FarmerHoney Digs to China!

As I write, FarmerHoney is trying out the latest addition to his farm equipment – a small Allmand backhoe/loader.  He’s been wanting one for several years; there are plenty of projects around the farm that require a backhoe.  This is one purchase that just could not be postponed any longer.  (And I once thought farmers pretty much limited their equipment to tractors and hay wagons!  Oh, no – there is a LOT of equipment on a farm that most people wouldn’t expect to find.  But that’s another story.)

Closeup Terry on backhoe

FarmerHoney is very happy with Project Number One. 

Prior to selecting this backhoe, FarmerHoney spent hours checking out backhoe videos on YouTube.  (Yes, there are lots of such things!)  All sorts of folks have been filmed using various brands of backhoes; FarmerHoney was determined to evaluate them all and choose the best model for his needs.  So thus began endless hours watching Backhoe YouTube videos.  At the time, this was actually a reprieve from endless hours watching Italian World War II movies.

I think it’s safe to say now that we’ve watched backhoes in all sorts of circumstances.  They can get stuck in the most incredibly messy ways.  Some backhoe operators must believe their machines are equipped with inflatable flotation devices.  Others drive them on steep inclines only a mountain goat has any business attempting!  We’ve watched backhoe operators use just the features of their machines to load and unload them from flatbed trucks – no ramps needed.  One video showed a backhoe “climb” a series of increasingly higher platforms, then descend to the ground again.

Did you know there is a backhoe designed to operate on top of open railroad cars?  FarmerHoney and I stared in fascination (yep, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it – guess it was a slow day in the country) as the operator managed to get his backhoe off of a railroad car and safely onto the ground again – no ramps required!  He had quite an audience watching while he gingerly eased the heavy machine back to earth – I imagine they were wondering if he’d capsize or not.  Maybe there were even friendly bets among those onlookers!

backhoe on railroad car

This specialized backhoe is called a “cartopper”.  It was filmed by Bob Dahringer and posted to You Tube as “Unloading a Herzog Cartopper.”  FarmerHoney and I aren’t the only folks who watched this – it’s had well over 7,000,000 views!

Just when we thought we’d seen every conceivable thing a backhoe could do, we came across a choreographed “march” of five or six backhoes.  I think whoever came up with that idea had either been in marching band or had a child in marching band.  It was pretty clever.  Picture the Blue Angels – on Monster Truck wheels.  And slow.  V-e-r-y   s-l-o-w.  Or imagine synchronized swimming performed with construction equipment.  You get the picture.  I don’t know about FarmerHoney, but I think I’ve seen all the backhoe videos I ever want to see!

Dancing Backhoes

This is JCB’s backhoe stunt team, the “Dancing Diggers”.  Incredible show!

As I began this story, FarmerHoney decided that Project Number One with his new backhoe would be to improve the cattle guard – the trench below the grate was so shallow the calves in the pasture easily walked on the soil just below the grate and into our front yard.  The only things the grate prevented from entering the yard were the cows and the bull.  We should be grateful for small miracles.

Calves at cattle guard 6

Now, I truly don’t mind the calves munching on our grass.  Heaven knows it needed trimming and the lawn mower wasn’t working.  But it’s the little gifts the calves deposit on the lawn that I have a problem with.  Anyone ever get upset over a neighbor’s dog dumping on your yard?  A calf is a LOT bigger than a dog!  So are its dumps!  And they’re not as easy to dispose of.

Okay, enough of that!

FarmerHoney removed the grate that covers the trench and began scooping out one shovelful of soil at a time.  He had practiced using his new backhoe the week before, when landscaping around his sister’s home. It showed.  He’d become quite adept at toggling two levers at a time, so the outstretched bucket would reach out at the same time it was being positioned.  FarmerHoney had this down to a science!  I was amazed at the amount of dirt and rocks piling up on the south side of the road.  I could just imagine him at the beach, digging to China with his backhoe.  He’d be the envy of all the boys!  What a hole that would be!

Terry, backhoe and cattle guard 2

Notice the cattle in the distance.  I think they’re just trying to act like they’ve seen backhoes before, it’s nothing new, why get excited?

