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Monday, July 16, 2012

The weather is great. If you're in the construction business

Once again, I find myself sounding like a farmer. I have 15 acres of "hay" that's under duress from the lack of moisture.  I was looking at my old posts and it was just about one year ago that I was lamenting how wet it was.  The field had spots with standing water.  The corral had evolved into an ankle deep mucky mess.  Water was flowing into my basement through the foundation and back out into a southern pasture through a gray water discharge pipe. I was feeling reasonably smart at that point for selecting an alfalfa variety designed to withstand wetter than average conditions.  That gloating would end a few weeks later as the rains dried up and the field turned into a weed infested mess.

This year I replanted parts of the field due to the prior year's crop failure. It was going along pretty well and then, once again, the rain stopped and has stayed stopped.  What rain we got seems to have We got a mixed bag of production from the 15 acres which aggregated to 16 large rounds and 200 small squares of "hay" that looks more like straw than hay.  At this point I'm skeptical that we'll get a second cut unless we get some cooler weather and more moisture.  Also, at this point, survival of what was planted this year is at risk. 

Getting that first cut up was a mess.  It seemed as if Murphy's Law was making things that were going wrong going even more wrong. It made me wonder if Murphy had a twin brother that showed up to help him in special situations like mine. 

I'd deferred cutting during in ideal conditions because I wanted square bales and the guy that was going to do it for me had another week left of berry production on his farm that he had to deal with.  Of course, the next two weeks were cluttered with much need rains that prevented cutting but was barely enough to nourish the crops. Eventually my baling guy came over.  By then the alfalfa had been fully bloomed a couple of weeks and the oats in parts of the field had gone beyond milk stage to fully mature oats. That's not what I wanted, but there was still some good oat hay remaining.

My friend couldn't get to us to cut the hay so I asked another farmer if they could cut it.  They could and did.  In that same phone call I found out that latter farmer is also doing small squares and they have some very new and very expensive hay equipment.  "New" + "Expensive" = "Reliable."

I asked the neighbor farmer to do the north 1/2 of my field in round bales.  My friend would do the south 1/2 in small squares. 

The hay was supposed to be cut on that particular Sunday or Monday.  It didn't get cut until Tuesday. My neighbor got it raked on Wednesday and it was ready to bale on Thursday.  The north 1/2 was baled in no time on Thursday afternoon  The small square baler showed up Thursday evening.  Keep in mind we were then dealing with temps in the high 90 degree range with heat indexes well over 100 degrees.  Nonetheless, baling commenced.   We got 26 bales into baling when the baler broke down.    After a couple of hours of messing around with the baler, trying to get it working, we finally gave up.  I called my farmer neighbors and asked if they could finish the field in large rounds.  I preferred that to it getting wet.  They said they'd be there the following morning (Friday).

On Friday morning I woke up to damp sidewalks.  I figured it hadn't rained much and that my hay would get baled that afternoon.  It didn't.  It rained that night about 1/2 inch.  Being the conflicted farmer, I was thrilled for the moisture for the field to spur new growth, but I was disappointed that my hay on the ground had gotten wet.

I called my friend and he agreed to come over and rake it to help in dry out.  He raked it, but I was out in the field the next day checking to see if was drying and found that he'd only raked about mid way through the rows. The bottoms of the wind rows never got turned and they were still soaked.  My friend came back with his rake and set it lower and turned the rows again.

The next day my farmer neighbors, unbeknownst to me, came over with their wheel rake and raked the field again.  That combined a couple of wind rows into one row making them much bigger rows.  Meanwhile, my friend called to tell me his baler was fixed and did I want him to come over to finish baling.  By now we're into Monday and we're still dealing with sweltering conditions.  He came over and we got about 175 bales up.  That was a huge accomplishment because we broke a couple of shear bolts because the rows were too big for his baler.  We'd make progress and either a bolt would break or the baler would clog up.  As dusk was setting in and I was bordering on heat stroke, feeling shaky and nauseous, we called it quits.  The plan to was to resume baling on the following Thursday. 

I got a call on Thursday asking if we could resume baling on Friday.  I agreed.  It was still extremely hot and there was no rain in the forecast.

