Friday, September 27, 2013

#170. or, How's it Going? It's......going.

  I was really excited to dive into the harvest, so I could tell you all about the progress that I was making, and how much I look forward getting our combine rolling each year. Not because it's easy. But rather, because this is what it's all about. The culmination of a series of events, set into motion some 5 months back, when I hooked up my tractor to put seeds, some not much bigger than the head of a pin, into the ground. Then looked after those plants to the best of my ability, with the help of a preferably  favourable Mother Nature, to hopefully fill all of the grain bins we own, and maybe a few borrowed from the neighbour as well.

  Mother Nature has been kind. Except maybe that rainy stint while I was trying to make hay. But the Fall has been an exceptional run of harvesting weather for us. My combine, on the other hand, has not been quite so cooperative. 

  I wanted to tell you about how awesome my combine is. And how over the winter, while it was in the shop getting a proper going over from one end to the other so I could avoid any issues come harvest, we discovered it was actually a prototype combine. The tractor company I use, that makes green equipment, will make a handful of units, say about 30 or so, that have all the specs of the next piece of equipment they want to introduce, and sends those units out into the world to be tested before they begin the actual production run of that next unit. Turns out I own one of those combines. So, it's sort of like the Batmobile of 9750 combines. It looks like a 9750 combine on the outside, but on the inside, it's an angry thumping mass of gears, horsepower and hydraulics that can chew up and spit out tiny little pieces of your run of the mill 9750 combine.  

  That's what I wanted to talk about. Instead, I think I'll tell you about how I've made so many early morning parts runs into town, that the fellow I meet on the bicycle each morning and I have now become casual acquaintances, and we've stepped up our relationship to the "good morning" nod, as we pass on the street, just before the only lighted intersection we have in town. Or that how it crossed my mind, on the 3rd of 4 trips to the dealership last Saturday, the staff there might not be so happy to see me for my cheerful demeanour and engaging  personality, but more so, for my contributions to their winter vacation. 

  But, I've been getting the bugs out, and there have been good days as well. I've decided that I might be able to eliminate any further stress by replacing the header portion of my combine with an upgraded one that is supposed to feed the crop into the combine a little more evenly. The bad thing is, the one I want is 6 hours away and I have to send my old header along in trade, so basically, I'm buying this newer header unseen, except for a handful of email pictures, and on the word of the salesman, that it's a good unit. What can go wrong? People buy shit on the internet all the time?

  ............also, I'm not entirely sure I was supposed to mention the whole prototype combine thing. So if people in green jackets and dark sunglasses show up and I mysteriously disappear, you'll at least have an idea of what happened to me.   

Sunday, September 22, 2013

#169. or, At The Ocean, Not On The Ocean.

  Sometimes, when I have a particularly frustrating day, which decides to compound itself into a full week of one thing after another, my mind tends to retreat into it's happy place. My mind spent a good deal of time in it's happy place this week.

  I have become a believer,  that the ocean can heal your soul. That might be a stretch for a farm boy who lives 14 hours drive from the nearest ocean, but the times that I've had at the ocean have been the most relaxing and rejuvenating vacations I've ever had.

  It hasn't always been that way. When I was younger, the ocean was a stinky place, that was damp and gloomy, where it rained more than the sun shone. In recent years however, I've found an ocean with wind rustling palm trees, and miles of beach to walk on bare footed as the waves lap at my feet. Even if I can't do that thing where you walk along just inside the water, as it goes back and forth, back and forth. That makes me queasy and I need to sit down. I like the water to be just about to my feet, and only occasionally washing over them. I can deal with that.

  So, I like being AT the ocean. I'm not all that fond of being ON the ocean.

  Truthfully, being on the ocean freaks me the hell out! We've all seen that picture on the internet of the guy on the paddle board as a giant majestic whale breaches the water mere feet where from he is. Beauty and oneness with nature. I own cows, and as much as you want to be friends with something that exponentially exceeds your body mass, it's probably not going to end well. I always wonder what happens after the picture, when the tsunami that free Willy just made tosses him into 1000 feet of unexplored depths. I bathed a dog in the bathtub once, there was water everywhere, trust me, that guy's going in the drink.

