Murphy's Law of Farming

Murphy's law of farming
Murphy's law of farming

1.  The week your new chicks or bees arrive so will a cold snap.

2.  You'll ONLY have problems with the planter on the rows most visible from the road

3.  Animals ONLY escape when you're running late and DON”T have time to round them up.

4.  As soon as the hay is raked a pop-up rain shower will bless your farm

5.  The hay baler ONLY breaks when you're trying to beat the rain

6.  If you borrow something it will break

7.  The day that guests, or the vet, come to the farm everything goes wrong and the chores don't get done

8.  The newer your clothes the more animal slime they'll collect

9.  While lecturing your children on the importance of closing gates the one you've just latched will swing open behind you.

10.  You'll discover you're wearing your barn shoes when everyone in the grocery line starts sniffing the air and looking around.

11.  When you are trying to finish your own project (gardening, canning, cleaning) your husband will interrupt you at least 300 times. When you need his help he'll have vanished.

Feel free to add your own in the comment section...

 

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Esme' riding in the tractor
Esme' riding in the tractor

Goodbye, Esmé. You were the goodwill ambassador of the farm. I found Esmé at the Dubuque Animal Shelter and named her after a character in a short story by J.D. Salinger. Esmé was a clown, always having fun, and exceedingly happy. She loved swimming, digging, chasing, and biking.

She welcomed every new arrival. It didn’t matter if it had two legs or four Esmé welcomed everyone.

I heard the dogs bark and knew someone was coming up the lane. Cookie ran into the house and yelled, “call the vet, Esme’s laying in the driveway bleeding!”

As soon as I saw her I knew she was gone, she was so still. So small. So lifeless. Scooping her up I held her close and whispered goodbye. I kissed her head as tears trickled onto her fur. Looking up I saw the face of our friendly delivery driver, her tears fell, too.

I assured her it wasn’t her fault. Esmé must have gotten caught by the tire as she turned into the drive.

When our boys lost their first dog, Squeaky my sister gave us a book, Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The inscription reads, “Given in memory of Squeaky. January 1999.” We’ve added the names of other beloved pets. With deepest regrets I’ve added Esmé to that list.

 

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I grew up on a beautiful tree-lined street where towering Elm trees canopied the yards. One day a tree trimming company drove up the road marking every Elm with a bright red X. The following week they cut them all down, the branches and leaves thrown into a giant chipper. The street was bare. The shade gone. The cool breezes and sounds of birds disappeared. It was so quiet; not a squirrel's chatter or bird's song greeted us when we stepped out of the house. The town replaced the Elm trees with small oak and maple, which wouldn't cast shadow, provide shelter or shade for years. Today the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer is at the threshold of our county. But there's an incipient disease in the rural countryside that's a greater threat than all other tree diseases combined. It's erodible land versus the yellow Caterpillar.

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This particular caterpillar takes down a tree in seconds. It can wipe out a tree line or decimate a timber with no regard to the years it took to mature. It's nerve center focuses on destroying every living plant in its path. It doesn't discern old growth hardwoods from fast growing scrub trees. Do you remember learning taxonomy; Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species? Well, this yellow caterpillar isn't in the kingdom Animalia. It's a manufactured machine, its nerve center is the operator. This yellow caterpillar is a bulldozer. Eight dollar per bushel corn brought bulldozer's disease to our county. I thought the falling price of corn would stop the disease, but it hasn't. If anything, it's made otherwise reasonable people into fiends pushing over trees to eek out another row of corn.

Here in north-east Iowa a high percentage of the crop ground is erodible (click here for the Iowa Daily Erosion Project). Decades old trees, some centenarians, that once held ground in place, drank up excess water, provided habitat, shade, oxygen, beauty and so much more are pushed into gullies and piled at the edges of farm fields. Some farmers in our area don't find value in trees. They buy cheap land and 'sculpt' it to their needs. In the process destroyed habitats, uprooted trees, and the bare sloping hillside releases valuable top soil into waterways, never mind the toxins that follow after a crop is planted. Adding insult to injury, some of these farmers have received millions of dollars in government subsidies over the past ten years for maintaining crop ground. It's unfortunate, but often, this short-sighted nature passes down to the next generation, the destruction continues.