On Friday I learned that my friend's tractor was broken down. I called my farmer neighbors to see if they could finish the field.  They said "sure," but they couldn't get to it until the following Monday afternoon.  They were in IN for a wedding and wouldn't be back until then.  I said that they were my best option and Monday would be find.  I then commenced praying for no rain.  At that point, the only real threat was isolation, pop up type storms.  It didn't rain then and hasn't since.

On Sunday I got a call from my friend. He said his tractor was fixed and would I like him to come over on Monday to bale the hay.  I told him "no way."  I was heading out on Tuesday for a trip to the east coast and I had other errands and chores to deal with on Monday.  I found out later that his tractor had broken down yet again doing his own hay.  My neighbors showed up on Monday as planned and completed baling, with nary of drop of sweat off my brow, in about an hour.  The first cut was done, three weeks and two rainfalls after being cut. 

I've asked my neighbors to do my second cut.  Perhaps I'll be fortunate and there will be a second cut. If not, I'll be like a lot of other farmers and consider the year another "bust."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good Fences, blah, blah, blah

If you go back in my blog you'll find a post about good fences making good neighbors.  Turns out that good fences can promote good marriages too.  You see, my failure to build a fence around our berry garden has led to more than a little dissension in the Bailey household.  This is because, invariably, somebody leaves a gate open and the sheep, invariably, head straight for the berry garden.  Forget that lush, nutritious grass between the open gate and the berry garden.  But nooooo, those strawberry plants and the leaves of the raspberry plants with their herbal legerdemain, are the primary target of the formerly incarcerated ovines (this even stumped spell check. For the uninformed, Ovine is Latin for "damned sheep.")

In my prior post I shared with you my adventure of chasing the sheep out of the garden (and over hill and dale to spare the berry plants.)  In my post I claimed that I had saved the berry plants/bushes.  Not entirely accurate says Mrs. Bailey.  Turns out there was some damage, but nearly to the extent of prior incursions into the realm of the berry patch by the sheep. 

As I also alluded to in my prior post, the sheep are capable of inflicting serious damage to the berry plants/bushes by systematically stripping the leaves off bushes and uprooting entire strawberry plants.  In fact, the sheep have done that. Repeatedly. Again and again over the last three years.  OK.  So nowhere will you find in my prior posts any claims by me or anybody else that I'm a smart farmer.  I just have a very long learning curve and am an eternal optimist that all gates will be closed when somebody goes through them. 

Mrs. Bailey, being the more practical (realist) farmer, although I often find her to be far more idealistic than me (if I'm being realistic she tells me I'm being pessimistic), found a free picket fence on Craigslist.  She promptly called and advised me that the guy would hold it for the day for us.  I hooked up the livestock trailer and drove to West Des Moines and picked up about 250 feet of very nice picket fence panels and posts.  We took the fence home and put it in the barn.  And there it sat for three years until a few weeks ago. 

In light of my recent adventure with the sheep again getting out, in spite of my diligent efforts to contain them by constantly checking gates, I committed to installing the fence.  I woke up early a few Saturday's (by my standards anyway) and took the two little girls into Earlham for breakfast (a now weekly tradition).  Around 10:00 a.m. I was at the rental place in Desoto to pick up the post hole digger.  I'd intended to pick up the two man digger but the rental guy assured me the one man would work fine.  I was skeptical but it turned out to be good advice.  It's much lighter and easier to handle.  My back aches, but I'm guessing using the two man would have been debilitating.

The plan was to install the fence to protect not only the berry garden, but the main garden as well.  This is about a 200' square area bordered on one side by a wind row of evergreesn that's backed up a pasture fence.  Part of another side has some existing crappy fence that will require a chain saw to clear the area.  So the plan was to locate the corner post in the SE corner of the planned enclosure and move west and north from there.  As they say, a good plan executed poorly is better than no plan at all.  Let me be clear, execution was lacking on that day.

The first attempt at a hole for the corner post was  quickly aborted at about six inches.  The digger refused to bite through the compacted gravel and dirt at the edge of the drive.  I moved the hole about two feet further from the drive and met with success.  Our corner post was inserted and packed into place.  Now we could start marking for the next few holes and get drilling.

I guess I haven't mentioned I've never installed a picket fence or any other decorative type fence.  My limited experience consists of weaving woven fence lines using round fence posts intermingled with metal fence posts.  Since the fences are out in the pasture a modicum of straightness is sufficient for my needs. What is important is that the livestock can't get through, under or over the fences. 

