Raymond Key, November 16, 2011


Raymond Key, November 16, 2011


Key, Raymond
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Lake Otsego


Raymond Key was born in Cooperstown, NY in 1935, but first lived in West Edmeston. He moved to Pierstown with his family in 1944 or 1945 and acquired a dairy farm there. He lived with his parents, three brothers, a sister, and a cousin. Key experienced major changes in farming as production shifted away from human and animal power and machinery took over for much of the work on the farm. His interview includes an excellent account of the technological development of farming in the Cooperstown area.

Key’s recollections involve his daily chores on the farm, hobbies and amusements such as hunting, fishing, dancing, and baseball, and his recent career as a state licensed wildlife management practitioner. He also addresses contemporary issues like the importance of family, community, and the environment for local farms.

He lives in Pierstown with his wife on part of his family farm and has one son, two grandsons, and a granddaughter.


Colin Walfield


Cooperstown Graduate Program State University of New York-College at Oneonta




New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY







Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission



Colin Walfield


Raymond Key


New York State Historical Association Library


CW: Colin Walfield
RK: Raymond Key

[Start of Track 1, 0:00]

CW: This the November 16, 2011 interview of Raymond Key recorded for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at the New York State Historical Association Library. Well first of all, thank you for doing the interview with us. Let’s begin by discussing a bit about your early life and family, so when and where were you born?

RK: I was born in Cooperstown, but we lived in Richfield at the time.

CW: So could you tell me a bit about where you grew up?

RK: Well, it was in West Edmeston. My father drove a tractor-trailer for Welches, a cattle company, for many years. There were three of us boys, and a girl and he decided to go on the farm to keep us occupied and so we went to Pierstown where we bought the farm on shares from another farmer. We paid this man for the cows and the machinery, he still owned the farm and he paid for half the feed, we paid for half the feed, half the calves were his, half the calves were ours, and we went half and half to pay for the cows and machinery and we had a payment to him monthly and that’s how we started. It was three boys and my cousin came to live with us when he was 13 years old. He lived with us until he was 21. He was like a hired man to us.

When we started farming, we had like 35 cows, a team of horses, we did have a tractor which was a John Deere B tractor. Most everything was done with old horse drawn equipment. We had drawn mowing machines and reaping binders, corn harvesters. The reaping binder was what we cut the grain with. The corn harvester, we cut the corn with. We would put in X amount of grain so that we could keep our cows throughout the winter and we fed our own grain to the cows. We had to work all summer to get enough feed for the cows because we put it all in with the hay loader loose. It was piled on to a wagon and then taken from the wagon and put into the barn loose mound away, leveled off into the mow, and we did this until we got enough. We’d go from late June to almost August to get enough hay for them because it took that much time.

We had the pair of horses and the John Deere tractor. We did all the work for those and after awhile, we had another team of horses which we had two teams and tractor. The tractor was a very small tractor and as time went on, we got rid of one of the teams and bought another tractor, a small tractor, and we used them together. As we started, the corn had to be cultivated with a Sulky Cultivator. You ride the cultivator, you steer it with your feet to keep it on the rows, and each boy in the morning would take a team of horses and a Sulky Cultivator, and we would go out and cultivate until noon and then come in for lunch. My dad figured that corn had to be cultivated four times, so we did this day in and day out throughout the summer to keep this corn growing. When we planted the corn for our own feed, he put turnips into the fertilizer, turnip seed, so that the seed would be in the fertilizer and it would go into the ground and be planted the same time that we planted the corn. In the fall of the year, we would pull all the turnips, pile them up by the blower where we chopped it to go into the silo and the neighbors and everybody would come to get turnips. We had a huge mound of turnips. This is one thing that helped us feed all our family. We used to butcher our own cows, our own pork, all our own stuff.

We never had a time in the summer to cut wood because we was so busy doing everything else. We burned wood throughout the winter. We would start cutting wood in the winters and in the fall. Usually we would cut wood in the snow. We cut wood enough to keep warm. It was a busy time and it was hard work. We didn’t have chain saws, we had a cross cut saw, which was a two man saw, and my dad would take one side and my brother and I would change off on the other side. See I was 9 years old; my brother was 10 when we went there. So we would change off on the saw helping him cut the wood and when the blocks was too big, we split them down the middle, made smaller chunks of them, so that we could handle them, took them to the wood shed and piled them all up so that they would dry. We did this all we could and then buzzed them up with a buzz saw. The buzz saw was run with tractor, that’s what we used the tractor for, mainly belt power. We’d block it off in blocks and throw it into the woodshed. We’d do this most of the time in the winter because we never had time in the summer to do anything else.

