Top 15 List of Farm Smells

Jun 29th, 2008 by Diane Seymour | 0

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As I sat on the picnic bench in front of the Sundae Time in Troy savoring the small waffle cone of raspberry swirl, another familiar smell caught my attention. I lifted my head and sucked in the aroma and for a moment felt the heart-tug of my childhood memories. Oh, the sweet smell of cows!

My husband and I spent the next ten minutes swapping “the best of” in farm smells. For those of you who grew up on a farm, this will be a walk down memory lane. For all others, you can wonder, is she really serious! Here are my Top 15 Favorite Farm Smells, not necessarily all good, but all distinctively memorable:

House smells

1. Homemade everything – homemade bread baking; hot, bubbling apple, cherry, blackberry, huckleberry pies made from fruit picked on the farm or on the local mountain; smell of the brine in the hand-cranked ice cream maker filled with milk straight from the cow; fried deer steak and pancakes topped with boiled brown-sugar syrup; the first-blast good smells when you open home-canned jars of home-grown peaches, beets, pears, tomatoes, apples, pickles, and cherries; baking powder biscuits straight from the oven, dripping with lots of butter and homemade wild strawberry jam. Oh, yeah…
2. Bacon, sausage, home fries, and eggs frying on the stove every morning for breakfast – a hearty fare for hard-working men going to the fields and to the barn; I still love that smell on the two or three times a year when we leave the cereal in the cupboard!
3. Porter’s Salve -a traveling salesman showed up on the farm every now and then peddling the green and white tins with salve claiming to benefit bruises, rough skin, insect bites, sunburn and local irritations; recommended for man or beast. Blindfold me and wave 100 concoctions under my nose, and I’ll pick the Porter’s salve out. The smell is that memorable!
4. The dank, wet, musty smell of most farmhouse cellars – no poured concrete or cinder blocks, just field stone walls and earth floors; perfect spot for storing canned goods and produce from the garden, but no place to linger.

Barn Smells

5. Corn silage – tightly packed into a silo, the chopped corn ferments to such perfection that my husband and I agree that this one tops the list for good farm smells. Oh, to take just one strong whiff up a silo again someday…
6. Cow feed with molasses – I doubt there’s a farm kid alive or dead who hasn’t taken a taste of this sweet-smelling mixture at least once!
7. Milk powder mixed with water for calves being weaned from their mothers – easy to smell as you bent close to the pail to get the calf to drink by sucking on your fingers.
8. Whitewash, a mixture of lime and chalk – sprayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the main barn floor to sanitize surfaces, drive out spiders, and brighten things up; the white wash momentarily masked all the other ordinary barn smells.
9. Fly spray – overpowering, eye-watering stench for a few minutes after spraying all the cows while in their stanchions in the barn.
10. Fresh cream collecting on top of the strainer over the milk can in the milk house.
11. The granary – sweet smell of oats, sometimes dusty, sometimes musty; as kids we played in the oat bins!

Outside Smells

12. New mown hay – this still takes my breath away when I drive through the country; roll your window down next time you pass a field and take it all in.
13. Singed chicken feathers – burning the fine feathers off after plucking the main ones. Yuck!
14. Creosote added to corn before planting to discourage birds, animals, and worms from eating the kernels.
15. Manure – no, you can’t ignore this basic olfactory delight of family farm life, and I openly proclaim to the world that horse and cow shit on a small farm smells good! Sorry, but no one on the farm called it manure!

Gone are all the dairy farms that lined the roads for miles on either side of my father’s land. Barns sit empty, many with caved-in roofs and missing boards. Former pastures grow wild again with weeds and brush, with no Holsteins, Jerseys or Guernseys to graze them tidy. My generation, the sons and daughters of farmers, found other ways to make a living, most not requiring the 24/7 commitment of the family farm.

The Troy Fair opens in July, with folks from the few remaining local farms gathering with their animals and produce to compete for prizes, bragging rights, and a week of camaraderie. I’ll spend a few moments walking through the cow barns, breathing in those smells that still possess the power to take me back home again. Oh, the sweet smells of childhood!

On a more serious note, today’s huge factory farms conjure up other adjectives – pungent, putrid, unbearable, foul, and appalling. I’m a meat-lover, and have no qualms about raising animals for consumption, but I admit to a wave of conscience about the conditions that factory-farm animals endure in order for me to enjoy my steak sandwich, lemon chicken, or sliced ham. Also in question is the right of these farms to impose their nauseating smells and real or potential water pollution on neighboring properties. Sounds like this topic may show up in a future post…

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