While my prior fencing experience was helpful, it wasn't sufficient to overcome the shortcomings of my two dimensional brain which has trouble computing N, S, E, W and up and down for each post.  Not only is it important for the post to be vertical in the hole, it also need to be the proper distance from the prior post so that the panels will fit properly.  Too far apart and the panel can't be nailed to the posts.  Too short and it won't fit without being cut. 

Further, as I quickly noted after about four posts, the height of the posts are important, not so much for structural reasons, but more so for aesthetic reasons.  To further complicate this process was the mild rolling terrain of the area that I was fencing.  This was most notable with the corner post being in the lowest area that I was fencing.  My two dimensional brain trying to digest the implications of a three dimensional fence was making my brain hurt.

Now I need to back up just a bit to the point where we were marking our holes.  I started by grabbing one of the panels to measure how long it was.  It measured out to six feet which I thought was odd since I would have guessed the panels would be eight feet.  Nonetheless, the boys (another factor to contend with) and I proceeded to mark the areas to drill using a tape measure.  I'd already set up a line on the ground to make sure we stayed in a straight line.

We drilled the next three holes and that's when I noticed my first faux pas.  We hadn't really been paying attention to the depth of the holes.  That meant that we had a small, rolling wave of fence post heights with the corner post that started it all much lower than the others. 

I'd originally planned to install the panels as the posts were installed.  I was going to use my nail gun and had one of the boys drag the compressor and electrical cord out to where we were working.  I quickly realized that the nails would be way too short.  That meant I'd be screwing the panels on instead.  I decided to run to the hardware store for screws and asked the boys to continue digging holes while I was gone.

I returned about 20 minutes later to one post installed that was wobbly enough that a crow would have had trouble keeping its balance on the top.  The next hole was obiously off by about six inches. 

And then yet another revelation.  Stepping away from the job and allowing my brain a break started an epiphany of sorts.  Somewhere along the way those stray synapses in my brain started to connect and wonder why that section of fence I'd measured was only six feet and not eight.  I went to our pile  of panels and, lo and behold, almost all of the other sections were eight feet.  That meant that of the six holes we'd dug and the same number of fence posts installed, only five of the six had to be removed.  The first because it was too deep and the four others because the spacing was wrong. Alas, the non-blushing longeshormen, and my nearby kids, were safe as nary a tool or angry word was thrown.  The mistakes were mine, except for the off center holes dug by my progeny.  But, that wouldn't matter because not only was the hole off center by six inches, it was also off by another two feet in spacing from the prior hole. 

Essentially, two hours into our fence installation, we were starting from scratch.  But, lessons were learned.  I switched from a tape measure to an 8' board to measure distance between posts.  I also got better at watching to make sure the post was as close to perfect vertically and that it was at the right depth.  By the time we quit working on Saturday evening, we had posts in for 96' of fence.

Sunday was another cool day with conditions pretty darn near perfect for fence work.  Seth had track practice in the afternoon so I didn't even get started fencing again until almost 4:00.  But I'd rented the post hole digger on Saturday and had it until Monday morning at no extra charge.  Two of the boys helped me when I started digging holes but, after about six holes were dug, I noticed that I was on my own.  I had six holes dug, only two more posts installed and another six holes to dig and ten posts to install.  Undaunted, I plugged away and a mere two hours later, all of the holes were drilled, posts installed and even a gate temporarily installed.

This all started about six weeks ago and here we are with 90 degree plus days now and for the foreseeable future and I still have yet to put the three final panels on one side.  I also still need to make and install a gate on the other side.  Procrastination is the only excuse.

Having not yet completed the fence the berry garden was again accosted by the sheep last week.  We had them in a temporary paddock made with electric netting. I'd checked the fence the day before and it was fine.  The next morning, while I was out of town, Lorraine woke to a gun shot. She knew by that alone the sheep were out.  We don't know if the neighbor across the drive was shooting at them or just to scare them, but she was rattled.  I'm thinking that the wind/thunderstorm the night before blew a section down low enough for the sheep to jump over.  Once one goes, they all go.  They broke out of the paddock into the hay field full of young oats and orchard grass yet, they opted to walk about 100 yards to a gate that opens into our yard.  From there, and totalling ignoring a plethora of lush, uneaten grass, they headed up the driveway and for the berry garden and then towards our neighbor's yard. 