My dad was quite creative. He had all these boys and he had the John Deere tractor, so he took a single row cultivator and he put three of them behind his John Deere B and put one boy on each cultivator and he used to do or three rows instead of one, which we kind of gradually go into, and that made our cultivating a lot faster.

We used to have forty acres of grain which was a lot in those times and we cut it with a reaping binder. You’d take the bundles and you shocked it up. You take two of them, you put the tops together and take two more and put them on the side, so that there was four in a shock. And you left them out there in the field, let them dry, and once they was dry and ready, all the farmers in the area, they had one thrash machine in the area which run with a tractor, he would go fromn farm to farm to farm and thrash the grain and blow the straw into the barn with the blower on this machine. And, the grain was put aside for the cows for the winter. So this is how we fed our cows and all the farmers got together to do each other’s work. Now when we thrashed, this farmer would send maybe two boys and a wagon and a pair of horses, this guy would send a wagon and a pair of horses, and they had four or five rigs being loaded in the field all in one day. There’d be several men loading this by hand with forks and you’d take it in and thrash it. They did the same with the corn. They cut the corn and it was put into bundles, and you picked the bundles up and threw them on the wagon and then you draw them to the blower and it had a tractor on the blower which chopped it up into smaller pieces, run it into and blew it into the silo. So, this silage was what you fed throughout the winter. We had two silos on our farm. They held approximately 100 tons of silage each. They were wooden silos and you threw that down daily for the cows.

In the winter time we had all we could do to just keep to chores because all the manure had to be shoveled by hand and us boys were still going to school, so my cousin and us, in the nights and early mornings, we’d help clean the barn and of course we helped milk and throughout the evenings, night and mornings. First off, my brother, he would take one morning and help my dad with the chores until school time comes and I would do it the next morning. We was the two oldest boys so we would change off helping him with chores in the morning and he would lots of times clean the barn, or he would wait and do it in the evening when we was home. That’s how we cleaned the barn and kept the cows fed. You fed them ensilage and grain. It all had to be carried. Most of it was carried in with a bushel basket. Your silage was carried from the silor room with a bushel basket and you dumped half a bushel to one cow, and half a bushel to the next. We did have water buckets which had a paddle in them which they could drink by themselves and turn them out most every day. As time went on, the bigger the farm we were on down below, the farmer that we was doing shares with bought that farm and they went through put a new foundation under it, new stancils, lifted the barn up and put this barn all back together. It was almost ready to fall down. It was 110 feet long, this barn was. This barn was forty feet in the center upstairs, real big barn, and then we started filling that with hay because we got more cows as time went on. We had two small tractors that we used throughout that time. We pulled the harvesters with them, we did belt power with them. I can remember the first choppers, the first hay bines, the first bailer, all of this was in my lifetime. When the first chopper came out, the neighbors and everybody said that they “ain’t gonna work,” “it’s not gonna work.” It worked. What they did then, each farmer would buy one and they still helped one another fill silos. They had what they call a false front and this false front was the tailgate that they pulled with cables at the front of the wagon and they had a gate in the back. They lifted it up and held it open and then they had a ratchet with a piece of pipe, the cables wound up on this pipe and drew the load of silage back to back end of the wagon. As they drew it back to the wagon, you stood there with a hay hook or a potato hook and hooked it off into the wagon so it wouldn’t plug the blower and that’s how they did it with the first choppers that came around. Then after time went on the bailers we had first starting out had motors on them. They had Wisconsin Motors. The motors would run the bailer and we pulled it with this John Deere Tractor which was a B. The bailer was way heavier than the tractor was. It was a huge, huge machine. It did a very good job, but as you went downhill with it, it was canvas fed, the hay rolled up in front. You get down to the bottom of the hill, he had to fork it all into it because it wouldn’t pick up hay going down hill and it was so heavy going down any steep hill at all, it just shoved the tractor. You just had to keep it straight and go, and it would shove you right down the hill because the bailer was so heavy. But that was first bailer and, the first chopper that came around. As time went on, the bailers were heavy, the choppers were real heavy, and the tractors were small and then they turned everything around, made the bailers smaller, made the choppers smaller, made the tractors bigger and this is how it’s kind of changed as time went on to today.

