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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Archive for July 2016

Rewarding Progress

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IMG_iP1490eWe started the day with some group exercise, walking the horses, in pairs, uphill and down, but the main event of the day yesterday was a divide and conquer effort on the ranch. I’d say we conquered. On top of that, we did so under a time constraint, because we had Cyndie’s 40th high school class reunion to attend for dinner back in our old stomping’ grounds an hour’s drive away.

My main goal was to tend to the manure composting area, which was getting overfull and in dire need of rotation. With time limited, we decided to just transfer a large portion of the old piles to a secondary storage location and dump them in one big pile for distribution later.

That plan led to selecting and preparing a new spot for a pile of (mostly) composted manure. The place we settled on, near Cyndie’s wild flower garden on the north side of our driveway, was all tall grass and weeds. We are a little sensitive about weeds right now, and I did intend to eventually knock down the growth in the pasture area over there, so my focus suddenly shifted to using the diesel tractor and the brush cutter to mow the entire area.

That’s a big project, and more than I planned to bother with at that time.

DSCN4982eCyndie volunteered to take on relocating the piles of manure on her own while I mowed —no small task— and we were off. That area on the north side of the driveway has a lot of pine trees that create quite an obstacle course for the big tractor. It turns the project into a busy process of maneuvering, offering very little physical or mental rest in the tractor seat.

I only picked off one T-post along the fence line, and hit one large hidden rock, but the number of pine branches abused was too high to count. To her credit, Cyndie hit a grand slam of progress in moving ALL of the oldest piles from our composting area.

Delilah got the short end of things for the day, as we had little time to smother her with attention before serving her dinner in her kennel and hitting the road to visit our past. The reunion dinner was located a stone’s throw from our old Eden Prairie home, at the Bent Creek golf club.

I graduated a year after Cyndie, so I was attending as a spouse, but high school lasts 4 years with multiple grade classes, so I knew many of these people as well as I know my classmates. Some were neighbors from when I grew up, others were siblings of people in my class, so it was just as fun for me to visit and catch up with folks as it was for Cyndie.

I had an additional agenda to collect information from the planners and check the number of attendees to use as reference in planning the reunion for my own graduating class, next year at this time. The first meeting for our planning committee has just been scheduled to occur a couple weeks into August.

Holy cow, August starts tomorrow! My class reunion is just a blink away.

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Written by johnwhays

July 31, 2016 at 8:45 am

Inspiration Fades

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It happens. Inspiration will wax and wane. My enthusiasm for this adventure we embarked on at Wintervale is ebbing away.

It has been a tough week for me. Where we once seemed to be enjoying a charmed life here, with progress advancing in surprisingly magical ways and solutions flowing with unexplainable ease, our situation of late has become a lot less mystical.

Have we gone off track somewhere? I don’t know. It’s life. Sometimes there are more problems than solutions for a while.

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for businesses to fail. Ours is simply failing to get started.

Full disclosure, I am writing from a state of overworked exhaustion. Why? Hay. Again. And the thought of facing today’s task of manure management, again.

DSCN4976eI threw 100 bales, 200 times yesterday, loading the borrowed trailer and unloading it. Carrying bales up and up to stack them in our shed. It is an endurance exercise where the climb gets higher as the fatigue grows ever more debilitating. At first, the bales seem light, but at the end, they feel a lot heavier.

Today, I need to move the compost piles to make room for more. Since I returned to the day-job, I haven’t been tending the piles in the daily manner I did when I was home all day. Once, every other weekend, is not cutting it.

It’s a buzz-kill.

Meanwhile, there are dangerous trees that broke off and are hung up in surrounding branches over our trail that I need to get after. And siding that needs to be scraped and stained before winter. On Monday, it will be August. Projects that should happen before winter arrives are beginning to loom large.

And we have yet to get our hay-field cut even one time this summer. It has become a field of weeds that are gleefully sowing their seeds for further domination. That is probably the biggest discouragement. It is why we have needed to trailer in more hay than before and it is the exact opposite direction from growing desirable hay ourselves.