For now at least, no more temporary paddocks outside of areas with proven fencing.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Damned Sheep!

When it comes to blogging I've been a real slacker.  My last post was in September of last year.  The lack of blogging is probably associated with the lack of excitement on the farm over the winter.  Good news for the farmer but pretty boring as far as blogging goes.

We made it through what turned about to be a pretty mild winter.  Hay usage was way below what I'd projected.  I'd anticipated having to buy some this spring to supplement what I'd bought last fall.  But, because of the unseasonably mild weather the amount of hay consumed by our livestock left some reserves that we can feed this summer if we get a typical dry spell and nominal grass growth. 

Lambing started a about eight weeks ago and promptly stopped after one ewe delivered.  It was another six weeks before a second ewe delivered.  Over the past two weeks the deliveries have increased from a trickle to a fairly steady group of young lambs, the most recent being a set of triplets on Easter Sunday and a single this past weekend.  We still have about ten more ewes yet to deliver.

About three weeks ago we also had our first baby llama ever born on the property.  It was a white female, with a grey head.  Very fun to watch as she scampers away from the lambs that apparently scare her.  She's still pretty shy and will walk up to Lorraine and the girls but they still can't tough her.  At about three months old we can start offering her treats like grain that will hopefull increase her level of trust with us.

All of those births are fun and exciting, in a good way.  Yesterday was exciting, but not in a good way.  we usually check for lambs in the morning.  Lorraine was running late and headed out the door asking me to check on the sheep.  I lounged for a few minutes and finally headed out the door only to find the sheep spread in the back yard with several in the berry garden.  We'd worked hard each of the last three years trying to get strawberries, raspberries and gooseberry plants going, only to have the sheep escape and strip the leaves off the bushes and devour the strawberry plants.  Suffice it to say, had the neighbors been home when I saw the sheep in the garden, they've have blushed even if they were longshoremen. 

My first reaction was to rush the sheep in the garden to save the plants.  They scattered as expected.  After a quick review of the plants in the garden I assumed that they'd just gotten there because nary a leaf had been touched on the plants. 

Finding the berry garden still intact my next mission was to get the sheep back into a fenced area.  They headed towards one of the gates to a paddock I didn't want them in.  Not letting them get into a fenced area and then dealing with where to put them next was a huge mistake.  I turned them back towards another gate, deluding myself into thinking that actually go back into a corral that had nothing to eat.  That's was the "stupid farmer" trying to out think stupid sheep.  Instead of the sheep calmly streaming through the open guide as I'd planned, they instead to the approach of "divide and conquer" and split into two groups heading in different directions.  Meanwhile the sheep who hadn't yet escaped, escaped along with the mamma llama and her new baby. 

I wasn't too concerned about the new escapees as I figured if I got a few headed in the right direction the rest would follow, as they always do.  What I hadn't anticipated was the mad dash that half the flock made towards the newly planted hay field.  The same hay field that had just received about four inches of rain the night before.  But, the "stupid farmer" had a strategy of chasing them across the hay field and through another open gate.  Of course they had no interest in going where I wanted them too.  They instead took a beeline south, instead of west into the gate.  I gamely followed them across the muddy field, attempting to make anybody in earshot to blush that hadn't already.  I can say with confidence that primal scream therapy is a hoax.  The sheep ignored my and I didn't feel any better other than when I bent over, hands on knees, to catch my breath.

Now when I said I folllowed them gamely across the field I didn't mention a couple of brief stops to pull my shoes, without feet in them, out of the mud.  I grabbed the shoes and proceeded in stocking feet through a waterway and back into the muddy field, trying to drive the sheep back to the north and through another gate I'd opened into the corral which, incidentally, is right next to the slightly opened gate to another paddock that all the sheep had escaped through earlier which started this whole fiasco.

Getting the sheep into the paddock I wanted them in was further complicated by the fact that we had some electric netting with part of it laying on the ground.  I figured that they'd just jump across the fence on the ground into the grassy paddock and I'd get them through a gate I wanted them to go into.  Some did, some didn't.   I grabbed a hand full of the netting to step across it where it was still standing, not knowing that Mrs. Bailey, the smarter farmer in the family, had hooked up the fence charger to it.  Mercifully the fact that part of the fence was laying on the ground took quite a bit of the bite out of the electric charge.  But, a few more longeshoremen were now blushing than before. 

