Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘farming

All Hands

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It’s that season when the fields come alive with humans and machines. A call must go out for all hands and able bodies for harvesting before the weather messes things up significantly. On my way home on Tuesday I came upon a batch of pickup trucks and workers busy in the fields around the corner from our driveway.

They were gobbling up soybeans and filling the big truck and trailer. It always seems odd to see such a big rig driven into the dirt fields. I don’t understand how they avoid getting stuck.

These fields are so devoid of attention all summer long, it’s startling to suddenly see them become such a hub of activity.

Our house experiences a burst of activity of its own when the soybeans fields are cut down. Suddenly our back doors become the new gathering place for Asian beetles.

The bugs were enjoying the warm sunshine around the backside of our house around the doors to the deck. I know that because I was back there, too.

Cyndie and I did a little more work replacing boards on the deck while the weather was still accommodating.

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We were all hands on deck. Hah!

Now we hunker down for a few days of expected rain and even the first falling snow of the season. The deck project goes on hold until the next dry day shows up. Our bodies will be happy to have a break. I have done so much kneeling lately, I feel like a little kid on the floor playing with my Matchbox car collection.

Thank goodness I’m noticing my knees because that means my back hasn’t been grabbing attention. Knock on deck boards (wood) that my lower back has not flared up from all the leaning over for long periods of time.

What? Me superstitious?

Sending love to my lower back…

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Written by johnwhays

October 10, 2019 at 6:00 am

Real Farming

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Cyndie and I got a taste of the real thing yesterday. We visited George and Anneliese at Walker Farm this weekend. (Renee and Jeff, we waved in your direction as we drove by!) The real farming aspect started before we even reached the highway leaving our place on Friday afternoon.

On a section of one of our county roads with barely a shoulder to speak of, we came face to face with a combine that almost filled the full width of both lanes.

I hoped he was planning to turn into a field, because I had run out of turn-off options, but that rig just kept coming right at us. Moving the car as far to the right as I dared, I came to a complete stop. He moved as far as he dared to his right and squeaked by us with an uncomfortably small amount of clearance.

It is harvest time and farmers are working like crazy to finish before winter weather stops them for the season. Yesterday morning, I started the day before dawn with George, trucking a load of soybeans down to a grain terminal in Savage, MN. That was a first for me, doing a walk around inspection of a big rig, copiloting our way to the terminal, and feeling the cab shake as the beans roared out of the hopper.

We got back to the farm just as Cyndie and Anneliese were finishing up with chores to feed and water the cows, turkeys, and chickens. We were just a few days too early to witness the processing of about twenty Thanksgiving turkeys.

After breakfast, we herded a bull and one heifer onto a trailer to be moved to a neighboring farm, then drove to a different neighbor to pick up another recently purchased heifer. The choreography is done as a means to control breeding possibilities of specific cows.

Sometimes, controlling access is done to avoid breeding, and sometimes it is intended to encourage it. Those separated for the winter may have a chance to meet again in April.

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In the afternoon we walked the fence line to look for a reason the electric charge was being loaded down. We discovered a section by the road that appeared to have suffered impact from a vehicle. After several of the seemingly obligatory walks back and forth to the shed for additional parts or tools, we restored the integrity of the wiring to George’s satisfaction.

We finished in the nick of time, as the sun soon dropped below the horizon. Despite the sun shining most of the day, the cold temperature stung after standing out in it for very long, so we were ready to be done.

That made it all the more satisfying to be inside and warm for dinner, some card games, conversation, and eventually, making music.

We were spending time with friends, but at the end of the day, I had this strange feeling we were also experiencing what it might be like if we added a couple of cows to graze our pastures someday. Could it be, that we were given a glimpse of our possible future?

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Written by johnwhays

November 18, 2018 at 9:00 am

Better Sink

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I am always learning, and thanks to George’s comment on yesterday’s post, where he reminded me about something he shared on a recent visit, I have a renewed appreciation for the value of our grassy fields. Improving our planet is not all about planting more trees.

Grasslands are actually a more reliable carbon sink than tree forests, because they store much of the carbon underground in the root systems.