After about 30 minutes of digging, FarmerHoney was ready for a break, so he walked in for lunch.  His absence in the backhoe was the cattle’s cue to examine the site.  A few of them walked over – rather quickly, I thought.  I watched in fascination as more joined the first cows.  And then cattle from all over the field were actually running to see the excavation!  In my imagination, I could hear shouts of “Me, first!” or “Hey, wait for me!” from the herd.  What did they expect to find when they arrived?   Massive piles of sweet feed or a bucket of molasses?

Cattle at excavation site

With FarmerHoney out of the picture, the herd has no reason to retain its aloof attitude toward what’s happening at the cattle guard.  They came running over to see what was going on – and I mean running!

Whatever it was the cattle were searching for, they seemed to discover it in the pile of dirt and rock. They happily munched on weeds that had been scooped up with the soil and sifted through the pile with their hooves and noses.  I could relate.  I used to hunt for rocks and fossils as a kid and the cows’ behavior looked familiar.  Except for the eating weeds part.

Once the pile of dirt had been investigated and plants sampled, the cattle took turns checking out the backhoe.  Cattle are naturally quite curious and just about any novelty will attract their attention.  It’s a wonder no cow or calf was accidentally pushed in the trench!  I half expected one of them to clamber into the driver’s seat of the backhoe, they inched in so close.

The cattle spent about 45 minutes examining every part of the work area and backhoe.  Then FarmerHoney walked to the trench and jumped down, using a small spade to complete what the backhoe was too large for.  The herd was quite interested in this and stuck around to watch The Man in the Hole.  When FarmerHoney was happy with his work, he climbed back out of the hole and into his backhoe, then lifted the grate back into position and filled in any depressions in the road.  He was very pleased with the result!

Evidently, the calves are happy with the improvements, too.  While they can no longer walk across on the soil, they’re still able to scamper across a narrow section of posts and rock I’d placed adjacent to the grate.

To prevent the calves from doing such a thing.

Time to learn about building a set of wings for that guard.

cattle guard with wings

This is not our cattle guard – it has wings on it.  I suspect the calves would figure a way to crawl below the wing in this picture, so we’ll have to block any access to that area as well!

 

 

 

 

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You’ve Gotta Love Calves!

Our riding lawn mower isn’t working.  We replaced the belt on it, but FarmerHoney suspects at least one spring is missing.  However, without an owner’s manual, we’re kind of stuck.  So, being overly optimistic, I searched online for the manual to our old Quality Farm & Country riding mower, model #475475.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s been on an Internet quest to find this little gem.  After hours of searching – and reading posts from other Quality lawn mower owners, the manual no longer exists.  I wonder if it ever did.  In the past, I’ve downloaded several owner’s manuals for vintage appliances that I’ve purchased, including a 1970 Toastmaster Waffle Baker (thrift store, $7.00) and a 1972 Toastmaster 2-slice Toaster (thrift store, $5.00).  They work perfectly well!  Their manuals were easy to track down.

Thrift store Toastmaster

I wish our riding lawn mower had been made by Toastmaster.  By now, we’d know where the missing spring should be located and the mower would be operational.  Actually, if the mower had been made by Toastmaster, it would still be running just fine.

In the country, people make do with what’s on hand.  Here, the nearest Lowe’s is over an hour away.  Even the local hardware is 35 minutes away, over North Mountain.

In these parts, most farms have at least one cattle guard.  This consists of  a wide trench that stretches from one side of the road to the other.  It is covered by a set of iron bars that run perpendicular to the road.  Cattle are wary of differences in light and dark where they walk – or so the theory goes – and some roads even have cattle guards painted on them to fool the cattle into thinking there’s a trench beneath the stripes.

Calves at cattle guard 5

I guess our neighbor’s calves are smarter than most cattle.  They have learned to bypass the cattle guard near our single-wide trailer and nibble on the grass in our yard.  I usually don’t mind, as long as they steer clear of our hyacinths and lilac.  Black Angus in my front yard is a novelty for me – never had cattle grazing on my lawn back in Northern Virginia!  Can you imagine the crowd of kids that would draw?  Not just kids, either!  Sometimes, Doug (our neighbor) and his farmhand, Mike, will chase the calves out with their ATV’s.  But like any creature who’s discovered a good thing, the calves always return.

Yesterday, three of the clever calves were grazing in our yard.  But I was going to church and really did not want them nibbling on forbidden flowers in my absence.  So, I donned my farm shoes and headed outside to help them rejoin the herd, which had gathered on the opposite side of the cattle guard, watching the calves, me, and our dog.  The bovines are fascinated with our canine, especially when we’re playing with his red Frisbee.