It will go a long way to improving my outlook when that field finally gets cut and the weedy debris removed. We have decided to take a full year from hay production and plan to cut it continuously to stop the cycle of weeds growing to their seeding phase. We may also add some recommended soil enhancers and then plant a custom mix of grass seeds in hopes of achieving our goal of getting good quality hay to grow right at home.

That gives me a year of something to look forward to. More mowing. You know how much I love mowing.

Oh, by the way, our lawn tractor is not holding up to the abuse I put it through. I need to shop for something else. Maybe if I do it right, I’ll end up with a machine that I like so much it will change how I feel about cutting grass.

That’s what it is all about here: grass hay and lawn grass. Who knew I would find myself so fixated on a task to which I held such disdain in my previous years?

No wonder my inspiration has a tendency to fade every so often.

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Written by johnwhays

July 30, 2016 at 8:18 am

A Portrait

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The author, in a rare moment of leisure.

DSC06645eCHCyndie took the picture of me reading while keeping an eye on the fire last night. See, I was still working. I was tending the fire so it would be hot enough to cook burgers when company arrived. Oh, were those burgers good! Probably made even more so by the homemade buns that Cyndie freshly baked moments before.

DSC06647eEarlier in the day, Cyndie had hosted guests who had some lawn games out and it inspired me to improve the croquet setup. I made my own little “sport court” out of grass. It is set up for croquet, but could just as easily double as a bocce ball space.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to find time for that much leisure.

I need to move composting manure to make room for piling the fresh collections. Production never slows, despite my running out of space to cook it.

Before I can get to that project, we need to head out with the trailer for another load of hay to be purchased. We will be silently chanting, “No rain, no rain, no rain” the whole way there and back.

With our lawn growing faster than I can tend it, it’s a shame I can’t bale it up and save those clippings for feeding the horses in the dead of winter.

Our experience with trying to acquire good quality grass hay for horses this year, hoping to improve on the several years of less than desired content we’ve previously had, has been enlightening. We initially dove into the task of getting hay with such naiveté.

We have discovered that what constitutes “good,” when it comes to baled hay, can be a very individualized opinion. On top of that, what nature provides and farmer skills harvest, in terms of moisture content, involves a very narrow target range. Too dry and the nutrition value to animals drops considerably. Too wet and it will mold and/or spontaneously combust in a conflagration that destroys storage buildings and turns planned food stores to ash.

Different livestock have varying needs from baled fodder. One version of hay does not work for all cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. Some of the local farmers are growing hay for their cows and are kind enough to offer to sell some of it to us if we want to feed it to our horses.

It can work, but it’s a bit of a guessing game. We ended up with a batch that had too much foxtail grass which caused mouth sores in our horses. We’ve had some with an annoying amount of sour dock weed and woody stems that the horses labor to work around when grazing. It creates a mess and interferes with them getting what they want. Both horse and human get irritated.

This year we found a batch that looked like ideal grass bales. They turned out to be too wet. Then we found an even better batch, and got caught in a downpour bringing it home.

We are hoping the third time’s the charm this morning. Then maybe I’ll sneak some time to finish that book later this afternoon.

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Written by johnwhays

July 29, 2016 at 8:13 am

Spin

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Spin

Words on Images

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Written by johnwhays

July 28, 2016 at 6:00 am

Tough Life

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IMG_iP1488eBoy does she have it tough. I’m feeling envious of Pequenita’s luxurious life of napping whenever and wherever she wants.

My activity level has been too busy to get a full night’s sleep lately, let alone fit in a nap. Our weather stayed dry yesterday, so I was able to finish mowing the lawn when I got home from work.

That involved leaving the day-job early, cruising home without delay, and then changing clothes and getting out on the tractor to pick up where I left off on Monday night. It took a bit longer than usual to finish because the grass had grown extra long and thick since the last cutting.

The task was overdue.

