Monday, May 31, 2010

Figuring it all out

This last week was a lesson in humility.  For the first time we put up our entire hay field loose, using the hay loader and hay trolley/grapple forks in the barn.  This has been a goal of mine for quite a while, as it's the only practical way to make hay without using a tractor.

Yes, it's much more work; of that there's little doubt.  But it's much less work than trying to revive a planet we've put into cardiac arrest -- a requirement if we continue using tractors. 

Suffice to say that there was a steep learning curve.   I learned that it's not possible to back up a hay wagon into the barn.  The only way to back it up is to disconnect and walk it while manually steering via the tongue.  A fully loaded wagon doesn't always move too easily.  It was hot -- in the high 80's.  Good for drying hay, not so good for working.  That's how haying always goes. 

The hay trolley in the barn worked very well, but it takes a bit of technique though.  You have to pull it hard back towards yourself at the center of the barn, fast enough that it trips the release at the center of the track.  But you don't want to pull too hard, or 60lbs of sharp pointy steel will come crashing down on top of you from 30' above.  I finally figured that I could loop the trip line around a beam, which lands the grapple forks well away from me.

It's hard to say exactly how much hay we put up when there are no bales to count.  But, based upon last year's 2nd cutting which produced 160 odd bales, I think we put up the equivalent of 200 bales this time around.  We can fit 4 600 foot long windrows on the wagon before we have to return back to the barn.  With about 28 windrows, that's 7 trips to the barn and back (actually more like 8 or 9, since it took a few trips before we figured out that we could fit four of them on the wagon at a time).

Before we started, I figured that we'd pitch everything off of the wagon and into the hay loft by hand until it became too high, at which point it would become worthwhile to use the grapples.  I was naive.  The grapples can unload a full wagon in 4-5 bites, which is much easier than using pitchforks. 

The horses pull the hay rope, which lifts a huge pile of hay up to the peak of the roof.  As soon as it reaches the trolley, the trolley trip is released, and the whole assembly flies to the end of the barn where it hangs until I pull the release on the grapple forks, when a few hundred pounds of hay drops to the floor with a big woomf!

Another recent lesson in humility was my attempt to cultivate our small patch of field corn using the horses. I was able to focus on the horse's hooves or the cultivator's position relative to the corn plants, but never both at the same time. I think I managed to "save" about 10% of the plants in the last row before I gave up. With the cultivator set to its widest possible setting, there's about an 8" slot through which the corn must pass.

We bought a reproduction of the old "Planet Junior" wheel cultivators, which I've been using instead. It's not nearly as fast, but most of the corn plants get to live for now, at least until I polish my horse cultivating.

BTW -- if you're looking for a non-gas powered option for garden cultivation, I highly recommend the Planet Junior style cultivator. The original models trickle through on Ebay, but they go for about the same price as the reproduction which we purchased.

Buttercup the cow is just about to calve, based on the way her udder is growing ever larger and pinker.  Both she and Josie are due on June 5th, although Josie doesn't seem to be showing it as much.   Like my great grandparents, we're going to try leaving the calves with their mothers, which is almost unheard of in the modern dairy world, where feeding cheap powdered "milk replacer" is the new norm.  Most dairies "beef" their cows after 3 lactations now.  My great grandparents had cows that they kept in production well into their teens.

Eulogy For A Breaking Heart
Gerald Herbert - May 2010
“A young heron among oil-covered mangroves in Barataria Bay, Louisiana"

This photo recently appeared in one of the economics blogs I read. It's not as if I've never seen a photo of a pathetic oil soaked bird before, but this time around I realize that I'm responsible for what it shows. BP is nothing more than our hired hit-man. Sure -- they deserve some credit, but the real guilt rests on the folks who paid them to risk this.  Look in the mirror to find your culprit.

Unless you and I change our lives dramatically we're going to do this again, to billions of other creatures, including ourselves. I'm not talking about changing the flavor of our lifestyles ("I know -- I'll sell my SUV and buy an electric car!") because that won't solve our predicament. Major painful changes are necessary (as in making car ownership a distant memory). Yes -- we will be seriously inconvenienced, to say the least. Personally, I'd take the inconvenience over watching my son realize that his future is no brighter than that of the heron in this photo.

You say you can't get to work without your car?  Then move to where you work, or find a different job.    You would *die* if you could no longer drive to the mountains each weekend (as I once did)?  Find another way to have fun, or figure out a way to live in the mountains.  Can't live in your house without using fossil fuel heat or air conditioning?  Then you're living in the wrong spot.  Find a way to eliminate the need for fossil energy.  You're smart -- you can do it.  Yes, it is that important.

From a contemporary perspective, you and I seem pretty normal. We do pretty much the same thing as everyone else. Our houses are about the same. We all drive cars, and occasionally fly in airplanes.

From a historical perspective, however, you and I stick out like Roseanne Barr at an Anorexics Anonymous meeting. Compared to everyone who came before us, we're fabulously wealthy. My family of three has 600 slaves working for us, and is probably just like yours. Just because we pump our slaves out of the ground in places like the Gulf of Mexico, dig them up from underneath the boreal forests of northern Alberta (now the leading source of oil imports in the US), or blow up entire mountains in Appalacia to get them -- doesn't mean we get to live with a clear conscience. Instead of stealing the lives of folks we've kidnapped from other continents, you and I have resorted to stealing the future of our own kids. But everyone else does it, which makes it alright I guess...


Robert said...

You can find plans to make your own Planet Junior-style cultivator at Herrick Kimble's Planet Whizbang blog. He'll sell you the parts, a complete cultivator or let you download the plans and have a go at it yourself.

David Veale said...

Good point. We looked at these also, which go for about half the price of the Hoss model. With the "Hoss" wheel hoe sold by farmer browns plow shop, you do have the option to swap out to original Planet Jr style handles (which we did), and there are more attachment options than with the whizbang. I find that I like the sweeps on our hoe, which is the closest thing to the stirrup on the whizbang, so I would definitely think the whizbang is worth the money.

Nick said...

I came across your blog looking for info on wheel cultivators. I never realized that horse drawn equipment would be so challenging! I guess I stick to pushing my machine. I found this online article about the History of the Wheel Hoe that I think you would find interesting.