Calves at cattle guard 1

Probably on any other day, when I didn’t have an appointment to keep, the calves would have walked calmly to the cattle guard and crossed over.  But this was Sunday and I was being picked up to attend church.  I suspect the cattle knew this, for they were not about to be easily guided back to the cattle guard.

One of them, the feistiest calf, trotted off along the woven wire fence.  His mother shadowed him from the other side, mooing anxiously.  (Yes, cattle moo different sounds and farmers use those sounds to judge what sort of moooood they’re in.  Couldn’t resist!)  I prayed that Snickle-Fritz would get the idea and help me steer the calf in the right direction.  No, all he wanted to do was play Frisbee.

So I headed for the more docile calves and one by one they clambered over the bars and managed to get back to the other side.  That left Mr. Personality.  That’s what we dub any animal that is needing extra encouragement.  It’s nicer than calling him, “You Little Dickens!”

Calves at cattle guard 3

That last calf actually stood his ground and sort of “dared me” to take him on.  I don’t take on cattle – even a month old calf can do serious damage to a person.  So I averted his gaze and walked parallel in his direction but with a 15-foot berth.  We sort of played variations of this game for about eight minutes and then, tired of it, the calf stood in front of the cattle guard, trying to decide if he should join the herd or continue bantering with me.  I stood still, about 10 feet behind the calf, giving him a chance to relax and think about it.  (The teacher in me was thinking, “Make a good decision, Calf.”)  Fortunately, I had the Frisbee in hand and gently tossed it to the right of the cattle guard.  When Snickle-Fritz darted after the Frisbee, the calf turned to the left – where I was – and must have decided it was time to rejoin his buddies.  He’d been cornered.  To help cement his decision, I gave a low, soft, moo.  I learned this from the cows.  I just duplicated what sound they make and I find that this particular sound calms them.  A cow trotting away in fear will actually stop and look at me when I moo at her.  I’ve calmed cows with that moo.

Once the reluctant calf hopped over the guard, I’d expected the audience of Black Angus to disperse.  No, they were enjoying the spectacle, evidently hoping for more.  So I crossed over the cattle guard and walked toward them, encouraging them to go.  “Nothing to see here, let’s move out.”  Felt like a police officer at an accident scene.  Most of the cattle left, content to return to grazing.  A few cows were curious about me and stood to get a good look.  I hadn’t showered yet, maybe that was why.

And those three calves still lingered near the cattle guard.  A big old bovine was near the road, so I asked him to make sure HIS calves stayed on HIS side of the guard.   He just looked at me, then walked toward the calves, who scattered at his approach.

I did not fail to notice that as the bull walked up the incline from where the cattle guard was, he became a bit larger, taller, more intimidating.  Thank goodness he’s used to people!  And thank goodness, he didn’t see me as a threat!

Calves at cattle guard 2

I don’t have to go anywhere today.  So I guess that means the calves will stay in their pasture.  I’m debating whether or not to remove some posts that I placed next to the cattle guard as a barricade.  Obviously, it’s not working.  And maybe, if it’s easier for the calves to walk over to our yard, they might bring some friends.

Natural lawn mowers.  No owner’s manual necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day in the Field

On Saturday, February 13, 2016, our neighbor, Doug, informed us that the water fountains in the two meadows he leases for part of his Black Angus herd had stopped working.  Doug had called in another neighbor, Dave, and together they’d spent several hours working in the water box the previous night.  But the problem was bigger than just a simple repair.  Dave would’ve been able to do any electrical work necessary – he’s a master electrician.  But he suspected the pump in the well was bad.

Since we live in the country, Dave called the local well and pump man, a Mennonite who is well respected and admired.  The pump man delivered the materials Dave thought he’d need to the farm.

Thus began a full day of removing the pump and replacing it, replacing some sort of air bladder that keeps pressure regulated, as well as changing out the electrical parts that make the pump operate. I was lucky to be included in these efforts and eased down 5 feet to get standing water from the space where the air tank goes. Since I was down there, I got to put white pipe goop on pipe threads and attach old fittings to new, warm up hose with a propane torch, and then tighten all the metal hose clamps. I had a blast! It was great to help contribute as three farmers worked to fix the problem. It helped that one of those farmers is also a master electrician!

