I have these friends, the Knudsens — Paul and Natalie. A few years back they moved to the sunny south, settling in Northern Middle Tennessee. Prior to relocating, they spent about five years looking for property to purchase in God’s country.
The Knudsens grew up and spent most of their working lives in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. Paul cut his teeth in the hog business and later worked as a hog buyer for one or more of the major meat packers. Eventually he became a sales rep for a feed company called Big Gain. Through the years he became well connected with players in the pork industry.
Today he writes contracts with meat packers for a dozen or more hog operations. Most of his clients manage 25,000 sows or more. All told, Paul contracts in the neighborhood of one and a half million hogs annually — no small feat.
Natalie is a gifted writer and gourmet cook, and serves as executive director for the Hartsville-Trousdale Chamber of Commerce.
The Knudsens are good Methodists and are quick to do their part in the local community.
When I first met Paul and Natalie we were quick to become fast friends. I was partner with my brother John in the hog business in the early years raising registered Yorkshires, and I went on to manage a feeder pig market and grade feeder pigs and cattle after my college days. So, the Knudsens and I have much in common.
Paul’s work requires him to return to the north three or four times a year, and he and Natalie have grown children living in Nashville, Cincinnati and Minneapolis. So, from time to time they need to get away. Eventually, they got around to securing my services for “doing chores” for them while they were away. Down here we call it “doing the feedin,’ ” they call it “doing chores.” I am compensated for my services with country fresh, brown eggs, scrumptious carrot cakes, banana pudding cheese cake, deluxe chocolate Rice Krispy treats, and other culinary delights. But the best compensation is their continuing friendship.
The Knudsens have mini horses. (Not a misprint.) Actually they have many mini horses — five in all. Plus, they have two Haflingers, Bucky and Molly. Then, there are two draft horses, named Dick and Dan. Dick and Dan are magnificent fellows, matched up almost perfectly — black as mid-night with white stars in their foreheads. When they set their hooves down they leave a footprint the size of a dinner plate.
The Knudsen spread also boasts a sow or two, growing market hogs, 2 or 3 dozen laying hens, a cat in rehab and 2 wildly independent cats. They once had 2 free-roaming white ducks, but they eventually met their maker at the hands of some unknown predator.
The horses get their hay and oats twice a day, the pigs and chickens have to be fed. There is water to be run and eggs to be gathered. It makes for a busy hour each morning and evening.
Back in the spring, I arrived at the Knudsen farm on a rainy morning to do the chores. My pace that day was quickened due to the sloppy weather conditions. While feeding Dick and Dan I noticed the water level in the Rubbermaid trough was low. I grabbed the transfer pipe which Paul had fashioned from pieces of conduit and secured in place. As I leaned forward to open up the frost proof faucet, suddenly (and suddenly doesn’t come close to describing the suddenness with how fast it happened.) something hit me right in the center of my forehead. A big man wielding a Louisville Slugger or an oak wagon standard couldn’t have hit me any harder. It was the hardest I have ever been hit in my entire 68-plus years. The blow was of such force that it knocked me out. But, as I fell backwards, I came back to before my backside hit the soggy ground.
For a few minutes I sat, dazed and addled, trying to figure out what had happened. I finally came to the conclusion one of two things had happened. When I leaned forward to turn on the water, the wet bill of my cap made contact with the electric wire that ran along the top of the fence, or I got close enough to the fence for the charge to jump to my cap due to the wet conditions. At any rate, all those volts had entered my body right through the frontal lobes of my brain.
I finally made it to my feet to experience a mild headache which lingered for the rest of the day. Except for the headache and a crick in my neck which lasted for a day or two, I suffered no lasting ill effects.
I’m still doing chores for the Knudsens. But since that day, whenever they are leaving town and giving me final feeding directions, their parting words are “We turned the electric fence OFF for you.”