PHOTO: MdAgDept/Flickr
Cyn Cady
February 17, 2016

To be a farmer, you don’t necessarily need to go around all the time saying things like “anhydrous ammonia,” “haylage,” or “combine” to make it sound like you know what you’re talking about, but peppering your small talk with a few oddball farm terms can give you the same rep as tilting back your battered straw hat with just the right hand gesture. The next time you’re at an auction or one of those awesome farmer cocktail parties, try tossing a few of these terms around.

Cat Skinner

A person who drives or operates a Caterpillar tractor. It is especially effective to declare oneself a cat skinner, and then when everyone turns hostile stares in your direction, laugh derisively and explain that you have a new tractor.

Chester White

That guy you had a crush on in fourth grade because he had that thick blond hair and a Stingray bike with streamers—or a breed of hog originating in Chester County, Pa., tracing back to a white boar from England in the early 1800s. The boar was crossed with local breeds to produce the ancestors of today’s Chester White. Your fourth-grade love is now in middle management in a small life insurance company, has gone completely bald and has traded in the Stingray for a 1987 Yugo; the hog breed, on the other hand, has done much better for itself. You should totally get one.

Deadhead

When a plant finishes making seed for the season, it stops flowering because it has already completed its mission to go forth and reproduce. Deadheading, or plucking off aging or dead flowers before they produce seeds, keeps the plant blooming longer. Also see “Grateful Dead fan.”

Dibble

A pointed tool for making holes in the ground to plant seeds. Yeah, basically a pointy stick. You can buy one on Amazon for 20 bucks. “Dibbling” is the act of using a dibble to plant seeds or spring bulbs. The word sounds much sexier than it is. Really. It’s just poking holes in dirt.

Flerd

Not, as you might expect, a mashup of “flabby” and “nerd,” but rather, “flock” and “herd”: the practice of pasturing sheep and cattle together, or really any multi-species flock/herd. Urban dictionary defines flerd as “a flock of nerds,” but we farmers, being not at all nerdy, know better. Keeping a flerd helps improve soil quality and plant diversity, as different species prefer different forage.

Hinny

The word “hinny” is a term of endearment in parts of England, used much as one might use “honey” when referring to a loved one. It is also, however, the offspring of a stallion (male horse) and a jenny (female donkey), so we do not recommend using it as a pet name without clarifying the difference in advance—or you may end up with dibble holes in uncomfortable places.

Pasting

So I was curious why a reference to making paper chains and lanterns would appear in information about farming, but the flour/water paste of my childhood, often eaten by my classmates, is a totally different thing. In farming, the paste referred to in pasting is definitely not something even a first grader would eat. Rather, it’s the condition, often found in stressed chicks, where droppings cake up over the vent, preventing further evacuation. Keep an eye out for the fairly obvious signs, and be prepared with a wet cloth or even a bowl of warm water to dunk their little butts in, for serious cases. Be vigilant—pasting up is a fatal condition if not treated immediately.

Shrinkage

No, it is not the same shrinkage made famous by Seinfeld. If you’re a farmer, it’s the loss of your product as it moves through the market system. Losses may be due to damage during shipment, product trimming or moisture loss. OK, actually, I guess it is kinda the same…

Sucker

A bud that grows into a branch from the base of a fruit tree or in the crotch between another branch and the main stem, which can crowd out the original branch, if not removed. Also a gullible person or something that is really, really bad. (Also see “Disco Music”.)

Toad Strangler

No, not an underachieving serial killer; rather, a very heavy rain. We are praying for toad stranglers out here in California. OK, that sounds pretty weird. Still, an excellent idiomatic expression. I like to toss it out at cocktail parties as a conversation stopper.

Zebrass

Offspring of a zebra and a donkey (ass). Not really sure why anyone would wish to combine a zebra with another equine, as zebras are quite outstanding on their own and do not seem to require any kind of improvement, but perhaps it’s done simply to be able to create cool zebra-equine name mashups, such as the following:

  • Zebroid: Offspring of a zebra stallion and a horse mare. Also zorse, zebrula or zebrule, or if the foal is the offspring of a zebra mare and a horse stallion, a horbra, hebra, zebrinny or zebret.
  • Zonkey: Offspring of a zebra and a donkey. Also zonkey, zebonkey, zebronkey, zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, zedonk and zebadonk. Awesome.
  • Zony: Offspring of a zebra and a pony. If the pony happens to be a Shetland, you may also call the resulting foal a “Zetland.”

That should be enough to get you started. Now you can look forward to your next barn raising or plowing party with confidence. Don’t forget to rub some dirt into that new straw hat.



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