Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Farmer's Clothing

When people think about what a North American farmer ought to look like the immediate picture that comes to mind is a Midwestern sort of fellow in workboots, bib overalls, a flannel plaid shirt or plain work shirt and a hat of some sort. This clothing caricature isn't completely unreasonable either, especially not in my case. If you're here for a visit and decide to snoop in my closet enroute to or from the bathroom you'll find multiples of everything I mentioned earlier. I like flannel plaid shirts or heavy blue Dickies work shirts on winter days. I own several pairs of bib overalls and bib coveralls and when the weather is cold and wet I wear them a lot. I wear work boots at every season of the year.

Easily the most iconic item in a typical North American farmer's wardrobe is his collection of seed corn/fertilizer/farm equipment hats. Every farmer I know has closets full of these freebie hats, although lately companies seem to be getting stingier about who gets them and how many they are allowed to hand out.

The day I left for college I had three hats with me in the truck. The one on my head sported multi-national Pioneer's seed corn logo, another was from regional Hyland Seeds and the third one was from our local grain elevator, W.G. Thompson and Sons. I'll admit none of these hats provided much of a fashion statement but that was never really the point. One of the girls I was kind of seeing at the time suggested I update my image by going to the local department store and purchasing (and wearing) a hat without an agricultural logo across the front. I went along with her until I realized she wanted me to pay sixteen bucks for a hat with a check mark on it. I told her that if I ever traded in my work boots for running shoes and Nike wanted to throw in a "free" hat to seal the deal I'd probably wear it but damn if I was gonna pay money directly out of my pocket to walk around advertising their product for them. Well, honestly. We broke up about a week later.

In the summer there is nothing lighter or more comfortable for keeping the worst of the sun off your head than a wide brimmed open weave straw hat and I wear one most days when it's hot out. I put it on in the morning and except to wipe my brow it stays on my head until I'm done that night.

As far as fashion goes I've been so out of touch for so long that I fear there is little hope for me at this point. That's okay. I feel about fashionistas just about exactly how they feel about me. The only one who possibly suffers from this is Melissa. At least she doesn't make me wear a sign that says "I'm not with her" when we go to town.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Flavour Enhanced Orange Juice ???

I absolutely love the taste of orange juice.

What I didn't know until earlier this morning is that unbeknownst to consumers, companies are adding flavour packs to their orange juice to beef up the taste of their product before bottling it and placing it on store shelves. Because the flavour packs come from oranges....whatever that means.....companies aren't required to inform anyone that they are adding things to their orange juice. Whatever the health and nutritional consequences (or lack thereof) are from adding or subtracting things from my food is almost irrelevant here. The real point is that my trust in this 'pure" product got violated because it was "enhanced" behind my back. At least the outfits that "enhance" their meat by adding flavoured sodium solution to it put it on the label so I can see it before I buy it.

Melissa and I have pretty well taken to buying items where we can pronounce all of the ingredients on the label. There are a few exceptions to this rule in our house, but not many. When we really started getting into this it was shocking to me just how many of the products we consume every day are somehow "enhanced".

Here's a hint. If you're going to do anything to the food I'm paying good money to buy, make sure I am clear about whatever you did by putting it on the label. This includes ANY adulteration, irradiation, pasturization, or ingredient addition/subtraction. If you or your company is worried about the repercussions of putting whatever it is you are doing on the label, well, maybe you ought not to be doing it in the first place.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

His Hers Mine Ours

Every now and again I confess to lurking on the Chronicle Forums and rarely, I'm motivated to reply to something that gets me to thinking. Such was the case tonight when I read a thread about money, marriage and horses, except that I'm going to share my "reply" here on this blog rather than on the thread.

It's no secret that Melissa and I have both been married before and this, plus the fact that both our marriages ended in divorce, tends to colour our decisions on a lot of topics that neither of us gave much thought to before. We can argue with the best of them, but we never have argued very much about what ought to be his and hers because in this marriage there is a lot more ours than there is his and hers. This is true of our money, our blogs, our Facebook accounts, our pets, our privacy and our property, and we set it up this way on purpose. It's our belief that marriage is a lifelong partnership, and as such there is no aspect of our lives that ought to be off limits to the other partner. We very much believe that if you wouldn't say or do it in front of your partner you probably ought not to be saying or doing it behind their backs, either. And by giving each other access to every aspect of our lives, we put our money where our mouth is on this topic. So far, so good !

Maintaining a good marriage is a lot of work and it's been our experience that most activities are/can be either marriage enhancers or marriage destroyers to a greater or lesser degree. There is a lot of give and take in this house when it comes to spending money and hobbies. It's probably true that Melissa doesn't spend as much of our income on horses as she would if she weren't married to me. My comeback is that I don't spend nearly as much on liquor and wild women as I might if I weren't married to her. Compromise, eh ? Such is life.

We both recognize that our answers aren't going to be right for anyone else. Again, such is life. The main thing is that they are right for us, and reading a thread like the one on COTH makes me feel better and more strongly that I chose exactly the right marriage partner for Round 2 !

Sunday, December 4, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

I'm really hoping that Santa was listening when Melissa and I visited the La-z-Boy store up in Cool Springs last night. Every farmer needs a good leather recliner chair to nap in on Sunday afternoon. The model I liked best, the "Dreamweaver" has been forever discontinued and I was sitting in the very last one in the store.

No hints in this post at all.

Nope, nary a one.


Friday, December 2, 2011

A Well Rounded Education Part 2 - Work

I want to talk in a little more detail about some of the ideas I presented in my last post.

I'll start with the idea of work. I'm not sure when society started to assume that it was normal that kids never had to work but even back in the day I had a lot of friends that never had jobs and had no real idea what responsibility was. Kids absolutely need time to play and I don't know that kids today ought to work as hard as I did as early as I did but I see absolutely nothing wrong (and plenty right) with starting and mentoring young people at simple, safe, wholesome and necessary age appropriate farmstead tasks.

All the way through high school we were warned repeatedly that we'd have to buckle down and learn how to go to work when we went to college. Buckle down ? Going to a really, really good college (and passing all my courses with flying colours) was a four year vacation compared to the life I led and the responsibilities I had before I left home. And virtually all the farm kids I went to school with felt the same way. When I graduated from college and got my first full time job I couldn't believe how much free time I had. It was ridiculous. They only wanted me to work forty or forty five hours a week. This also felt suspiciously like a vacation from "real" life, and one of the reasons I started farming part time almost immediately after graduation was to fill up some of the free time I had before and after work by doing something productive instead of spending money. I'm not kidding when I say it must be hard as hell to transition from child to productive adult if all you've ever had to do in life before going to college and getting a job was play and get admonished to do your homework. I'm glad I didn't find out what that was like because I'm pretty sure I'd have made a mess of it. I came pretty close to doing so even with the head start I got !

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Well Rounded Education

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend who was helping me on the farm early this morning. We were talking and laughing about some of the art and language courses we took when we were in ag college to achieve at least the idea of a well rounded education. Twenty years on, I'm kinda glad I took the time to take classes that introduced me to the arts and literature. I AM definitely a more well rounded person because I took the courses.

And then he posed a question that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. How well rounded can an education be when it doesn't address ANY of the practical necessities required to actually look after yourself when you're done being educated ? Where are the mandatory introductory courses for the masses in agriculture, mechanics, and structural engineering and repair ? How about personal finance and money management ? Home economics ?

Exactly. They're nowhere.

How about teaching the value of work ? Is that important ? We get offers from friends all the time that they've got kids who want to work and we've got PLENTY of kid safe and kid friendly work to be done around here. However if they're less than 17 years old it's all but illegal for us to employ them, even doing something as simple and safe as stacking firewood or hoeing corn, even for half a day. That they can legally work in a convenience store or at a fast food restaurant years before they can work at some place as unwholesome as a family run farm speaks volumes about what we value as a society.

Three hundred million Americans pony up to the table to eat every day. Agriculture in the classroom ? You betcha. Every year from 1st grade on up.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been away from this blog for awhile, mostly because I'm doing more writing on our Paradigm Farms blog (and trying to be a helpful husband for a change), but also partly guessed it.....we've been busy, though lately not so much on farm related stuff. But today it was time to pause and give thanks.

It's this writer's opinion that Thanksgiving is perhaps the most widely celebrated American holiday. With a four day long weekend, most of the celebration feasts get done on Thursday, leaving three days for other pursuits, not least of which is Black Friday shopping which in many cases starts at midnight tonight or before.

I grew up with Thanksgiving in Canada and we always paused to have a good meal, but it was a one day affair (same day as Columbus Day) and most families I knew held their big meal not on Thanksgiving Monday but on the Sunday before it. If I had to pick a comparitive Canadian holiday, I'd choose the Christmas/Boxing Day combination as being most like Thanksgiving/Black Friday here in the US.

With the list of never ending blessings that make up my life, it'd honestly be easier to craft a list of stuff I'm NOT thankful for than to attempt to do the opposite. Through the blessings of health, luck, hard work and thrift we've created a good, secure living for ourselves and in the process we've created an enviable life to go along with it. If that's not something to be thankful for, I don't know what would be.

