CSA Order Time! September 2018

Time for your September Pickup!
Delivery Locations and Times

Richland Park Farmers Market
Saturday, September 8, 9:00 AM–Noon

Thompson’s Station Farmers Market
Wednesday, September 12, 11:30 AM–12:00 PM

Spring Hill, 199 Town Center Parkway, lower parking lot
Thursday, September 13, 11:30 AM–Noon

McKay’s Mill, Kees Chiropractic, Franklin
Thursday September 13, 1:00–1:30 PM

Rutherford County Farmers Market
Friday, September 14, 8:00 AM–11:30 AM
(If you order seafood, delivery is at 12:30 just down the street at The Tractor Supply Store, 135 John R. Rice Blvd.)

Columbia Farmers Market
Saturday, September 15, 8 AM–Noon

Vanderbilt Farmers Market, Nashville
Thursday, September 20, 2:00 PM–5:00 PM

Blend Smoothie Shop & Local Grocer, Columbia On the Square
Friday, September 21, Noon to 12:30 PM

Farm, 1793 Theta Pike, Columbia TN
Monday thru Saturday by appointment
We are always open to exploring new delivery locations and delivery times. We are particularly looking for an indoor delivery location for our Thompson’s Station and Murfreesboro drops. If you have any ideas for a good location, please let us know.

Thanks again to all of you who ordered extra ground beef. We are finally making a dent in our excess inventory. We’ll keep the offer open again this month and if you buy extra, we’ll sell it at $6.00/lb.

 

CSA Details

What’s new and recently added to the menu?

Big Boston Butts—Smoker’s Delight. Due to an error with our processor, we have some Boston Butt Roasts that are running around 6+ lbs. These tend to be too large for most people to want to put them in thier CSA share, but perfect for those of you who like to smoke. They are lean and delicious! Please indicate on the custom order form if you’d like one of the big Butts.

Stir-Fry Strips. These tasty morsels of sliced beef are perfect for stir fry, Philly Cheese Steak, real beef burritos, beef stroganoff, teriyaki, currie beef, and so much more!

Pork Osso Buco. We have some beautiful, lean pork Osso Buco this month. Osso Bucco is an Italian Dish made with braised shanks. It is the lower part of the leg surrounded by delicious robust meat. There are plenty of easy slow cook recipes for this good wholesome food. Here’s a recipe just to get you started thinking about it.

Bacon Burger Patties. Our patties have been a big hit lately. Try the Bacon Burger Patties or the regular ground beef patties. Or, for a gourmet burger, make your own patties using our seasoned ground beef—Andouille, Italian, or Breakfast Sausage (black pepper and sage).

No Rainbow Trout for the September Pickup

A Little Deadline Detail. Thank you for your faithfulness in filling out your order form early. This REALLY helps us give you better customer service, especially with our fall schedule. If you find that you missed the 24 hour deadline, shoot us a text or email to let us know to look for your order.

NEWS FROM THE FARM

The slow days of summer are coming to an end. With Jonathan going back to college and Machen starting up school again, we hurried to get some of the fence building and other chores finished up. The drought in our area has been particularly harsh. One of our main watering springs has gone dry and the cows are really longing for some rain to bring back their lush pastures.

We have lots of hogs finishing out now and over the next few months you’ll have plenty of our delicious pasture raised pork to choose from. And with almost 21 little piglets, there is always loud raucous fun going on in their pigdominium.

Caleb has taken over several of the farmers markets and is doing a great job! Our oldest boy, he is an experienced veteran, having started out with us in the very beginning almost 15 years ago.

Looking forward to seeing y’all at the pickups this month!

Many thanks from us for supporting our family farm.Very kind regards,
Keith, Jerlene, Caleb, Ben & Kathryn, Jonathan, Lauren, and Machen
Southern Ridge Farm
Jerlene CannonCSA Order Time! September 2018
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If I Ran the Farm: In Which I Hand It Back Over

DAY NINE

Sunday, The Lord’s Day. It is an easy chore day, weather is holding clear, the muddy pastures continue to dry up. I called out as I poured the steers’ grain into their trough, and they answered back as they came trotting up. The sheep answered too, but from the confines of the pasture they’d gotten themselves locked into. Still praying that lasts for two more days for easy loading!

