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.
Some farmers left shocks standing in the field until needed. Others hauled the feed on trucks and trailers, making huge stacks in protected stack-lots for handier access. This preparation could be a lifesaver for livestock during blizzards.
I remember learning to shock bundles, use a pitchfork and help unroll hog-wire over the tops of feed stacks to keep Panhandle winds from destroying the tops. I remember riding on the top of a load of feed in transit and shooting at the hordes of jack rabbits gathered in the fencerows after days of blizzards. I also remember trying to keep count of the many creatures seen in a bundle-hauling trip to the field and back.
Many World War II enemies were killed while shooting play guns and flinging gourd hand grenades from foxholes built in the tops of hay stacks. I also remember getting my rear end warmed up when I was caught playing with matches near a hay stack. Most of all, I remember row after row of feed shocks stretching across the prairie in the grandeur of fall. FC
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.