Critters in the Corn Crib
As a boy growing up on my grandpa's farm I enjoyed all the farm animals. Grandpa had a small farm on the mountain and raised 14 children from the land. One of my favorite activities was feeding the chickens. The chicken house where the chickens roosted for the night and where some of the nests in which they laid eggs was adjacent to the corn crib. Each fall at harvest time the corn grown on the farm was picked by hand soon after cutting the corn tops and pulling the fodder which was tied in bundles and used to feed the stock during the cold winter months when the pasture had little grass.
Grandpa had lots of chickens. They not only provided him with plenty of eggs but there were many Sunday's when at least one if not two big old hens or a rooster provided the main course for that red checkered dinner table when the family would gather for a great meal. As a youngster I thought it a bit strange when Grandma would announce to all who had come home from church, "You men folks c'mon now, dinner's on the table." In Grandma's house this was the custom and with such a large family, the men always ate Sunday dinner first. No worries though, the food was in ample supply and sometimes only a neck or wing would be left for us younguns and the ladies.
Feeding the chickens was always amazing. I would walk over to the corn crib and take out several long ears. Pulling back the golden shucks to reveal rows of Hickory Cane kernals, I would shell the kernels in my hand and strew them out to the hens and roosters who came a running to eat them. Every once in a while, I would keep the kernels in my hand and some would venture up to eat directly out of my hand.
One day when I grabbed an ear of corn my arms were instantly covered with chicken mites. I had never heard of these insects and they quickly covered my arms crawling ever so fast.They even got on my face and into my hair. The little critters scared about 10 years of growth out of me and were so small I could barely see them but had no difficulty feeling them. I ran down to the creek and washed as many of them off as I could using the sand to scrub them off. The water coming out of the mountain creek was cold, as if it was coming from a glacier hidden below the surface of the ground covered with thick mountain laurels. Apparently, the mites from the chickens had gotten into the corn and it was just my bad luck to shuck an ear infested with seemingly millions of those tiny little bugs. My Uncle who was about 2 years older than I laughed at me but I'm sure if the shoe had been on the other foot, it wouldn;t have been so funny.
The old corn crib was always full and it was not uncommon to see mice scurrying about even though grandpa had several barnyard cats on patrol. Occasionally if natural foods were scarce a coon might venture onto the place, funny how they knew the hounds were all tied and that their bark wouldn't harm them. As a youngster I once saw a mink who had come to steal a chicken but got caught in one grandpa's steel traps Foxes were not that uncommon as night visitors and hunters would bring their hounds to the mountain for a good race while sitting around campfires swapping tales and sipping from a thermos.
Driving around these days, I see the remains of lots of old corn cribs, one was even on my place when I bought it 30 years ago but has long since been torn down. Most were small buildings with cracks left between the boards to allow the corn to dry. In the day of prominence these little buildings held a years corn crop for feeding the livestock. I have often wondered and pondered the difficult years of those in our heritage who seemed to know how to make do and survived off the land.