Further proof Keith needs to relieve me of my duties: On the way home from church we caught up with a hay trailer slowly lumbering along. I inched closer to count those huge bales—10!—and started calculating the enormous weight on that trailer and what kind of truck does it take to haul that. Just. Stop.

A good day of worship and time with neighbors and friends. All on the farm are safe, healthy, and fed.

DAY TEN

“Today’s the day! The sun is shining! The tank is clean!”

OK, that’s from Finding Nemo, and my oldest daughter texted it to me one day last summer when she boarded a plane for the US after she’d been abroad for five weeks. And that’s how I feel today—my family is coming home!

My commute on this sunny day.

My commute on this sunny day.

Today is the coldest of all my chore days so far. I give the steers their grain, and as much as I don’t want to do it, I need to drop a couple of bales to the main herd so they can make it through tomorrow. That way the travelers won’t have to rush to feed cows on their first day home. Let them ease into it.I drop the bales in their rings and nobody rushes me, no twine is left on, and no hay rings flip over. The water in the waterer is low. But now I know what to do and I take the four wheeler up to the spring to refill that big tank. Everything goes smoothly and the chores are done in no time. Of course, it being my last day and all.

Let them come!

Epilogue

Everyone made it back safely and we are out at first light to load up the sheep into the trailer. Yes, they were still in that field with the gate at one end, and we were able to move a flatbed trailer out of the way and just back the livestock trailer up and herd them in. Although it did not go absolutely smoothly—the sheep take the phrase free range seriously—it was not complicated and went much quicker because they were already in that field. Indeed, we were overdue for getting sheep to the processor because previous attempts to herd them in had failed.

I can’t feel smug about that though, because it was not any of my doing that made it easy, but rather a gift from my Father. And while I did babysit the farm while the real farmers were away, let me tell you that I did only a fraction of what it takes to keep it going. I had time to think about that while I watched my son drag the flatbed trailer away. Using the tractor. He had a hauling chain attached to the trailer hitch at one end and onto the bale spear at the other end. The trailer gently swayed like a swing as he gingerly dragged it out of the barn yard, across the creek, down the driveway, and thru the gate. In reverse. My, but that was impressive.

 

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: In Which I Hand It Back Over
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If I Ran the Farm: Restock and Go to Market

DAY EIGHT

Today is market day, so I’m up at the crack of dawn to get the outside stuff done before we leave for the farmers market. I want to get the hay rings topped off today so I won’t need to do anything major on Sunday. Should be easy.

The steers need a bale—maybe that’s why the sheep left their pen? So when I give the steers their grain I shut the gate to the little pen where they eat. That way I can come and go from their pasture and leave that main gate open. That chore is quickly done, and I go reload the tractor with the first two bales for the main herd. The whole time I’m doing chores that morning I keep worrying that I will forget to re-open the gate to let the steers back in their pasture.

I arrive in the main pasture with two fresh bales and hop down to cut the first one. I can’t find my knife. Anywhere. It has to be back where I cut the twine for the bale in the steers’ pasture. Ugh. I drop my bales, chug back to the four wheeler, race around the working pens to where I cut my first bale this morning, and drive back and forth until I find it in the grass. Back around the working pens, back on the tractor, race at tractor speed back to the back pasture, and begin the process of cutting twine and dropping the bales in the rings.

It is very hard to cut the twine when it is frozen to the bales. Even after it is cut it doesn’t want to be pulled away. A small thing, but it was costing me precious time. And my last bale to be dropped was a problem bale. Every once in a while the baler will malfunction and be a little too generous with the way it ties a bale. Instead of being able to cut and lift all the twine off the outside of the bale, the only place the twine is supposed to be, I found myself pulling and pulling twine away from this bale. I don’t understand at all how it happened, but I ended up at the front of the bale, pulling twine around and around, a strand in EACH hand! Both arms were flailing in circles like I was playing double jump rope, me and the bale of hay. It took forever to get to the end of the twine. It just kept emerging from the hay while my arms made the endless circles and two twine piles kept growing at my feet. I felt like I was manufacturing something. The cows were politely attentive but not impressed.

