Dealing with the dust and other irritants

Jenny Schlecht reflects on the little irritants on a farm, like the dust from pushing cattle or unloading corn and how it can affect parts of day-to-day life.

Particles of corn dust stand out against the sun in the background as a stream of corn falls out of an auger onto a pile of corn set between bales of hay.
Dust from unloading corn was a recent eye irritant Jenny Schlecht noticed around the farm.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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My eyes are a bit dry, the eye doctor told me the other day. He prescribed a warm compress for 10 minutes a day to help clear out my tear ducts.

The diagnosis was not overly surprising. I've always been kind of wimpy about my eyes, and I've always felt like maybe they were kind of dry. It has kept me from putting in my contacts in most situations, save occasional bouts of vanity or necessity. But, of course, there are always environmental reasons for the feeling that my eyes are burning that kept me from making much of it.

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For instance, the weekend before my appointment, I helped work a new set of bawling calves that had arrived at the feedlot. My job was bringing groups of calves into the building. It's a job I choose because I don't enjoy giving shots and I'm a little short for squirting pour-on if the animals are the least bit tall. The downside of the job back in the pens is that it's the one position in our processing practice that requires going outside the building. And outside means wind and dust.

Now, the recent day of working calves was relatively calm, particularly in terms of the North Dakota fall. But still, nervous calves just weaned off their mamas kick up the dirt. And I, walking alongside or behind them, am constantly in those little clouds they kick up. I found dirt that night in my ears and nose and on my face and pretty much everywhere else, so it makes sense that it also likely was in my eyes. So, I thought, of course they felt dry and scratchy.

The warm compress helped quickly, from the first time I used it, to make my eyes feel like what I assume is normal. But, then I helped unload some corn that had just been combined. As the kernels flowed out of the trailer and into the auger and out of the auger and onto a pile, where it will be fed to the calves in the feedlot, puffs of corn dust swirled around. No matter where I turned, corn dust particles pelted my face. I spent the rest of the afternoon blinking furiously while sitting at my computer.


It seems likely that the doctor's orders will help my mild plight. But I assume my daily practices of staring at a computer, interspersed with occasional chores on the farm in dirt and dust, are at least part of the cause and will continue to create annoyance.

Soon, the air will turn colder and drier, and that probably won't help either. Dust in my eyes is just one of those little irritants, like chapped skin in the cold and sweat in the heat, that comes with the territory.

I'm used to it, in any case, and I'm glad to have a plan for relief. Life on a farm will never be perfectly clean or easy, but it's worth it all the same.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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