While mowing south along the fence line of the back pasture, I spotted a couple of turkey hens and a busy brood of youngsters forging a path that led right toward where I was headed. They made an initial correction away from me into thicker grass that obscured them from view just as I was trying to catch a picture of them.

Eventually, I knew they would have to pop out for a second when they got to our trail, so I kept my phone camera pointed at the little window of path visible from my vantage point. They looked hilarious, but were too far away and their coloring too subdued for the picture to do them justice.

It is such a treat for me to see wild turkeys roaming around here. It makes the place seem a little more rustic, especially considering the alternative of one domestic feline who mostly lays around in the lap of luxury on beds and blankets, resting up so she will have energy to take another nap in the not very distant future.

It’s a tough life she leads, but she handles it oh so stoically.

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Written by johnwhays

July 27, 2016 at 6:00 am

Sheer Luck

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In the midst of a series of days with unfortunate events, there is always the possibility for a little luck. Sometimes, even a lot of luck. Before I describe my recent brush with some happy happenstance, I will regale you with the latest unfortunate incident that I was given an opportunity to experience yesterday afternoon.

It is probably immaterial to the point, but it means a lot to me and helps provide some reference for how much frustration potential existed in this situation for me to explain that I left work early yesterday to get a jump on cutting the over-grown lawn at home. MondayNight

The weather was dry and sunny, perfect for mowing, and that contrasted sharply with the expected weather for the days ahead. Monday was my best bet, so I made it a priority to get home a little early to cut the whole yard all at once.

After completing one pass around the perimeter of the front yard, the mower deck suddenly became very sloppy beneath the tractor. I stopped immediately to check things out, expecting and hoping that a mounting clip had probably come off. That wasn’t the case.

I don’t know why, but one of two mounting brackets on the deck had completely broken off. It was no longer attached at all. End of mowing, just like that. A wave of “It figures” and “What else could go wrong” washed over me.I made two calls: One to “my welder,” Gaylen, who didn’t answer, and one to our friend, George. I guess my first dose of luck was that George was home, available, and willing to try welding the bracket back on for me. This meant that I needed to unhook the borrowed trailer from the truck and go find Cyndie to help me load the deck so I could take it over to George’s.

While disconnecting the trailer, I set a locking pin on the bumper of the truck. Then I forgot about it and drove up to get the mower deck. Cyndie helped me hoist it up and closed the tailgate. I trucked over to George’s and we picked up the deck and put it on the ground for welding.

He worked his magic and successfully attached the bracket and patched up holes. That wasn’t luck. It was good old-fashioned generosity. He dropped what he was doing to help me, and took on a task that required skills and equipment that he rarely uses.

IMG_iP1484eWe loaded up the deck and I drove back home, backing into a hill so I could slide the unit off the truck by myself. As I was rolling the cover of the pickup bed back into place, I stepped over the tailgate onto the bumper. The surface felt strange under my foot.

I looked down to find the locking pin still sitting right where I had placed it when I disconnected the trailer. It hadn’t moved a bit, despite my cruising down the road at highway speed, stopping, turning, loading, unloading, tailgate up, tailgate down.

It’s sheer luck, I tell ya.

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Written by johnwhays

July 26, 2016 at 6:00 am

Storm Preparations

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On Saturday morning, when we realized we should delay our scheduled appointment to pickup hay due to the looming storm, I hung around the barn and hay shed to finish preparing space to stack the new bales. Of course, that is when I made a wonderful arrangement of bales on pallets in the barn, which would eventually need to be tossed aside in a panic to allow the trailer to fit.

As the front edge of the thunderstorm slowly approached, I stepped out under the overhang to check on the horses. Spotting plenty of manure, I decided to go out and clean it up before it got rained on. Methodically toiling away as the heavy weather arrived provided a unique opportunity to witness the horses behavior under the threatening conditions.

In addition to scooping poop, I decided to move fans inside and close the barn door to shut out some of the racket made by the rain on the metal roof. While I worked, the horses randomly wandered down toward the willow tree, out from under the overhang, and then Hunter came back up again.

