Making Hay
Week of April 8th, 2012

Farming, Mud, and Boots

By Sarah Holm

As everyone knows, the arrival of spring means the hard frozen ground gets deliciously warm. On a farm, this means we go from fighting with snow to fighting with mud. Now our farm doesn’t have very many muddy spots. We work very hard to manage our cow lanes to prevent erosion and mud. But the fact remains that our cows walk in and out of our barn four times a day. Cows love to either huddle in a herd or walk in a single file line. This means that the same ground gets stepped on over and over again. So despite our best efforts in the springtime, we normally have one or two places near the barn that are very muddy.

Springtime is one of the reasons I love whoever invented boots. Every farmer knows that a good pair of boots can make all the difference in the world. Any and every task is helped with properly shod feet. Many farmers favor rubber Wellingtons as their boot of choice. But my family tends to use steel-toe boots, although Rachel rebels and uses cowboy boots. Steel-toe boots are excellent for milking cows because if a cow steps on your toe, you can’t feel it. They are also easier to run in than rubber boots. We rotationally graze our cows so we walk and run through our fields every day moving cattle. I would also argue that steel-toe boots, while not as fashionable as cowboy boots, are way more stylish than rubber boots.

Be that as it may, steel-toe boots have some downsides. Firstly, the majority of them are not waterproof. They also have laces, which tend to break through the rigors of farm work. Additionally, they do not go up nearly to your knee like rubber boots. They only go a bit past your ankle.

Many times I have misjudged the depth of a patch of mud and have emerged with one boot filled with mud and a ruined sock.

I also think they wear out faster than rubber boots. That probably depends on how you use them however. I know the rubber boots I have had in the past ended up getting full of holes from being speared one too many times with a pitchfork.

Sadly, I have been bootless since I came back from Central America in December. The day before I left the States I had taken my old steel toe boots on a walk to the dumpster. They had survived an entire winter and summer of use and were way past retirement. They were both cracked, the sole was falling off of one, and the laces were rotting. I thought saying goodbye to my boots was a proper symbolic way of taking leave of my cows for three months. I thought as I threw them away that I would begin farming again in December with a new pair of boots.

It is now March and I still do not have a pair of boots. This is why you should never leave the farm – no one believes you when you say you’re back. To ask them to spend money on a pair of boots for you is only to beg to hear, “Why do you need boots? Aren’t you leaving? How long are you going to be here anyway? There are a bunch of old boots in the basement – use those!”

So I make do with the rejected boots of antiquity who live in a pile in our basement. They are all boots who have been discarded by others’ feet for being the wrong size, uncomfortable, or otherwise dangerous to one’s health. Most of them are pretty worn out, but not quite worn out enough to be thrown away.

My first pair was too small for me. I hobbled around in them until they cracked from the stress of winter. I threw them away and found another pair. This pair was actually comfortable, but they had the biggest thickest tread I have ever seen. The soles alone added two inches to the height of the boot. Because of the tread, they tracked in a lot of dirt, but otherwise they were serviceable. Sadly last week the sole on the left boot began to fall off. I glued it back on but I knew the boot’s clock was ticking.

As it always is in farming, the sole chose to fall off at the most inconvenient moment. My sister and I were trying to corral a heifer into the youngstock shed. Outside of this shed is one of the muddy spots on our farm. As I ran back and forth through the mud, my sole came halfway off, stuck itself down into the mud, and tripped me. I got back up, shook the mud out and kept running. Again, I was tripped by my boot. We were at risk of the heifer getting away from us, so I pulled the rest of my sole off, and hopped and skipped through the mud on one foot.

We eventually trapped the heifer. I ruined my one sock and caught a cold from having wet feet. Now I am on a pair of boots that are too big for me. My toes jam against the front of the boots every time I take a step. I’m getting blisters as we speak.

But honestly, I don’t mind any of it. Spring is here, summer is coming, and my trials are giving us all a head start on spring cleaning the basement. Who knows, I might make my way through that pile before May.

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Rebecca from from Owego, NY on May 18, 2012 at 09:31:01 PM
I work in a shoe store, The Shoe Outlet at Route 96 Power & Paddle in Candor, NY. We sell a LOT of work boots to farmers and other professionals! Rubber Wellingtons like Muck boots are great for, well, muck. And some styles have flat outsoles that are comforable on concrete floors. Our top selling brand is Red Wing and, steel toe or soft, most of our boots are waterproof. We also measure and do a full fitting. Most of the time when people have problems with foot pain, it is because of incorrect size. That is why it is important to get sized when buying work boots. Unfortunately, manure eats away at both leather and rubber, so finding a boot that will hold up on a farm is hard. My advice...go to a store that has knowledgable sales associates who will measure your foot and advise you on the best boot for the job. Also, know the warranty on your boots. And wear a merrino wool sock. We carry Darn Tough brand, which are made in Vermont. The material wicks moisture, is anti microbal and helps control temperature. The knit is very high tech, with arch support and seamless stiching for minimal friction, which means less blisters. They have a lifetime gaurantee and they stay put! Plus them make a variety of styles, so you can get the right sock for your specific footwear. Whatever brand of sock you choose, ditch the cotton! It holds moisture like a sponge. And you might want to ask about a supportive insole. Hope this helps:-) Happy feet will make your daily work a lot easier.
Judith from from Chesapeake Virginia on April 26, 2012 at 07:59:48 PM
Good article, Sarah. I have a granddaughter named Sarah and she's a country girl at heart. She and her family live in Colorado along with their 2 dogs, 2 ferrets, 16 baby chicks 3 children and another on the way.
Brenda Horton from from Phoenix Arizona on April 26, 2012 at 03:36:24 PM
all those old boots that are no good make flower pots out of them put flowers in them and buy boots that are the same size as your shoe size and wear socks and they will not slip off. but old boots make great flower pots or plant spice like basil or parsley or chives or sage put stuff like tht in them with soil and watch them grow good thing for children project along a fence and they make your yard pretty.try planting grass of some kind in your mud puddles and it might keep some of the water off tht area.
Ron from from Fremont on April 26, 2012 at 01:29:43 PM
Redwing makes a steel toe cowboy boot:

I just looked this up.
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