The few sheep (I'm now dealing single handedly with three separate groups) headed toward the gate but had no interest in going through it.  They bolted to follow the other half of their previous mini-flock back towards the gate that they'd gone through to get into the hay field that now had a multitude of hoof and foot prints where none were before.  I latched the gate I'd previously unlatched and then followed the sheep back out of the hay field to find that the half of the flock I'd previously left behind to give my feet a mud bath were back in the berry garden.  Surely no longeshoremen remained that hadn't yet blushed after this verbal outpouring from the depths of my being.

It was clear at this point they weren't going to go back into the corral I wanted them in.  So, I decided to push them through the fate they'd originally volunteered to go through had I just opened it then.  They still weren't very willing and I was still chasing a stray or too out of the garden only to see another three sneeking behind the machine shed to raid my neighbors garden.  Fortunately I went around the machine shed the other way to head them off at the pass as they say and pushed them back towards the gate that I wanted them to go through.  By now I have about 30 head of sheep spread over about an acre parcel with no volunteers to go through the desired gate. 

I started pushing a small group towards the gate thinking that the rest would follow if I only got just a few started which is normally the case.  In this case they decided to redefine "normal."  I got about ten to head in that general direction when they veered right and into our other garden.  I pushed them out of there and finally a few headed toward the now open gate, only to stop right at the gate.  Fortunately this is an alley that's blocked by fence on both sides so, as long as I was behind them, that's where they would stay with the only option to go forward through the gate.  I "pushed" a little harder and the first small batch was into the enclosed pasture.  I then went back to get the remaining sheep and llamas (mamma llama and baby llama had been joined by the daddy llama who had escaped during the earlier mud bowl event in the hay field).

Now I've never owned pigs to get a first hand experience with being "pig headed" but I was facing a male llama and a small group of sheep who epitomized that expression.  Mamma llama was complient with baby llama at her side, but the rest of the sheep from hell weren't. 

Have you ever held one of those squishy balls that keeps squirting out of your hand?  This little flock of bandits acted the same way.  Seemed like no matter which way I tried to get them to go straight towards the gate, they'd splinter into smaller groups and go in different directions.  I was eventually able to get the group headed towards the gate.  With momentum on my side I saw victory in sight.  Just as I was about to get them into the alley way, some veered right into the garden and the others backtracked.  Of course, it was easy to push them out of the garden but it took a bit more effort to make them turn at a right angle into the alley way.  With that group headed towards the paddock the others lurking behind followed.  Alas, more than 30 minutes after I'd first witnessed the sheep in the berry garden, victory was mine!  Damned sheep! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Stupid is as stupid does." Mrs. Gump

Have you ever done something really, really stupid and then, done the same, really, really stupid thing again?  I confess, I have.  And I got away with it twice without anybody getting hurt.

As I was recovering from the minor carnage of my repeat effort at stupidity, I thought about Lorraine's mantra of looking at life as an adventure.  This certainly fit the bill.  It also occurred to me that I was blogging out our "adventures" and I had to make the decision of whether to slink away quietly and never share with anyone what happened, or, I could fess up and share it with the world in the hopes they wouldn't do the same stupid thing.  As you can probably surmise, I've opted for the latter.

My first major stupid occurred in 2007, I think it was, on a trip to MN to pick up our first Icelandic sheep.  That's plural for sheep as we were stopping at two separate farms before returning home with our load of four Icelandics.  First though, a  little fun was to be had on a tour of the Mall of America.