Blessings to you and yours on this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Time Travel

I was leafing through an old friend's recently posted Facebook album a few minutes ago when I ran across an outdoor birthday party photo that really got me nostalgic. It hit me that I went to grade school with everyone in the photo; if they weren't in my class then they were within a year or two on one side or the other. I have literally known them all my life. The backdrop behind the smiling faces, mixed drinks and party favours was the concession road on which I grew up, four miles west of our place, and behind the road sat a farm that bordered our grade school. Although much has changed in the intervening years, the camera shot showed nothing of it. The photo could as easily have been taken thirty years ago as today and all the the people in the photo could have been the kids I remember instead of the adults they have since become.

On a day to day basis, I'm not a part of that world any more, and a few years ago I'd most likely have never known the party took place no matter how good my social networking skills were. It's important to live in the world that's in front of you, and I try hard to do that, but it's also kind of nice for those of us who have moved away to be able to keep in some kind of near real time touch with friends, neighbours and home folks. If nothing else, it serves to keep me honest. There is much truth in the statement that it's hard to pull the wool over someone's eyes that was standing in the room watching your diaper get changed ! :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011


There is a mouse making scratching noises in the wall beside my computer as I type this and the noise is quickly working at fraying my very last nerve. Or maybe it's not a mouse. In the last minute the volume has gone way up. It's almost impossibly loud. Rat, chipmunk, giraffe, camel...dunno, but there's something behind the wallboard and it's not happy, no doubt. Oh well, that makes two of us. I'm completely off track right now. What I'm supposed to be doing is being productive, whatever that means, but the damn scratching noise keeps escalating and it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I can't concentrate a bit.

In the world of distractions, I'm not normally a very distractable person. Melissa jokes that if I'm in the middle of something that has my attention I block everything else out. It's nearly impossible to get me off task until whatever I'm doing is complete.

I have a head that's crammed full of useless information. Among many other things, I can tell you all about leaching tannins from oak bark or planting by the signs, but among the banalities that exist between my ears I've got NOTHING on how to quickly shut these damn rodents up. Oh, don't get me wrong, I've had thoughts on how to get the job done. Lots of them. But as my FB friends have counselled, anything that involves guns and/or matches isn't likely worth the long term consequences.

So here I sit, quietly and benignly frustrated because there's nothing I can do to make it stop short of turning out the light and vacating the room. How long can a rodent scratch ? At least one second longer than I can sit here. See you in the morning, everyone.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


For all my manly skills, from felling trees to building barns and other complicated things to fixing broken equipment and farming for a living, I have a few skills that I need to hone and one of them is welding. I can cut steel with the best of them....that's easy, but even my very best welds (according to most of my kin and friends) look like chickens--t !

The reason behind my lack of welding ability isn't related to technical knowledge. I've got that down pat. The problem is that a good welder needs every bit as steady a hand as a good surgeon. I confess it. I have wobbly hands and very poor hand/finger dexterity. According to Melissa, watching me try to thread a small bolt/nut combination is like watching a normal person attempting to do the same while they are wearing ski gloves.

My wobbly hands are biting me in the rear right now. I snapped a stud off when I was tightening a wheel lug on the tractor yesterday and I don't posess enough enough steadiness in my hands to hold a nut in place long enough to spark up an arc and weld the damn thing in place to extract the remainder of the stud. So I'm going to have to pay somebody fifty bucks or more to drive to my farm to do thirty seconds worth of work which is very frustrating.

Oh well, could be worse I guess. At least I've got extremely pretty weather to stand around and wait for someone to show up to "rescue" me. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old Equipment

I was talking to a farmer friend earlier this week and we were commenting on all the new, shiny equipment we've been seeing moving up and down the roads lately. With cash grain prices at record highs, a lot of farmers with grain in their portfolio have taken the opportunity to update and in some cases upgrade their equipment. When I asked him when he expected to be upgrading his ancient fleet and associated implements of husbandry so he could start doing things right he laughed out loud. His comment was that he'd been doing it wrong for so long that he wasn't sure he'd know how to get anything done if he had to do it the right way with the proper tools and equipment for the job.

I understand his thought completely. At this point, a new tractor, at least to me, is one who's vintage is later than mine. More than once I've overheard people say,"He sure has made a nice farm out of that. And he sure must like antique farm equipment." Well, no not so much actually. But at least in part, running old, depreciated stuff is what has allowed us to go out and "make nice farms". Maybe in my next life I'll get to run new equipment. I sure hope so, but if not I'll have lots of practice from this life at fixing old stuff.

Running old equipment comes with a price, and that price is unanticipated break downs. There is literally always something waiting in the wings. To be fair, some of what's waiting could happen with a new tractor. About a week after replacing the starter on our aging Kubota loader tractor I had a flat tire. The tire was starting to wear pretty badly but it still had considerable life in it, so I elected to put a tube in it rather than replace the tire with a new one. At some point between reinstalling the tire and today, one of the wheel lugs (not the nut, the entire lug) snapped off and fell out. When this happens it throws the entire wheel out of balance and the lug nuts loosen themselves off over time. Often the first clue that something is amiss is when the tire falls off completely because all the lug nuts are gone. Fortunately I caught it during the wobbly phase, so it ought to be a quick fix in the morning. Next in line tomorrow afternoon is replacing a gearbox bearing on one of the rotary cutters.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Weather Delight ?

I'm not sure if it's a family thing, a regional thing or a Canadian thing but it seems I've had the bug most of my life regardless of where it comes from. Don't tell Melissa, but as long as we're prepared ahead of time, the worse the weather is, especially in the winter, the better I like it, at least up to a point.

The first time I had this thought I was seven years old, and I was holding on to my grandfathers hand very tightly during one of our winter blizzards. We were heading to the barn to check on the cows and the wind was gusting hard enough that without a secure handhold it was literally lifting me off my feet and blowing me away. When we got to the barn I pulled back my hood to find grandpa smiling and laughing which exactly matched my mood. After chores were done, we lollygagged our way back to the house with grandpa holding both my arms and letting the wind catch under my coat. At times when the wind caught me right I was completely horizontal and I thought it was great !

Melissa thinks I can handle a lot of cold weather and compared to her I can, but I'm not even in the same league as grandpa or dad. In addition to not wearing anything more than a light jacket or a vest even in the dead of an Ontario winter, neither one ever wore gloves or mitts. Many times I have stood quietly and miserably freezing when I was wearing two layers for each one of theirs.

I'm a big fan of squeaky snow and frozen earth on calm, clear, cold winter nights. This far south, these sorts of nights are rare as hen's teeth, but every couple of years we'll get one and when we do it's my turn to be a kid again !

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Beginnings

Back in the 1840's, when his health gave way, my 4x great grandfather sold our farm to my 3x great grandfather. In his turn, he sold it to my great-great grandfather who passed it on to his son when it was time. When my great grandfather's tenure was up, it passed along to my grandfather who used it kindly for two full generations. My mom and dad bought the place in 1980 and raised my brother and I in the old house. When dad died unexpectedly, mom sold the land to me. Six years later, my first wife and I got a divorce. Because of that, after several generations and 174 years, our tenure as stewards on that piece of land came to an abrupt end (though my mother still owns the house and a little land around it).

As you might imagine, I didn't need much help after it sold to feel extremely guilty about how it all turned out. The man who bought my farm was interested in it primarily for the new house we had built on it a couple of years previously. Other than using it as a buffer between him and other neighbours, he had absolutely no interest in the land and he's done nothing at all to keep it up in my absence. To be fair to him, he has no history in the place, and I take some solace that at my request, he rented the cropland to a distant cousin who (obviously) knows me and knows the land's history. But the man who bought it does know what it looked like when he got it from me, and I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you that it tears me up inside every time I visit to watch them let good land grow up in scrub because they don't/won't/can't do anything about it. I fantasize at times about buying it back and making it mine again, but in truth it'd be more trouble and expense than it's worth at this point.

If I shut my eyes about halfway and only look at certain angles I can see the farm as it was when I was a boy, and again as it was when I worked it as a man. But each visit up there marks more changes, and it takes more work on my part to remember it as it was. When mom dies or moves away, whichever comes first, somebody else will make their memories in the house where I and generations of my family grew up and I think I can finally say that I'm okay with that. As much as I would have liked to believe differently when I first sold it, I knew when it passed out of my hands that my farming days on that land were done. Just as I was taught to do, I left it better than I found it and from here on, it's somebody else's worry.

Melissa and I have put a lot of effort, time and tears into building out our Lynnville farm the past couple of years. If all goes as planned, the last group of horses will move there from College Grove tomorrow morning, and our new farming legacy will finally be fully ready to begin. I don't know our new land's history and I don't know how long our tenure will last or how it'll turn out when our time is up. But I can tell you that it feels right in my bones and I like to imagine that from somewhere on the other side I'm getting a smile, a wink and a nod from those who have gone before me.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Using What You Got

It seems to me that those who were born in the first years of the twentieth century were cut from different and much tougher cloth than those who came after. Most of them didn't have great gobs of formal education but they learned one lesson very well. They were experts in making using what they had.