IMG_iP1473eI should point out that we generally find the horses huddled together in a low spot at the far side of the paddock whenever it is raining heavily. I had yet to witness the actual exercise of them getting there.

It makes sense that they might find the roar of the rain on the roof to be too much, but I keep hoping the opportunity to stay dry might provide inspiration to overcome the noise issue.

Then I spotted Legacy coming up to get Hunter out with the rest of them. The first drops were starting to fall and the initial burst of wind was kicking up. It was quickening my pulse.

I don’t know what the trigger was, but all at once they seemed to realize it was time to go, and together they hustled out toward the bottom of the big paddock. There was a little jostling for position, and then some romping around, but the drill ended in classic form with their butts to the wind and their heads down as the clouds let loose and the barn roof roared.

IMG_iP1479eThey made it look so routine, despite the unpredictable drama of wicked weather.

Many hours later, after I had successfully backed the trailer of hay into the barn while the second cloudburst of the day was underway, I stepped out to check on the horses and found them taking advantage of the overhang. And they were doing this despite the clamor of the drops pounding the roof over their heads, just as I’d hoped.

Well, mostly, anyway. Dezirea will often appear indecisive about things and was standing half under shelter, as if she couldn’t make up her mind.

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Written by johnwhays

July 25, 2016 at 6:00 am

Unfortunate Events

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The day started out so promising. We had an appointment to pick up hay at 10 a.m., and after a run to Hudson to pick up some long tie-down straps, we were in the truck with trailer attached and headed out the driveway. The last weather forecast we had looked at earlier indicated a likelihood for precipitation to begin later in the afternoon, but suddenly the sky looked ominous.

While Cyndie waited to load a view of the current radar on her phone, I practiced backing the trailer up using the side mirrors. There was no question we were about to be hit by a thunderstorm. Cyndie texted our plan to delay until after the rain and I parked the truck.

Then it hit. And hit, and hit. It rained for hours. Finally the radar revealed a break and we checked with the seller, receiving an okay to proceed. With our borrowed trailer and borrowed hay tester, we set off.

It was such a relief to have the reference of a moisture reading to assure us we were laboring over bales worth keeping. It also served to confirm the batch we already stacked in our hay shed was definitely too wet.

The bales on the first wagon we checked were all a little high, so the farmer gladly moved that batch out of the way and I backed the trailer up to the second wagon. The readings were frequently coming in at 14% moisture. Even when Cyndie felt a bale was a little heavy, the moisture reading was still 14%. These bales were just what we wanted.

It felt invigorating.

With the cargo strapped tight, we hit the road and began the trip home. Then Cyndie commented on the dark sky appearing on the horizon. I said it was probably hundreds of miles away. I was wrong.

About three-quarters of the way home, it became obvious a solid line of rain was between us and our hay shed. The dry hay that we were so thrilled to be bringing back with us was about get dowsed. We gritted our teeth and forged our way through varying levels of drenching rain to our driveway.

IMG_iP1477eCyndie jumped out and opened the barn doors while I did my best not to panic over trying to rush the backing of the trailer into the barn while the rain continued. With only a handful of correction maneuvers necessary, I got it between the doors when Cyndie stopped me.

Earlier in the day, while clearing out space in the shed for our new hay, I carefully stacked some bales on pallets in the barn. The trailer was just making contact with those and the wheels would never clear.

With the rain still coming down, we literally chucked those bales to the side, flopped the pallets out of the way, and backed the trailer in the rest of the way.

In hopes of demonstrating to Cyndie that only the outside of the bales had gotten wet, I suggested she re-test the moisture levels. That was a bad idea. They ALL came up more than double the moisture content!

We put some fans on it and let it sit. We’d had enough disappointment for one day.

Before I made it up to the house, the sun had come out and was shining brightly. How’s that for timing?

