - Rory is in the UK next week, from Saturday 25th June

Philip N said...

Toby - That's such a bummer for me. Ive been in the UK the whole winter but now Im back in Sweden during the summer =/ ...any more dates? Thanks!

Rory said...

Philip- I'll be back in the UK (Swindon) September 23-25, leaving from there for Denmark and Germany.

Toby said...

Phillip, Where in Sweden are you? I'm up in UmeƄ...

Charles James said...
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