Tuesday, July 28, 2015


A crack of thunder, simultaneous with a flash of lightning added up to the closest strike I had ever experienced.  It got me bolt upright in bed at 3 AM, out of an exhausted sleep after raking, baling and wrapping thirty acres of complex cover crop amounting to one fourteen hour day and 115 bales give or take.  A heavy crop.  I couldn't sleep after the strike and paced from window to window, watching the buildings for any tell tale wisp of smoke.  There was none.

Later, when I went out to check the farrowing sows at seven, I found the main fence charger dead and on coming back in for breakfast found the lightning had fried one of our phones as well.  My prejudice is that a dead phone is not much of a problem, but what to do about the dead fence?  I had checked the cattle early on and they were all where we left them.  They had been pretty docile this year, not challenging the fence much.  Their pasture's fence was still charged, that is, as much as it ever is after a rainfall.  I thought I was getting away with it until coming back to the yard from feeding the first group of sows, I was met by fifty or sixty of the 150 feeding pigs we had behind an electric wire in one of the winter cattle lots.  It hadn't taken them long to find the dead fence, after the rain had plugged up their feeder, giving them the idea to go exploring, I suppose.

What to do?  I grabbed the fence charger responsible for the north pastures, where the cattle were, hoping they would continue docile about the fence, and used it to replace the other charger, the dead one that had given the pigs their freedom.  When I pulled it apart, I saw that the little one amp fuse on the top had blown.  Without noticing the two other one amp fuses buried deeper in the carcass, I got LeeAnn to run to town to the auto parts for fuses.  She found no one amp fuses but brought home one 2 amp fuse.  In installing it, I noticed the deeper fuses.  Pulling them out, I found one blown, the other good.  So finally giving up good practice and resorting to farmer style fixit, I put the one good one amp fuse on the top, where the stamping said "shutdown" and put the oversized fuse in one of the bottom positions.  Then I took a sickle rivet and hacksawed the head off, leaving just enough shank to replace the other one amp fuse.  Any guesses as to what it would take to blow that "fuse"?  Reminds me of the old farmer cure of putting a penny behind a screw in fuse that wouldn't hold.  I wonder how many houses were burned down that way?

Anyway, the main charger is back in the barn doing its job and the other one is reinstilled on the north line to control the cattle.  And so we have put in another fourteen hour day, this one not on harvest, but on animal control achieved at the cost of making our buildings less safe.  And I have made a solemn promise to pursue real one amp fuses first thing tomorrow morning.  No more lightning tonight, please.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Today the cattle go on the driveway.  For the last three years, we have been grazing the driveway, which is essentially a quarter mile long two acre grass paddock, in regular rotation with the rest of the pasture.  Sundays should work best for this activity, for on Sunday we have few customers driving onto the yard.  However, it has been an eyeopener how very often while grazing we must let ourselves off the driveway, or drop the gate at the end to drive back on.  I thought we lived at home more!  Still, just mowing all that grass is wasteful, making grazing worth the effort. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Everyday management is the art of not being surprised.  It is harder than it looks.  For the conventional crops farmer it is what is happening when the machines are all pulled out of storage in the spring, serviced, lubed and lined up ready for the first dry field.  For the diversified crop and livestock farmer, it is what happens every day all year around, for there is always the next thing to be ready for.

Often enough, too often for this old fellow, surprise happens anyway.  Farming is like that.

Today, we have the complex cover crop lying in thick green swaths, wilting.  The combine is busy in the winter rye, another experiment, this one in weed control and a bit disappointing.  The sows needed to be fed this morning, the farrowing house checked and serviced with feed and bedding and all the feeding groups seen.  The cattle will need to be moved to new grass this afternoon, tomorrow they go on the driveway paddock and then over north.  Time to cut the thistles when they move.  The grain auger needed to be put up to store the rye. 

In addition, we got a tire remounted on one hayrack, making it ready with its two mates to haul the wet cover crop bales to the wrapper on Monday after the baler rolls them up.  We hope it's ready to bale then.  We spent time in the shop also this morning straightening and rewelding the hayfork, necessary to carry bales to the hayracks, and then spent what extra time we had getting an old sprayer ready to spray a mixture of trace elements on the hayfield next week to boost it for last cutting.

Tomorrow is Sunday and we hope for a quiet one.  Monday we will need to land running.  Cover crop baling, straw baling and moving, sows to be fed, fence repair to start new sow fence and feeders to plan and hopefully just a bit of family time at the lake.  Now we will see what the weather has to say about our plans!  Heat predicted. Rain?     

annual hay

Yesterday we cut the complex cover crop on thirty acres.  It was seeded on June 6 and had reached a height of about four feet.  It was lush, thick as the hair on the proverbial dog, with several weed species joining the soybeans, spring peas, annual ryegrass, sorghum-sudan grass, oats, crimson and red clovers, and a rape/turnip hybrid.  By the time we finished, the haybine was covered with green juice. 

The idea for the complex seed mix came from work being done by farmers in North Dakota.  They are planting mixes of seed and generally grazing them after something approaching a full season.  They talk of the benefits of that complex system of roots for the soil in terms of controlling erosion and building microbial life in the soil, as well as water holding capacity, and we wanted to see for ourselves.  The idea of cutting the crop only seven weeks after seeding is ours, driven by our need to produce a higher energy hay for maintaining gains on our grass fed cattle in winter, as well as a forage supplement for our sow herd. 

The sorghum-sudan, the rape/turnip, the clovers and the ryegrass will come back after the cutting and provide another harvest or a nice window of grazing in September.  The rape/turnip should give an opportunity for grazing right to, and perhaps beyond Thanksgiving as it takes a very hard freeze to stop growth.  The ryegrass will maintain quality late too, so we will see about that. 

This is all part of our endless searching here at Pastures for a different and perhaps better way of doing crops, pastures and livestock.  It is what makes farming worth doing.  We fail to believe that farming is a "mature" industry, choosing rather to think it is a wide open one.   

Monday, July 13, 2015


Today we are 22 days after the summer solstice.  That means that 22 days ago, the days ceased lengthening and began to shrink with each sunset.  It also means that the psychology changes, at least on the kind of farm that links fairly closely with nature.  A daily universe of opportunity that was expanding is now shrinking and a competent human mind takes that into account.  This is a description of a human life on earth, of course, but is also a metaphor for the living of that life and the doing of that work.

When things go wrong and we say that today is not the day and tomorrow doesn't look good either, we recognize this fact.  Some of the very difficult and nasty things that it takes to operate a farm, or even some of the hard long jobs, jobs that will be satisfying when done, simply work better at some times than others.  A farmer can conserve strength by learning to read and recognize the signs and trying to flow with them instead of always swimming upstream.

Perhaps it is as simple as the recognition that with the onrushing approach of harvest and then winter, we are going to need more sleep and that there are some jobs that will have to be postponed until the sun expands again.  The human body, if it does not have its life totally in a man made environment; if it lives somewhat in Creation, knows this instinctively.