Having spent most of my life in barns, I've seen some pretty slick barn hacks. I've also seen people do things in ways that were shockingly more difficult that they needed to be. For example, every time I see someone cutting baler twine with a pair of (usually dull) scissors, or sawing through the twine with another piece of twine, I wonder why they don't just pull the string off the side of the bale, like every old farmer in history. Notwithstanding the fact that there is more than one way to skin a cat (or get the twine off a bale), here are a few of my favourite hacks.

Never underestimate the power of a quick release knot. This one I learned from my father. When I was young, I assumed that the strongest knot was also the most complex knot, and a tangled mess which was nearly impossible to untie without a knife. Any sailor or Boy Scout can tell you that the best knot is one that does its job, but is easy to untie. When we routinely tie a large living animal to immoveable objects, a quick release knot is also a safety issue. If there's no Boy Scout, sailor, or old dairy farmer around to show you how to tie one, the internet is loaded with how-to videos. My dad always said that the official name of the knot is a Highwayman's Knot, but to be honest, he routinely made up names for things like knots, weeds or anything else that couldn't easily be fact-checked in the pre-internet era.

I learned this next one when we were showing dairy cattle. It was always a challenge to get the white parts of a Holstein cow to look white. Fast forward a generation, and I saw people doing all kinds of things to make white horses whiter on show day - including washing manes and tails in ketchup (which seems a tad counter-intuitive, although many swear by it). What we did with the dairy cows was simply shampoo them and then cover any last-minute stains with baby powder. We also used to put black shoe polish on the black parts of the cow - but then, we didn't ride them in white pants.

Last summer, one of our horses got a nasty cut on an old fence post. It peeled back a flap of skin about six inches in diameter, that was too thin to stitch back in place. A local vet recommended an old-time cure - she removed the flap of skin and slathered the open sore with honey. I don't really understand the chemistry of honey, but it debrided the wound on its own, seemed to eliminate infection, and it healed in a shockingly short period of time. Applying a generous application of honey twice a day, for three weeks certainly interfered with my toast and honey at breakfast, but it worked great.

Anyone who has ever worked as a server iii a restaurant knows this one: always have more than one pair of footwear for barn work. Wearing the same boots day after day for the same chores will lead to soreness, fatigue and general nastiness to your fellow human beings. 'A change is as good as a rest,' when it comes to long days on your feet. It's also pretty nice to have a second pair of boots (and socks) if you get your feet wet.

Speaking of boots, I saw an interesting one recently, where someone had shoved pool noodles inside their tall boots to keep them from flopping over.

My last 'hack'... avoid the word equine; it's expensive. Many of the items that we purchase (like the aforementioned baby powder) are a fraction of the cost at any dollar store, hardware store, or good old Canadian Tire or Peavey Mart. As soon as the packaging has a picture of a horse on it, or the word equine is involved, be prepared to pay more, a lot more. Mane de-tangler, is just water and hair conditioner. Vinegar is still the world's best cleaner, deodorizer and de-scaler. It even rinses shoe polish and baby powder out of coats. Everyone has their own tricks of the trade, and I learn new ones every day, but these are some of my favourites. Now you can head to the barn and clean your water buckets, feed tubs and brushes with vinegar.

When dairy farmer Doug Breen B.Sc. (Agr) married Krista she came with two dogs, a cat and a horse. She leveraged that horse into many more horses and has since taught hundreds of kids and adults to ride. After five decades of animal handling, stable management, and getting kicked, bitten and scratched, Doug still loves going to the barn.

November/December 2018 |