A lot of things happened that you just forget about, but the things that I can remember, was, it was a busy time, always busy, you never had much time off. We did a little fishing, a little hunting. We were great in hunting. We hunted all our lives, the boys and brothers and my dad loved wild game. He says, “Whatever you get boys, I will clean it for you.” So he always cleaned our game and we ate a lot of game. The rabbits, the squirrels, the deer, whatever we shot. We lived on a lot of that stuff. To that day we lived on a lot of wild game.

As things went on, we got bigger, I got married, my brothers went away and I was left at home. I was the only one left at home. My dad died at forty seven and I ran the farm from that time on for my mother, and as she got older, she turned the farm over to me and as my son was coming up at that time, and he was up to about 18-20 years old and just graduated from high school. I brought him into the farm into the farm at that time as full half partners and we ran the farm that way and we put an addition on the farm in Cooperstown and we put forty feet on the barn, we put more cows on. As time went on, we got bigger and bigger, and things got changing. The things you see today you can’t believe because of what I’ve seen over the years. The farmers today have to change because the change is there and you’ve got to change with the times. And if you don’t bring your family into these farms, as partners, the farms will dwindle. Some of the farmers in the area would not do that. They would hold back and the boys that were on the farm, sooner or later, would leave the farm and they would have to sell the farm, and that’s how a lot of farms went under. Because the parents were too stubborn to bring their son into the farm when they should have and I believe in that 100%. They should be doing that; even today, they should be doing that. My son has always been partners with me.

As time went on, we got bigger, heavier equipment, bigger equipment. We would put in at that time, forty-five acres of grain, maybe 25 acres of corn and as time comes on we kept getting more and more acres all the time and we ended up buying combines. We had our own combine. We would do combining for the neighbors. We always helped the neighbors. The farmers today don’t help today as much as they used to because of the heavy equipment and I think we’re losing that. I think that they should be helping one another.

The changing of cows too, I’ve got to mention that. The cows of today are fed so much food, and they’re so much bigger than the cows of years ago. The cows of years ago, if you had a 1,200 lb cow, it was a big cow. Today it’s nothing to have a ton. A cow weighs a ton and it’s the way they feed them, all through their growing up they feed them more milk, they pull grain that’s high protein and things are changing so fast that this is what is different today. Things are changing and feeding programs. Today, we have things that we can do to make corn grow better. Make cows grow better. The corn today, we have fertilizer and all of that and the equipment we got to work the ground with. The changing of today is unbelievable. The farm that we have now, it’s 450 acres. We had a farm in Pierstown with 240 acres and my grandson came out of college and says, “I want to farm it,” and I says, “This is not big enough, we got to move.” So that’s what decided to move the farm to another bigger set up, so that everybody could get into it. And so now, we bought at that time, we sold most of the farm. I still live in Pierstown. We have approximately, 340 acres here yet. We raise corn there, picking corn, which we combine and take to the farm up on Sharon Springs. We bought 450 acres up there and we have in the neighborhood of 140 head up there. My son and grandson are up there and we bought 3 houses at the time and they’re up there. We have all registered Holsteins. We have some real good stock so the cows we have today are much better cows than the cows we ever had in our life. And, the way we raised corn, and we’re raising soybeans now, and the combines come in and cut it for us. Our corn we used to cut it with a chopper ourselves, draw it in, we don’t even do that no more. The changes have been made so fast. We hire somebody to come in and chop it with a big self propelled chopper. They come in and cut all our corn in one day. We have over 100 acres and they cut the whole thing in one day and chop it up for silage. Then we have 40 acres that we pick for grain, but that silage is all cut at that time and they cut it all in one day. We have trucks and they put it in the bunker and we feed it from the bunker. It’s really changing as far as crops goes. I’ve seen it all happen, but things are still changing fast right now. Now we have combines and the soybeans and all that stuff is combined and they haul most of the stuff with trucks. Now today up on the farm, we have four tractors. The one tractor we have is a big one is 220 horse, and we got three smaller ones that are around 100 horse and the farming of today is sure changed, I’ll tell you.

I’ve probably gone faster than you’d like through some of the things. If there are any questions that you would like to ask me on anything that I haven’t mentioned, I would be willing to answer them.

CW: Well certainly sounds like you’ve been very busy with farming, can you tell me a little bit about where you went to school in Cooperstown?

RK: I went to Cooperstown School. All our family went to Cooperstown School. All four of us, yes we all went to Cooperstown School, but us four, we never went to college. I have only one son, and we have three grandchildren, but they’ve been going to college.