  Or how about surfboard guy, with the shark in the wave beside him. That looks like fun. Or not! I've been fishing before. With my dad, and as a dad with my son. You all know what fishing is? It's where you introduce a reasonable facsimile of the natural diet of a particular species of fish, in the hopes that it will entice that fish enough to be fooled into thinking it's lunch. That's surfing! Lets mimic the food source of the most efficient killing machine mother nature could devise, in the pursuit of paddling a glorified ironing board out into a series of waves with the intent of riding one of those waves to shore. Without losing a limb. Fun times.

  Maybe you're a free diver? One of those people who wear oversized flippers and tempt fate by seeing how deep they can dive without the aid of oxygen or pressurized suits, trusting that they are in tune with their bodies to the point they can get as deep as they can go, and return to the surface in one breath of oxygen without blacking out. Because if you pass out under water, it's not going to be pleasant. You're going to sink to the bottom of the ocean, be crushed into a pellet the size of a pea and end up being eaten by a fish with no eyes, a light bulb thingy hanging on a tentacle in front of it's face and more teeth than tail, created by a million years of evolution. I passed out at the Rotary Park in town once because I thought I was in tune with my body and how many beers I thought I could drink, and that was unpleasant enough. I'd rather not add being in the water to that scenario.

  The ocean that I know and love, and I dream about when I spend all day fixing my broke down combine, is one enjoyed from the shore. The sound of waves crashing on the beach, and the serenity of a cool breeze on my face as I stroll along with my toes in the sand. I like that ocean a lot. I've been thinking about that ocean quite a bit this last week.

  .........and now that it's on my mind, I generally have a mojito in my hand when I'm there as well. Perhaps soon. At the ocean, not on the ocean.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

#168. or, Adversity

  You know that thing?

  That thing.....

  .........where you're swathing canola in the middle of the night because you're trying to catch the dew to keep the pods from breaking open and spilling their seed all over the ground along with everything you worked all summer to achieve? When your swather makes this sickening bang and suddenly the header is hanging to the left and you limp it off the field, best you can, without tearing apart all of the swaths that you've cut earlier in the day? When you're finally off the stubble and onto the wet grass, crawling around underneath looking for the problem by the light of a cell phone because you didn't really think you needed a proper flash light? When you find the problem, and your heart sinks a little because you know, in the dark, laying there in the wet grass, by the light of your cell phone, THIS is gonna be a bitch to fix?

  So, you go to town the next morning for parts, and along the way, you see that one guy has been combining, which means even though it's only one guy, EVERY DAMN BODY is combining and you're the very last to start. Again! Without thinking about it, you chat it up with the parts guy a little longer than usual, because even though you know you need to get that swather repaired and back to work, you're delaying just a bit, because inside, there's a tiny piece of you that doesn't really want to tackle the job. But it needs to be fixed so you get to the field with your tools and the parts, and wander over to start the repairs with the body language of a quarterback who just threw an interception that cost his team the game in the final.

  And in 10 minutes it's done. Even before you realize, as you're crawling out from underneath the swather with a hand full of greasy tools, you have to stop and look back to make sure you did it right, because the whole job only took 10 minutes.

  That thing!

  Ya, that happened to me, earlier this week. First time ever! This year, anyways.

  I've been swathing canola like a madman, as it's been unseasonably wonderful weather for this time of year. Unfortunately, the heat has had our canola turning faster that I can get it cut, and now my last 80 acres are dead ripe and I can't swath it without losing all of the seed. So I'm a little stressed.