Keep in mind this trip involved towing our 1986 livestock trailer.  The color of the trailer is different shades of rust.  Suffice it to say, we weren't going to impress anybody with this trailer.  But, that's not the point of this story, is it?  The point here is that I dragged a trailer behind our Excursion from Iowa to Minnesota and we're now cruising the Mall of America parking lot for  a place to park.  And, being the efficient guy that I am, I wanted to park as close as possible to the entrance as possible like everybody else.  Not knowing the area at all I found myself driving up a ramp to an elevated parking ramp.  Getting to the top of the ramp though, I realized it was a covered parking garage and that I wasn't going to fit with my big Excursion dragging a big livestock trailer.  I nimbly, if I do say so myself, backed out, got turned around and headed back down the ramp to the parking lot where anybody else dragging a trailer and having at least one little lick of common sense would park.  Feeling pretty proud of myself I moved down the ramp and hit a speed bump a little faster than I should have and, before I could do, well, anything, I realized that I was going faster than my trailer.  The trailer had bounced off the hitch and was now following me down the ramp.  Since the tongue of the trailer was now down on the pavement it was slowing, but certainly not stopping.  And I wasn't steering it anymore either (that's apparently why the laws state that there are to be chains attached from the trailer to the bumper, in case something like this happens so something like this doesn't happen).  I very quickly realized I needed to stop that thing before it got any more out of control.  I swerved in front of the trailer and let it hit the Excursion which I quickly braked to a stop.  Major catastrophe averted.

I got out of the Excursion and walked back to the trailer.  As far as I could tell the only damage was the front end of the trailer pushed in and a nice sized dent on the upper part of the rear quarter panel of the Excursion.  Both were still drivable. 

Now, this trailer is really, really heavy and, try as  I might, I couldn't lift the tongue back onto the hitch.  I asked Dani, my daughter, to help, but the two of us still weren't strong enough.  Then, like a gift from God, a good Samaritan pulled up behind me.  And, God bless him, he not only helped me lift the tongue back onto the hitch, but he also gave me an out for looking incredibly stupid and inept.  He said, "so, looks like somebody must have messed with your locking collar."  Yep, that's it!  It was somebody else's fault that the locking collar wasn't engaged to keep the trailer from falling off the hitch when I hit a bump.  Of course, he assumed that I'd been parked in the mall and that some vermin of a human being intentionally messed with my hitch.  And, of course, I didn't say anything to dissuade him of that belief.  I just grunted an, "I guess," thanked him repeatedly and we both moved on our way.

When I got back into the Excursion I was really rattled.  I was literally shaking from the burst of adrenalin coursing through my veins.  And then I started catastrophizing.  It occurred to me that I'd probably not engaged the locking collar on the hitch when I'd left IA.  I could have hit one of hundreds of bumps along the trip that could have caused the trailer to drop off the hitch.   That included while driving 70 mph on the interstate.  I then had visions of the trailer careening across the median into oncoming traffic.   It also occurred to me that the only way to make that worse would have been for it to happen on the trip home with livestock in the trailer. 

Now, it's possible that someone might have messed with the hitch while we were parked at a restaurant or rest area on the way home, but it's more likely this not too smart farmer had a lot to do with the oversight.  That being realized there on the ramp at Mall of America's parking garage, I promised myself I would check that hitch every time I got into the vehicle for the rest of my life, or as long as I owned the trailer, which ever was shorter.   And I did, until this morning.

This is where it really pains me most.  Having to admit to doing the same stupid thing twice.  

I got up a little earlier than usual this morning to run a couple of lambs over to the Redfield Locker.  We needed some additional inventory for the upcoming Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market (we'll be there Saturday, October 1st by the way).   Evan (my son) had hooked up the trailer the night before and we'd loaded the two lambs so they'd be ready to go in the morning.  I vividly remember looking at the collar and then checking the connector for the lights since they weren't working.  I wasn't too worried about the lights since I'd be driving in the day time.  In my mind, the locking collar was engaged.

The delivery part of the trip was uneventful other than seeing my neighbor to the west nearly drive off the westbound ramp as he was heading onto I-80.  But he didn't.

After arriving at the locker I unloaded the lambs and gave my instructions for processing.  I jumped into the Excursion and pulled out of the locker's parking area.  I heard an unusual metal on metal bump as I drove out of the lot.  I thought to myself, "self, you should probably check that hitch."  But, self wasn't listening and rationalized, "I know I checked that hitch last night when Evan hooked it up.  It's fine."  Surely that kind of talk is the work of Satan himself because, after another two blocks, I hit a modest bump in the road.  I instinctively looked in the rear view mirror and verbalize in my mind, "Oh $%#T," as I watched the trailer sending up a spray of sparks from the pavement, veer to the left, up over a curb and into Heartland Coop's gravel parking lot.  I cruised parallel to the trailer for about 25 yards, willing it to stop as it headed towards two small, above ground fuel tanks.  I envisioned a fiery blaze as the trailer skidded to a halt a mere three feet from the first tank.  I pulled into the parking lot and, looking around, hoped that nobody had witnessed this embarrassing feat.  If anybody saw it, they weren't coming out to check on me or try to help.  Using the word "fortunately" here is like calling a three legged dog with a broken tail and a bite out of his ear, "Lucky," but I was fortunate nothing was damaged.  No cars, no trucks, no pedestrians and, mercifully, no flaming carnage.  And I was fortunate nobody saw what happened.

