Category Archives: Farming Update

Making Progress

All things do eventually arrive. Even good weather.

The corn is all planted and we’re working on soybeans. Growing Degree Units for my area are at 317; about 90 above normal, which, I’m finding hard to believe as cool as it was this spring. But I read it on the internet so it must be true.

I’m still struggling with the pinched nerve and I’m lucky my brother has been coming out and helping do fieldwork the last few years. He and Kelly got to work last Saturday with me pointing and giving instructions and they took the loader off the tractor, hooked up the corn planter, got it all greased, filled it with seed and started planting corn. Several times it became clear to us how many things we just do, without thinking about them, and then have to explain to someone *how* to do it, is much more difficult. Communication people, Communication.

Kelly planted the first field of corn. Again, so many things to watch, that I do automatically, but trying to explain it all to her…well, one thing at a time. It wasn’t helpful that sometimes I change my mind in the middle of what’s happening. But she did it! I knew she could! She just hadn’t had too before. Eventually I discovered I was able to get into the tractor and I was able to do the planting. I have more corn this year than normal, partially because the co-op and I had a mix up of maps and they weren’t spreading the fertilizer where I expected them to spread it. A few phone calls and texting photos of maps back and forth solved the issue. I’m still not sure what happen but it’s OK and I’ll verify next year before we start.

Several very fortuitous things have come about this year. We bought a gator two years ago; one of those side by side utility vehicles. I’m able to get in that and drive it. I can park it at the back door, I can drive it through the fields, and into the shed. It’s been very valuable. And the decision last fall to have the co-op spread all the fertilizer, while at the time was more about precision application of nutrients, certainly became valuable this spring as I wasn’t trying to explain how to run the fertilizer wagon to Kelly. Not to mention having to refill the planter so often. With the co-op doing it, all the corn fields are fertilized at once and I just have someone add seed to the planter and I can go many more acres before needing a refill. Ah, those decisions we make without realizing their full implications.

The barn swallows returned the first week of May and a pair have built a nest on top of a wind chime outside our front door. This has been a regular occurrence the last few years. We’ve learned to put some cardboard down to collect all the droppings. And a Robin is building a nest on top of a gutter downspout where it angles under the eave, at the back door. I enjoy watching the swallows fly around me when out in the fields. I’ve been seeing pheasants near the CRP, (Conservation Reserve Program) fields. He doesn’t seem to be very afraid of me in the tractor. One day daughter took a walk and said she saw an owl. I thought that was kind of unusual and figured she meant a hawk. Two days later, Kelly and I were going to get the mail, and there was an owl! Daughter was right.

Planting corn was almost without issues. On the second to last field, the planter settled to the ground by itself once and I thought the hydraulic valve on the tractor must be leaking. (It’s hydraulic oil that holds it up). When I got to the last field, I realized there was an oil leak and that’s why the planter had lowered itself. Oh. Heck. I tried to finish planting but it soon became apparent I was losing too much oil. Making a run for home, I almost made it before running completely out of hydraulic oil. The next day we found the leak and my brother got it apart, I found a replacement, he reassembled, and we finished planting corn.

The chicks are growing up; they’re kind of at that awkward teenage phase.

I watched a pair of guineas the other day. I’m not sure if they were fighting or playing or mating.

When have your intentions been misunderstood?

TRAVELERS NEVER DID LIE, THOUGH FOOLS AT HOME CONDEMN THEM

At Blevins Book Club on Sunday, tim and I were extolling the high quality of Ben’s eggs, having both gotten some the weekend that the straw bales were delivered.  Even the organic eggs that I get from my milk man pale by comparison.  I commented that I wished Ben lived a bit closer so I could justify driving down for eggs on a regular basis.

I should not have been surprised when I got a text from tim today saying maybe we could do some kind of driving swap/egg coop arrangements.  For the first five minutes after I got the text, I thought “tim is one crazy dude.”   Then the next five minutes I was emailing Ben with a few questions to even determine the feasibility of this. 

The third five minutes I was looking up directions between my house and Ben’s farm and thinking about how every few weeks I could get in almost 3 hours of books on tape when I was driving down and bacl.  And the fourth five minutes I was thinking about the spreadsheet I could design if this turns out to be do-able and more baboons than just tim and I can co-op (a lot of this does depend on Ben’s chickens after all).

