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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.