This morning, I went to check on the fountain near our place. It’s a sturdy plastic box, about 4’x4′ and 20″ high with four round openings for the cattle to access the water. Red plastic balls float into the circular openings when cattle aren’t drinking. The fountain works a bit like the innards of a toilet tank, even has a float.

The fountain wasn’t working. Again. So right now, those three farmers, all neighbors, have pulled out the pump to see what the problem is. The pump is attached to the bottom of about 150′ of rubber tubing. Now they’re replacing a wire that runs the length of the rubber tubing. Hopefully, that will get it functional again. Especially since the temperature is dropping and night is falling.

I’m going to remember all the hours spent fixing that well which, 7 hours later, is still being fussed over. I’ll remember the labors of three farm neighbors who, on this Valentine’s Day, left their loved ones in warm homes while they braved frigid temperatures to get water flowing to one man’s herd. The price of that Black Angus steak doesn’t seem too bad after all.

Pat OShea Man, you guys work hard. Thanks

Sandra Sweeney
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You won’t believe how beautiful they sound.

A YouTube channel released videos of Disney princesses singing in their native languages and it’s incredibly cool.
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Ağır çekim çakır (atmaca şahini) show.

Slow motion goshawk show.

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Checking on the Cattle…Who Were Checking on Me!

I learned tonight that the cattle in my friend’s Black Angus herd actually DO recognize me and relate me with food.  As in providing them with food.  That sure beats them NOT recognizing me and deciding to trample me under their collective cloven hooves.

It’s been a week since I’ve talked with the herd and walked among them, so I headed out to say hello. I walked their fence line to check on any spots that may need repairs and, as I neared the end of a section, heard a lot of commotion from the cattle that had been (note the past tense) grazing in the distance. Turning around, I saw that the ENTIRE HERD, led by the bull and the steer and a few cows, had converged upon me.  As in up close and personal.  There I was, near the woven wire fence topped with barbed wire, surrounded by cattle in a 180 degree area. Yes, it was intimidating. Yes, I was scared. That’s a lot of cattle and only one of me! But after I decided not to try vaulting the fence, I noticed they were not aggressive – the bull wasn’t kicking up dust and snorting and the other bovines weren’t behaving badly. They were just moving closer – it reminded me of when I’d fed them hay in the winter. (It also reminded me of that scene in Star Wars when the sides of the trash compactor start moving in on Princess Leia and Han Solo and Luke; I’m probably missing a character.)  When it snowed a few months ago, the herd would crowd around the tractor as I was driving and follow the hay to the bale feeder. I’d noticed in my walk that the grass in their field had been grazed low and their constant, urgent mooing indicated that they were just plain hungry. A neighboring herd always sounds like this at dinner time.  I felt a bit better. But that was still a lot of cattle hemming me in. So I talked to them, held out my hands to show I had no food (all the while praying that they wouldn’t get mad at my empty palms – out of apple chunks) and tried channeling “compassion” and “empathy” to the herd as best I could.

When the cattle had settled down a bit, I managed to get to Spot, my “pet” cow, and stroked her head. I felt even better, having Spot between me and the rest of her Black Angus buddies. I was inwardly hoping she would act as a protector if needed, even though reality told me she probably could have cared less about my welfare!  It seemed that the herd had calmed down some because the mooing had decreased in intensity, so I thought it was safe to shoo the nearest cattle away so I could walk along the fence. Yep, they were that close. Good thing I like them!  Good thing they seem to like me!  I was followed closely by the steer, a big three-year old that takes apples almost from my hand, and several cows, then by the RESTOFTHEHERD. I felt like the Pied Piper! I walked to the gate in the middle of the field and climbed over, landing awkwardly on a rock and spraining my ankle. I just gripped tightly onto the gate while the cattle watched. They showed no concern for my pain.  Darn.  If Spot had even slimed me sympathetically with her tongue, it would’ve helped the pain subside.  The cattle just wanted hay. I hobbled carefully across the meadow, looking out for groundhog holes, to a neighbor’s place, who called a friend to drive me home.  It was such a welcome relief to sit down on the neighbor’s back step!

As I waited for my ride, the neighbor said, “Those cattle REALLY like you!” several times. I’m not sure if he said it seriously or just to be kind, but he could still see the cluster of the 35 or so cattle near the gate I’d climbed over. It would be nice to think that I’d somehow earned their trust over the last few months. I’m grateful that they like me enough to NOT trample me. And I will do my best to get them hay tomorrow!

I do love it here!