Shocking Feed was a Shock

The dreaded job left everyone working with sore hands, sore backs and a sigh of relief when the job was concluded.

This chromolithograph for the Elward Harvester Works in St. Paul, Minn., makes the process of shocking grain look almost effortless, in stark contrast to the author’s memories of the annual chore. 

One of the toughest annual harvesting chores of the past was “shocking feed,” and I don’t mean an electrical shock either. The dreaded job left everyone working with sore hands, sore backs and a sigh of relief when the job was concluded. However, for livestock to survive the high plains winter, the process was necessary.

First, a broadcast binder, run by power take-off and pulled by a tractor, cut and laid the feed stuff on a canvas conveyor belt. From there, the belt carried the feed through a device that gathered the stalks into certain-size bundles and tied a jute string around the middle. After being tied, the bundle dropped onto a bundle carrier that collected the bundles until it was filled to capacity, then was dumped into piles on the ground. The binder operator tried to drop the piles into rows stretching across the field to make shocking and hauling easier.

After a drying period, the length depending on the weather, feed piles were ready to be placed into shocks. To build a shock, two bundles were leaned against each other in a “teepee” fashion, adding others until all adjacent piles were gathered. With the grain end of the bundle pointed up and the heavy stalk end sitting on the ground, the feed was preserved from rotting.

Mother Nature now entered the picture at the time of harvesting, with every known prairie creature taking up residence within the piles. Shockers had to be especially vigilant for rattlesnakes when picking up bundles. All birds – including quail, dove, prairie chicken, pheasant, migrating geese and cranes – flocked to the shock-tops at meal time.

Inside these stalk condominiums, rodents, snakes, rabbits and crawly things set up permanent housekeeping for the coming cold weather months. Outside, coyotes, raccoons, badgers, skunks and bobcats prowled, looking for tasty shock dwellers.

12/9/2020 6:50:05 PM

we shocked bundled feed up into the early 1980s... For keeping track of the amount fed,, along with being the best type of dry feed for cattle it was hard to beat. Our old binder wore out,, and a hay buck came into the picture and we loose stacked feed for years after the binder was retired. Always enjoyed the time shocking feed,, as everyone helped. The old timers would tell stories from the past,, and we learned how hard a 86 year old farmer could still work. To tell younger ranchers now about putting up 120 acres of feed in shocks and hand feeding the cattle they shake there heads thinking it was all made up. I feel at times I was born 50 years too late as I always enjoyed farming old school way. Daniel McAmoil,, Penokee, Kansas

Ron Moreau
10/6/2020 10:40:04 AM

I grew up on a farm near Lubbock, Texas and we had shocked feed (milo) which was cut and bundled by a row binder, gathered and shocked by hand for curing before it was hauled by wagon to the barn and ground into cattle feed by running it through a hammer mill. We then mixed molasses with the ground feed and fed it to our cows throughout the winter. I agree that this was very hard, dusty work and I wouldn't care to do that now. However, that was the way it was back in the 1940's and 1950's on our farm. Our tractor was a Farmall F20 and the row binder was a McCormick machine. We later got a John Deere G and that was the best tractor I ever had. Live was good, back then. I wouldn't trade anything for growing up that way.

10/6/2020 9:24:12 AM

I love learning something new about the old ways! This was a great story, I honestly had no clue about shock bundles or the process! I am firm believer that there is wisdom in the way we used to do things that is severely lacking in this day and age. The race to make everything easy has left behind all the important parts; the character in learning through failure, the soul in a life dependent upon nature, the integrity in working hard so that your family, animals and land survive and prosper. Luckily, there are still hundreds if not thousands of ranches and farms that still hold true to these values and ethics. Luckier still, we have those like yourself and the people at Farm Collector that keep these stories and lifestyle alive and well! Keep 'em comin'! -GH


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