CW: Did you have a lot of friends in Cooperstown growing up?

RK: Yes, because we was always active. We played games. We played football, we played baseball, even the farming we tried to work one another in so that they could play football and baseball. Yup, I played on the town team. My brothers played football. I did not play football, but the rest of them did.

CW: Did you do a lot of hunting and fishing, as well, with your friends?

RK: Yes, I’ve done a lot of fishing all my life whenever I could. On our farm we have a trout stream that goes through the farm and I could always fish at the trout stream. We did a lot of hunting. Deer hunting. And we still hunt today, most of us.

CW: So you still keep in touch with a lot of your friends from growing up?

RK: Pretty much because I’ve lived in Cooperstown for 67 years. So we came here bout in ‘44-’45, when we moved here, and I’ve been in this area all my life. Yeah I keep in touch with quite a few of them.

CW: Could you tell me about when you met your wife?

RK: We’ve been married fifty-five years. We have only had the one child.

CW: So what would say would be the thing you are most proud about in regards to your son?

Yes, I’m proud about what we have accomplished. I’m proud of the farming, the way that we’ve changed it. The farm up there when we moved up there about six years ago to Sharon Springs, we remodeled the whole barn, put in all new tie stalls, put a heifer barn up, new milk cows. We went completely through the whole unit, so it’s all brand new. The stalls are all five foot stalls, five foot wide because we have a tremendous amount of big cows. Cows that go over a ton. They feed them four times a day so that really do grow.

CW: So how did living on a farm and doing all that hunting and fishing influence your views towards food?

RK: Well being on a farm, we always had a big garden. Planted a lot of potatoes. In fact, I was in FFA (Future Farmers of America) and they had a project where the boys all got a bushel of potatoes, a bag of fertilizer, and we had a contest to see which boy could come up with the most potatoes out of a bag of potatoes and fertilizer. So that’s what we did for a contest. And we had our own sweet corn, our own gardens. My mother canned a lot of stuff out of the gardens. We had our own apples, our own orchard, we picked a lot of apples. And we had our potatoes.

CW: Did you win any awards or prizes from the FFA?

RK: Not really in FFA. We showed cattle at the Cooperstown show. I showed cattle at the show. My son and my grandchildren all showed cattle at the Cooperstown fair. We’ve shown cows throughout our life. We’ve done quite well with cows. And my grandson fits cows. He’s a fitter. He fits cows for shows. He’s done a very good job too. So he knows what he’s doing for fitting them. They do show cows even today.

CW: Do you know where your son and grandchildren live today?

RK: My son lives in Sharon Springs. My grandchildren, the oldest girl she lives in Rochester and the other two live at the farm.

CW: So how did you become involved with wildlife?

RK: I’ve always trapped all my life. I’ve trapped for pelts and it was about 14 years ago, there was still a need for people. There were people that moved in from Florida and other places. The wildlife was still here and I could see where it was going to become a problem. So I went to school for it. I had to go to school for it and pass a test to be licensed to do what I do. So I’m licensed by the state of New York and I handle wildlife of all kinds. I don’t handle deer, but skunks and all that stuff.

CW: Where did you go to school for the wildlife?

RK: We had it in Stanford. They taught us down at the DEC (Department of Environmental Convservation) office down there. And then you still had to pass a course and you had to have 80 or better or you would not pass this pass this course. So I got 91 on the test and you don’t have to take it again. But there was a lot of them at that time that was in to the same business that did not pass and they’re still not in it, so that’s why I get a lot more work because a lot of them had to drop out.

CW: About when did you do that?

RK: I got my license about 14 years ago, but like 6 or 7 years ago, nobody had to pass a test or nothing. So what they did was ask me in to see how much I knew because I was one of the senior operators and they wanted to know if I would take a test and I says, “Yeah I’ll take the test.” So I went in and took this test, this was down in Stanford, and I got a 70 on the test and they said, “Here’s a folder, you go back now and do the three weeks to take the test to hold your license.” So that’s when they started changing it. This was liked 6-7 years ago. That’s when I had to take the test. It was very hard. It was all multiple choice. The answers were very close and if you hadn’t studied you would not pass it. Because the things were so close.

CW: What do you think would be your biggest achievement with your hunting hobbies?

RK: I’ve been a avid deer hunter for years and years. I’ve got over a hundred deer that I’ve hunted. I’ve been out of stated as well. I’ve been in Colorado, Montana, Maine, and

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Of course in the Adirondacks, I hunted a lot and I’ve done this throughout my life, yes.