The top pile is my collection  of twine over the past few days. The bottom pile is what I harvested from the one bale!

The top pile is my collection of twine over the past few days. The bottom pile is what I harvested from the one bale!

Once the show was over and I climbed back on the tractor, with lots of twine in tow, the cows lazily strolled toward the rings to sample the new hay bales. Steam was rising from them, and as the cows contentedly ate I felt just like I do when I serve my little son a steaming bowl of oatmeal on a cold day.

With everything done I ran to open the steers’ gate to let them back in their pasture. I noticed the sheep in a nearby rectangular pasture that was recovering from recent grazing. Why were they in there? I didn’t think about it for long, but got back on the tractor and fetched a bale for them. Unlike the field they’d been in all week, the fencing here was made to hold sheep in, so once I shut their gate, they couldn’t get out. Also, because of recent rains there were three watering troughs completely full—more than enough to last them through the next couple of days when it would be time to load some onto a trailer.

Oh, me of little faith. I didn’t ask questions, I just gave them some fresh hay and shut them in, once again with a thankful heart.

Off to the farmers market. Our only winter market is West End Farmers Market, almost an hour away. Our customers are a huge part of why we do what we do, and it’s good to get away from the farm every once in an while and come face to face with the folks we hope to serve by providing a safe, clean, healthy source of great tasting meat. OK, end of commercial.

Since all the chores were done, after market my daughter and I treated ourselves to some lazy browsing at a second hand bookstore. After we unloaded all the coolers back home, I ran out real quick to check the contents in the mineral feeder. Looked like there was plenty, affirmed by the two cows at the feeder licking it off their noses.

Cows at Mineral Feeder Video

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Restock and Go to Market
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If I Ran the Farm: Oh Yeah, the Sheep

DAY SEVEN

Three days left and they’ll be back. I really need them to come back—I realized that when my first thought of the day, after I’d glanced at myself in the mirror, was that the cows would think my hair was a huge mess. We are getting too close.

My outside chores are minimal today because all of the hay was replenished yesterday. Only the second in line calves needed any attention, and they came right away when I poured their grain in their trough.

I was slightly surprised and a tad disappointed to see that the sheep, who had stayed in that center pasture all week, were out and straying around a little. Each time I glanced around for them when I went outside, or visually located them as I drove down the driveway, I was thankful that I hadn’t had to do that the whole week. They didn’t roam far at all. In four days some of them would be going to the processor, and I had hoped they would stay in their pasture so that we wouldn’t have too much trouble getting them into the working pens. Oh well. At least all the previous days of no-stress-sheep-watching had been a blessing.

 

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Oh Yeah, the Sheep
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If I Ran the Farm: Time to Refill the Hay Rings

DAY SIX

It’s really cold today and I’m not wearing the right kind of clothes. I opted for some insulated pants over my jeans and they don’t have pockets at all, so there’s no good place for my phone or my knife, and when I remove my gloves to cut the bale twine they have a way of scattering.

Approaching the gate loaded with my first two bales, I could see the cows were already crowding their waterer. I would try something new today. I shooed the cows out their gate and back into their pasture, drove my tractor into the watering area and closed both the gate behind me and the gate to the cows’ pasture. I would cut the twine in there where they couldn’t get to the bale yet, or me.

Once done, I reopened their gate, navigated through huge bodies, finally gained open pasture, and began my first drop. And ALL my drops were messy. I couldn’t drop the first bale evenly inside the ring, or on its end, so that the second dropped bale was perched precariously on the first one. I was terrified that one would tip over on an innocent cow during her breakfast, although if I logically applied the laws of physics to the situation I would know that was impossible. But logic and physics are not at home in my brain, so I was plagued with tipping bale thoughts for some time.

blog cows at hay ring and tractor

Goal: Drop this bale into that ring without making contact with any cows.

