Appalachia Pap Preserving/Canning

Gathering Shocks of Fodder

Growing corn for fodder


When Pap was a boy, corn was the most important crop folks grew-I guess it still is for many farmers. Corn not only helped people survive through the winter, it was also necessary to ensure the farm animals survived the winter months too.

Here in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, it was typical for folks to leave their corn in the field until it had been frosted on a few times and was completely dried out before the process of gathering was started. The corn in those days was different from the sweet corn most of us are familiar with today. It’s often called field corn.

Pap’s family’s first step in the process was to top the corn. The tops of the corn stalk were cut out just above the ears of corn. As they gathered several tops and bundled them together they became tops of fodder for the animals. Pap said tops could be stored out in the field and didn’t have to be stored in a shed or barn. The topping portion took up to a week or more to complete depending of course on how much corn you had.

Growing field corn


The second step was to gather shocks of fodder. They would go back to each stalk and pull all the dried leaves from it, tying the leaves into shocks of fodder. Pap said these were usually kept inside the barn or corn crib. This process also took about a week or so depending on the amount of corn.

The last part-was actually gathering the ears of corn. Pap said folks in this area sometimes waited as long as December to gather the corn. Leaving the ears on the stalk longer ensured the corn was completely dried out. After gathering the corn, most folks left the shucks on until they needed to use the corn. Pap said leaving the shucks on helped deter mice and weevils from getting in your corn. Although, Pap does recall some folks hosting corn shucking parties where folks gathered to shuck corn and visit with one another.

Pap’s favorite part of gathering corn was the camaraderie. Neighbors would join together to help one another with their corn. Pap said the women would always cook a big meal for the men to eat. Even though they were working in the field all day, Pap said corn gathering was still fun to him.

old bullard house


Recently Pap and I have been assisting a local historian document the oldest houses in our area. One day last, week Pap took us to the old Bollard place. I’ve drove past the old house my whole life and never realized it was there-tucked back in the woods.

Exploring old houses


We were amazed the house still had a few personal items in it even though it is falling down and slowly being reclaimed by nature. While we were there Pap’s memories started bubbling up to the surface of his mind and he recalled one corn gathering dinner from his childhood that took place in the old home.

After a day spent in the field the men were sitting down to eat. A team of horses with a wagon load of corn was standing by a couple of sheds up above the house. There was also a team of steer hitched to a wagon full of corn. The steer had real long curved horns. Pap said something spooked the steer and they took off on their own, running into the horses. One of the horses was cut by a steer horn. The horn sliced the horse’s stomach open and part of it’s insides came out. Pap said he’d never forget his Grandpa washed the horse’s guts off with soapy water and tucked them back inside it’s stomach and sewed the wound up with a piece of sea grass string. The horse lived.

Corn gathering in days gone by


Nature has laid claim to the old homeplace. It’s hard to envision the woods surrounding the house being open enough for wagons to travel through, hard to imagine folks gathering to eat in the old house. But the wagons, the corn, the food, and the sea grass stitches are still there, locked in Pap’s memories.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and the Acorn in 2009.

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  • Reply
    December 14, 2020 at 10:45 am

    While looking through some of the older blogs, I found this one. It brings back so many memories of my Grandaddy Kirby and me when I was about 6-8 years old. My sun came up and went down with my grandaddy. I thought I was helping him when he was pulling fodder or cutting the entire corn stalk sometimes and putting them in bundles for his mule. Then at other times he would just cut off the top of the stalks. He had an old butcher knife with about half the blade broke off that he used. He didn’t have much to leave me, but I have this knife and a clear looking rock he and grandmother used for a door stop. They don’t have any money value, but money cannot buy them from me. He always acted like he was glad to have me tagging along with him except for one hour each day when he would take a nap after eating his dinner ( mid day meal) and I had to go home then, he was serious about his nap he did not want anyone bothering him. Because of living next door this was not a problem.

  • Reply
    August 30, 2017 at 10:16 am

    I remember, I remember: “When the frost is on the punkin ‘n’ the fodder’s in the shock….” Thanks for bringing back memories of my dad reciting this each time we passed the farms in SW Va in the fall! Here’s a link to the whole poem.
    When the Frost is On the Punkin
    by James Whitcomb Riley

  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    August 30, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I know this is an older post, but I remember being taught to “cut tops and pull fodder” by my grandmother’s sister Aunt Avery. We cut the tops just above the highest ear of corn, and went ahead and stripped all the leaves. It’s been over 50 years, but I seem to remember the leaves were drying but not yet brittle. When 3 to 5 tops had been bundled with leaves from the stalks, a couple of leaves were tied around the bundle and it was placed upside down on a stripped, topped stalk. Later these fodder bundles were gathered into a shed or barn, and perhaps the ears were gathered in a different wagon at the same time. Stalks were plowed under at spring plowing time. The mechanical corn picker ended this labor intensive form of harvest, except for folks like Aunt Avery who wanted tops and fodder for the livestock.