I’m not sure what the next few five-minute increments will bring – but please don’t anybody tell my milk man!

How far will you go for your favorite products?

Farming This Week

The weekend farm report comes to us from Ben.

Another Minnesota spring, jumps from rain and cold to 90°. Bailey still has her winter coat, she needs to start shedding soon. 

Remember the three Roosters? The dynamics are changing. Number Three is the boss now. Number Two can hang out with Three, but number One has been outcast. And three is kind of a bully. One and two got into it a while ago, full on neck feathers raised and jumping at each other with their claws. Bailey ran over and broke it up. Later, all three of them got into it. Again, Bailey ran over and broke it up. 

This week was supposed to be all about commencement. Turns out I spent more time at the doctors office than I did at commencement. The backache became a kidney stone, which became legs and feet numb. Lots of tests that are negative so far but I’m having kind of a tough time getting around.

Commencement went well, it was a real team effort and it wouldn’t have gotten done without student worker April, my brother Ernie, my theater partner Jerry, and Kelly, who drives me everywhere and helps out before going to get Amelia and doing all the chores at home. 
The lights were rented from a local guy, and he even offered to deliver them, which was a huge savings especially since I’m not driving. Had all the helpers getting things set up, hung, cabled, and focused. I was there some of the time pointing and giving helpful suggestions. Some phone calls, one video chat, and several text messages later, April is running lights for the nursing graduation and she did good and it looks great! 
Had help to take it all down again and the local guy picked it all back up. I am so lucky to have friends like this. 

Weather looks to be nice now for a week. Get my brother going in the tractor and I’ve talked with the neighbors about planting my corn.

Ducks and Chickens are still good and hanging in there. With the nicer weather, we could open the screen door so the chicks get some sunshine and fresh air.

When was the last time you stirred up trouble? Was it worth it?

Finally – Farming!

This week’s farm report comes to us from Ben.

Well, as I write this, we’ve had one nice sunny day. Finally got some ground worked up. It does dry faster once you open it up, but it’s pretty sticky yet. It is always interesting to me how different soil conditions can be in the same field. I took the ‘First Day of Spring Work’ selfie, packed my tractor snacks, and had my tractor buddy.

I did plant one field of oats; it wasn’t perfect but at least it’s in the ground. Hopefully the weather stays sunny and nice as predicted, and I will finish oats. The co-op called me and we’re coordinating corn fertilizer. Things are moving! Doing some tweaks on the new camera system inside the drill, but I think it’s going to be pretty neat. The photos show the empty tank, and then with seed getting low.

I have one neighbor whose fields are adjacent to mine. Met them along the fence line so we talked for a few minutes. Not any drier on his side of the fence.

 Baby chicks are looking good. They’re about Robin sized. We moved them to a bigger pen and I got them a bigger feeder. All they do is eat and drink.

I found a nest behind a building. It’s a mix of duck eggs and chicken eggs. I’m not quite sure what I’m gonna do about that yet. If I want them to have the best chance at hatching and surviving, I need to collect them all and put them in an incubator. I’ve already got a pen of baby chicks, so I’d have to find another pen for this batch. I can try to let the mama hatch them, and then moving them somewhere safe, but that means keeping an eye on her and the nest and trying to catch them some morning when they’re all on the loose (before the dogs catch them). 

Happy Birthday on the 6th to my wife. Happy Mothers day, too!

Any snacks you need for the road?

Grading on a Curve

Today’s post comes from Ben

After last week’s blog title, “April, Not Farming Yet”, I got to thinking, I really am “farming” every day. I could say I’m not “planting” yet or not “doing field work” yet, but it’s a bit of a misnomer to say I’m not “farming”.
And this week, I’m still not out in the field and I still haven’t planted anything. The co-op spread oat fertilizer Thursday afternoon and while the fields weren’t very dry, I was going to try Friday morning to get them worked up and then plant Friday afternoon. Then we got an inch of rain Thursday night. Again. I don’t wanna complain about it raining, but I would like to get something planted. 

I have been getting things greased up and ready to go: checked tires, pulled the drill from the shed to the barn and back again to be sure all the chains were moving and it appears to be working.