George pointed me to a podcast where I was able to learn about the Santa Maria Cattle Company in the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem where they are successfully reversing the desertification and building grassland using cattle as the primary tool.

Seems like inverse logic, doesn’t it?

Mismanaged, cows can overgraze and destroy the grassland. Luckily, better thinking is leading to a more enlightened perspective. It is possible to learn from our mistakes and choose a better way. Fernando Falomir and his family are showing what is possible and sharing what they have learned so others can do the same.

Inspiring!

George also turned us on to Gabe Brown and the work he is doing to champion regenerative agriculture. Turning dirt into soil! Seems so simple.

Instead of the convention of tilling the earth to plant one crop and ply herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, while also needing to add irrigation to achieve results, Gabe reveals how farmers can succeed by mimicking the diversity of nature instead.

The compacted and deadened dirt can be exchanged for a thick aerated biomass soil that seems so obviously logical as to not require harsh and harmful chemicals to be viable. It can be done, because that is the natural way things worked before we started slamming our short-sighted mass production methods across the land.

In fact, we have a wonderful example right in the heart of Minnesota, where George has returned to his family land to put these precious principles into practice with Walker Farms.

It’s not all about trees.

I’ve definitely learned that.

Thanks, George Walker!

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Periodic Maintenance

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That tree in our back yard which leads the way in changing colors is cranking it up to full blaze now that we have arrived within the month of September. This image doesn’t to justice to the view, because our sunlight was muted by the smoke of wild fires in Canada and the western U.S. most of the day yesterday.

I spent time in the morning consulting with a specialist from our county soil conservation office as he surveyed the situation where the neighbor’s tilled corn field is overflowing my silt fence. According to him, we have done all the right things for drainage on our property, adding that compared to other sites he reviews, our problems are not very significant.

My perfectionism sees it otherwise.

He did basically fault the neighbor, of whom I gathered he didn’t hold a high opinion. The best fix to hold the soil would be for the neighbor to plant hay in that field, instead of corn. I don’t have any idea if that is something I might be able to influence, but I will suggest it at the first opportunity.

On my end, I learned that the silt fence does require maintenance to remove material when it starts to fill, because he said it is obviously functioning as intended.

I will do that, but I will also add another short section of silt fence above it and then start building a berm of branches between the two, eventually creating a thicket of wild growing weeds and trees.

Since it is so late in the growing season, such a barrier will take a year to become the filter I envision, but just having the skeleton of tree limbs in place before winter will provide an additional place for the silt to build up and start a foundation for a natural barrier.

Looking at the drainage swale below our paddocks and across the pastures, the advice was to periodically reshape the high spots by digging those out as well. Funny me. I had it in my head that there was a one-time solution where I could shape the swale properly and then never deal with it again.

Why should it be any different from the periodic maintenance required on everything else?

Lawns need to be mowed, septic tanks need pumping, engines need oil changes, rugs need vacuuming, animals need feeding, relationships need tending. There aren’t many things that can be ignored indefinitely.

Land needs management. I guess I won’t argue with that logic.

Though, given that, seems to me that days need more hours.

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Written by johnwhays

September 2, 2017 at 9:04 am

Candle, Burning

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Ends, both.

I’m gaining some sense of what life is like for a lot of the farmers around here. Most of them whom we have come to know have non-farming jobs in addition to the crop and livestock work they do.

My day-job has gotten so intense, I’m puttin’ in hours today, even though it’s Friday, a day I don’t usually go in. At the same time, our ranch work is peaking, with the unbelievable spring growth about doubling the size of green things every two days.

The second I got home on Wednesday, I hopped on the borrowed John Deere lawn tractor and struggled till dusk to knock down the too long and too thick grass that hadn’t been cut since the old Craftsman engine popped a gasket two weeks ago.

Yesterday, same routine, different tractor. I walked in the door from work, stripped off the clean clothes and donned the grubs to crank up the brush cutter on the diesel. It was dry enough to cut the hay-field. Not for hay, but for the sake of mowing down weeds before they can mature.

We plan to mow that field short all summer long, hoping to give the grass a better chance at beating out the weeds. It’s a simple method that we have chosen in place of applying chemical weed killers. Just requires a little more patience, and an alternate source of hay bales for a year. We think we have both.