Somehow my new plan of removing the twine from my first bale while in the watering area foiled me. I kept forgetting to remove the twine from the second bale. Process after placing first bale in ring and dropping second bale on the ground: swing the tractor around and re-acquire the bale on the ground with the front spear, approach the target ring, get off the tractor, remove the twine, get back on, carefully approach ring while lifting the bale to correct height, get close enough to nudge the ring with the front of the tractor, and carefully drop the bale.

But somewhere between nudging the ring and dropping the bale I realized the twine was still on. In ten drops this happened several times. So I’d have to back up, insert “get off, remove, get back on” back into the process, and start over. All this while cows are milling around, waiting for their chance to nip at the new hay bale.

Always ready to taste test the new bale.

Always ready to taste test the new bale.

I thought they’d quit following me around after I filled the first one or two rings, but no. They were just as eager to try the eighth bale and the tenth bale, like maybe there would be a new flavor or something.

The baby calves did not fall for that. After my third trip with fresh hay, I passed by four of them sitting around in a circle idly watching me, a couple of them even at that young age chewing on cuds in that bored way that cows have, and they were like, “you are so 15 minutes ago.”

I feel like some kind of time warp happens in a Narnia kind of way once I turn on the tractor. Time stands still for me all the while, but once I turn the tractor off and climb down, all that time rushes back and I realize it’s four hours later.

 

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Time to Refill the Hay Rings
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If I Ran the Farm: Day 5 is Easy, Except for the Salt

DAY FIVE

Wednesday. Not a lot to do today. Tomorrow will be the big day for refilling the hay rings and hopefully the fields will be a little dryer because it hasn’t rained since Monday. And judging from the level of hay in the rings, the ladies and their children are going to rush me. After all my planning to avoid it.

At the spring, I turn the valve back off. Sure enough, the tank is full and the goldfish pond has refilled. Check.

I am now considering it a little miracle that the sheep have stayed in the center pasture this entire time, almost a week. Just a gift God gave me to remove that particular stress of having to worry about wayward sheep. That particular pasture is for the cows, so they can easily walk through its fencing. And in fact, they do. They leave to drink from a nearby creek, then crawl back through the fence, back into the pasture. I just have to laugh and thank God.

I did enlist Lauren to help me get the salt into its feeder. Her job is to wave her arms and buy me some time to empty the salt. We drive out with two 50 pound bags, again in bright blue. I wonder if any feed marketer thinks about the effect of those bright bags on a field of cattle, or the peril it puts me in? We get to the feeder before they do and I cut open the first bag. Lauren is standing guard. As I hoist the bag into position with one arm and try to lift the flap, I can’t believe how heavy the stupid flap is! I know it’s weight makes it lay flat when a cow isn’t nosing under it, but how am I supposed to pour and hold it open at the same time?

“They’re coming, Mama.”

Fear is what makes it work. I poured, slashed another bag open, and poured, telling Lauren to jump up on the four wheeler if she needs to. Right now it’s the only thing between me and seventy-five cows.

As we secure the bag and drive away, the cows converge on the feeder just like they did yesterday, only now the lucky first few discover something in it. That news visibly ripples through to the edges of the crowd and they surge forward. The late coming little calves sense the excitement and start snorting and kicking their hind legs in the air with no idea what it’s all about except that their mamas are happy.

IMG_3664

If one of them sees something new, they ALL have to get in on it!

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Day 5 is Easy, Except for the Salt
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If I Ran the Farm: Some Interesting Miscellany

DAY FOUR 

Tuesday. Got an early morning phone call from a young man whose family lives close to our farm. He’s on his way to work and has spotted a calf out—on our property still, but very close to the road—so I need to come have a look. It takes about 15 minutes to get to him by the time I figure out that the four wheeler can’t cross the rain swollen creek and I have to use the van to take the long way around. Meanwhile he has picked the calf up and put her inside our fence because that’s the kind of guy he is.

I can tell she’s not ours because she doesn’t have the right markings for the breed we raise. But she’s awfully young, so she needs to get back to her mama. The farm across the street has cows, and it turns out (after rousting the owners up at a terribly early hour) that she does belong there, born yesterday. The mama had had a very hard time during birth, so that calf had been hard to come by. Apparently the tiny thing had later walked through the fence, and when she couldn’t figure out how to get back in, had just kept wandering.