I pulled a muscle in my lower back while clambering under the soil finisher checking tires. Every year that job gets harder. Kneeling on the gravel is no fun either. And trying not to use the one shoulder too much. And the one knee hurts anyway. It was kinda funny all the noises I made under there.

Got the camera’s working in the drill box, just need to finish securing cables. It sure is something to think it takes a week for a letter to go across town, but I can order rubber grommets from Amazon and get them from Louisiana the next day. Or the extension cable from Ohio the next day.

I took the new rear blade out to grade our driveway. There is a real skill and art involved in maintaining gravel roads and my hats off to the grader operators who can do it well. I can’t. I know how you’re supposed to do it and I understand the principle of the thing…but I sure can make a mess of it.

OK, the first grading of the spring is never good anyway. Some of that is my fault, some is just the way it is. This first grading, even on our township roads, one of the things is to cut down the edge, so rain water will run off the sides and not down the road. Plus, that pulls back in some of the gravel that got moved off the road by the snow plow. However this also brings a lot of dirt and grass onto the road. Typically, the good grader guys will leave this mess off to one side, and in a couple weeks it will have broken down and it can all be graded back into the road.

I got this new rear blade that can offset, angle, and tilt up and down. All by hydraulics. Three functions! I only have two hydraulics. (I’m hoping to add a third hydraulic to this tractor.) Plus it’s much heavier and cuts much better than my old blade. It sure did cut the edges down! And drag it into the middle of the road. And raising the right edge angled this way, is backwards when angled the other way and watching the left edge. I had my hands full. And it’s all behind me. And I sure made a mess of the road.

It will be better when I grade it again in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed. Kudos to Parm, our township grader operator.

New chicks are doing well. Growing and eating a lot. Duck numbers are holding. Had a concert at the college and prepping for commencement in two weeks.

This photo is the ‘patch’ for the lighting we’ll be using for commencement.

This right here is about the most important information I will use all week. It tells me everything about the lights and how to hook them up and make them work.

Made a mess of anything lately? What’s the most important thing in your life this week?

April, Not Farming Yet

Today’s post comes from Ben.

It’s been a crazy busy week. But at least we’ve gotten some much needed rain. Monday, I got an implement deliver that I had ordered in December. (My new rear blade for moving snow, grading the road, or moving dirt) Plus, it is tech week at the college so rehearsals every night and busy during the day dealing with things. I wore my tool belt at the college one day and that felt great! (With my shoulder, I have not needed it or 5 months, nor have I been able to manipulate my arm to get it buckled.)
Mostly I feel like I am fighting with technology lately. Government websites, computer programs, helpful people that update things to make it “new and improved” and then it does not work like it used too. It is enough to make a person frustrated.  

Wednesday, we picked up baby chicks at the post office. The first thing we do is get them a drink of water. (See photos below. They look red because we have a red heat lamp on them.)

and I picked up the first of my seed; got oats and corn seed. Did a few things at home, felt like a newbie, and made stupid mistakes. Moved the snowblower out of the shed: I tied up the power take off shaft first. But I tied it too high, and it was in the way, and I could not get the tractor hooked up to the blower. Out of the tractor and tied the shaft different. Back in the tractor and got the blower hooked up on the first try, moved it outside, parked it, got out of the tractor, did a couple other things, back in the tractor and drove away without unhooking the blower. Broke the string holding the PTO shaft. Got out, tied that back up again. String broke. (It is a heavy shaft and I had frayed the string when it broke the first time). Tied it up a fourth time. Back in the tractor, re-park the blower, and the wood blocks shifted and the blower tipped forward. Out of the tractor, reset the blocks, hook it up again, back in the tractor and get it to stay this time, out of the tractor to get it unhooked. Man, twenty minutes later on a 5-minute job…  

I am adding a camera system to the tractor this spring. Built a bracket to hold the screen in the cab, and the two cameras are on magnets and will go back in the drill tanks, and now it is just cable management between cameras and monitor screen, plus power for the display and cell phone charger, and boy I’ll really be something. I hope it works. I told my mom that dad would think I was pretty lazy I couldn’t get off the tractor to see how much seed was left, but she didn’t think so; he would have thought it was kinda cool. Made me miss him a little bit.

Delivered more Straw, almost to the end of that. There was a dead animal in the yard one morning. Pretty sure it was a weasel, which, if it was, they are terrible to a flock of chickens so I’m sorry it’s dead but better it than my chickens. Another time I sure miss Steve so he could tell us about weasels. Duck numbers are holding steady. No losses this week.