I remember in particular a patch of fence on the back side of grandpa's farm....way off the road and in the woods where nobody could see it. Among the errant strands of wire stood the remains of a very old steel coil mattress, wired in place and doing it's last duty keeping our cows off our neighbours farm. It's been standing there since grandpa wired it into the fence in the early 1930's; before that it served a few seasons as his first horse drawn harrow....this after spending untold years before as his bed, and maybe it was somebody else's bed before it was his ! When I checked on my last trip home it was still there and still standing, solidly ready to perform it's duty, though there haven't been any cows on that farm for the past couple of years.

When I got up old enough to begin being a really useful helper, I acquired my first piece of farm equipment. It was a stone sled (known locally as a boat), made out of cedar poles and old planks. It was technology so old and so obsolete that almost nobody else I knew had one even back then. I moved so much stuff on it over the course of several years that I completely wore out the sliders. Wood, brush, wire, you name it. It was so useful and so easy to load that I'm actually thinking about building one to use behind our current tractor. I pulled it behind a tough old Case tractor that started when you cranked it at the front and you engaged the clutch by hand rather than by foot. The old tractor had all kinds of power but it was incredibly slow...high gear was about 4 mph and all the rest were in increments below that.

One of my great grandfathers was a blacksmith, and in addition to shoeing horses he made and sold a lot of useful tools and knives. One of his tools that graces my toolbox downstairs and that I still use regularly is a drawknife, fashioned (I think) from an old wagon (or possibly car) spring. They were originally made to shave shingles and shakes but they work a treat to shave lumber of any kind for nearly any purpose. The old drawknife also keeps a sharp edge for an incredibly long time.

I'm not very good at using what I have compared to the old timers, but the more I think about the stuff we used to use when I was a kid the more inspired I become as we work to outfit our new farm appropriately. While I don't forsee patching my fence with a set of hundred year old bed springs any time soon, I think I might start getting a bit more creative in other areas, so if you're ever walking in my woods, consider this fair warning.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Status Update

It's been awhile since I've composed anything for this blog and I'm perpetually tired and short of time in equal measure so I thought I'd compress today's post a bit.

Jason's condition:

Overall condition : Fair
Mental Condition: Situation Normal, whatever that means. It reassures Melissa, anyway.
Condition of Back: BAD and very sore. Too much overenthusiastic fencerow cleaning.
Condition of Hair: Thinning and graying at roughly the same speed.
Overall Body Condition: Uh....well, if I was a beef I guess I'd be "finished".
Ready for Retirement: Today? Oh yah !

Farm Condition

Condition of Horses: Excellent
Condition of New Farm: Dry but fair.
Condition of Weather: Hot, dry.
Condition of my new cross fence to separate the last two groups: Non-existent but thinking about it.
Condition of Plumbing - Got a pinhole leak in a water line at the road but it's under control, more or less.
Condition of Tractor(s): Tempermental and petulant. I rebuilt the starter in the big tractor a couple of weeks ago and it's working, albeit reluctantly. I'm going to order a new one just to be on the safe side. Come to think of it, tempermental and petulant are pretty good words to describe my conditon, especially lately ! :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why am I tired ?

1. Farrier day at the new place today = everyone led to the barn two by two.

2. When the farrier left, I set fifty posts and strung fifteen hundred feet of fence today and I used the "armstrong" method for both setting posts and stringing fence !

4. One equine moving date already set. One more to follow.

You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to having ALL the horses on ONE farm !


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cold enough for ya ?

Since we're in the dog days of summer here in Middle TN, and since I spent the evening perusing three generations of Central Ontario weather records, I thought it'd be appropriate to share some boring cold weather stories with everyone !

Canadian farmers love to talk about winter weather, especially cold and snow. Once they got going, my grandfather, father and uncles could tell stories about cold weather and snow all day, each one better (and seemingly more implausible) than the last. Although the prevailing thought in that part of the world is that they don't get much winter (and compared to most of Canada, they don't), believe it when I say that winters are long, cold and severe compared to anywhere in the eastern United States that isn't immediately proximate to the Canadian border. Here's a a short collection of cold weather memories of my very own.

40 degrees below zero on Christmas morning 1980. Dad said it was so cold the reindeer froze so Santa had to hitchhike to our house in a school bus (!) and we walked to Christmas dinner at the village hall.

Frost on the pumpkin and more importantly, frost on all the immature corn and beans, 28F/-2 C August 28, 1986.

Was that snow in the air ? Yes, and all over the ground. About three inches of it, heavy and very wet. Sept 27, 1989.

Anyone from Buffalo or Western New York will remember the Blizzard of 1977. We got it in Ontario too; 4 feet of snow in 24 hours combined with winds gusting to 80 mph. The drifts really were over the telephone pictures to prove it and we were out of school for a week !

Frost on the pumpkin sprouts and snow in the air ? Sure, and while we're at it lets replant all the corn and beans too. 25 F/-4C June 9, 1983 and if you didn't like it that time we got to try it again three mornings in a row, each one colder than the one before June 3, 4 and 5, 1998. I lived in Southwestern Ontario at the time and I was delivering a load of feed to a dairy customer the evening before this frost event began. He and I got to witness the only tornado either of us had ever seen. We were three miles straight west of Norwich, Ontario and about a half mile south of the tornado which went on to destroy a lot of buildings in Norwich !

Can anyone say "ice" ? You could if you remember the Ice Storm of 1998 when we got freezing rain continuously for *six days* resulting in ice accumulations of as much as four inches across most of Ontario east of Toronto. Thankfully we were west of the worst hit areas, but we were still without power for a week.

Where did summer go ? In 1992 our weather records show that we never cracked 85 degrees at any time during the spring, summer or fall. Although it never officially reached 32F/0C, we recorded light frost on at least one day in each summer month, including June 22 and 25, July 30 and August 21 (see note below). We also had a stretch of weather for several days in late June where the high temperature never got out of the 40's....more typical of mid April than late June ! Our cold summer was followed by a heavy fall of October snow that stuck around a lot longer than it should have and flattened field after field of wet, immature soybeans. This set the stage nicely for a huge December blizzard which ushered in the most miserable winter I ever remember. [NOTE: Because official weather station temperature measurements are taken at a height of five feet above the ground and because cold air sinks, it's possible albeit somewhat unusual to have ground frost form any time the official temperature is below 3 C/37 F. ]

Okay, this post is long winded enough ! Feel free to add your own weather tales !

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Farmer's Truck

These days most pickup trucks serve as nothing more than glorified transportation to and from the downtown office. There's nothing wrong with that, but I still ask my truck to put in a days work here on the farm and I need the sort of vehicle that will allow me to accomplish what I need done in a mostly reliable manner. We currently run a 2006 3/4 ton Chevy diesel with a manual shift transmission that I bought at a sale when it was two years old for half the money of a new one. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for at the time but, like our tractors, it is functional enough to get the job done for the moment.

There is a lot of truth to the statement "Where I go goes my truck." and I visit a lot of non-standard off road locations nearly every day. There aren't very many days that we don't hitch up a horse trailer, stock trailer, flatbed trailer or farm wagon at some point. At times I have asked it to haul my round baler, my discs and even the big fifteen foot bushhog. We sometimes use the truck as a form of go-to-town transportation, but it's primary use is as a functional tool that gets used in dirt, mud and slop. Because of that, neither the interior nor the exterior is ever "pristine"and the interior is NEVER without some of my tools. There are some tools I use often enough that the easiest way to ensure they are where I need them to be is to never remove them from the truck in the first place and I get pretty agitated when they aren't in their place.

The current contents of the truck include the following items. There are four snap rings, two cotter keys and a # 10 sprayer tip currently on the console. On the floorboards of the passenger side sits a three foot long pair of bolt cutters, a pair of fencing pliers, a pair of linesman's pliers, a pair of gloves, a roll of wire and one empty water bottle. My straw hat rests on the passenger seat with a spare t-shirt (or several in the summer). In the rear seat and on the right rear floorboard sits enough wooden fence post insulators and electric fence wire to do nearly three miles of fence. There is always a lead rope or two and a halter on the floor immediately behind the driver's seat in case I run on a situation involving horses or cows that requires immediate action.

I have a reese type trailer hitch with a 2 and one quarter inch ball as well as a wagon hitch currently sitting in the bed behind the cab, along with two or three implement pins, a hammer (necessary to remove implement pins), a crow bar, a roll of chain used to fasten gates and othr things plus a twenty foot logging chain. I also try to keep a couple of 3 inch wide ratchet straps and ratchets handy. Of course the stock trailer and horse trailer are 5th wheels, so my two and three quarter inch fifth wheel sits dead in the middle of the truck bed.

Minus the diesel engine, I remember that we bought the equivalent of this truck brand new in 1986 for a little less than $ 10,000, taxes included. I've been told that Grandpa bought the same truck in 1967 for a little less than $ 3000. I don't know about that, but I DO know that was the truck I learned to drive on ! Would that I could replicate either of those prices on a new farm truck today !