CW: Is there a good story that you would like to tell about hunting?

RK: Well, I’ve killed a lot of deer. One particular head that I have mounted, I shot the deer. The summer before they had logged these woods off and it was a shale rock and it dropped down like thirty feet. The top had been dropped down below the shale rock and I shot this deer on top and he jumped over the side and when I got down there to him he had landed on the top of one of these tops like fifteen feet from the ledge and like thirty feet from the ground. We could not even reach him so we ended up lassoing him around the horse and dragging him back and on to the ledge and that’s how we got him. That was quite an ordeal.

CW: Did you do a lot of hunting with your son as well?

RK: Yes, I hunted with my son, my brothers, and I still hunt with my son and the brother that I have left, I hunt with him too.

CW: Was it important to you for your son to hunt as well?

RK: I brought my son into handling and shooting guns even at a young age. He was like 9 years old, he was a marksman at the rifle range and as he got older, I got him into trap shooting and he was on the Montgomery County trap team shooting clay pigeons. He qualified for the team. He broke ninety-four out of a 100 to qualify and in the competition; he broke forty-six out of fifty, so he’s done a lot of shooting. Now he has an FFL (Federal Firearms License), he sells guns and ammunition on the farm and he rifles guns in for people, puts scopes on them, and he’s done this for years. So he’s really good with guns.

CW: Are your grandchildren also involved with hunting and shooting as well?

RK: My grandson and I have one granddaughter that just started last year. She got started last year, she killed her first buck last year and I think she’s going to be a hunter. My grandson, he can take it or leave it. He goes out and he’s shot a few bucks, but he’s not really enthused by it.

CW: You’ve done a lot of fishing as well, are there any good stories or good experiences that you’ve had with that?

RK: I’ve fished on Otsego Lake. I’ve had three boats on Otsego Lake and years ago I used to troll for what they called the Otsego bass, of course they don’t do it anymore because the Otsego bass left us here and I have been up on Lake Ontario, I had one experience up there. Three of us went out and I caught what they called a king salmon, we caught nine lake trout and all three of us caught a king salmon. The one that I caught was twenty-six pounds. It was a big one and I had it fully mounted.

CW: What do you think about current issues involving the lake and fishing?

RK: I am a federation representative for this county, I talk to the DEC, I talk to fish biologists, and this lake right now, the one fish that’s coming on strong is what they call the walleye. The walleyes are real plentiful in this lake, they’re growing fast. The lake trout is still there, but the walleye is that one that’s coming on and I think that’s going to be the fish of the future actually.

CW: Did you play a lot of sports with your son as well?

RK: Not really, we had our own pingpong things, I played catch and things like that with him.

CW: Did he play any sports?

RK: At a young age, he grew faster than he should have and his hip came out of the joint, out of the socket so he had to have an operation when he was quite young and therefore, he couldn’t play sports because of it. He couldn’t play football especially. He had to have his hip pinned and to have an operation so he didn’t dare to play sports because of it. He never played football or none of that.

CW: Have your grandchildren played any sports?

RK: My grandson was on the Cooperstown football team. He played sports, he loved his football. He played little league, he was a catcher, real good at it and he played on the basketball team as well. He liked his football the best and that’s what he ended up playing the most.

CW: How do you think that his experiences with football compared to yours?

RK: I never played as much football as I did baseball. I was more of a baseball person. I played at Doubleday Field in little league many times. We had all our games, most of them, on Doubleday Field. Back then, Mr. Mercy was the coach. There were several teams, people would sponsor a baseball team in town. They’d run a store and they would buy uniforms for that team. They would have the Braves, the Indians, and whatever, and we had five or six teams in the summer time in little league and we played one another all summer long and at the end, the two top teams would play it off like a series. We did that throughout the summer. We worked on the farm, but we also had our time in town and playing ball. We worked with one another. If my brother had to have a ballgame, I would stay home and this is how we worked it.

CW: Did you ever travel around to different towns to play baseball or was it just a local thing in Cooperstown?

RK: I played other teams, yes, we played some not a lot, but most of it was right here in Cooperstown.

CW: Did you think it was special to be playing baseball in Cooperstown?

RK: Not then. It’s more special now than it was then because I played many games on Doubleday Field. It was just every day we played on it and it was a wonderful field. We had probably the best field out of anybody. Throughout the summer, like I said, they had several baseball teams. The summer kids would come in from other places and they had all these boys that would play baseball and they’d have ten or twelve on a team. They had different teams, Smalley’s Theater was one, Redskins, the Braves, and they would have their name on suits and all of them had their own suits and everything, so they played one another, which was a lot of fun.

