I think I may have a new best friend. Sherill works with a variety of people at Mayo Clinic. Most of them have limited farm backgrounds. One in particular — Candace — had quite a few questions for Sherill and always enjoyed hearing about some of the things we do on the farm. She ultimately decided that she would buy a one-eighth fraction of a steer for her freezer. To seal the deal, she asked if it would be possible to come down to Iowa and pick up the beef herself and get a tour of the place on the trip.
No problem. We always welcome tourists here. We especially like tourists who are customers. This time, though, it was a family affair. The person writing the check has a little boy named Theo. Theo is five years old. All he really wanted to do was see a tractor while he was here. If he got to ride in one, that would be even better.
We scheduled the visit for a Sunday afternoon. Candace and her significant other and Theo would then pick up the beef from us and expand their farm horizons while they were at it. Dinner and a show, of sorts.
That particular day was quite overcast and cloudy; when our guests arrived, it looked like it could rain at any moment. Our first tour agenda item was to look at the bees. We'd put Theo in a beekeeper's hat so he could get up close and personal with them without getting stung. Typically, we'd put him in a full-body bee suit, but an adult-sized version wasn't going to work on a five-year-old. Instead, we put some gloves on Theo and duct-taped his sleeves so that bees wouldn't sneak up the sleeves and sting him. Then we took his socks and put them on the outside of his sweatpants to protect his legs from the same marauding potential.
Kids will be kids. Curious kids tend to ask questions. Really curious kids ask lots of questions. They tend to cover the gamut, too. Theo was no exception. In fact, Sherill had mentioned that he had been very serious and very inquisitive the couple of times she had met him in the past. He reminded her of a miniature professor. It only took minutes once he got out of the vehicle for me to dub him The Professor of Questionology.
Everything was like a pop quiz with Theo. He had a ton of questions about the bees. "Where do they go when the leave the hive? How far will they go? How do they know how to get back to the right hive?"
Getting The Professor of Questionology into his bee gear wasn't too bad. News flash: Hats for beekeepers are not made to fit the melon of a five-year-old, not even one with a brain as large and full of knowledge and questions like Theo has. Moments before the hat was placed on his head, we could feel a couple sprinkles. One drop was all it took to set Theo's plan of action into hyper-drive.
"It's raining! I need protection!" he hollered to anyone nearby as he quickly accelerated the hat placement process. Clearly, Theo will have a job indoors when he gets his first few advanced degrees.
We made our way over to the hives we have at a building site. Theo and his mom got a tour from Sherill while the other gentleman and I stood just out of flight range to stay sting-free. Then the occasional sprinkles got a little bit stronger, so I decided we'd take a detour into the machine shed nearby. That's where I had the buggy parked. Theo thought it looked really cool, but the sound of rain on the steel roof pretty much kept him from having any visions of actually riding in a car with no roof and no sealed passenger compartment. He needs protection, you know.
Then we were off to look at some cattle in the feedlot. Professor Theo was totally on board with the program, although not so much the smell of it. "This is where they live before you cut them up into steaks?" he asked.
Wow. No sugar coating there, Professor. Right to the meat of the matter, so to speak. No need to dress up the process for Professor Theo. Those animals are dead meat walking. Face facts. That's why they're here. They smell. Bases covered.
We moved on to another machine shed,where a utility vehicle was parked. That caught Theo's attention. I told him that's what we drive when we go out in the pasture to work with the cattle and the fences. What with the sound of the rain on the roof, Theo very matter-of-factly stated, "I'll go on that next time."
Interesting. The Professor's brain has been engaged and he'd like to do more research at this place, but he'll have to schedule a return trip during more awesome weather. Good research doesn't occur during sub-par weather. Look it up.
The round baler was parked nearby as well. I explained to Theo how we drive it in the field and it picks up the hay and sort of rolls it into a circle "about this high" (as I held my hand out at my head) and then wraps it with plastic for storage. Theo looked out the door to the north where half of my round bales are stored and asked, "You mean, like those out there? You have them in rows."
Yep, you got it, Professor. This kid was totally with the program.
Just then, a neighbor drove by on the road with his Deere tractor and round baler. Theo saw it, but wanted to make sure I did. "HEY! There's one right there!"
Yes, it's the same machine as I have.
"No, Jeff. It's a different one," Theo informed me with just a hint of disdain. "Yours is right here (pointing at it, in case I missed it). That one is out there on the road."
Point taken. Thank you, Mr. Obvious. I guess I didn't make the connection.
Even though I already knew the answer, I asked Theo if he wanted to ride in a tractor. Sometimes you just have to go with the loaded questions. "Would you like gravy with that, Mr. Ryan? Care for some pie? Does this need more sugar?" Stuff like that.
Sure enough, Theo was willing to get in a tractor. It was almost the purpose of his trip, after all. And it has a cab, so we'd be protected from the hideous sprinkles that tend to melt small children.
Theo and I got in the loader tractor and made our way over to the other side of the buildings. That's where I had the last load of round bales from first-crop alfalfa we'd hauled in late the previous night. I explained to Theo that the small spears on the loader would poke into the bales and then we'd hit a lever and lift the bale off the wagon. The bale would then be parked in a row until we either fed it to the cattle or loaded it onto a semi to sell to other farmers to feed to their cows.
We grabbed a bale, backed up and placed it in the row. Theo really liked my orderly system of rows for storing bales. Had the rows not been straight, I think he would have let me know.
To keep him involved, I asked Theo if he thought we should take a second bale off the load of 11. Big surprise. He did. So we took another bale off the load. Since we were now into the project with both feet, I asked if he thought we should unload the remaining bales.
"Yes, I think you should, Jeff. You know, if you don't do it today, you're just going to have to do it tomorrow," he informed me, in full Professor mode.
Five years old and he doesn't seem to have refined his procrastination abilities yet. This kid has been raised right.
We got the remainder of the bales unloaded and placed. Our work was done, so we headed back to the machine shed. I asked Theo if he wanted to move from his spot on the armrest of the seat of the tractor and drive on the way back. (He'd steer. I'd do everything else. It wouldn't surprise me to find out he knows how to feather a clutch, though.) The scientific measurement for Theo's response time is, I believe, a nanosecond. He was climbing onto my lap as soon as I got the question out of my mouth. "I've driven a tractor before at my grandpa's, you know. He mows lawn with that tractor," Theo informed me as he took the wheel.
Every scientist knows you need to remove any skepticism and doubt from your audience. Project confidence and competence and you'll be fine. It will quiet your critics in no time flat.
As we neared the machine shed, I saw the rest of the assembled crowd nearby. Cameras were being readied. That's when I leaned in and told Theo it might be a good idea to wave at his mom as we went by, because she probably wanted a picture of him at the wheel.
Theo put an extra firm grip on the steering wheel with one hand as we passed the audience. The other hand went into a perfect parade wave motion. Right as we drove past the crowd, Theo let out a confident sigh and said, "They are gonna be SO jealous!"
You nailed it, Professor.
Guy No. 2