Having a passion for trees, especially since moving to this farm, it saddens us to see the vacant ground eroding where towering trees once stood. A previous owner of our farm hired a local 'sculptor' to clear this land. Uprooted trees filled a ravine, the remains mounded into piles for burning. We've planted orchard trees and over three hundred hardwoods with a direct seeding of Chestnut, Oak and Walnut. These will hardly mature in our lifetime, but the planting continues. Dutch Elm and Emerald Ash Borer have nothing on the yellow Caterpillar.

Baling Hay

It's hot inside the tractor cab. The fan works but there's no air conditioning. Keith took the door off so I'd have some relief. When I head west into the afternoon sun the cab heats up fast, It's like sitting in a fishbowl without the water. Turning east, the open door catches a breeze, and it cools down. I wish I could bale the hay only heading east.

DSCN0026(7)My companion, Esme is always happy. She loves riding along with me. The cha-chunk, cha- chunk, cha-chunk of the baler picking up hay is hypnotic. The constant rhythmic cycle, along with the warm air, and quiet music from the radio puts me into a trance. Every now and again the sound changes; cha-chunk, cha-chunk, cha-clink.  Sometimes shear pins break while baling the thickest hay. Esme and I get out of the tractor. She runs off in search of snakes and mice. I take the wrench, bolt, washer, and nut out of the toolbox to repair the pin. In a few minutes were back to work. Esme's in her seat, I'm in mine. I have to sit sideways facing backwards so I can watch the windrows and the baler. In the thickest rows I adjust the tractor's speed or the speed of the power take-off (PTO). Again, the rhythm of the baler along with the warm sunshine puts me into a trance. Cha- chunk, cha-chunk, cha-chunk. Esme sits up, looks out the window, starts barking. Cocking her head to one side she barks happily and wags her tail.  As I glance out the door I notice a tire rolling past us. “Where would a tire come from way out here, Esme?” It took me a second to realize that the only tire out here had to be from either the tractor, baler, or bale basket full of hay. Pressing on the clutch and brake pedal I downshifted. The tractor stopped. The baler tilted awkwardly to one side. The hub was buried into the earth. The tire continued rolling down the hill. I watched it curve. Circling, it rolled into the tall grass of the waterway, wobbled and fell over.

DSCN0024(10)I  made a call to my pit crew, who weren't happy to hear from me. They bombarded me with questions. The first, “Did you check the tires before you started baling?”

“Of course I did.” If you consider walking past the tires and noticing that they were attached to the equipment checking, then I checked.

“Did you notice the tire wobbling?”

It's hard to notice a tire wobbling when you're fidgeting with the radio. The signal's very weak out here. I don't say this out loud, that would be suicide. "Nope, I didn't notice a thing."

The discussion escalated, “How does a tire roll past without you noticing it for 50 yards? Look how long it took you to stop.” He continued with increased volume, “I hope the axle didn't crack. The hub looks alright, but we have to dig it out.”

My response is lame, “I didn't notice any problem with the baler, and it wasn't 50 yards.” Looking at the bare ground where the baler dragged across the field I calculate that it was only 45 yards. 48 yards at the most. I hate when he exaggerates.

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They unhitched the bale basket, moved the tractor and baler to level ground and began the repair.  Adding insult to injury they weren't happy when I took out the camera. They gave me 'the look'. The one that says, 'Are you seriously taking a picture? Don't you have anything else to do? Let's recap why we're here...You called us to help you fix a tire. You never mentioned that it fell off and rolled away or that the hub was buried. We've been working our butts off in the hot hay mow to get this put up before it rains. It's sweltering. We're hot. We're uncomfortable. We're very CRABBY! You've been riding in a tractor with an open door and fan blowing on you. You're drinking ice tea. You're listening to the radio. You're driving through the field with that irritatingly happy dog and enjoying yourself. Are you seriously going to take our picture, now?'