What I don’t have is, enough sleep.

Luckily, I’ve got incredible support from Cyndie, the energizer bunny. She is doubling her efforts to tend to the trimming up and down fence lines, while caring for all the animals, maintaining the labyrinth, buying supplies, Avenging poison ivy, watering and feeding our transplanted maple tree, and keeping me indescribably well fed.

Speaking of caring for our animals, I caught a picture of her the other day, giving Legacy a massage. That was about the same time I spotted the chickens hanging out on the bottom board of the paddock fence.

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That’s all I have time for. There’s work to be done!

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Written by johnwhays

June 2, 2017 at 6:00 am

Weeds Begone

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It took twice as long as I expected to finish cutting down the 4 acres we call our hay-field yesterday, but I was trying to do a very thorough job of removing the primary invader, Queen Anne’s Lace from sight. The biennial crop is the most visible evidence that we aren’t growing high quality grass hay out there yet.IMG_iP1562e

There is some grass there, and it has become obvious to us from the regular mowing we have done around the labyrinth and along the fence lines, that doing so will help the grasses and hurt the weeds.

Right now, we are thinking about just keeping this mowed short for a full year. We may have some additives applied to the soil, and add desireable grass seed over the top, before getting back to baling it again the year after.

The project was almost over before I had even completed the first pass along the fence line. For no apparent reason the shear bolt suddenly gave out and the blades stopped cutting.

We had waited the entire summer to have this field cut, and when it didn’t happen any other way, we decided to finally just chop it down ourselves. This interruption had me wondering if maybe we were making the wrong decision, but I had a replacement bolt and it was an easy fix, so I didn’t let that problem stop me for long.

When it became clear that it was going to take all afternoon to complete the task, Cyndie was kind enough to bring me lunch in the field. It felt just like farming!

When I got to the last little strip to be mowed, I wanted to include Cyndie in the moment of achievement. She was serving the horses their evening feed at the barn, so I whistled to get her attention as I was lining the tractor up for the final cut.

IMG_iP1565eCHShe heard the second of my shrill chirrups, and was looking to ascertain whether I was in need of her assistance while I was backing into position. I was intending to point out that it would be the last pass and I just wanted her to share in the joy of accomplishment, when the blades of the mower started clattering on a rock I hadn’t noticed.

The sound of mower blades hitting obstacles always tends to create a panic response. I stomped on the clutch and lifted the mower. My big moment of victory was dashed by a dose of humble pie. In a comical turn, now she did think something was wrong.

She hollered something to me, but I couldn’t hear her words over the rat-tat-tat of the diesel engine idling. After several fruitless tries, we walked toward each other until I heard she was asking if I had my camera with me so she could capture the moment.

We laughed over the fact I hadn’t hit a single thing all day, but just as I was hoping to get her attention, …clank. I had already mowed over that rock without incident in the other direction. Backing across it on the slope was a different story.

She took the pictures of my final successful pass.

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Did you see that bird she captured in the last shot? It looks as happy as me over having our field freshly cut.

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Written by johnwhays

August 6, 2016 at 9:13 am

Lambing Season

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As I pulled in the driveway yesterday afternoon, I found Cyndie walking Delilah on the 26′ retractable leash. Cyndie was shaking her head as she approached my car. I glanced down at Delilah and saw that she was carrying something in her mouth. Guess who found a rabbit’s nest?

With all that length, it is easy for Delilah to explore a little ways off the trail, into the woods. By the time Cyndie realized the dog was onto something, rabbits were already scattering in 4 directions.

Before I could even get the car backed into the garage, Cyndie was calling out that our neighbor George had sent a text message that there are new lambs. Since Delilah was preoccupied with a project that we didn’t want to see, we left her on her own in the kennel and drove to George’s.

He hadn’t returned home from his farrier work trimming or shoeing horses, so Cyndie dropped off a treat of homemade muesli cookies inside his door and we went exploring on our own. We found two mommas in pens with heat lamps, each with a pair of lambs.

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It has been rewarding for us to gain an up-close view of the activity of livestock farming on the small scale.

Thank you so much, George, for coming into our lives! 

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Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2016 at 6:00 am