Sunday, August 14, 2011


If I had to choose a season in which to watch for harbingers, I'd pick spring over fall any time. Maybe because of where I come from, I'm enthusiastic...Melissa has actually used the word rapturous.....about watching for harbingers of spring. Perhaps for the same reason, I'm pretty sanguine about watching for harbingers of fall and winter.

Although our weather will mostly be stuck on summer, at least in terms of temperature, for at least another six weeks, it's pretty hard to fool the trees that are day-length sensistive as opposed to temperature sensitive. In the last couple of weeks the woods has begun to change colour; from the deep green of mid-summer to the yellow-y green of early fall. I noticed the other day that our harbinger species; hickories, walnuts and butternuts, are beginning to change colour and experience some de-leafing. A lot of these trees will stand completely bare well before we've experienced any cool weather, and indeed well before the same trees would be bare in the front yard of my former home nine hundred miles to the north.

This part of Tennessee operates on Central time; we're about a hundred miles west of the Eastern/Central time change line. Because of this, even in midsummer our evenings are shorter than would be common in areas located closer to the middle (or on the western side) of a time zone. Of course the compensation for this is that it's light relatively early in the morning in all seasons. Mid August is when shorter evenings and darker mornings become really noticeable; another harbinger of things to come. It's dark in the mornings these days until nearly six and it will be full dark tonight well before eight o'clock.

I've noticed too that the warm season grasses have begun to set seed in earnest, especially the bermudagrass on the yard. It seems like seed heads pop up on the lawn within a day of rolling the lawnmower over the grass. Even with adequate moisture, some of the warm season grasses will begin to go dormant in the next few weeks.

At least we don't have to fret about the F word for a long while down here. Believe me when I say I've used the F word in response to the F word multiple times when my grain corn was still a fair ways from black layer and a cold night on a late August or early September full moon was predicted. In especially unlucky years...perhaps once every twenty or thirty years, the entirety of Central Ontario except the immediate Lake Ontario shoreline WILL get to worry about and deal with an August frost. The coldest spots; Joe S and Billy E's farms at Indian River leap immediately to mind, get to deal with August frost's on a semi-regular basis. The F word is a harbinger of fall that I can do without, at least till it arrives here in the mid-South some chilly morning late in October or early November !

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Nook Revisited

This post doesn't have much to do with farming, but I promised to revisit my Nook when I got it several months ago, and thanks to yesterday's rain (which DOES have a lot to do with farming), I have time to do so today !

Things I like about my Nook:

1. It's instantaneous gratification personified. When I run out of books to read at 10pm on Sunday night, I can browse through a huge selection online, pick one, order it and be reading again by 10:01 if I so choose.

2. It would have been really handy back in the day when I was travelling. Instead of adding the weight and space of several books to an already overstuffed suitcase on a weeklong trip, I could have taken my Nook and been done with it. Fortunately, that sort of travel isn't a regular part of my life any longer.

3. There are a surprising number of non-bestsellers that you can order and read and the price is almost always better than it would be if you purchased the book new at the store.

4. It was much easier than I thought it would be to get used to turning on, rather than picking up, my book.

5. The books are stored and backed up somewhere in cyberspace, so if my Nook get's dropped down the toilet, the books I purchased are still going to be available when I get another Nook. However, if I change e-readers, or if Barnes and Noble goes out of business and I can't replace my Nook, I think I've lost my books.

Things I don't like about my Nook:

1. It's sometimes hard for this Luddite to remember to plug in his book before he wants to read it. Dead batteries do not a happy camper make. I fully realize this is more my fault than the Nook's fault, but it's still a pet peeve and it's not something I ever had to worry about with books printed on paper.

2. It's unhandy if you want to find something in a book you read and you aren't sure where it is. Skipping around from page 3 to page 183 and back to page 40 is unwieldy, at least for me.

3. Although the selection of books and authors is improving every day, and although said selection is surprisingly broad given how new the e-book medium is, a lot of my favourite books were written by somewhat obscure authors. Most of these folks haven't got many (or any) selections available via e-books yet, although I expect this is rapidly coming.

4. It's pretty easy to buy a dud because browsing, at least in the sense that I do it when I'm at a good bookstore, is fairly difficult to do.

5. The digital revolution is not going to be kind to big bricks and mortar bookstores. While I don't think they're ALL going to go, I believe most of them will. To date, my two favourite large, independent bookstores, Davis Kidd here in Nashville and Joseph Beth's up in Lexington, have both declared bankruptcy as has one of the two big US chain stores, Borders Books and Music.

6. Nooks are fragile ! Take my advice and pay what it costs to get replacement coverage on it because if you drop it on the floor, or even fumble and set it down real hard it is going to be toast.

Me, Nook in hand.

Vanna White I ain't.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Rainy Day

As I begin to write this post, we're in the middle of enjoying a series of day-long gentle, thundery soaking rainshowers. There is no wind, and the rain is falling straight down, and each drop is finding it's way into the hot, dry ground.

Every good country boy in this part of the world including me will be spending some time today in the shop fixing things, big doors wide open, enjoying the smell of rain bruised leaves and grass combined with machine oil, ozone and grease. If the radio's on, we'll all be listening to either old country music or perhaps a distant baseball game. Secretly, we'll hope for a neighbour or a friend to stop by and visit. This is a good excuse to put down the tools and sit down for a visit on some straight backed old kitchen chairs kept specially for this purpose.

When I was a boy, the other alternative for the menfolk on such an afternoon as this one was a long nap, taken in either the Lazy Boy in the front room or on the day bed, which was usually found in the kitchen near the cookstove. I don't have a cookstove nor do I own a day bed, but in spite of these setbacks I'll bet money I can still take a nap.

Rainy days in the middle of summer are easy days down on the farm; they are a welcome respite from the daily grind in every sense of the word and they never fail to put a smile of satisfaction on my face.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A lesson re-learned

Back when I was a "learning lad" and for a few years thereafter, each year I felt the need to remind myself why I didn't gamble. To accomplish this, each fall I would go to our local Indian reservation, eat the buffet dinner that was presented to me and drop fifty bucks on the slots and/or on cards in their casino. If I really lingered over the meal, it might have taken an hour from the time I walked in the door until I walked out again, sans the price of the meal plus the aforementioned fifty bucks. It was a good lesson about throwing money down the toilet and it was well worth the price of admission.

Well, earlier today Melissa and I did something along those lines. But instead of re-learning lessons about gambling by going to a casino, we went to the supermarket and purchased a pound of lean hamburger to remember why we have a freezer full of our own beef downstairs. We make our own hamburger lean so to be fair we gave the store stuff every chance; we purchased the freshest, best and priciest stuff they had available which was on sale today for $ 3.99/lb.

It's no wonder people complain about the was pure garbage. I made hamburgers with it earlier and I knew it was going to be an unpleasant experience right from the get go because it smelled awful as soon as I opened the package and the smell got worse and intensified as I began to cook it. When it was ready to eat...or at least when it was as ready as it was ever going to be, we did our best to mask the taste with condiments and we choked it down. I managed to eat both of mine and Melissa ate about one and a half of hers. Two hours later, I feel as though I ate a lead balloon and I'm already dreading the burpy consequences later tonight.

I don't honestly know how the beef in my freezer compares price wise to the store stuff, but I know the quality and taste of the stuff downstairs is leagues better. Given a much improved taste profile, and given that I like how it smells when it's cooking plus I can eat my hamburger all night long with no digestive upset, I don't really care what mine cost. If it's more expensive to grow mine and put it in the freezer than it is to buy it in the store, so be it.

Our beef is mostly grass fed simply because grass grows easily here and I've found the cheapest and best inputs are those nature provides. But just because nature provides it doesn't mean it can't be pretty easily mucked up. There is an art to using grass properly and getting tasty grass fed beef in the freezer. Way too much grass fed beef is tough, musty and has off flavours. Tough mostly has to do with stress, genetics and whether or not the beef was properly aged after slaughter, but that's a topic for another day.

It's been our experience that off flavours mostly have to do with killing the beef at the wrong time of year. If the grass is green, lush and actively growing it is the WRONG time to be thinking about killing a beef. We've had much better results (and no off flavours) by waiting until the grass is semi-dormant, either during a long dry spell in the middle of the summer or late in the fall after frost, to schedule our slaughter dates.

Growing and preparing good food of any type remains at least as much an art as it is a science. I'm a big fan of good cooking, but I believe that good, well grown ingredients can go a long way toward masking a middlin' job of cooking. With that, I'm going to go down to the freezer and pull out a pound of hamburger so we can re-try frying some burgers that are worth eating tomorrow night.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A New Salesperson

After being without anyone even remotely qualified for the position for some time, our local farmers Co-op recently hired a livestock feed specialist and yesterday he found my driveway, and, after a little hunting and some time he found me. He caught me at a good time; I was just finishing up feeding horses and I had a few minutes to spare for him before I geared up for the next job. He had my immediate empathy because I know how hard it is to turn up laneway after laneway when one is uninvited.