After a couple of shots I put the camera away. I brought them cold drinks and walked around the equipment pretending to inspect every inch of it. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I wanted to look efficient.

After refilling my drink, adjusting the radio and getting Esme some water we were back to baling within an hour. Our friend, Rusty Little had the hay curse but I have the equipment curse.

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DSCN2521It's quiet when I work with the bees, I work alone. Every move is choreographed ahead of time. The bee suit is too hot, the veil makes my head sweat, and I will NEVER wear gloves again.  So, I wear shorts, a t-shirt, and worn out tennis shoes. I'm not brave, actually I'm afraid of getting stung, but with everything you enjoy there are consequences. Getting stung is one of them.

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The best weapon is a calm attitude and a heavy plume from the smoker. One of my hives isn't as strong as the others. I had to re-queen it. Earlier in the spring I was installing a second package of bees and I made a mistake. I lost the queen. Well, she wasn't really lost, she flew away. Worried about getting stung, I wore a full bee suit complete with thick gloves. After shaking the bees into the hive body I got the queen cage ready. I carefully removed the plug end and stuffed a mini marshmallow into the opening. I placed my gloved finger over the opening and moved two frames apart, hung the cage, and removed my finger. Looking down I noticed the marshmallow stuck to the glove, "Damn!" I tried to push it back into the cage, but before I could get it back into the opening the queen moved to the end and lifted herself into the air, "Damn, damn, damn!"  I watched, dumbfounded, as she flew higher and higher until she disappeared from sight. I let out a desperate cry, "Oh no. Stupid marshmallow!"  I thought, there goes my queen, $90.00 just flew away because I was afraid of getting stung. Fear, a glove, and a mini-marshmallow brought my hive's production to a halt.

We covered this in beekeeping class. The instruction was very clear; "If your queen escapes stay very still. She won't recognize her new surroundings. She won't know the bee yard, or hive. She doesn't know the workers, who've surrounded her cage on her trip north, they only met a day ago. Sometimes, if you're lucky, she'll fly in a circle taking a mental picture of the area. The queen will view you, the beekeeper, as a fixture of that area. In her mental picture you belong where she belongs. It's very important to remain still and leave everything as it was when she flew off."

I waited.  No queen in sight. Two minutes - no queen. Three minutes, still no queen. Five minutes, no queen, just sweat running into my eyes and trickling down my back. Bee suits are incredibly hot. Keith was headed to town. He saw me standing still in this ridiculous outfit and called from the truck, "Hey, was there a nuclear accident at the plant?" he laughed and drove off.  I'd have given him the finger, the gloved one with the marshmallow stuck to it, but I was standing perfectly still waiting for the queen's return. Lucky for him I couldn't move for a few more minutes.  After ten minutes I gave up. I remembered one last piece of advice from class, "Never, EVER, let your queen escape."  If she does its goodbye, queen!

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Walking of the Bulls

Forget running with the bulls. A slow ambling stroll through the pasture, to reunite the bulls with the cow herd, is relaxing. They grazed their way through the valley, when they got closer they picked up the pace a little, but they were still moving slowly. There's no sense running the bulls, they have a job to do, they need to conserve their energy. The younger bull will service the heifers, the older one the cows. Given today's date calving should start around May 1, 2015.

My life's no picnic, it's a vacation!

Keith got home from a soil building conference and pasture walk which featured a speaker who ranches in the Dakotas. Last winter they fed four hundred cattle on 300 acres of cover crops and stockpiled forage. They didn't feed a single bale of hay. They also run a lodge which is a hunting, fishing, and working cattle ranch for vacationers.

Garrett and CT
Garrett and CT

Keith and I looked through their vacation packages. We were getting excited about all the activities offered. This vacation would just be for the two of us, Cookie will be in Peru, Garrett in Germany. Part of the all-inclusive vacation package is allowing guests to choose their adventure and incorporate it into their stay. Keith loves to fish, I like working with horses and cattle. Keith could spend his day's fishing and I could ride, work cattle, and experience a REAL ranch. As we searched through the website we became even more enthusiastic; jeeps and ATV's are available for the guests to use as they explore the ranch.