I was able to push the trailer away from the tank enough to back to the Excursion to the hitch, but, as was the case at the Mall of America, I wasn't strong enough to lift it.  I figured if anybody had witnessed the event they'd come out to help but, either nobody saw it or, if they did, they weren't willing to help.  Or, worse, they saw it and just stayed inside looking out the windows wondering how a not too smart farmer was going to solve his problem, all well meeting their entertainment quota for the day.

This escapade took place about a block from Redfield Feed.  I was loathe to have to ask for help, but I'm sure Dave at the feed store would if I asked.  The problem was he wasn't open yet and I wasn't sure if he opened in 15 minutes or 45 minutes.  I had to figure this out on my own.

I found my bottle jack for the Excursion.  The problem was, I had to put it about 1/3 of the way back because the jack wouldn't fit under the trailer anywhere closer to the tongue.  I hoped it would raise it enough but wasn't optimistic.  I was right.  I jacked it up as high as I could and put my spare tire under the edge of the trailer on the hitch side of the jack to keep it higher off the ground than it was before I jacked it up.  I then moved the jack to the hitch side of the spare and was able to get the tongue up high enough to pull back the Excursion up and get the ball under the tongue.  After I lowered the tongue onto the ball I engaged the locking collar and checked it twice to make sure it was engaged.  Total time lost, about 20 minutes. 

Now, this has left me wondering just what happened when Evan hooked up the trailer.  I don't know if he actually engaged the locking collar.  I do know that I looked and I saw, or at least I thought I saw, the collar was engaged.  So, is this sort of like those times when you're at an intersection in your car and you look both ways, see that it's clear, only to pull out in front of a motorcycle?  We sometimes see things but, because we're distracted, they don't process the way they should.  I know that I had a habit of checking the hitch regularly, but I didn't this morning, so I guess it's not really a habit.

How stupid is that?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Zephyr 2003-2011

I have another blog that is titled, "... and then it died."  That one is about the Bailey's living their lives of "adventure" which sometimes includes livestock meeting their untimely ends on our farm.   Sometimes the "adventures" make more sense in my other blog.  Sometimes they belong in both.  Like this one.

Death once again visited our farm. This time it took one of our more beloved guests on the farm.

About four years ago we were offered three free wethers. Their names were (are) Sam, JR and Zephyr. I'm not sure who named them or why, but I do know that the person who had them before us couldn't keep them and wanted to find them a good home. As I've said before there's no such thing as a free llama or any other kind of "free" animal. But, I can say that some animals are closer to being free than others. These three Romney crosses fit that description. Our primary up front costs were the trip to Letts, IA, near Muscatine, to pick them up. At 8 miles to the gallon and a 352 mile round trip, you can do the math. As wethers they weren't going to give us lambs neither as mothers or fathers. Their sole purpose on our property would be to deliver us nice fleeces once a year. Two of the three wethers did that and more.

"The Boys" - J.R., Sam and Zephyr from L-R

Sam's fleece was always thinner and not all that desirable to home spinners. Also, unfortunately, Sam was far less stout that either Zephyr or JR. He succumbed during the winter a couple years ago. We had sheared the "boys," as we called them, in October. That's usually more than enough time for a sheep to regrow sufficient fleece to keep them warm. But poor Sam shivered incessantly even early on that winter. I think he just wore out trying to keep warm.

Of the three boys, JR was the problem child. He was both a pain in the butt on the one hand and a wonderful source of fleece on the other. He was so skittish and contrary that he'd bolt the opposite direction I was trying to herd the flock. Sometimes I'd get the flock moving in the direction I wanted only to have JR bolt off in another with several sheep following. Typically it's futile to try and get the remaining sheep in the flock continuing in the intended direction. They wanted to follow JR and the few other wayward sheep. That meant getting them all together in a group again and starting the process of moving them all over again. He eventually settled down a bit, but he was never going to be seeking attention from his shepherds. On the other hand, JR's fleece has been coveted by hand spinners that we know. Not only do the hand spinners like the way it looks and feels, we liked it because of its size.

