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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Poulette farm ... A century of farming

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chickens laid their eggs in the old chicken house and were gathered by the dozens and stored in the cellar. When enough eggs were gathered, they were shipped to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. This is the old chicken house on the Poulette farm. Photo courtesy of Herb Poulette
Farming has long been a tradition and a means of making a living in Oregon County.

The Poulette farm, about five miles west of Thayer on Highway 142 west, carries on that tradition with several generations of the family still living and working on the farm.

The original farm was purchased by Alice Joule Poulette in 1901. Alice worked at a cafe in Thayer. She met her husband Nester who worked as a fireman for the railroad. The family said they are not sure why the farm was originally in Alice's name because back then that was very unusual. They do know that Nester came from Germany to Pennsylvania and think the reason the farm was not originally in his name is because he did not have his American citizenship yet.

The first big barn built on the Poulette farm was constructed out of timber cut on the farm. Photo courtesy of Herb Poulette
Leroy Poulette, a third generation Poulette and the oldest living Poulette, said Nester was not a farmer. He said Virgil, who was 7-years-old at the time, told him Nester didn't even know how to hitch-up the team of horses. "She (Alice) told Nester to get out of the way and she hitched-up the team herself," said Herb Poulette.

The first taxes Alice paid on the farm, was dated Dec. 23, 1901, was for $8.25. The farm was valued at $500 and the taxes were split. The state tax was $1.25, the county tax was $2.50 and the school tax was $4.50. The tax collector at that time was R.A. Young. The first road tax that was paid on the farm was in 1903 and it was $1.39.

Nester and Alice had two sons, Virgil and Ernest. The boys were only a year a part in age. Ernest died when the boys were young, 13- or 14-years old.

"At that time it was customary to block up the wagons so the wheels were not on the ground when they were not going to be used for some time," Herb said.

The brothers found a new game. One would hang onto the spokes while the other brother would spin them. One day, while Ernest was riding and Virgil was spinning the wheel backward, the wheel fell off and landed on Ernest's stomach. "The boys were able to get the wheel off but didn't tell their parents about the accident until Ernest was in bad pain and by that time infection had set in and Ernest did not live," Herb said.

The older Poulette said it is unknown what kind of crops and livestock were raised on the farm in the early days. It is known that Nester and Virgil both worked for the railroad to help pay off the farm. Nester went to Oklahoma for a year after getting out of the Army following World War I in 1918.

Virgil later married Ella Franke. They had five children, the three oldest boys were Leon, Lewis and Leroy. About 10 years later, along came Alice and Lonnie. Leon was born in 1927.

Sometime, probably in the late 1930s, Virgil had gotten an old thrashing machine and an old iron wheel tractor. He and the boys would not only thrash their grain but also their neighbors' for a share of the crop.

By 1945, Virgil had bought a new Oliver 70 tractor and a 1936 Case Thrashing Machine.

"He and the boys would go over southern Oregon and Howell counties as well as northern Fulton County, Ark., thrashing grain. It is still common when people hear the Poulette name, for someone to say that they can remember when the Poulette boys came to their place with the thrashing machine. The last crop the boys thrashed was in the late 1950s," Herb said.

During this time period, some of the livestock being raised and used on the farm included dairy cows (Jersey), hogs, chickens, goats and horses. At first, the cows were milked by hand and a cream separator was used to separate the cream which was put in small cream cans and sold. The milk was fed to the hogs and drunk by the family.

Later, the cows were milked with milking machines hanging from straps which fit over the cows back. The machines ran off a vacuum pump which ran off of electricity. The milk was put in 10-gallon milk cans and were picked up by Hayde Mills who drove the milk truck to the cheese plant at Koshkonong.

"He would bring back the milk cans the next day with whey in them which was used to slop the hogs. At one time, in the early to mid-1940s, Virgil had one of the highest testing herds in the state for buttterfat. Finally, by the late 1960s when Virgil and Lonnie were still milking, they added a few Holsteins to the line when butterfat wasn't valued as much," Herb said. Virgil's milk cans were identified with I-14 on them.

In the late 1950s or early 1960s, beef cattle were added to the farm by breeding Jerseys to Herferd or Angus bulls. In the 1940s through the 1960s, the hogs ran in the woods and ate acorns and were fed whey and corn on the cob which was raised on the farm or grown on neighbors on shares. Most hogs were sold as feeder pigs through the local sale barns at Thayer, Mammoth Spring or West Plains.

The last hogs raised on the farm was by Kenneth Smith, husband of Brenda Poulette, of the fourth generation, in the late 1970s and 1980s. He used small A-frame type houses and purchased most of his feed. Most markets dried up and the last pigs he sold through Tele-O-Market in Alton.

Chickens were used to lay eggs which were gathered and cleaned, then put in big cartons which held a gross. The eggs were stacked on top of each other and kept in the cellar. Once several grosses were gathered, they were shipped to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn. At one time, there were three buildings used to house hens. The egg business lasted until the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Goats were raised mainly for their wool, being long haired Angora goats. They were also used to clear ground or brush control. The herd had to be checked daily because of the web-wire fences. Their horns were long and curved so when they would stick their head through the fence they would get stuck when they tried to pull their head back. The goats lasted until the early 1960s.

Crops grown in the earlier days on the farm included corn, wheat, milo and hay. The hay was alphalpha, lespedeza, hop clover and grasses. A manure spreader was used to take litter out of the hen houses and barn lots to spread on the back of the fields for fertilizer.

Timber has also been utilized on the farm over the years. The lumber for all the older buildings came off the farm as well as several logs being sold over the years.

The Poulette farm also used the services of the local Extension office. One of the earliest accounts of this was in the 1930s when Virgil received two letters from District Extension Agent J.R. Paulling from the Doniphan office which covered Ripley and Oregon Counties. One letter was for the control of stomach worms in sheep and goats. The other letter dealt with poultry raisers and offered sketches and a list of materials for the Missouri Portable Brooder houses.

The farm now has fourth, fifth and sixth generations living on and farming the land. The farm has expanded to about 470 acres, with about 400 of those acres used for pasture. The main crop now grown is forage grasses. Fescue is the main grass but other cool season grasses are also present on the farm.

The farm is split up into several small pastures with about 10 acres per pasture. This is done by high tensile electric wire. Over the past five years, the farm has carried 125 to 130 mature beef cows and bulls plus their weaned calves, keeping 50 to 70 calves until they are a year old or older. This has been done with feeding very little hay averaging less than 25 4-by-5 round bales per year.

The Poulettes rotate their cows often when grass is growing and by stockpiling fall grown fescue for strip grazing in the winter. This was learned by attending a grazing school offered by Extension.

The second largest product produced on the farm is fescue seed. The farm produces 40,000 to 50,000 plus pounds of fescue seed per year. This is the time of year when most of the generations get together to farm the land. They either run a combine, drive a truck, mechanic, be a gofer, or prepare the super meal where everyone stuffs themselves and discusses the days events and makes plans for the farm for the next day.

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