April On The Farm

Hello friends...

Thought I would let everyone know how things are going around here. For the most part things are going very well. The weather has been dry, warm and sunny so field work progressed rapidly. Yesterday we got a little over an inch of very needed rain. And you couldn't have asked for a better rainfall- slow all day soaking kind of rain. I finished planting corn April 28th about two weeks ahead of a "normal" year, and started on soybeans yesterday before I was rained out. Now, the details....

I started planting oats on April 15th. That afternoon we got .6" of rain, the most we would get until yesterday. Oats doesn't take long to do and we finished on the 20th. Dad and I started right in on preparing corn ground for planting. On the 22nd, I was disking when the steering started to bother on my biggest tractor. "The big green tractor" as Preston calls it. Let me clarify....as long as the engine was running fast and I was moving, I could steer. Otherwise, I literally couldn't turn the wheel. By the time I got home with the tractor the steering had failed completely. Also for some reason, the transmission oil was about 2 1/2 gallons over full. So I called the shop to come and pick up my tractor and to bring me a rental to use in the mean time. So I rented a Case 2090 for two weeks for $12 / hour. (Some background.... Farm equipment doesn't have an "odometer" they have an "hour meter" connected to the engine, so you go by the number of hours equipment has on it. ) The Case was a sorry excuse for a tractor, but it did allow me to keep working. My tractor was returned on May 5th. The steering was fixed, but they don't know why the transmission was overfull. And now the radio doesn't work! Now, how am I supposed to do my fieldwork in a tractor that doesn't have a radio?! So I need to check that out.

While getting the corn planter ready and testing that out here in the yard, I hit the steps on the side of the garage with one of the arms on the planter. Ripped the steps apart (didn't break anything, just made it all the pieces again) so there is another project. I noticed yesterday the first corn I planted is up about 2". That is always exciting to see the crop emerge and grow. Every year, after planting, it is always a miracle to see the crop start to grow. And that is so goofy! I mean I planted it with every expectation that it would grow.... why am I so impressed and amazed that it really does grow?

A few weeks before I started planting corn I got a phone call from the guy who combines some corn for me. He said that he wasn't going to combine wide rows (38") anymore and IF I still wanted him to do my corn I would need to plant narrow rows. (30") This agitated me for a day or two. (More background...In the old days, corn was planted in hills 40" apart both ways. This way it could be cultivated both length and width ways. Then they went to rows 38" apart. All your corn equipment has to fit your row width and work the number of rows you plant at a time. I plant 4 -38" rows. I have a 4-row cultivator, a two row chopping head and a two-row picker. So switching from wide rows to narrow is a major investment in machinery. Most people, but, not everyone now plant 30" rows, 6 at a time. ) Finally I hired a neighbor with a 12 row narrow planter to plant some for me. You should have seen this machine. It lifted about 5 feet off the ground; rotated 90 degrees and the hitch lengthened 4 feet for road travel. This was all done by remote electro-hydraulics from the tractor cab. We are probably talking $30,000-$40,000 just for the planter! I told Kelly I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century of agriculture.

No, that’s not quite right....I am eagerly anticipating the changes ahead of me and am among the leaders of the 21st century of agriculture. That sounds better.... It is our checkbook that is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century of agriculture.

I have a hay field at our neighbor’s home. Two weeks ago I went over to check out the hay field and found that when he burned a brush pile, he had started a grass fire and burned off about half the hay field. I assume this was accidental, however, he has not mentioned any of this to me. It looks like it will grow back, but it is far behind the rest of the field. (Some more background...The first year alfalfa [or hay] is planted, it takes the full season to grow to harvest height. After that first cutting, it will regrow in as little as 28 days. That is why alfalfa is usually seeded with something else, like oats, the first year.) So I don't know how long this field is going to take to regrow.

Now let's go down to the barn and check things out.

The cows have not been milking their best in March and April. They are starting to come up on production now again. I think part of the problem was that because of the mild winter, nothing stayed frozen like it should have and I developed a lot of potholes in the cow yard around the feed bunk. As spring came and things thawed out, these holes got deeper and deeper. When the cows stood in these holes the feed bunk was above their heads. So they were not able to eat as much as they would have. I had 7 loads of rock delivered on Monday, two went in the cow yard, and 5 went other places. Our driveway also got very muddy this year as some of you know.

The end of March I had a heifer freshen with her first calf. "Caroline"—yes, Jaclyn's daughter—had a bull calf. A few days later she had a twisted stomach and the vet operated on her with no complications. She just never really came out of it and despite 6 more vet calls, she finally died on May second, a Saturday. I had the vet come out that night and "post" her. (An autopsy...this reveled that she had what’s called a "fatty liver". That means the liver couldn't handle the changes from being pregnant to being a lactating cow and so it had pretty much just rotted away.) It was raining lightly, so I pulled the cow into the drive alley of the corncrib so the vet could work on her. Now, Preston has always asked about bones and what is inside of animals, and so Kelly and I talked about should he see this cow laying all opened up. (a rendering truck was coming on Monday ) The cow and her insides had certainly not improved their appearance at all over night, so I thought that given these circumstances, this wouldn't be the best one to see. Maybe if he had been there when the vet was working on her....

But the next day Preston asked too many questions: Where is the tractor? Why are the corncrib doors shut? Why is that moved? Can't we take the tractor up to the shop? What’s that? Why is that there?

ALL RIGHT! I CONFESS! I shouted. I can't take it anymore!! So I told him about it. He said he was a little scared but he wanted to see the cow.

He thought it was pretty neat. That’s "Awesome" he kept saying. And I thought so to.

Amelia has had a few tractor rides and she really likes that. She just loves being outside. Preston and I planted our garden last Sunday. I have mowed the grass once already and will have to cut it again soon. Kelly has been pretty busy at work lately. Hopefully that will be slowing down soon. I am still on our local zoning board and that is pretty interesting.

So here we are, very quickly moving into summer and the first hay crop of the year.

Sorry to take so much of your time, but wanted you all to know what’s been happening with the farm. I need to pick my next fix-it project and get going.

Hope everyone is living life as full as we are.


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Write me: ben@farmerben.com