I was an agricultural sales rep for many years myself and when I started calling on farmers way back in the day, I quickly figured out that it was time to tread pretty carefully when calling on someone who a) used to BE a sales rep themselves, b) was successful enough at it that he went from selling things to farmers to being a full time farmer, and c) used to call on (and had a long history with) the company that I now worked for.

In this case, I am all three of these things and it became pretty clear very quickly that the new sales rep clearly hadn't been prepped on what to do about this before he turned in my driveway. However, in the interest of maintaining full disclosure, I came clean with him pretty quickly, and to his credit he stopped trying to sell me things I couldn't use and started asking some relevant and pertinent questions, which is honestly what he needed to be doing in the first place. He seems like a nice young lad; very earnest and very eager to please, and both these things will stand him in good stead in his current position and, later on, elsewhere.

Everybody has to start somewhere and I don't know of anyone who ever started a job that didn't find the learning curve to be pretty darn steep no matter how good or how long the pre-hire training program was. That said, there are a couple of things that agricultural firms could and should do to help ensure the success of their newly hired sales staff.

The first thing would be to give non-local new hires some basic training in what sort of agronomic problems one was likely to run in to in the local area before they hit the road. It's always been my opinion that farmers ought not to have to train sales people in addition to buying things from them, yet it's rare to find a sales rep who received the sort of training that might permit him to make a running start.

The second thing would be to insist that new reps attend a short course in sales psychology prior to hitting the road. Selling feed and farm supplies for a local company in a local market is not a one time sale. Instead, it's an ongoing process and it requires a fairly delicate application of relationship sales skills plus a servant's heart on the part of the salesperson if he is to be successful.

If a poor sales rep is an Achilles heel to both the company that he works for and the customers and prospects he serves, a good one is an invaluable asset to the company and to his clients. It'll be interesting to see which direction our Co-op's new hire travels over time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grandpa Webb

I've been communicating off and on today with a former colleague from East Tennessee who found herself in Elmira, NY on business today. Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile may remember reading that my paternal grandfather married a lady from Elmira and lived the remainder of his long life in that place. I've spent leagues of time talking about my maternal grandfather, but today I'm going to talk some about my dad's dad.

Grandpa Webb got his start in Bristol, England; he was born into a family of 16 children in the very early years of the 20th century. My great-grandfather ran a public house and some time shortly after my grandfather made his appearance, the pub ran on some hard times and those of his children who were still at home were placed in various sorts of foster care. I'm not sure how it happened exactly because Grandpa never wanted to talk about it in very much detail, but somehow he was declared an orphan and at the age of five he wound up a ward of one of the Thomas Barnardo orphanages.

As you might imagine, that wasn't very much fun but what came next was possibly worse. In those days there was no prohibition against child labour, and at the age of twelve my grandfather became one of hundreds of thousands of "home boys"; English orphans who were shipped to Canada by the Barnardo Homes to function more or less as agricultural indentured servants.

A lot of these boys were placed in various sorts of abusive situations and unfortunately, my grandfather found such a place a few miles north of where I was raised. For the next three years he worked seven days a week and slept in the barn with the animals until the dead of winter, when he was allowed a place in the unheated attic of the farmer's home until spring, when he was forced back outside again. There was no school, no church, and no trips to town during that time. Why he never ran away, or as he matured, why he never beat the living hell out of the farmer who did this to him I will never know. I certainly would have. At any rate, he was allowed to change his indenture when he was sixteen and finally found himself in a place where the people treated him with some decency.

When his indenture was up, he gained a little money and promptly sailed for England to re-unite with his family, some of whom he had maintained sporadic contact with. I have all the letters he received during this period of his life in a box in the other room and they are heartbreakingly sad to read. Unfortunately, many of his family had scattered in the interim, including his parents who had passed. He corresponded with one of his older brothers who by this time had become a pastor in the Church of England and who assumed something of a paternal role with my grandfather. This all happened in the early years of the Depression and there was no work to be had in England. On his brother's advice, he sailed again for Canada to make his way on his own.

On his arrival in Ontario, there was no permanent work to be had, so he took to the roads as a hobo and earned his keep by taking and doing odd jobs. One of my neighbours who farmed and worked as an engineer for the CPR hired him for day labour during harvest and took a liking to him. He went out of his way to get him a labourers position with the CPR laying track; a hard job but one he held till he took another labourer's position in the Bowmanville Foundry; a job he would keep for upwards of 35 years. He also managed to buy a house, which he promptly fixed up and resold at a profit; this was something he did several times during his working career.

Finally things began to go right for him and he met and married my grandmother, at which time he was more or less adopted into her huge extended family. Over time, he had three children with her, and they were happily married for thirty five years until her sudden and unexpected passing from a massive heart attack.

The winter after she died, grandpa took a trip to Florida with my newly-wed parents. While there, he became friends with a man from upstate NY who invited him to come and visit which he did later that spring. Unfortunately, his new friend was indisposed the weekend of his visit, so he got his recently divorced (and much younger) sister to step in and act as tour guide and entertainer in his absence. I'm told my step grandmother rolled her eyes when this was suggested to her; my grandfather was piously religious and she...uh....wasn' I readily believe this, but she stepped up to the plate nonetheless.

I'd say the tour must have gone rather well, although I am a hundred percent sure nothing amiss happened because according to my step grandma she couldn't even get him to unbend enough to kiss her on the cheek, and she said she tried HARD which I have no trouble believing ! But something sure must have clicked because grandpa suddenly started spending a lot more time in Elmira, and pretty soon wedding bells were ringing again ! When it came time to choose where to live they chose Elmira because although grandpa was retired my step grandmother still had quite a few years left to work at her factory job before she would be eligible for retirement.

I don't think anyone would argue that my grandad had a hard start in life, but he sure managed to land in clover when he found my step grandmother. From the day they married until the day they died they were never willingly more than a few steps apart; she could finish his sentences and he hers, and she doted on him and spoiled him...and through him, all of us..... like no one had ever done before.

Grandpa married for the second time late in his life, but he enjoyed thirty years of marriage to my step grandmother. The last year of their marriage they slept one room apart from one another at the nursing home but they spent each day together. Despite being fifteen years his junior, each morning my grandad came to her room where he would stay until bedtime. One morning my grandfather failed to come; his death literally broke my grandmother's heart. She passed two weeks later, and they are buried together in Jerusalem Hill, NY.

Grandpa and Grandma at their home on the occasion of his 80th Birthday

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Contemplating Vacation(s)

Finally a post that has nothing to do with HAY ! :)

For a whole host of reasons, I don't know that Melissa and I are going to manage any time away from the farm, at least together, in 2011. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't think about what we'd like to do if we could ! We're not trying to get away from our lives in the same way that people who punch a clock may be, but some time away is a good thing and there is more to life than farming and working. Our usual routine is to head for my in-laws large and lovely condo on the Alabama Gulf Coast. It's a six hour drive from here; far enough away to feel different but close enough to get back in case of a real emergency (thankfully this has never happened).

Locally, I'd love to get over to Asheville, NC and tour the grounds at the Biltmore. When I worked for Alltech I often spent time in that part of Western NC, but I never had time to check out the Biltmore. I've always been a fan of that part of the world and if there were more flat land available at any sort of a reasonable price, I'd move us and our horses over there in a heartbeat.

Now that I've been away for more than a year, I think I've changed my tune on Lexington, KY too. I once stated that I'd spent enough corporate time in Lexington that if I never visited the place again it wouldn't be too soon, but it's simply too nice a destination to follow through on that promise. Among other things, I'd love to revisit Keeneland, The Red Mile and the KY Horse Park as a visitor rather than as a frequent corporate attendee. Of all the Lexington hotels I've stayed at over time, I think my favourite in terms of location is the Hilton Suites at Lexington Green; right next door to one of the best independent booksellers I've ever been at AND an excellent seafood restaurant. I've also spent a lot of time at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort; it would be a treat to check the many amenities out sans clients !

Regionally, I've always been a fan of the many charms of Charleston, Savannah and the SC and GA low country generally. While I've visited several times I can never seem to get enough of it and it wouldn't take much pleading to get me to go back.

As a new American, I think it'd be a good idea to have a look at Washington DC; it's a place I've been through or near several times, but I never have actually checked it out.

I'd love to get Melissa to Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia respectively, and I'd love to redo the drive...I've done it several times.....between Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia. If I ever get completely sick of it down here south of the border, and I decide to return to a place where the Maple Leaf flies, look for me near either Radium Hot Springs, BC or on one of the Gulf Islands between Vancouver and Victoria. Both places rank among the prettiest I've ever seen and I like them both very much, although it's true that if I lived there I'd have to learn to overlook some of the "cash" crops the hippies cultivate on the Gulf Islands !

Of course this is the curtailed version of my very long bucket list of places I'd like to see. If time and money permitted, where would you like to go ?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Second Cut is Done !