  • Reply
    Maxine Appleby
    August 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    Somehow this post touched deep in my heartstrings. I can just see my Pawpaw with his long white hair, white brush moustache and those cornflower blue eyes as he taught us scruffy little redhead and blonde kids how to pull fodder. we always ended up jumping in a big pile of shucks and giggling ourselves silly. He did not scold, just stood there smiling. We were so lucky to grow up with farm chores and good loving people like him and our Mawmaw.The day always ended with Pawpaw playing fiddle on the porch while us young’uns sat with Mawmaw and ate her buttered biscuits.
    Thanks for stirring those memories back up to the top !

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for sharing the details about this, Tipper! I use every bit of my corn plants as feed for something – me, the goats, the hens – but I don’t have a big enough garden to save it for winter, the shocks get fed out to the goats a few at a time in the Autumn. By the first snow, there’ll be no trace of that corn patch except – I hope – a jar of popcorn in my cupboard 🙂

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 26, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    My mother always talked about pulling fodder for the cows. I never had to pull fodder, but at 16 I helped my father pull corn using a burlap bag over the shoulder. That was miserable enough. One reason I swore I wouldn’t be a farmer. Of course today the farmer plants and harvests sitting in an air conditioned cab.
    I grew up in piedmont area of SC. I find there isn’t much difference between mountain people and flat landers if they grew up in the country. I do like reading your posts and the comments.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Late in the afternoon and after a busy day, which included attending the funeral of a dear friend who bravely fought leukemia for over 15 years, and then finally succumbed, I sat down to read Blind Pig. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about harvesting the corn tops and fodder, and the visit to the old, abandoned house. We took much care to harvest corn tops and fodder in Choestoe, and to make fodder shocks for the drying-out and preservation of much-needed “roughage” for the farm animals. And old houses! How sad and desolate they look, hidden away with years of untrimmed growth in yards once kept presentable, and how the rafters, walls and broken windows reverberate with unsung memories. A sadness permeates such a dwelling. “Neighbors know the names of hidden dwellings” poet Byron Herbert Reece penned in his poem “Choestoe.”
    I agree with writer Jim Casada that Tipper wrote a winning sentence in her last line, even though beginning it with a conjunction! Read Tipper’s beautiful sentence and digest it: “But the wagons, the corn, the food, and the sea grass stitches are still there, locked in Pap’s memories.” It is quite good to use the conjunction BUT. It introduces the summary sentence, so aptly stated.
    “But” introduces a sentence juxtaposed against a present reality stated in this sentence: “It’s hard to envision the woods surrounding the house being open enough for wagons to travel trough, hard to imagine folks gathering to eat in the old house.”
    Such current decay and abandonment, compared to once-presentable house and happy times going on there. “But”–tells us in that one conjunction that so much has changed! And Tipper’s summary statement tells poetically that these images are poignant and real in Pap’s memory. What a beautiful post today–including comments and “language” lesson!