The farmer lady drove her Explorer over and I carried the calf to the car and laid her in the back. “Thank you so much, you just don’t know what it means not to lose this little heifer!” Well yes, lady, I do. I call my young neighbor and pass along the old woman’s gratitude to its rightful place.

I don’t have to put out hay for the next couple of days, so I do other things I have put off. Before my family’s exodus, my son Jonathan had placed two mineral feeders in the pasture to give the cows access to salt and calcium. I needed to get one more out there. It is really big, and weighs… I don’t know, a lot. It took all I had to get it onto the four wheeler. And then there was no place for me to sit. I couldn’t even stand in front of it. So I sat on it.

It was ridiculous. I was sitting so high up my feet were propped on the wheels’ front fenders and I had to bend over to reach the handle bars. And every bump in the pasture about bucked me off. This would cause me to loosen my thumb from the accelerator so that the vehicle practically stopped, which would pitch me forward. I never got the hang of it and flung myself back and forth the entire length of the pasture.

My ridiculous ride

My ridiculous ride

And the cows saw me coming with something new. By the time I entered their pasture with this bright blue feeder, they wanted in on it. I drove ahead and got away from them, jumped down and wrestled that thing to the ground, and drove off just as they converged on it. Let them be disappointed, I’ll fill it with the salt tomorrow. With some help to fend them off.

Another small panic: our watering tank is down about a foot and a half! What’s that about? Is there a break in the PVC pipe somewhere?

A call to Keith: “Oh, yeah, you’re going to have to go to the main valve up at the spring and let some more water in.” I had no idea there was such a thing. I drive around as close as I can to the watering system by the spring—walking the rest of the way in ankle deep mud is no picnic, but hey, I’m burning calories.

I’ve not seen much of this new watering system, and Keith talks me through finding and turning a valve to release the water. A big whooshing sound startles me and I wheel around. Keith explains that’s a fifteen hundred gallon tank filling with fresh water that will make its way to the watering tank and that I can come back tomorrow and turn the valve off. I peek under the cover and sure enough, there’s a submerged holding tank with water gushing into it. Who knew? That’s pretty cool.

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Some Interesting Miscellany
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If I Ran the Farm: All’s Quiet on Days 2 and 3

DAY TWO

Sunday. Went out for a brief check on everything before church. Every day I have to give a small amount of grain to our weaned steers. They are still (always) grazing and get hay when needed and are not allowed to free feed on the grain, so they really enjoy their little treat. I call them as I fill their bucket, and I’m sure they can hear the grain slapping down into it because they coming running and bellowing from two acres away. They are so appreciative that it’s one of the highlights of my day.

A cow is on the wrong side of the electric fence when I check it to make sure all the little posts are up. She instinctively wants to be with the herd so it’s not hard to walk her back where she needs to be. I have to pull some of the posts out and lay them on the ground so that the electric wire is flat, and she gingerly steps her way across it and rejoins her pals. It’s all good, because that all happened to take place right beside the solar powered electric box, and I noticed I didn’t hear it ticking. It had been off this whole time—two days! I turned the knob to “on” and the reassuring tick let me know that hateful electric pulse is now coursing through the wire.

Riding back to the house I noticed that the sheep have remained in the same field. Glory be.

We try to arrange our Sundays so that we can “remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy”, which means we go to worship and then take a break from our weekly work and spend time with family and friends. So farm chores are kept to a minimum. But with tomorrow’s rain promising to douse the already muddy pastures, I want the cows to have enough hay so that I can keep the tractor off the pastures for two or three days.

So after church I top off all the hay rings. It takes me three trips, done in full daylight, and no cows rush me. A good day.

DAY THREE

Monday. The weaned steers were already waiting for me when I arrived to give them their grain. I think they can hear the four wheeler coming, so they take their place at the table.