I'm sorry for all the posts this year about hay. Cutting it, fertilizing it, raking it, baling it, and storing it have taken an inordinate amount of our time this year, and when that's what you do from first morning light until the sky is too dark to work any more, well, that's what you write about ! At any rate, it's over with, at least until third cut comes along.

Too much hay and green grass is not a problem we're used to suffering in this part of the south, at least not in the height of summer, not since I moved here six years ago. History would suggest that in terms of hay, we make what we can and buy the rest. In the devastating drought of 2007, we had to buy it all, and we fed hay that year from mid-summer until the following spring. Since there was no hay to be had locally at any price, it all had to get shipped in from elsewhere. We paid as much as $ 80.00 per roll for stuff I wouldn't normally even bother to get off the field.

I can't say I'll miss the fifteen or more hour days I've been putting in for what seems like forever this summer. On the plus side we are sleeping like babies when we finally get in the bed at night. This is the first year we've had enough moisture to make all the hay we're going to feed and we'll have some to sell besides. Even when you make it yourself, it's sure not free, but it's satisfying to look at tarps and barns full of hay and know that barring disaster, we're in good shape for winter.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Making Hay Explained

RB; bear with me, this post is for you !

To all the extension professionals, forage industry folks and farmers who follow along, I'm sorry ! Please don't wince too hard at my inept and extremely over-simplified (but hopefully technically correct) explanations !

1. Grasses and legumes are mostly water when they are very young. For a few weeks in the early spring when the grass is green but not yet actively growing, it's quite possible for a group of animals to be turned out onto lush pasture and not be able to glean enough nutrients to maintain their body weight.

2. As grasses and legumes begin to add height, leaves and stems get added rapidly and nutrient content goes up very quickly. When I refer to nutrients, I'm referring to such things as vitamins and minerals, but also energy content (measured in calories or Megacalories) and protein content. In addition to being relatively copious, at this stage of growth nutrients are also readily available to an animal because the plant hasn't yet began to "harden" off in preparation for maturity.

3. Legumes and grasses reach maturity (defined here as setting seed) at different rates which are species specific (and seasonally dependent). As a general rule, C3 cool season grasses gain physiological maturity more rapidly than do most legumes and most C4 warm season grasses. Available nutrients in C3 grasses also tend to decline more precipitously than either legumes or C4 grasses, but this is offset somewhat because the nutrient content of C3 grasses tends to peak higher than C4 grasses, but still considerably lower than legumes.

4. When we cut forages, we effectively restart the clock and begin all over again. The clock is also influenced fairly heavily by available heat, available moisture, etc. While it may have taken forty or fifty days for grass to achieve physiological maturity in the spring, it may happen in half that much time in the middle of the summer if temperature and moisture are right. Lignification also happens much more quickly in the summer. Thus to achieve the same nutrient profile and availability as first cutting, second and third cuttings ought to be taken at a significantly earlier stage of maturity.

Cutting resets the clock. Providing there is available heat and moisture, grasses and legumes will begin to regrow.

4. Now that we have some understanding of when grasses and legumes offer the most nutrition (while they are still growing) and what we can do to influence nutritive quality (cut it !), we can begin to think a bit about the animals for whom we are cutting and storing this hay.

5. Growing calves/foals and lactating animals of all types require (and can utilize) the highest quality forage. For this type of animal, grass hay should be cut before heads are emerged and alfalfa ought to be cut at mid to late bud, before flowers appear. This might yield an ADF/NDF content of <30 and < 40 respectively, an energy content of 0.9 Mcal/lb or higher, mostly from sugars, and a crude protein content in excess of 20 %. For our purposes, assume ADF and NDF are measures of nutrient availability, and that the numbers I provided equate to very high levels of nutrient availability. That isn't the whole story, but close enough for this discussion.

This field of (mostly) bermuda grass (pic taken this morning) is knee high with no heads visible. If this were any kind of C3 grass, and if this was all I had in the barn, it'd be too rich to feed all winter at our operation. As it is, it's is at the top end of the quality scale in terms of what would be suitable for our retired horses.

6. Horses at maintenance (ie. our retirees) don't require particularly high levels of protein or energy. If I fed the sort of hay I described above, every horse on the place would be fat as a tick and would develop all the metabolic diseases that obesity and old age bring with them. I can't imagine what this stuff would do to an IR or Cushings horse ! As a consequence, I aim a little lower and cut a little later when I'm trying to make hay suitable for what we're doing around here. Especially with C4 grasses which mature and decline relatively slowly, this creates a relatively wide window for getting suitable hay in the barn. I'm aiming for a CP content of 10-12 %, an energy content of 0.65-0.8 Mcal/lb and an ADF/NDF profile of <40 and <60 (moderate availability) respectively.

This field of mixed grass (pic also taken this morning) is at or a little below the lower end of the suitable quality scale for our retired horses. This field will be sold to a farmer with beef cows once it's baled and we'll get another chance at it when it regrows.

Hopefully this will help clarify what we do. There is considerably more knowledge involved in putting up suitable quality hay than just running out to the field and cutting it down at the first available chance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Big 2nd Cut

It's been 35 days since we finished our first cutting of hay. The first half of that was dry and very hot, but the skies opened up on us in Mid-June and it's rained every few days since. With the rain came heat and very high humidity. The cool season grasses have gone dormant but our tropical grasses are *really* fired up about this as you can see from the pictures below.

We're expecting in excess of 200 round bales from our second cut; normally we'd be very happy with half that much. With all the soil moisture I think it's likely that we'll also have a third cut. I'm tempted to call our local hay broker, Big Earl, and see if I can enlist his services to broker some of our excess hay to others less fortunate than us.

Forecast is for rain tomorrow and again on Saturday, followed by several days of sunny and hot weather. Anybody who needs us this weekend will sure know where to look ! :)

Seven feet tall and still growing with only a few heads visible. Unreal.

A second look....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good for the Goose ?

One of the recurring themes in this that I can't ever seem to get shut of for very speaking up when I see people in the ag industry....including farmers....doing things that either a) aren't good for the world generally or b) aren't good for the industry itself, or c) aren't good for the farmers they purportedly support. As a full time farmer I find the last one particularly galling, and "pro-ag" support groups are often the worst offenders about remembering that feet and mouths aren't meant to go together. I recently cancelled my membership in a "pro" farmer group when it's messages began by thanking American farmers for providing American consumers the cheapest food in the world. I guess that's nice, but I win out of supporting this sort of nonsense how, exactly ?

To be fair, we farmers are often our own worst enemies. I know of no other business that routinely spends so much time, effort and money enhancing production without bothering to see whether or not the market will actually buy the extra at a price that is profitable first. Incredibly, when somebody has the audacity to actually sell a product that the market will buy, often at a premium, this gets labelled as a threat. And if you don't believe me, read what the general farm press has to say about organics, or about grass fed meat or BST free milk just to cite a few examples. I've yet to figure out what is threatening about any of this, but believe me when I say there are a lot of folks who sure seem to think it is.

Unlike many farmers, I don't choose to vilify any of the many large multinationals that exist within agriculture. We are their consumers and they exist by producing what we want and will buy and they couldn't exist if we didn't. When somebody comes along with a better idea that makes what they do redundant, they will either adapt their business model to new realities or they will die. It's up to them to worry about their businesses just as it's up to me to worry about mine.

And with that, it's time to go check on some horses !

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Time to get out the hoe....

In the realm of bad decisions, I think one I just read about ranks right up there. I was stunned to read just a few minutes ago that the USDA is going to allow the unregulated sale of glyphosate tolerant bluegrass. That's GMO bluegrass, for those not in the know.

If what I read is correct, then the *minor* issue here is that this has the potential to exacerbate glyphosate resistant weeds in a very big way by encouraging consumers to overspray glyphosate.

Up till now, the major GMO crops have all been annuals. What issues do we create for ourselves when we choose to release an untested perennial GMO into the world. Bluegrass spreads. Rapidly. And in the northern US, it's extremely difficult to get rid of, especially in fields of oh....let's say....corn or soybeans, much of which is already GMO of itself, but some of which....especially that which is intended for direct human not. While I'm not saying this is environmental armageddon, isn't that what the USDA inspectors are supposed to prevent ?

Because we are about to release a spreading, naturalized perennial GMO grass, I think is a bigger deal than any previously released GMO. And I also think it has the potential to seriously derail a technology that with a little foresight had/has the potential to be a good thing for all of us.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Favourite Foods

One of the joys of farming, at least to me, is spending time out on the tractor doing various sorts of field work. Providing everything holds together there are no cell phones, no radio, no anything...and although I'm loathe to admit it in front of Melissa, it's where I get my best thinking done.

As I was working my way through summer spraying and pasture clipping, my mind got happily stuck on food, and in particular on favourite and memorable dishes, foods and meals. Of course I've got many stories about favourite meals that coincide with holiday rituals, but that isn't what this particular post is about. Rather this is more about the sort of serindipitous favourite food memory that can't be planned in advance.