We looked through the price guide for each vacation package and started setting a budget.

Garrett and Fancy
Garrett and Fancy

Then I looked out my window where three perfectly beautiful, well broke, horses were grazing. “You'd like to work with the horses and calves,” Keith said. I glanced out the window in the other direction and saw a few calves running together. A couple of days ago, when we moved the cattle, one calf ran in the wrong direction. After trying to get it headed in the right direction Keith decided to rope it so it would move along with the herd. Garrett was reaching for the calf at the same time Keith was casting the rope, he caught Garrett's arm along with the calf.

Keith and Cookie fishing
Keith and Cookie fishing

“The fishing would be great for you, you haven't gone fishing in a while. It would be relaxing,” I said. Again, from our window, I looked across the hills where the Turkey River winds through the valley. It has some great fishing spots. The Big Springs Trout Hatchery is just around the corner from our farm.

“We could go on daily hikes, or drive jeeps or ATV's. We could go exploring every afternoon and at night they have a great restaurant featuring grass-fed beef,” I let out an audible sigh, “although, no one produces better grass-fed beef than us.”

"That's true,” Keith nodded, “You know, we're surrounded by hiking trails. Pikes Peak State Park and the Effigy Mounds aren't far away. We could go boating on the Mississippi River anytime we choose, it's just a few miles away. There are tributary rivers to kayak or canoe or we could use the bicycle paths, ATV trails, or drive our old jeep on any adventure we'd like.”

Suddenly I had an epiphany, “Your right! People pay money, a lot of money, to go on a vacation to experience how we live our daily life. Our life is a vacation!” Some days it's no picnic, but, apparently it is a vacation!"

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Good morning, piglets! The first of our sows farrowed Sunday morning. 10 healthy piglets were enjoying breakfast when I went to the barn. They'll stay inside for 8 - 10 days until they're big and mobile enough that eagles won't prey on them.

Our goal is to raise healthy hogs. We've been concerned about PEDV virus. The confinement hog operations in the area spread manure on the fields and there's always manure on the roads. We've been careful about washing the truck's tires and not allowing visitors for a few weeks to make sure there isn't any contamination brought to the farm. The experts say that PEDV  is deadlier in the cold months, but we're not taking any chances. Also, we don't use a feed mix with blood plasma products, just grain and fresh pasture for our pigs. There's a possible link between feeding blood plasma and PEDV. Wasn't anything learned from Mad Cow Disease? Cows are herbivores, but someone had the bright idea to feed young calves bovine meat and bone meal. The hog industry feeds porcine plasma to young pigs that aren't old enough to start eating a grain based diet. I'm proud to go against the grain of conventional farming.

DSCN0019A few years ago, when we were still living in Illinois, the planting season started as soon as the snow cover was gone, or so it seemed, anyway. The land was flat, it warmed up quickly and dried fast. The planting date seemed to get earlier and earlier each year. There was a race to be the first farmer in the fields again. Driving through the countryside you'd twist your head, turning fast and craning your neck to see who was working their ground so early in the season. I call it seasonal whiplash.

Keith slowed our truck to a crawl, then stopped just in front of the sheriff's car. It was blocking the road and the glowing red flares marked the site where a pickup truck had skidded into the ditch. The hood of the truck was peering up from the side of the embankment as the tow truck backed into place. “That looks like Buck White's truck in the ditch.” Keith strained as he looked for Buck.

It is Buck's truck. I hope he's okay,” I couldn't see anyone inside the truck. “It doesn't look damaged, I don't think it rolled.” I sat back and shut off the radio as the sheriff's deputy walked over to us. Keith rolled down the window.

Afternoon. It'll just be a few minutes until we open the road again.”

I leaned over the center console to see the deputy's face.“Was anyone hurt?”

