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Jack McCall: Recollections of the old feed barn

Jack McCall • Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 7:00 PM

I spent many an hour in our old feed barn. To a boy, it seemed vast in its size and expanse. I became intimately familiar with each stable and hallway. I especially enjoyed the large barn loft, which provided endless opportunities for exploring. But I suppose the old corncrib stands out most in my memory. 

Situated on the west side of our barn it featured a 4-inch-by-4-inch “window” all of 10 feet above ground level. It allowed a man, with corn scoop in hand, to stand on a wagon bed and “pitch” ear corn into the crib. The crib’s wooden floor laid 2 feet above ground. When the crib was filled to the window, it showcased a mountain of ear corn no less than 8 feet tall. As the crib filled with corn each fall, my father placed boards, each above the other, at the crib door to keep the corn from flowing out into the upper hallway. As the level of corn was reduced, the boards came down one at a time. Working your way through that door was challenging, to say the least. It was important to avoid a corn avalanche. 

A crib filled with ear corn had two best friends – barn cats and chicken snakes. My brothers and I were given strict instructions to leave the chicken snakes alone. They played an important role in keeping rodent numbers down. And any mice the snakes didn’t get, the barn cats did.

I had a silent arrangement with the chicken snakes – “You don’t bother me; I don’t bother you.” I will admit, though, it’s a bit unsettling to be sitting in a pile of shucks while shucking corn and happen upon a snake’s “shedding.” You knew the snake couldn’t be too far away.

Our feed barn always featured a goodly number of barn cats. My father encouraged their multiplying – more cats, fewer rats. Sometimes, to the cats’ delight, he provided them with a pan of warm cow’s milk. I’ve watched a throng of cats sit patiently in hopes of getting in on the cow’s milk. My father was skilled in the art of milking a cow. He could squeeze a cow’s tit and hit a cat’s mouth with a stream of milk all the way across barn hallway. To see a cat licking fresh warm milk off its face is a picture I will not soon forget.

I was often sent on a mission to find new egg nests in the mountain of square-baled hay stacked high in the barn loft. It seemed the hens preferred the higher elevations. The secret was to find the nests before they were there too long. A nest filled with eggs – I’m talking two dozen or more – was not always a good find, especially in the summertime. Good, fertile eggs could go bad pretty quickly. I learned to hold an egg up to my ear and shake it gently. A bad egg is a dead giveaway. They don’t teach these things in schools these days.

Is there anything that smells worse than a rotten egg? I was sprayed in the face by a baby skunk one time. It was bad. It was nauseating. It was debilitating. But it didn’t make me want to lose by breakfast like the smell of a rotten egg.

A feed barn presented the perfect setting for a corncob battle. The corncrib provided an ample supply of ammunition, and there were plenty of places to hide and stage forays. 

I remember one particularly heated battle that involved the Ellenburg brothers. That day, I got hit in the head with a wet corncob. I found out a wet corncob gathered much more velocity than a dry one. The battle went back and forth until someone discovered a nest of rotten eggs. I was the first casualty. 

The corncob battle came to a screeching halt.

Jack McCall is a regular contributing columnist for the Lebanon Democrat.

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