CW: Did you pay attention to Major League Baseball growing up?

RK: Yeah, I liked it, but I’d rather play it than watch it.

CW: Did you have a favorite team?

RK: Back then it was the Dodgers, when they were playing. I liked the Dodgers probably best of any of them.

CW: What’d you think when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles?

RK: Well, I was kind of out of it then. I was kind of over keeping track of them as much and as time went on, I went into the New York Yankees. But now I’m strictly for the New York Yankees.

CW: So when you were younger did you visit the Hall of Fame a lot in town.

RK: Up until the last few years, I’ve been in there to get bats or something in there. I’ve only went into it once throughout my life, until recent years when I had to work in there.

CW: So, did you have any pets growing up?

RK: Dogs and cats, yes. We had a lot of dogs and cats. As we grew up we always had a saddle horse. We had several of those. The boys chased cows with the horses. Now in the fall, you had second cutting come up. Instead of us putting fences up to hold the cows, one of us boys would be on the horse and keep the cows in that field. And that’s what we did until they filled up and that’s what you run around the cows and keep them all together, so they wouldn’t get astray. We used to do that instead of building fences. We didn’t have the roads that you today. You couldn’t do that today, but then we could.

CW: Do you have any pets now?

RK: No I don’t.

CW: Do you remember when you first got a car?

RK: When we first got the car, my brother, he was a year older than me and he got his license, of course, first and the first car that we got was a ’42 Chevy. It was for both of us. I didn’t drive it until I got of age, but the car was for both us. We had to share it. If we went somewhere, most generally, we went together anyway.

CW: Did that make you feel more independent to be able to drive to different places?

RK: Yeah, because, back years ago we used to go to a lot of dances. We used to do Western dances, my brother and I, it was two or three guys from town. We used to go and dance at these Western dances. We used to even go to Davenport which is quite aways away. Before I was married you could go to a dance near every night of the week if you wanted to somewhere. It would be a Western dance, especially on the weekends you always had dances.

CW: What kind of music did they play at the dances?

RK: It was all Western music. Western music, square dances were what we did.

CW: Are there any particular good stories that you have with dances?

RK: We’ve smashed a car or two up. I had a Chevy of my own after I got one by myself and the fellow that we were coming back with from a dance one night. I partially went to sleep and he was sleeping and the guardrail hit the door that his head was against. It woke him right up, but nobody was hurt. [laughter]

CW: Did you travel a lot growing up?

RK: No, we never traveled a lot other than maybe to go to a dance. See dances used to be in the schools a lot. You’d go to Edmeston School, Winfield School, Bridgewater School, and this is how you went. We used to drive to those. When we went usually we took a car load. It would be two or three guys and maybe even a couple of girls would go with us. We all went to dances, we weren’t actually girlfriends or boyfriends, we just went to dance.

CW: What sort of refreshments did they serve at the dances?

RK: They always had soda. Lots of times maybe a hotdog or a hamburger.

CW: Was that different than the food that you normally ate at home?

RK: Normally yes, because we were a meat and potato family at home. That’s what we ate mainly because that’s what we had. Vegetables, we had our own because we canned them. We had a freezer, it was thirty two cubic foot freezer in the kitchen. You could drop in there a cow and two pigs and have other room besides. It was a BIIIIG [emphasis added] freezer and we used to fill that in fall for the winter supply.

CW: Did you do any of the canning on the farm?

RK: My mother did, yes, she canned a lot of stuff like the vegetables and we had our own chickens. We used to get a hundred chickens a year and the roosters they would kill and eat for meat and the hens we’d raise for eggs.

CW: Were you involved with any farming organizations?

RK: I’ve been on the board at the ASCS (Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation) office. I was on that for a few years. That’s dividing up the government money for the farms that needed it in Otsego County. I was on that for three or four years.

CW: Did you consider that a special responsibility?

RK: Yes, it definitely was. It wasn’t just that you could give this farmer an even amount and this one an even amount. We was in there to give them what we thought their needs would be. If you needed more lime than this other guy, he got it. That’s the way we did it. We had so much money that was given to us by the government to do this. Lime was one of them, woodlot clearance, there was so much an acre for all of this. We had to divide this money up the way we figured that person needed it.

CW: So what do you enjoy about your job today?