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Written by johnwhays

July 24, 2016 at 6:00 am

Do Over

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Seems like I will be getting some extra practice on trailering loads of hay. Cyndie has been noticing some mold already in the bales we most recently purchased. I noticed that some of the bales we grabbed were a bit heavy, indicating they were approaching problematic moisture content, but turns out even the light ones are high. I’m surprised.

Moisture-Tester-006-620x757George loaned us a hand-held moisture testing probe to give us a numerical reading on our bales. All of them are higher than we’d like, some being over twice the target range. Wet bales will not only grow mold, they can get hot enough to ignite.

The first time I searched for images of a hay shed when trying to decide what we were going to build, I was shocked that the majority of results were pictures of burning buildings. I guess hay fires are a common reason to take photos and post them. Apparently too common.

I’d prefer not to join that club.

We will be purchasing a moisture tester of our own so we can test bales before we buy. Thankfully, the farmer who sold us these assured us he would take any back that weren’t good, as he can feed them to his livestock. He obviously knew these were borderline high for moisture content.

This year it has been difficult to get a span of dry enough days to optimally cut, dry, and bale. It takes about 4 days in a row without rain. We have yet to cut our field, which is part of the reason the weeds have had a chance to flourish as they have.

So, now we get to re-stack a trailer with bales and drive them back to the farm from which we bought them. First, we have a plan today to drive to a different farm to pick up a new batch.

You can bet we will have the borrowed tester along to check the product before loading it up. Practice is helpful, but I’d rather not have it come as a result of doing things over again that we’ve already done once.

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Written by johnwhays

July 23, 2016 at 7:33 am

Two Worlds

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In the constant ebb and flow of change that has occurred for Cyndie and me in the almost 4 years since we moved from the suburbs to rural life on a horse hobby farm, there are waves of intensity that can be both invigorating and disorienting. I’m probably just tired from a pattern of not sleeping optimal hours every night, but lately things have been mostly disorienting.

Yesterday, while filling out the schedule of customer orders at the day-job, I received a new Purchase Order with a requested delivery date that I immediately perceived to be past due. Wondering how that could be, I checked the date it was sent and interpreted that as being a week old.

I marched up to the boss’s office to investigate how this could have happened, only to embarrass myself in discovering that my mind was off by a week. The order was sent and received with yesterday’s date and they were asking for delivery next Wednesday.

Never mind.

Obviously, I was not living in the moment. My calibration gets a little off when spending hours of intense mental energy trying to fit weeks of work into limited days of available labor, several months into the future. It gets compounded when trying to do so while simultaneously burdened with trying to self-teach lessons on how to properly (read that as “legally”) load and secure heavy cargo on a trailer.

My poor little brain is surfing on the crest of one of those waves of constant change with regard to the horse hobby farm gig. We have adjusted our hay plans this year to trying to purchase all of next season’s inventory and not use any of what we can cut and bale off our field. This year’s crop on our front field is growing more weeds than grass.

We are negotiating with two sources for small square bales and trying to work out movement of goods. Cyndie called the trailer dealership in town to inquire about short-term rental of a flat-bed. It just so happens that our next door neighbor, John, works there. He said they don’t rent equipment, but offered to loan us the use of one of his trailers. He’s got two of them.

DSCN4953eWednesday night, John stopped by the house to discuss details and I learned very quickly how out of my league I was. When we bought the truck, I didn’t know there was a difference between a trailer hitch and a ball mount. My rather narrow experience from years in industry is in electronics manufacturing. It was intimidating to learn the significance of details involved with trailering commercial-sized loads like the one I already moved last week, which I had done without proper knowledge.

Yesterday, Cyndie took our truck in to have the trailer dealer install a brake controller. Last night, our neighbor stopped by and dropped off his trailer in front of our hay shed.

I’m trying to shift mental gears from the day-job world to the hobby farm world, and reviewing the Wisconsin laws for securing and trailering heavy cargo. We are also trying to plot a course toward improving the crop of hay we hope to grow for ourselves.

Don’t ask me what day it is today. I’m feeling a little disoriented.

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Written by johnwhays

July 22, 2016 at 7:11 am