  I do have another option. I can cut it standing, directly into the combine. I do that with grain, but have never done it with canola. It's extremely delicate, much moreso than the other grains, so I'd prefer it to be in a swath, but all is not lost. Last night, I went to talk to my neighbour who was hauling grain in a field near ours, as his son combined. He straight cuts canola sometimes, and put my mind at ease about doing it. Somewhat. He also assured me that I am in fact NOT the very last farmer to begin combining this year, and he's also got some canola that still needs to be swathed. And most likely will be straight combining some as well.

  So that made me feel a little better.

  .........even though, it still bugs me that I wasn't able to get it done.

Friday, September 06, 2013

#167. or, Cover that in plastic, and put it in the fridge.

  We've finished making silage for this year. That means, I can cross that job off my list of things that need to get done before it snows, and can now focus my full attention on some of the other items.

  All 10 000 of them.

  Winter is coming! (Why can't I say that any more, unless it's in a British accent? Maybe it's something I've seen on TV? Who knows?) Anyways, it would be ridiculous to think that I'm going to get all of those items crossed off before winter, but certain ones seem to work their way to the top. Feeding the world seems to always be pretty high on that list. It turn, making sure our cows get fed is a priority.

  Our cows have two different items on their menu, hay bales and silage. Hay bales are pretty much exactly what they sound like. Cut the hay, dry it, roll it into 1300 pound bales and store it until it's time to feed it the cows. This process happens over about a week, so feasibly, it could be done by one person. Silage on the other hand is much more labour intensive, and requires quite a bit more man-power and equipment.

  So why do we make silage? Cause my Daddy always said, "It's hard to make good hay, but it's harder to make poor silage."  The thing about bales is you need the weather to be on your side. Which wasn't really the case here over the summer. The more rain you get on your hay between cutting it, and it dries enough to bale, the poorer the quality will be. Bale it before it's dry, it will spoil in the bale and turn into manure. Try to store good bales too long, they lose their feed value. So while they can be made easier than silage, it's safer not to put all of your eggs in that basket.

  When we make silage we cut the hay, same as with baling, but before it dries, we come along with the silage chopper, which chops all the hay into pieces about an inch long or less, and blows all of that product into a wagon we pull behind the chopper. Get it, tractor, chopper, wagon. Three units, plus the tractor and hay cutter that have gone before. When the wagon is full, we dump that into one of two trucks that are running trips back to the yard and dumping the chopped silage into a giant pile on the ground, with dirt banks on each side. It's then pushed up by yet another tractor, and packed as much as it can be to squeeze as much of the air out if it as possible. So, 8 different pieces of equipment, and 5 different people to run all of that. A little more than baling.

If only there was some way show you what I'm talking about?

  Bored to tears yet? Ya, I thought you might be.

  The final step in the procedure it to cover the whole  pit full of silage, about 1300 tons, with poly, so it doesn't spoil. If the poly remains intact, it can keep in good condition for up to 7 years.

  It's sort of like covering that plate of left-overs with plastic wrap and putting it in the fridge to save for a later date. maybe, say.....7 years from now?  Except, my plastic wrap is 350 feet long and 50 feet wide.

  Surprisingly, now that I think about it, I find it quite a bit easier to deal with plastic wrap on that scale, than I do with covering my left-overs. That stuff always ends up in a wad that sticks to everything except where I want it to be. It's only slightly less irritating than trying to match a lid to one the 500 plastic containers we have in the drawer, none of which are quite the same shape, and requires it's own specific lid. I usually end up with my food in a plastic container, covered with a ragged chunk of plastic wrap, held in place with a rubber band.

  I've heard, from one of my neighbours, that there's a way to extract the alcohol from silage, and come up with a drinkable product. It seems possible, as a pit of silage can ooze syrupy liquid all through the winter, and will only freeze when it gets around minus 30 degrees Celsius. While interesting, I've never been desperate enough to get down on my hands and knees and try to suck up a little silage juice. Or maybe whip up a thick brown cocktail to enjoy in the evening. There's no amount of tiny colourful umbrellas that will make that shit appealing.

  ..........however, maybe that's why my cows like it so much? I've never actually seen them hugging on each other and try to sing though. I may have to pay more attention.