With his hands on the door frame he leaned into the truck, “No, the drivers fine, he was looking over his shoulder when his right front tire caught the soft gravel and it pulled him into the ditch. The truck can't get enough traction in the soft ground, he just needs a tow out.” He waved to the car pulling up behind us and walked off. The audible rumbling of an engine was getting louder in the field across from us. “There's Buck's trouble,” I pointed to the farm field where a tractor was coming into view. It was moving slowly, pulling a corn planter. The doubled up rear tires were flinging mud as it dug into the soft ground. “Buck caught a case of seasonal whiplash. He jerked his head around to see who was planting this early.”

Keith laughed, “You're probably right. It seems much too early and too wet to work a field, let alone plant it. Some guys would just as well mud in their crop as wait for drier weather to plant it.” He reached for the door handle, “I'll see if Buck needs a hand.”

Buck and the deputy were standing on the shoulder of the road watching his truck roll back to the pavement. When it came to rest they all circled it checking its road worthiness. Keith patted Buck's back as they shook hands. He threw back his head, laughing. When he got back into the truck he turned to face me, “You called it. It's a clear case of seasonal whiplash”. Apparently, as Buck was coming around the corner, he saw that tractor in the field. He couldn't believe it, turning to get a second look, he swerved and caught the tire on the gravel's edge. Next thing he knew, his truck was in the ditch.

Who's planting that field?” I asked. The ground belonged to Rusty Little's family.

The Little's rented it to a guy from Boone County. That's a pretty good distance to have to move equipment. He's incredibly anxious if he's planting now. The ground's too cold.” Keith turned onto the road, heading for home.

"A farm is a hunk of land on which, if you get up early enough mornings and work late enough nights, you'll make a fortune - if you strike oil on it." -Fibber McGee

The warm spring weather has every machine shed door wide open. There is equipment parked in every farm-yard, each piece being examined. Grease guns lubricate fittings, loose bolts tightened, hydraulic hoses connected with fluids added as necessary. Anxious farmers can't wait to get into the fields again. Planting time causes every eye to turn toward the weather report. The old timers talked of the Three Iron Men and Ember days. The younger generation watches radar and consults their smart phone.  Now and again a piece of equipment moves down the road under the scrutiny of every farm it passes by. If a planter or grain drill moves along the road, while the fields are still sodden, tongues wag. No one wants to be the first in the field. The scrutiny would be too great. They also don't want to risk crop failure. However, being the last to work your fields invites criticism of your work ethic. Good weather is as critical as the planting date. Planting a few days late makes a difference. Each day, past the ideal planting date, the yield is depleted. For us, planting weather doesn't make or break our crop, we're grass farmers. Although, wet weather will certainly affect the hay crop.

So, with planting season in full swing, let's be careful. Turn your head slowly to get a better glimpse of the farmers hard at work planting their fields. You don't want to suffer from seasonal whiplash.

 

Natural Homemade Herbicide

The garden's just getting started. The broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and peas are planted. We're getting a late start this year, but there's still time. The weeds always seem to have a better start than the desirable plants.  Here's a recipe to eradicate the weeds. This is a very effective contact herbicide.It's a great alternative to glyphosate and it's not dangerous to pollinators.

It will kill any plant on contact, both good and bad, so use caution.  I use a  sponge  soap dispenser ,  when Ineed to get the weeds that are surrounded by flowers and vegetables.

Natural Homemade Herbicide Recipe:

Mix well, apply with sprayer or dish sponge  soap dispenser  Use caution; wear gloves and eye protection. 20% vinegar can cause burns on contact. Apply in dry, warm weather. A second application, within a few days of the first, may be needed for some weeds. Poison Ivy, brush, and vines will require more than one application.

Don't forget, it's almost time to put out the Bug JugsThese Insect traps for fruit trees are terrific!

Apply this carefully when the pollinators are around. Although this is a bee friendly herbicide you'll still need to use caution.

Natural News had an article about the possible connection between glyphosate and infertility. This recipe is a great alternative to Roundup.

Homemade Herbicide