From GENE LOGSDON
I did a pasture walk, as it is now called, at Stratford Ecological Center near Delaware, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago. Farmers and people thinking about becoming farmers go on pasture walks to learn more about how to raise milk, meat, and eggs by grazing their farm animals rather than penning them up and feeding them lots of cultivated grains. David Kline, an author and Amish dairy and pasture farmer, and Jeff Dickinson, the Center’s Director and a first rate farmer too, led the crowd of pasture walkers with me. They know more about pasture farming than I do, so I felt safe.
Pasture walks are fun. They usually come down to being contests to see who can identify the most plants growing in the pastures. The Center’s cows joined us on this walk which made it even more enjoyable. They obviously liked human company which showed me that the Center was blessed with good husbandmen and husbandwomen. Stratford is a genuine, working farm with all kinds of livestock, chickens, gardens, orchard, strawberry patch, barns and fields, the kind of farm like most of us older people grew up on. Its main purpose is educational, with some 5000 school children visiting it every year, learning where food comes from. The livestock must be docile and amiable to be around the children. The people who work there are amiable too, and treated us royally.
I was talking with one of the staff, David Hoy, after cruising the pastures, which were in fine shape with a goodly mixture of grasses and clovers and not one single bull thistle. He used a phrase I have not heard since 1940: “hay doodles.” Right then, I knew that as farms go, Stratford Ecological Center was the genuine thing. Hay doodles come from a time when agrarianism was at its peak and farming was in what I consider its golden era. That there was someone around a good deal younger than I am, who knew about hay doodles, was proof.
I can remember the exact spot where I was standing when I first heard that word in 1940, in the field right north of our home farm which today is still in our family, midway between two of my sisters’ homes. Dad had mowed and raked the hay, of red clover and timothy, into windrows but it was too green to put up and rain was threatening. Dad said that Grandpaw Rall would want us to put the hay in doodles to protect it from the rain, and he proceeded to do so. I was mystified of course but before long, I knew exactly what a doodle was. We forked the windrowed hay into little piles, a little larger than wheat shocks, piling several forkfuls on top of each other to make a pile that would, at least theoretically, shed water. Although the work was strenuous, it was remarkable how fast we could transform a windrow into a row of doodles. The worry, Dad said, was that a storm wind could blow the doodles over. Years later I learned, from Newman Turner’s wonderful book “Fertility Pastures” how to make simple wooden tripods that held the doodles in place and allowed the hay to cure better. But Mr. Turner, in England, did not use the term “doodles.” Where the word came from, I do not know.
In the olden days of small farms and lots of help, doodling was a practical way to protect hay in climates prone to rain at haymaking time. I had a hunch that David Hoy might try it again at Stratford if necessary, since the farm and its staff and volunteer workers would be a good place for it. The Center sells its grass-fed beef, lamb, pork and eggs at its own market and has no trouble finding customers.
No surprise there. Our son raises our family’s grass-fed beef, not one grain of corn involved, and it’s the tastiest and almost the tenderest meat that I have ever eaten. I don’t believe much in anything anymore, but grass-fed beef, with plenty of clover in the pasture, and hay doodles if necessary, is something I’ll swear by.