RK: Talking and coping with people probably. I’ve always talked to people and I do probably talk too much to them, but I do like talking to people and like doing the job that I do. There’s always a challenge, there’s always something different. It’s a matter of taking live animals out. I’ve taken skunks out of front rooms, out of closets, out of garbage trucks. I take them out alive. I don’t kill them, and then I put them back into the wild. I’ve done this all these years and I handle most everything alive.

CW: What would you say would be the biggest challenge of your job?

RK: It’s getting animals in the wrong place and trying to get them out without hurting them, like a skunk without getting sprayed. That’s a challenge. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to get sprayed. I’ve taken them out of houses and they won’t spray. When I’ve taken a lot of them out, because I handle so many, I can take them out without them spraying. So I’ve done a tremendous amount of this and that’s a thing that I think I’m able to do that a lot of people can’t. It’s to handle animals without being hurt. You’re taking dangerous animals. You’re handling foxes and everything. It’s not just a skunk. A skunk with spray you, yes. You’ve got to pick up porcupines, I handle turtles and snakes, and all of that stuff. Beaver and coyotes, so I’ve handled a tremendous amount of animals. I’ve been on this for fourteen years about now.

CW: Was there ever a time that you were afraid to work with the animals?

RK: I’ve never been afraid. Nothing’s ever bothered me as far as handling an animal, getting them out of a trap or whatever. Never bothered me. I’ve had jobs where I’ve went into places and picked up four or five snakes. Just picked them up and put them in a bag. A lot of people can’t do those things, and I pick them up and put them in a bag and take them out.

CW: What would you say would have to be the most challenging thing that you’ve ever had to do with wildlife?

RK: Normally the skunk family, they run five to the most in the average skunk family in the summer. Once in a while, you come on to six, but never seven. A year ago, I had two families of seven skunks. This was under a business. I set up six traps, big cage traps, I baited them and the skunks were over half grown, they were good sized skunks. I went back the next day and I had eight skunks in six traps. I put them on my truck, one cage on top of the other. It’s touchy business, because you’ve got so many and I put them all in there and the ones that will spray the quickest are the young ones. Young ones are quicker to spray you than the older ones. So I took them into state land, where I let them go. I set the cages up in like a half moon, and I opened the door. When I open the door, I slide a rod through the door so that door will not slam shut. If the door slams shut, sometimes they will spray. So I opened up all of the doors and I look at her right in the face. I opened the mother’s first. I’m looking at her right in the face and I open up all the cages and I’m like two feet from them. All the skunks came out. She circled them a couple of times. I took their picture and they went up through the woods. That is a challenge, sometimes you can get into a mess with that. I did it twice a year ago and never had a problem.

CW: Was working with wildlife your first job outside of the farm?

RK: I kind of retired off the farm fourteen years ago because my son was taking over and my grandson was coming into it. All I’ve done in the last few years since then was helping them. Afternoons and whatever, I drive tractors for them in the hay fields, chopping, or whatever’s got to be done. Plowing, anything like that, and I go up and help them afternoons. I do my wildlife nuisance thing in the morning every day and I do it seven days a week.

CW: Have you ever sold any of the your land?

RK: Yup, we had 240 acres in Pierstown, where I live now, and I sold all except forty acres. We’ve sold that land.

CW: Are there any real big issues involving farming that you’d like to comment on?

RK: I think that what’s going to kill the farmers of today is that the prices of fuel went up, prices of electricity going up and milk prices are not rising fast enough to go along with them and I think that’s the biggest thing. Last winter, the milk prices were down like $11 a hundred, we were losing $200-300 a day and farmers can’t keep that up forever. This is what I think is going to happen. You’re going to see more and more farmers going out of business because the cash flow is not there. They’ve got to do something to keep those farmers that they’ve got. Because right we’re at the edge where we’re not going to have enough milk, not enough powder, not enough stuff if they don’t keep them going. I think that the state or whatever, better step in there and help these farmers to keep them going. I think that this country is going to hurt for certain if this keeps on the way it is. If the milk prices go the way there are. If the fuel and the feed, everything gets so high. It’s hard to break even.

CW: In light of those difficulties, what do you think about the fracking controversy?

RK: I have not thought about it too much. I really don’t think that it’s the right way to go. I think that there should be something done, I don’t think that should be it. I think that we’re going to ruin a lot of water. Some of it probably can be done, but they better be pretty careful how they do it. I think that we got to do some for our own fuel, but I think that they’ve got to be very careful how they do it.

CW: How do you think that the land has changed now from when you were growing up?