Today is our run to the meat processor to pick up two cows. We drive a little over two hours to Yoder Brothers in Paris, TN, so this chore is usually an all day thing. Lauren and I drove through a torrential downpour—I wasn’t sure how we could manage loading and unloading all that meat in such weather. But, just as we drove up the rain subsided. Yay.

IMG_3655

Gray skies and rain as we approach Yoder Brothers. Much different than the sun at the end of my day!

The folks at Yoder’s had everything ready for us, so loading the van was fairly quick. By the time we arrived back home the wet weather had passed and we unloaded in the sunshine. Lauren is a trooper, and while she doesn’t particularly like this chore, she is quick and efficient (and strong), so the work was done in no time.

It’s late afternoon now and I take some time to sit outside and enjoy what might be the last warm day in a while—it is December after all. From my perch I can see the cows and the sheep and listen to the sounds of the farm. It’s peaceful, and I am deeply thankful to be here.

A beautiful ending to my day.

A beautiful ending to my day.

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: All’s Quiet on Days 2 and 3
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If I Ran the Farm: First Day on My Own

DAY ONE

Since the hay feeding had only taken place the night before, I didn’t have that to worry about for the morning. I figured I would top off the rings in the evening in my quest to keep them full. So, that left just checking to make sure all animals were in their correct pasture, tossing some feed (non-GMO, of course) for the junior steers who are weaned and separated out for processing, and just doing a farm once over to verify that all is well.

Zooming around on a four wheeler is fantastic fun to me, though I rarely take the time to do it. For now, however, it’s my job. Happy me. And, all animals were in their proper place. The sheep, I noticed, had actually not moved. Very unusual for them given the fact that they can basically go anywhere they want inside the farm’s perimeter fence (which they seem to test relentlessly). Also, a handful of newbies had just been added to the herd and I was afraid that would cause all of them to roam a little more than normal just to get away from each other until the two groups acclimated. But no, all is well.

It is important for the cows to stay in their assigned pastures as well, due to Keith’s master plan of rotational grazing. A simple explanation is that he moves them off a pasture to let it recover and regrow and onto a new one that has likewise been rejuvenated. It’s part of his method of getting the most nutrition from his pasture land all the while healing the land by building new topsoil, and something he should write about himself.

A few cows separated off into an upper meadow, and I needed to see if they were calving. I couldn’t find a good way up there that wasn’t bogged in mud, so I decided to park and walk. I would never want to risk getting the four wheeler stuck and then have to walk all over the farm until someone could haul it out.

As I trudged up the hill I idly wondered how many calories I was expending. There are calorie counts for everything—jogging a 7 minute mile burns 261 calories, swimming 1/2 hour burns 300 calories, and so on. I’ve never seen a calorie count for slogging uphill after a fresh rain in a cow pasture. I could probably liken it to one of the now popular mud runs, except that on our farm it wouldn’t be called a “mud” run, and my boots were getting heavier with it at every step.

No cows calving, but the rains had shifted a few of the small temporary fence posts so that the electric wire fencing was lying practically on the ground, so I straightened those. An easy enough job, but the mental dexterity it requires wears me out. I have to remember to only hold the post and tamp the end down with my foot and don’t lean into or provide any other way for that wire to touch my skin! It really makes me angry when the electric pulse pops me. Instant anger. No other way to describe it.

Day one evening I planned to just top off the hay rings to replace any hay eaten. Not necessary, but part of my plan to avoid an onslaught. Also, with more wet weather coming in a few days there would be a window of time when I wouldn’t be able to get out there at all, so I wanted their supply to be as full as possible when that happened. But despite all my planning, I got only one bale of hay dropped off and ran out of daylight. OK, another variable in addition to weather that I need to plan for.

Our main herd eats through about 3 1/2 bales each day.

Our main herd eats through about 3  bales each day.

I was brushing my teeth when I realized I had forgotten to cut the twine on that bale. I briefly panicked as I wondered if the cows could choke on that or if they would know to avoid it. A phone call to Keith, who said they wouldn’t eat on it much because it wouldn’t come apart easily. Phew!  “Just lift it back out of the hay ring and cut the twine, then put it back. That’s easy to fix.” Oh, for crying out loud.