I will be able to use the cameras on the baler, or anything that I cannot see from the cab.

Next week I should be able to get into the fields and get oats planted. I read that corn seed needs 48 hours of 50° soil temps to germinate. Plan accordingly.

Do you have a favorite string? I like twine. Plastic twine if it’s outside. Where would you put a camera?

Still Winter?

Today’s post comes from Ben

There’s a lot of people reading this blog we don’t know where they’re at. I hope everyone is surviving whatever weather is going on in your area. Snowstorms, tornadoes, cold rain, or maybe you’re somewhere where it’s hot and rainy. Any event, I hope you’re surviving. My chives are coming.

The storms that came through Tuesday night in our area didn’t hurt anything. And then Thursday it was so windy again! Man! I noticed a tree hanging over the road and the trunk is split. I said to Kelly would could wait for it to fall over, or I could call the local tree company. She agreed that might be a pretty good idea. The doors on our machine shed are 20 feet wide and 16 feet tall. Two sliding doors that meet in the middle, one set on the south end, which is pretty well sheltered, and the doors I use the most on the west side. They are out in the open and in a good wind, when closed, they will swing in and out so bad they would rip themselves apart if not anchored at the bottom center. The sides lock, it’s just the middle that moves. When the shed was built there was a metal bracket on the ground that the doors slid into, and that would secure the bottom. This metal bracket was attached to a 6” x 6” post sunk in the ground below frost level. Over the years this metal bracket has been broken and fixed and broken and fixed so many times the top of the 6 x 6 has deteriorated to the point nothing can be attached to it anymore. I really should do something about it someday. It’s on my list. But for the last 20 years, I have been putting a 5 gallon bucket full of log chains in front of the doors to stop them swaying in so much. The bucket probably weighs 80 pounds. The doors will still blow out a bit, but they don’t go in. Except when we have these really strong winds and then it will push the 80 pound bucket back in the shop about 16 inches. which then allows the door to swing in and out much more than it should. I saw another farmer strapped the doors to his tractor, so I do that when it’s this windy.

Lost a poufy duck on Tuesday. It was there in the morning. Later in the day we heard the chickens all squawk and the guineas were making a lot of noise and everybody was taking shelter under the lilac bushes. We didn’t see anything but that night there was only one poufy duck.

Still got a pheasant running around looking for an easy meal. Next day I happen to see out the window a Cooper’s hawk sitting on an electric line. As I stepped out the door to try and get a picture of it, it swooped down and I thought for sure was going to try to take a chicken. But the chickens are bigger than it is. And It thought twice. Flew around the yard for a while. Enough Kelly could get the good camera and get a few pictures of it. 

A G.I. bug went through the house beginning Sunday. 24 to 36 hours later we’re mostly OK.

I’ve been delivering a lot of straw lately. It’s fascinating to me that if you open the rear sliding window of a truck, all the loose straw in the box will blow forward into the cab. Don’t ask me how I know this. It makes quite a mess. Fascinating air currents, but messy.

Got a favorite raptor? What do you think of the Rapture? Or ruptures?

April Farming?

Today’s post comes from Ben

Man, this weather. It’s probably normal for early April to be undecided about what it wants to do… it just doesn’t feel like it after last year’s early spring. And I think I say that every year.

But the turkey vultures have returned! And the Killdeer! And I’ve put the pot of chives out on the step. And just this morning, we heard Sandhill Cranes! (Aw, Steve…sure miss you. )

The other day, the day before it started raining, I got out in the fields with the tractor and loader and started pushing trees off the edges. Most of these down trees were from the December storms and since that was a South wind, these were on the North side of the fences. Meaning It was muddy there and the frost maybe wasn’t out, and it was kind of a mess. Only once did I scare myself thinking I probably shouldn’t have really gotten down in this muddy corner hillside, but I got out and it was all fine. Had three of the tractors running, which always feels good, pulled the seed wagon out, and hooked onto the soil finisher with the big tractor. Made me feel better that I was at least getting a start on things. Doesn’t take too long to get things greased up before getting into the fields.

Also, finally found the lid from the big garbage can that we keep salt and sand mix in. It blew off during that December storm and I figured it was gone for good. Nope, found it thirty feet away in some trees.  