JR in Winter

While JR lives on, we lost Zephyr late last week. I knew his time was short. He was nine years old which is pretty good for a sheep. In recent months he'd lost a lot of weight. About a week ago I went out there and saw him staggering from weakness. Lorraine suggested taking him to the locker but I didn't have the heart. He was down to skin and bones and he was more like a pet than livestock.

One of my favorite Zephyr pictures, taken by my son-in-law Jordan

I'm guessing Zephyr was bottle fed because he liked to be around people. He liked to have his head and back scratched, sometimes leaning into you as you tousled the wool on his head. And he was very patient and tolerant of the kids even to the point of letting them ride on his back. I always kidded that he reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh. He was so lethargic with a kind of mopey look on his face, locks of wool hanging over his eyes and with his head hanging down. Truth be told, he think he was actually pretty happy on our farm.

Of all of the sheep we've had I don't recall any that were like Zephyr. It was not uncommon for us to be sitting out in the pasture and for Zephyr to come and lay his head on our knee to be petted. I've heard Lorraine shriek on more than one occasion, thinking that something was about to bite, sting or do something else equally unpleasant to her. She would turn only to see Zephyr with his nose to her ear, waiting to be petted.

I think every farm needs a Zephyr. He will be missed.

I wonder who will take his place in our hearts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hay finally cut

After much procrastination on my part in looking for someone to bale our hay and, after failing to find anyone willing to do it on shares, I asked the Ory's to cut it for me on a custom rate basis.  That got done on Tuesday.  There's lots of hay on the ground now, but cutting it didn't improve the quality.  I'm yet to take  a stroll out there to see what was underneath that weed infested mess.  Hopefully there's still some good potential for the alfalfa and orchard grass to grow a bit before the first frost and establish a strong root system and some good top growth to reduce winter kill.  I now need to decide what, if any, soil amendments I want to put down now that will make that field healthier.  I know for sure that I need to do everything I can to promote growth of the alfalfa and grass next spring and summer to help choke out the fox tail that will inevitably be growing next year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farming can suck sometimes.

If you read one of my early posts you would have learned about my adventure in getting my hay field planted.  We put in alfalfa, orchard grass and oats.  The field was planted late, going in on 6/3/11.  We promptly got scads of rain that created ruts and washed a small portion of my field down a slope, leaving a sparsely seeded area on the high side and densely seed area on the downside.  Those torrential rains were followed by...nothing but a few light sprinkles over the next ninety days.  Now, granted, it wasn't nearly as bad as TX has been this year with their draught, but I watched at least three storms barreling towards our farm veer to the north or south and completely miss us. 

I watched the field over the last three months go from a stand of oats with strong potential to a weed laden field full of oats smothered out by fox tail and other unwanted growth. 

I asked a friend a couple of weeks ago if they would be willing to bale the field into small squares for me.  They came to look at it and felt it was to weedy to make use of as small bales.   They suggested I put it into large rounds.  I contacted Steve Ory (remember Steve from my AI post earlier?) and he put me in touch with his nephew Dan Ory.  Dan took at look at it and said they weren't interested in baling it on shares (they keep 1/2 and I keep 1/2) but they would do it on a custom basis, which means I'd have to pay them in cash to bale it.  They suggested a few names I could call about doing the hay on shares.  Since there's so much weed seed in it the hay would best be used by someone with a feedlot. Nobody wants to put that much weed seed on their pastures.  I made three calls.  Two never called back and the third didn't have a use for the hay either.  I'm out of names and I need to get the hay cut to expose the alfalfa and orchard grass below so that they can grow a bit before the first frost which is coming soon most likely.  That pretty much means I'll need to pay to have it baled and hope I can sell it all, and quickly.

My venture began with the hopes that I could raise a nice stand of oat hay that I could feed to my livestock. If harvested early enough we might then even have a second cut of nice alfalfa/grass hay that I could sell with the proceeds used to pay off the ag loan we took earlier in the year to pay for all of the field work.  Due to my ignorance I managed to let the fox tail go to seed and the oats get over mature which has reduced the value of my hay by probably 50%.    That's going to be an expensive education.