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.