When I left for work one day this week there was a car parked on the township road, just off the highway. I took a photo of it and told Kelly about it. Figured maybe it was someone walking, maybe it broke down, maybe it was a couple high school kids hooking up and left one car here. Didn’t think much of it. But 6 hours later when I came home, and it was STILL there I called the deputies. Turns out it had been stolen. No other details.

Not the first stolen car we’ve found. Thirty years ago there was the car on a field road, but the tires were gone and ignition was ripped out and the dealers lockbox was in the back seat.  We found it before the dealership reported it stolen.   

On the duck and chicken front, all is holding steady. One Phoenix chicken is broody so she’s in a nest box all day. Since I collect the eggs every day, she’s moving daily to sit on someone else’s eggs. And I haven’t had to give them any water the last few weeks (because there’s water everywhere!) But otherwise all is well for the moment. I’ll need to start cleaning up the pen I use for the baby chicks. They’ll be here before I know it.   

What was your biggest accomplishment or disappointment last week?

Late March

The weekend Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

Cold again this week. The farmers’ spring excitement has tempered a bit this week. Next week it will be back.

Tuesday was such a nice day, Kelly and I went out and took down the snow fence we so carefully put up last November. The mid- December storms shredded up 80% of it and the weather turned too cold to fix. We had more snow in the road this year because of it, and it made me realize how useful the snow fence is and why we put it up every year. I was tired of looking at the remains of it and we got it picked up. The dogs helped.

The ducks have split into their summer groups; Mostly the fliers and the non-fliers, but there might be some other sort of grouping that I haven’t figure out yet. It makes it hard to get a good count on them. But I did see 6 mallards take off and then 7 more took off. And still got 2 poufs, 3 cream, 4 black… and some others.

The chickens are enjoying the grass again. And leftovers. And they like when I fill the bird feeders.

Kelly and I saw ‘Hadestown’ last week at the Orpheum. Boy, was that good. And my friend Jerry and I saw Colin Hay at the Pantages. Colin Hay was the lead singer for ‘Men at Work’ way back when. I saw them in concert way back when.

I should have found this picture of the barn for Wednesday’s article about selling the cows.

Dinner at Olive Garden Wednesday night was yummy

I know some of you read ‘Independently Speaking’ by Brent Olson. His latest article is in the same vein as I’ve written about lately. Getting machinery ready and being in town before the stores are open. We’re both still farmers at heart.  www.brentolson.online  He’s also on FB as ‘Independently Speaking’. He’s got great stories. Colin Hay told some stories too.

Pies, donuts, chairs, cows, dogs. We’ve had it all this week. 

What’s in your fridge and what are you making for supper? What do you WANT for supper? 

Nevermore

Today’s farm memoir comes to us from Ben.

I wrote this story 18 years ago when I sold the milk cows. Been a lot of changes since then. I don’t regret any of them. I notice I wrote my knees and shoulders hurt back then. Can’t imagine what they’d be like today if I was still milking. I just couldn’t; I’d have never physically been able to do it this long.

Nevermore

Today I’m not a dairy farmer anymore. Sold the milk cows. The cows were my friends and I was sad to see them loaded into the truck and leave… but it was just time. And I have to say that now that it’s over and done, I feel a million pounds lighter; a giant weight off my shoulders.

The cows were a big part of my life–and had been since, like, forever; I was always down in the barn growing up. Started helping Dad with milking when I was 10 years old. I was the fourth generation to be milking cows here. My Great Grandfather came to this farm in 1896. Built the old barn we call the granary in 1899. The first part of the dairy barn was built in 1924. Dad added onto it a couple times in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Mom and Dad built a silo in 1968, built another in 1976, built the pole barn, tore off part of the granary, built a couple machine sheds, and knocked down an old smaller silo. Mom and Dad also tore down the old house and built a new one.

