Jan 18, 2023

Exploring Outdoors Kansas: Farming, Everglades style

Posted Jan 18, 2023 10:30 AM
Steve Gilliland
Steve Gilliland

One of the many fond memories I have growing up as an Ohio farm kid was of something called John Deere Days. Back in my generation, local farm equipment dealerships were small and as numerous as ice cream flavors. John Deere Days was an annual winter event, about this time each year, where all John Deere dealerships in Ohio (and maybe nationwide) circulated a film (now do you realize how long ago that was) that depicted unusual and often unheard-of farming operations around the country and around the world. These were interspersed with clips that high-lighted all the new John Deere farm machinery for the year, like combines with cabs and massive twelve-foot headers…YIKES! Of course, the evening began with ham sandwiches and potato chips before the film. 

The odd and extraordinary farming operations included stork farming in Europe (without storks, where would babies come from), mouse farming in Minnesota (yes, there are people who actually raise mice on purpose), worm farming in Canada, and my all-time favorite, alligator farming in Florida. The farmer harvested eggs from nesting alligators, hatched them in an incubator then moved the growing reptiles into concrete pens. Eventually they were harvested for their meat and hide a few years later; akin to how ranchers in the Midwest run cow-calf operations, only with beasts that could take-off your hand or foot, leaving it impossible for you to ever get back on a horse. The interesting part was how the farmer interacted with his “breeding herd.”

So, picture this; the segment began with the farmer bouncing along in an old 1950 something pickup and ended up parked on the bank overlooking a big swamp/pond. He got out and climbed into the bed of the pickup (amazingly he still had all four limbs) and began rattling around metal containers. By now we were all wondering what in tarnation he was doing, when out-of-nowhere the swamp water began boiling with six- and eight-foot-long alligators as they crawled out of the water and swarmed around the truck like a bunch of herd cows. He tossed them fish like a rancher tossing range cubes of hay slices to a bunch of heifers, then they each filled their mouth and slipped back into the water. He climbed back into the cab and drove off.

Here are the problems my twisted and pessimistic mind sees with this. Harvesting alligator eggs means “robbing” gator nests, plain and simple, and knowing my luck, I’d find the one momma alligator that was a “prepper” and living unseen underground with her eggs; you see the problem there? I’d dig into the nest and become lunch.

Next problem would involve the feeding process. As my luck goes, my “herd” would have that one momma that could eat fish faster than I could chuck them at her and she’d never have to get back into the pond, leaving me stuck in the back of the pickup. By then the others would be coming back for seconds and I’d be out of fish. Remember these were pre-cell phone days, so my only hope would be that my family actually missed me when I didn’t show up for dinner (which would be debatable) and they’d eventually find me curled up on the roof of the pickup, ghost-white and hypothermic.

Anyway, I guess that farmer had all those issues figured out, as do the alligator ranchers of today. But call me old fashioned, it’s just that I’d rather raise something that I could reach through the fence and scratch now and then without fear of having my arm removed in return…continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.