 

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: First Day on My Own
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If I Ran the Farm: Training Day

Family farms and family vacations are a challenge, and Southern Ridge Farm and the Cannon family have yet to figure out how to do it. Someone always has to stay behind. It has never been me, until now. So I am farm sitting for the next ten days with one daughter, while the farmer husband takes the rest of the kids for family visits 12 hours away.

The run of the farm has only been left to me once since we acquired cattle, and that was in summer. Pigs I can handle, if they stay in their assigned pastures. Chickens, no problem. Sheep, same thing as the pigs. Cattle in the winter, however, are a different story. They need hay. They need to stay in their assigned pasture, and if they have enough hay and water, they are mostly happy to do that.

I’ve never speared and hauled round bales on a tractor before. I’ve never even driven our current tractor. So here goes. Ten days, just keep the cows happy. And, I’m journaling it in response to our customers who always say we should write about what goes on around the farm. We will learn this together.

Training Day

It was a busy December, what with a holiday social calendar, and I couldn’t spare Keith any time, so training took place the day before the family left. Christmas Day, at dusk, in the misty rain. There were extenuating circumstances.

First, learn how to start the tractor, which involved a clutch, gears in neutral, no problem there. Next, put the tractor in motion without giving Keith whiplash—he was standing beside my tractor seat giving me instructions and hanging on for dear life. He’s never been much of a cusser, but I kept hearing him say things under his breath each time I stopped and started.

Next, approach a round bale at the perfect speed, position the front spear implement to make contact perfectly in the center, simultaneously keep moving forward and impale the bale while lifting the bale off the ground and tilting it at an upward slant. Then, reposition the tractor and repeat the whole process, only this time in reverse to load a bale on the spear in the back. Just one question here: are you kidding me?

I instantly gained a new respect for my son Jonathan, who learned to do this at 15 and never made one comment about it. And I attribute my shaky success to Keith’s helpful and steady stream of comments: “Not that lever, the other lever!” There’s like, five, to choose from. “Keep moving, why are you stopping?” Whiplash. “Ok, now, stop, STOP!” Whiplash again. “Lift it up, not down!” …and so on.

I’ll just fast forward through the stress of driving the tractor through the pastures, crossing two streams,  opening and closing gates, all the while hauling roughly 1200 lbs on each end. The most frightful part of the whole thing was negotiating the relatively small space around the watering tank: enter the outer gate, make a quarter circle between the watering tank and the fence, and out the inner gate into the desired pasture. When Keith opened the gate into the pasture the cows noticed, and well, the reaction was about the same as if I were offering Ghirardelli tiramisu to 40 deprived chocoholics. My fight or flight instinct was kicking in, but I had to swallow it and keep rolling forward because both gates were now open and the cows were sure to notice that, too. Not to mention Keith was wildly flailing his arms and encouraging me through, and, while he was not cussing, he was not speaking under his breath either.

The watering tank. Cows can access this waterer from three different pastures. This is my entrance and exit point for their pasture.

The watering tank. Cows can access this waterer from three different pastures. This is my entrance and exit point.

I vowed right then and there that no matter what else happened in the next ten days, I would do anything I could to avoid that onslaught again. I’d keep them so stocked in hay that they wouldn’t care if I was coming or going with a fresh supply.

The hay rings can hold two large round bales.

The hay rings can hold two round bales.

Before the bales can go into the hay rings, the twine that holds it together has to be cut. It’s just one long piece that encircles the bale maybe ten times. So I have to hop off the tractor, cut each line of twine on one side of the bale, then go to the other side and scrape my fingers along the bale to pull each one away so that I’ve got a mass of grassy, muddy, manure-y twine in my hand when it’s done. All this while the cows are nosing around trying to nibble at the fresh bale.

Keith said nothing, just studied the two ringless bales for a minute, then finally, “Well, I’ve just never seen that done before.” Turns out you can use that front spear implement thingy to right a wronged hay bale ring, and in short order Keith had it standing correctly with both bales inside it.

Two more trips like that and I felt somewhat confident that I could handle the feeding chores. