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Widows help keep their farms going

Staff writer

When a farm wife loses her husband, she can sell the farm, rent it to others, or keep it in the family and help keep it going.

From mail carrier to farm manager

Joyce Padgett of rural Florence lost her husband five years ago.

“When he died, I took over,” she said. “I was doing a lot before.”

She owns the farm. Her son, Jim, who lives in Florence, is her hired man.

In addition to cropland and hay ground, the operation includes 150 cows. Until 10 years ago, Joyce was a mail carrier in Peabody. She enjoyed the cattle and helped her husband take care of them. He had hay fever, so it was up to her to check on them during the grazing season.

She also took time off from work to drive a grain truck at harvest time. When they had hogs, she ground feed and fed them.

“I don’t like driving tractor,” she said, “so I let Jim do the farming.”

He tags newborns during spring calving and helps gather the cows in fall and wean the calves. But before the cows are taken to pasture in spring and after they are gathered in fall, Joyce helps a crew run them through a chute and give vaccinations and wormers.

The cattle are kept in pastures during grazing season. One is just 1½ miles away. Joyce leads a group of cows down the road with her pickup truck while Jim and another worker follow with all-terrain vehicles.

Joyce helps load other cows that are transported to and from pastures in cattle trailers.

Her one-ton four-wheel drive diesel truck is Joyce’s constant companion. She uses it to check cattle in the summer and feed them in the winter.

The truck was down for repairs Friday, and she felt lost.

“I can’t do anything if I don’t have my truck,” she said.

Joyce also is responsible for the business side of the operation. She markets cattle and grain, keeps the books, and makes decisions on the federal farm program and crop insurance.

Now 72, she used to walk 13 miles a day as a mail carrier. Now her full-time job as a farm manager keeps her active. She also has a small garden and a large yard that takes six hours to mow.

“I don’t like to watch TV,” she said. “I’m an active person. I can’t stand to sit around. Besides, I enjoy the cattle, and it keeps me in better shape.”

Her heart is on the farm

Although she lives in Hillsboro, Marlene Eitzen’s heart remains on the farm. It keeps her going, she says.

Marlene always was involved in the operation. Since her husband died in 2009, she continues to do her part. Her son, Randy, farms her land on a crop-share basis. He gets two-thirds of the crop, and she gets one-third.

Marlene deposits checks, pays bills, and keeps track of income and expenses. The two keep in touch via cell phone, and she is available for whatever needs doing, like helping him move between fields, getting parts for repairs, or bringing lunch.

“How did we ever do without them?” she wonders.

When her son is sowing wheat or planting corn or soybeans, she uses a farm truck to get fertilizer and seed and deliver it to the field.

“He helps me, so I help him,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without him.”

Randy consults her on what and where to plant and when to market the grain, she said. She appreciates that he lets her know what is going on, but she leaves the decisions up to him.

“Farming is a gamble,” she said. “It’s worse than Las Vegas. I tell him his judgment will be better than mine. He reads farm magazines, listens to farm stations, and knows a lot more about it than I do.”

She will turn 76 later this month and is looking forward to wheat harvest. She won’t be driving semi-trucks to transport the grain but will be on hand to provide what services are needed.

“I want to keep going as long as I can,” she said. “I don’t want to be dependent on someone else to take care of me.”

Last modified June 18, 2015

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