Perhaps the most memorable meal I ever helped prepare was one that I served to city friends who had never eaten really fresh food before. They came with me to our huge family garden and helped me pick vegetables and when we were through we went to the fencerow and picked our dessert....two quarts of fresh blackberries laced with Jersey cream fresh from a neighbours tank. Our meat was filet steak from a freshly butchered steer. Although it wasn't odd to me at all, it completely blew our friends away that except for the condiments (and the cream) I had grown every single thing on our table that night.

Of course, fresh anything is pretty awesome all by itself; even bland old carrots and peas taste pretty awesome when they are picked fresh out of the garden and only semi-cleaned up before being eaten raw.

Speaking of berries, is there anything better than discovering a patch of raspberries, strawberries or blackberries growing in a fencerow or off in the woods ? When I was a kid our fencerows were full of berries of every type and I spent many pleasant hours hunting and picking various sweet wild treats, each in their season. My favourite pie remains strawberry rhubarb, mostly because I associate the taste with the warm, berry picking summer afternoons of my childhood.

Perhaps because I grew up in the north, any sort of spring green was a welcome (and favourite) addition to the diet. I wait for fresh asparagus every year and since we don't yet have our own patch down here in Tennessee I will pay nearly any price to source it. Lightly peppered watercress on toast remains a favourite too, though not one I've tasted since I left Ontario.

I don't know many rural folk from the northeastern US or central Canada who don't have stories associated with making maple syrup. I'll end my post by saying that IMO the best way to eat pancakes is with piping hot fresh syrup, preferably within sight and smell of the sugarhouse door on a warm late winter day. Mmmmm !

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Canada Day and Happy Independence Day !

Lucky me, I get to celebrate BOTH ! :)

Although I chafe at our ever increasing levels of taxation and at our respective government's relative moves towards creating a never ending set of gimme's more appropriate to a nanny state than a place that's supposed to be free, I can't really imagine calling anywhere else home.

One of the more curious things about living near the international border is how often you see both the Canadian flag and Old Glory flying together in the front yard of private homes. There are A LOT of people and A LOT of families that call both places home; I and my family are but one among many.

At one time or another, I've enjoyed travelling from one end of Canada to the other and from coast to coast across the United States. I have too many favourite places to even make an attempt at doing them justice by naming them; suffice it to say that both countries are endowed with scenery and beauty beyond anything I've ever seen or heard of anywhere else. In the spirit of friendship, I'd encourage everyone at some point in their lives to spend a little time, "getting to know the neighbours", no matter which side of the line your neighbours live on (or, come to that, how they choose to spell neighbour) ! :)

For those of you reading from north of the line, Happy Canada Day on Friday (!) and for those who choose to partake of my blog from anywhere in the USA, Happy Independence Day on Monday !

Oh......and the most popular Can/Am bi-national tourist destination ? Well, that's easy.

But I think my personal favourite is a couple hundred miles to the northeast. I've *always* been a fan of the Thousand Islands. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Things I Love About the South

A school friend of mine got married and moved to Northern KY some years ago. In the years since, she's assimilated into the local populace well enough that if I didn't know her history I'd be hard put to pick her out from a Northern KY native. What I've learned from her move (and mine) is that in terms of location, perception is definitely reality. Compared to where I grew up, Northern Kentucky is pretty far south in both climate and attitude. But when I get that far's 250 miles to Lexington or Louisville.....these days, it looks and sounds as much like the midwest to me as it does the midsouth ! As a non-native who several years ago got married to a native and dived pretty deep into Dixie here are a few things I love (and that took more getting used to than you might think) about my new home.

"Winter" flowers.

Frogs chirping on mild January nights.

Getting the lawnmower and air conditioner serviced and ready to go in February. Some years I've used both of them before February turns into March.

Cherries, Forsythia, Redbud and Dogwoods blooming in March. Southern springs are way more colourful than those I grew up with. Azaleas and Camellias of all types.

Huge old evergreen southern Magnolia (magnolia grandiflora) trees in all their mighty glory and splendor.

Taking a nap or shooting the breeze under the huge old hackberry down by the creek at our new farm. I even widened the laneway in that spot to make these things easier to accomplish.

Sun Drop cola and chess pie.

Two (or more) story porches with fans and swings hanging from the rafters.

Squeaky ceiling fans on front porches (or better yet in old hardware stores) moving languid puffs of rank, warm summer air.

Magnificent old courthouses sitting smack in the middle of town on squares filled with benches and huge shade trees.

Frosty big glasses of ice cold sweet tea, ideally sitting on the arm of a rocking chair on a porch under a squeaky ceiling fan ! I'm honestly not a big fan of tea generally but boy do those glasses look good on a 90+ degree summer afternoon.

Kudzu. (Yes, Kristy I know it's a weed but it's kind of neat and since this is my blog you'll just have to humour me ! ;))

(Insert Place Name) Market (gas, bait, basic groceries, beer plus hot breakfast and lunch items all under the same roof) ! How much more convenient can you get than that ?

Fresh boiled peanuts in a sack !

Being able to comfortably wear shorts all the time for six entire months and some of the time for three months more than that. Now that I don't work in corporate America I can and do wear shorts at my convenience. All I have to put up with are stares and comments from local folk, but most of them already think I'm nice but crazy so this just gives them a little additional fuel and I don't mind very much.

Monday, June 27, 2011


It seems to have become a badge of honour in our society to not require very much sleep to be functional the next day. Even way out in the country and way down on the farm people seem to brag about not needing to sleep very much. Coffee shop conversations that feature sleep as the topic of conversation begin with somebody saying that they can get by pretty well on six hours of sleep. Pretty quickly somebody else'll chime in that they only get four hours a night and if they lay down for six they'd feel awful from oversleeping. The "winner" in these discussions manages to get by on catnaps after dinner in his favourite chair with an hour or two spent in the bed once a week.

Well boys and girls, this ain't me. Not by a long shot ! I need at least eight hours in the bed to feel like I've had a night's sleep and I'll take as much more as I can manage or get away with.

I've probably slept four or five hours a night the past couple of nights which for me is an awful night's sleep. Given how tired I feel combined with my "fragile" mental state, I'm led to wonder, and not for the first time either, how much inexplicable antisocial and otherwise wierd behaviour is directly related to lack of sleep ?

For instance, I wonder how long it's been since the dude who went the wrong way up a clearly marked freeway exit ramp earlier today has had a good sleep, or is he so brain dead that it wouldn't matter ? Or the one who started yelling at the checkout girl at the market ahead of me over a supposedly shortchanged nickel ? He didn't seem real appreciative when I loudly offered to pay him his {insert word of your choice} nickel if he'd shut up and move the {see previous instruction} away but after getting a look at my face he did pipe down and leave pretty quickly.

Ahem. Haven't slept much lately ! What's your excuse ?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on Firearms

As most of you know I'm not much of a hunter and I don't enjoy killing anything, for sport or otherwise. That said, I've had a long fascination with firearms, and thanks mostly to a generous father-in-law I own several types of small and medium calibre rifles in both lever and bolt action, some with stock sights and some with scopes, and some with magazines as well as a couple that are single shot. But although I have a more than adequate number of serviceable arms for the light use (mostly target shooting) they get around here, I don't yet have what I really want.

Below is a picture of a Benelli M4 Semi-Automatic shotgun that I found in various places on the internet. I'd definitely say yes to one of these ! I expect when Melissa saw the price tag on the civilian version of this she would be very tempted to use it on me if I was dumb enough to actually purchase it and bring it home ! All by itself this is an excellent reason not to teach your wife how to shoot !!!! :)

At this point in my life I need all the help I can get on the rare occasion that I have need and what I've got for firearms isn't getting the job done very well. The problem with lever or bolt action least for me.... is that they have to be lowered from the firing position and one's eyes and focus have to leave the target (even if only briefly) in order to chamber another round. That's fine if the target is a piece of paper (and that is my favourite kind of shooting) but if the target is moving, and especially if it's moving quickly, it's not so good. So what I want to do over time is move away from the bolt and lever actions and move toward one good semi-automatic 2o gauge shotgun and one good semi-automatic small calibre, reasonably accurate, scoped (.22 mag, .223 or .243) varmint rifle. I hear people talking about being able to place a group of shots inside a one inch radius at 100 or more yards and that's nice but it's not where I'm at at this point in my life. If it's a hundred yards away from me it's pretty safe unless maybe it's the size of an elephant and if it's that big I promise I'm gonna be more concerned with running the other way than with shooting.

Why 20 gauge instead of the more "manly" 12, or, on the rifle side, a .270 or 30.06 you ask ? It's got everything to do with recoil. The bigger the gun, the bigger the kick and that hurts accuracy, but more importantly, as I begin to feel the effects of my misspent youth, it hurts my shoulder, especially if one is taking several shots ! And if that makes me a gun loving wimp, well, that's okay too ! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Melissa (!) and PSA

The first item on the agenda is that today is Melissa's birthday ! We've got the cake and candles and dinner is taken care of so please join me in wishing her a very happy birthday ! :)

The second item on today's agenda is a farm safety PSA.