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    August 26, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I enjoyed reading your posting on fodder. I’ve heard my mama tell many times about gathering fodder with her siblings when they were kids. It was hard, hot work, but a time to be with neighbors and swap some tall tales.
    Wow! The mountain folks had to use what they had for medicine. I’m glad the horse lived.
    Great story!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    This brings back so many memories. We sometime stripped the fodder and dried it but most of the time we took the fodder with the corn we were to use for Cattle feed to a neighbors Hammer Mill up on Brush Creek and had it all ground together, We included the fodder and tops off our sorghum cane into the mix. We also kept the skimmings from the syrup making in barrels and added this to the chopped feed makig sure not to add to much or the cattle would have the scours. We also did our own vet work and sometimes helped the neighbors. I have helped sew up cattle, hogs and dogs but no horses. They all recovered due to or in spite of many of the patent medicines we kept on hand for wound treatment.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    I love reading your beautiful analysis of Pap’s memories, and your stories remind me of my childhood. We had lots of field corn and we stored it the same way, although I
    don’t remember the exact month.
    One day we had filled a big sled with corn and I climbed in the front for a ride to the barn. Big mistake, about that time a snake spooked ole Alice and away we went towards the barn. I wasn’t but about 6 and during the ride, I got covered up with all that corn. The horse stopped at the barn and daddy and my brothers pulled me out to safety. I never wanted to ride that sled anymore…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 26, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    There is a couple of things people did a little different on my side of the mountain:
    1. We never had wagons. Only sleds. We had horses. No steers. Although, Daddy tried to raise a bull to break as a steer once that I can remember. He got strapped for cash and had to sell it. I guess somebody ate it.
    2. Tops were everything above the ear on the plant including the stalk. Sometimes tops were cut soon after the silks turned brown but the leaves were still green. The farmers thought the plant would put more energy into growing the ear. The tops were tied in bundles using one top as string to tie the rest together. They were left in the field to dry before going to the barn.
    3. Fodder was only the leaves. Fodder wasn’t pulled, it was stripped. It was gathered as soon as the ears were mature. It was tied in bundles using a couple of leaves and tied back on a cornstalk to dry.
    4. If the ears of corn were gathered before the plant had begun to die back, i.e. sweet corn, roast nears and gritted corn, the whole stalk was cut and tied around the top with, you guessed it, a small stalk. It was then stood up with the stalks splayed at the bottom so the the wind didn’t blow it over. That was what we called a shock. The shock were left in the field to dry and often fed directly to the animals. Sometimes punkins, cushaws and candy roasters were placed under the shocks to protect them from the weather.
    5.I have seen bundles of tops stacked around a pole in the ground just like hay. Fodder was like gold though. When it was dry, it went to the barn. It had more nutrition than the parts containing the stalks.
    Nowdays, the corn kernel is all that is harvested. The rest is chopped up by the combine and left on the field as fertilizer. Our old fashioned ways used all the plants so there was little left in the field. What was left was piled up and burned in the spring. However our ways were “greener” than now. We ran our corn through the animals which produced a super fertilizer. Even the stalks and trash that were burned produced potash that got plowed back into the soil in the spring.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

    My goodness what a story of that horse surviving! I love those pictures, Tipper, and the memories you share that somehow I feel a part of. My Grandpa had a smoke house & garage in the back of his house, in town, actually…a sawmill town in Ark. I remember an old “shoemakers last” in there and my Dad said Papaw made their shoes. Funny how one old memory sparks another and another like a fire that continues to warm our hearts and connects us to each other. Thanks, Tipper. and I thank the Lord for caring for all of us. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Grampa’s farm always had loads of fodder shocks. Even with all the wooded area to play, we used to use these shocks for hiding. In my memory they seemed larger than the one pictured. He also had a corn crib with lots of slats for air. We played store in it when there wasn’t much corn. I have a very old article here somewhere that shows a very old corn shucking and identifies the shuckers who have long ago passed from this earth. I think how tolerant Grampa must have been. But, as I think back we had a young uncle who kept us in line. I still call him the apple guard.. It is a miracle we didn’t get on a copperhead or rattler.
    It is great to have a bit of history on an old house when you explore. I was amazed at all the old houses in eastern NC still standing. In the past it always seemed old unoccupied homes in this area were always burned, mostly out in the country. Perhaps it was arson to keep others from moving near a lucrative moonshining enterprise–just a guess as I have no idea why old homes and schools always burned in the country.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 26, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Tipper–As someone who has done a bit of writing on my own, read a great deal of the work of other writers, and served in editorial positions with both magazines and book publishing operations, I’ll offer one salient comment.
    Your final sentence, never mind that it begins with a conjunction, is an absolute gem. It evokes atmosphere in a powerful fashion while linking the elements of the little tale together is just the right fashion. It’s as if you sewed them all together with a literary strand of sea grass.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. While it was a cardinal sin over the course of my formal education to begin a sentence with a conjunction, the practice is fairly common today. I’d be curious whether you were taught anything about conjunctions, one way or the other, in the course of your learning. You are a full generation younger than me and pedagogical practices can change a lot in that span of time.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2016 at 8:54 am

    I remember my Grandpa Mose harvesting corn with a team of Belguims.
    I also remember him telling me about the slaughter of horses after the automobile became common. Horses weren’t worth their feed.
    He was one of the rare ones as he still bred and chose to keep them. The last foal was a beautiful chestnut filly.
    He had to let everything go when a stroke robbed his mobility.

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    August 26, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Very interesting post. Enjoyed the photos. It is sad to see old homes die where there once was so much life.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 26, 2016 at 8:28 am

    That is a perfect picture of how folks made use of everything. I love there thinking and their methodical process of first the tops of the corn, them the leaves, then later the corn itself. Each processed and stored in it’s own way. I wonder what they did with the final bare stalks, I bet there was a use for them.
    I cannot imagine washing that horse’s being washed then replaced, then stitched with sea grass AND surviving!
    Times were really different from now!!!
    Thanks for reposting this one.

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