RK: To raise alfalfa and to raise hay and certain things, you’ve got to have what they call the pH. To raise alfalfa it’s got to six at least, it should be 7%. And the land we’ve got today is a lot better than it used to be because the manure we put on is high in nitrogen so therefore they’re putting on a lot more because of the many cows that they have. I think that they don’t use as much fertilizer because they don’t have to. Fertilizer is the big issue today. I don’t think that they use as much lime as they used to build the land up, sweeten it up.

CW: Where do you typically sell the produce to the farm?

RK: We mainly sold milk. That was our main thing. Years ago we had our own truck. When my dad passed away and we had a ton Dodge truck. I drove five farms to the plant. The plant was in Cooperstown. It was a Sheffield Plant. We just went to Cooperstown and back. I drove five farms myself along with doing chores. Milk was the main thing that we sold. As time went on, we did sell a lot of hay. Because when we got the bailer, we could put up more hay. Of course we had the truck that we drove the hay to farmers with.

CW: Did a lot of these things go to a national market or more of a local market?

RK: Most everything was local. We sold to other farmers, hay. We sold a lot of hay that way. Sheep and that stuff. We’d sell them a load of hay and then somebody else would buy it. We’d just truck in a load for horses and cows. Some people would run out, but that’s what we sold the hay to.

CW: What did you enjoy the most about farming?

RK: The pride of being able to do what you wanted to do. You didn’t have nobody telling you what to do. I think that if you can accomplish what you wanted to do, I think that was the big thing. It was hard going, but still it was better than I guess some things were. You learn to do things by yourself that you probably wouldn’t before. Farmers’ mechanic work, veterinary work on the cows, you learn to do a lot of things yourself to cut the costs. Up on the farm today we do an awful lot of our own veterinary work to cut the costs. My grandson does all our artificial breeding himself. We have our own tank for semen that we buy so it’s ready for the cows. He does all the breeding.

CW: Do you feel like farming gave you a special connection to food?

RK: Yeah, I think it did, but I didn’t really think of it that way. We try to make as much milk as we could to get as much money as we could get out of it. The milk was the main thing that we did then. As far as cash crops, we did sell a little sweet corn or something, but we didn’t sell produce.

CW: Do you feel you have a different attitude towards food than someone from a more urban area?

RK: Well I think something that a lot of people don’t realize that they should start thinking about more is our water supply. A good water supply, we’re losing it. For drinking water. Now my house, my farm is all on spring water. The farm up there, that’s gravity fed, we don’t even have a pump on it. The water runs freely. Three houses, the barn, and the cows. It’s self flowed, runs right to the barn. Up on my house where I live in Pierstown, that’s all spring. The farm when we had it up there was all spring. I think that with this drilling and spoiling the water with doing things, building houses and stuff, we’re losing a lot of our good water supply and I think that we should be thinking about it.

CW: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
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RK: I like living in Cooperstown. I like the people. We’ve been here so many years and we got to know everybody pretty much, or a lot of people. I think that’s one challenge that we do like, my wife and I. My wife was a banker. She was in Key Bank in Cooperstown and she retired. She was forty-five years at the bank. Now she has been helping a lady with her finances and now she has passed away, so she does all my bookwork and sends the bills. She does my son’s bookwork on the guns and ammunition and the sports shop. She does all his bookwork. She’s busy all the time and I think that’s the secret. You got to be busy and I’m going every day and I think it’s the only way to keep going, is working every day. As far as retiring and watching television, it will never happen with me.

CW: Do you feel like the community has changed a lot since when you were younger?

RK: Definitely changed. Some for the good, some for the bad. I’ve seen a lot of changes in people. People have changed doing things. People don’t understand how things could be hurt as far as what we are doing with these houses being built. All this wetlands, some of its being filled in. There’s a lot of things that’s been happening that they’re going to have to be careful about. Because we’re getting to the point where we’ve got so many houses and the wildlife is running between houses. It’s going to be quite a change. They’re going to be careful about what they’re doing for sure.

CW: What do you think are some of the things that are better now?
RK: You got better vehicles. You got tractors that are better. We can do our work with less people. With the equipment that we have today, it’s definitely better. We can go in and do twice what we normally could do years ago. It’s better because of equipment, mainly to.

CW: Well thank you for talking with me about your stories and everything. It really was interesting to hear and I really appreciate it.


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Colin Walfield, “Raymond Key, November 16, 2011,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 31, 2023, http://www.cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/115.