Earlier today one of the horses had a minor spook while Melissa was attempting to put his feed bag on. This happens every day, and we know to pay attention and keep a watch out for this particular horse. But in spite of all our knowledge and training, and in spite of doing everything correctly this horse chose to spook and Melissa got hurt. While she's not exactly sure exactly what happened, she's pretty sure that he caught her under the chin with his head and he hit her hard enough to lift her off the ground and knock her out cold for several minutes and when she woke up she had a mouth full of blood though thankfully she still had all her teeth.

Of course all this happened in Lynnville and while this was going on I was out of touch on the bush hog here at home in College Grove.

I understand that horses are basically pets and that (especially) women have a special relationship with them and in many cases they are treated more like kids than animals, etc., etc., etc.. But at the end of the day they are going to act like horses and horses are large, flighty animals that sometimes behave in very unpredictable ways.

Please be safe, please don't turn your back to a horse, especially if he or she is loose, and please do whatever you reasonably need to in order to make the horse respect your space.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How's Your Moisture

I grew up in a place where during the growing season it was commonplace to announce yourself to friends (especially at the coffee shop) not with "Hello!" but with how much moisture you may or may not have gotten during the last rain storm. One memorable time the morning after a particularly potent thunderstorm I entered Timmies by bellowing "Inch and a half !" which got nods of approval from all my farmer buddies but quizzical looks from the counter girls, one of whom hollered back at me, " Don't believe I'd BRAG about that !"

Moisture was much on my mind when I farmed in Ontario but I think it's actually a bigger deal in Tennessee than it ever was up home. In this part of the world I've learned over time that we average somewhere around 50 inches of rainfall a year divided fairly evenly among each of the twelve months with a slight maximum in late winter and early spring. Given this, and given that our yearly average rainfall is nearly twenty inches more per annum that it was where I grew up in Ontario, it might surprise you to know that the biggest stressor for farmers, their crops and their pastures in this part of the world is drought !

Droughts are seldom a problem in the cooler months down here partly due to relatively low evapotranspiration rates but mostly due to the type, freqency and intensity of our cool season rainfalls. In every season but summer (and early fall) it tends to rain in dollops....a little bit every few days which helps keep the soil moist.

Summer around here is a different ball game. With 24 hour four inch soil temperatures at or above 90 degrees evapotranspiration rates are incredibly high. Cold fronts cease to arrive sometime around the first of June and between that date and the fall solstice, most of our moisture comes in the form very random afternoon thundershowers which can drop a month's worth of rain in a few minutes and then disappear for weeks at a time. Even on the days when it rains and in years when we get normal levels of precipitation it's hot and sunny most of the time. High soil temperatures and sporadic summer precipitation are pretty hard on C3 grasses, so as I mentioned in greater detail in another blog post, this is where C3 grasses give way to C4 tropical species.

And coffee shop conversations ? Well, in my dotage you'll be proud to know I've become more circumspect. I usually wait to get seated these days before I beller out to my farmer friends how much moisture the latest rain has provided.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Random Thoughts from a Random Farmer

Here is a short collection of thoughts that have been flitting around in my head the past few days as I've been running around on the tractor makin' hay and fixin' equipment ! As you'll see, none of these are particularly earth shattering. Well, it's been HOT you see.... :)

Livestock get sick. The more livestock and horses you have, the more likely one or more of them is going to be in ill thrift. If you have enough of either livestock or horses to make a living, some of them are going to require some sort of special/time consuming treatment more or less every day. And YOU are going to be the one treating them ! On the plus side, unlike my tenure in corporate America, mostly they don't talk back, they aren't trying to sell me something, they don't have lawyers on retainer and they aren't unionized (yet).

Equipment, no matter how well serviced or how new, has a habit of breaking down at extremely inopportune times and/or in extremely inopportune places. Sometimes the fixes are easy and relatively cheap. More often they are difficult and expensive. Like my grandad always said, it doesn't break down when it's sitting in the SHED ! Over time, I've modified this for my own doesn't break down when it's sitting on the dealers lot either !

Even farmers without very much equipment have a lot of equipment. I started counting tires around here the other day and when I got to sixty I stopped. I wasn't even close to done but I was very sick of counting tires ! If you have enough equipment to make a living farming, some of it is going to require special/time consuming treatment more or less every day. Even if it's all new, it's NEVER all going to work correctly and it's never going to all be fixed at the same time. Does this thought sound disturbingly similar to # 1 ??

No matter how salubrious the climate is where you live, people who work out of doors quickly realize that the weather is inclement in various ways a lot more of the time than it's clement. It's also been my experience that most people who are passionate about [hot/cold/dry/wet/snowing/etc.] don't spend much of their time actually out in it whenever it's [hot/cold/wet/dry/snowing/etc]. Most people who DO spend a lot of time working outside generally prefer equable weather. If we had a gentle rain each night followed by partly sunny and 75 every day of the year, it'd suit me just fine.

A gorgeous spring or fall day when animals and equipment are mostly healthy, the grass is green and the temperature is superb cancels three months of whinin' about bad weather, sick animals or broken equipment. Yes, really.

A happy spouse on a gorgeous spring or fall day when animals and equipment are mostly healthy, the grass is green and the temperature is superb cancels SIX months of whinin' about bad weather, sick animals or broken equipment. Yes, really.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Back soon !

For those who haven't been following on our horse blog, our new hay barn is full !

I'm spending my spare time and evenings fixing all the stuff that tore up and/or didn't get done during the past couple of weeks of hard running. Mix a string of long days with the ongoing mid summer heat we're experiencing...normal though it may be.... and what I mostly do when I come in the house is fall asleep sitting in my chair !

I've got several blog posts started...some of them are even pretty good I think.....but it's hard to finish a blog post when I'm sitting here snoring and drooling on myself before 8 pm. Now that the mental picture is complete dear reader, I wish you a good evening ! :)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Haying Time

I don't know about you, but I remember vividly the first money I ever made. It was a hot, muggy June afternoon and, as often happens in that sort of weather, clouds quickly began to build and darken in the northwest signalling a quick, lake-breeze induced thunderstorm. My grandfather had been baling hay across the field from our house for most of the day and he had a thousand or more square bales laying on the ground that were fixing to get wet. He came to the house to recruit help to stook them and among my uncles and cousins he made a point of asking *me* to go with him. I was playing in the sandpile at the time, and I threw my toys down, dusted myself off and gravely made my way to the truck.

Hand stooking hay is, except for the Amish, pretty much an activity relegated to the past, but in addition to making the hay at least somewhat water resistant, it was really something to see a big field of hay stooked in neat rows of four (or sometimes six) bales leaned together. At any rate, we got the field stooked just as the first drops of rain began to fall, and after he dropped everyone off and they went back to their respective tasks he reached in his wallet, said thanks for the help, and handed me a five dollar bill. I was so thrilled I was mute.....a rare event of itself, at least according to my mother....and I sat there dumbly staring at the money until gramps cleared his throat and said he'd better be getting home to grandma. I remember grinning as I exited the truck, still silent.

Each year after that I became more useful, eventually catching up to and then surpassing my grandad's waning abilities where the hardest work was concerned. When I wasn't busy at home I was free to hire my services to other local farmers and I filled each summer from grade 7 through high school with making hay for us and for others, and when the wheat was done, with straw, too. Somewhere along the way.....I don't remember when except to say it was probably shortly after I went off to college....we stopped stooking hay entirely, and a few years after that we stopped square baling in favour of rounds, which took a whole lot less labour.

Here in TN, with a mix of warm and cool season grasses predominant in most fields, making dry hay happens any time after the middle of May and we've been hard at it the last couple weeks. We don't use many square bales around here...certainly not enough to justify owning a baler/wagons/etc.....but a farm operation of our size has need of SOME small square bales. As such, we try to buy several hundred bales straight out of a freshly baled field somewhere locally, and I get to spend a few days in the same way I spent so many when I was a kid, loading, hauling, elevating and stacking hay in the barn.

While handling the volumes of hay I handled as a teen in this manner would get old very quickly, it's kinda fun for a couple days to relive a part of my youth that hasn't changed one bit in spite of time and geography. It even smells the same as it did back then ! I will say it's hard to believe that at one time I used to be able to work all day long building wagon loads of hay stacked four high completely by myself and I speared, lifted and placed every single bale on each of those wagons with a pitchfork. To see just how hard that might be to accomplish, I'd encourage any of you with access to go try spearing and lifting ONE bale of hay with a pitchfork. Either the bales have gotten heavier or I've got older, fatter and lazier because I assure you I couldn't do what I used to do today. After loading and unloading a trailer load of hay earlier today...even with HELP.... I was more than ready to go to the house even though the memories it conjured were good ones !

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Friendly Thank You !

How long did it take me to tear down my little Kubota and order replacement parts today ?

Not long at all due to my ace in the hole shown below ! Many thanks and much appreciation to my friends Tim and Brita; they have no idea how much money, time and effort the manual they copied and sent down here have saved me !