You all know I gave my cows some rather… esoteric names… The auctioneer has a list of the cows coming in and sometimes he could read the ear tag and know who’s selling and other times I’m calling out names as they’re coming in: Erica, Louise, Lynnette, Kaylannii (auctioneer shakes his head), Comet, Antigone — which, of course he pronounced ‘Annti – gone’ and I had to say (phonetically here), “An-tig-o-knee; daughter of Oedipus from Greek mythology.”………. silence in the ring………. auctioneer says, “Ohh-kay…” Guy in front of me turns around and says “I don’t think they got that…” And Lynne Cow. The cow I named after Lynne Warfel-Holt, classical music host at Minnesota Public Radio. I told who she was named for and asked whoever bought her to please contact MPR and let Lynne know they were the new owner. They worked pretty hard at selling her. Kept saying she’s the only radio cow in there today. Ya know, I may not have had the best cows, but they sure had personality! And the auction people had more fun selling my cows then they did the rest of the cows!!

It was just time to do it. Kelly and I had been talking about selling, and weighing the pros and cons; definitely more pros to selling them than cons. (But the little voice way in the back of my head keeps saying “I sure hope you know what you’re doing.”) Hey, supper at 6:00, vacations, maybe my knees will still function in a few years, doing more things with the kids, maybe my shoulders will feel better, VACATIONS, etc.

Primarily it was a financial decision. Milk prices have been in the toilet the last two years. I was low on cow numbers the last 6 months and the price of replacement heifers is — and has been for the last couple years — just insanely high and getting higher. Supply and demand principles for cattle I guess. I have bought some cows, and got some bargains, but there’s no guarantee that a $1700 heifer will milk any better than an $800 heifer. I bought 3 cows and 1 heifer last spring; paid between $600 and $825 for the cows, $1150 for the heifer. All three cows turned out to be duds and two were gone by fall. I still had one of the cows, but she had to have a C-section and would not be bred back. The fancy heifer I still had but she had been bred back 4 times and I don’t think she was pregnant yet. And in the milking world it all comes down to getting pregnant and producing milk. Last week was a new high price for heifers in Zumbrota; $2260.00 for one pregnant cow. The previous high price was set just the week before. [2004 pricing]

I went to Zumbrota last week to see how cows were selling and to let them know I was interested in selling mine this week. I met with the sales manager and he escorted me into the front office, shut the office door and took my information (how many, herd averages, stanchion cows (as opposed to parlor cows)) and then he made several comments about how this is what they were expecting now and my name wouldn’t be on any of the presale publicity lest we trigger any ‘radio bandits’; people that would try to buy them before the sale to avoid the sales barn commissions. I got the distinct impression that he was trying to emphasis how confidential all this was. I went out and talked with a trucker I know about bringing my cows in and he acted the same way. It was very surreal how he kept scanning the parking lot, talking very quietly; even surreptitiously gave me papers behind his back. … very strange.

I’ll miss that big glass jar in the milkhouse called the receiver jar. It’s what the milk would come into from the pipes in the barn, before being pumped over to the bulk tank. When I was growing up and Dad and I would go to other farms, it was that glass jar that I was just fascinated with; watching the milk rush into that jar, I knew I had to be a dairy farmer so I could have that big glass jar. When we installed a different pipeline system about 12 years ago [1992] the dealer wanted me to put in a stainless steel can. I said no way; I want that glass jar! If you haven’t seen it, it’s a tempered glass globe about 18 inches in diameter. There are four glass inlets molded into it about 6 inches long; one at the bottom that the milk is pumped out through, the one at the top is the vacuum inlet and one on each side connects to the milk pipeline that runs into the barn. The deal is you don’t mess with the connections between the glass jar and the other pipe; don’t want to break that outlet off the glass jar. Dealers were supposed to have an extra jar, but I never wanted to find out. Bad enough when a motor would quite at milking time and you had to call the dealer to make a ‘barn call’. Like a plumber in the middle of the night; it wasn’t cheap.

The night the cows sold we all went to Olive Garden for supper; that in and of itself no big deal. But we went at 6:00PM; ate like normal people. Got home it was only 7:30 and the kids still had time to shower and do homework. I took the kids to daycare before school this morning. Then went to Barnes and Noble (closed until 9:00) so got license tabs for the car, went to the chiropractor who was very pleased to hear I had sold the cows, filled the car with gas, went to Best Buy (closed until 10:00).

Finishing up here with aphorism’s that seemed appropriate for the time:

—One door never closes without another opening.

From the Tom Petty song ‘Into the Great Wide Open’ these two phrases:

—The future is wide open.
—The skies the limit.

3/23/2004

What were you fascinated by as a kid that influenced you in your adult years?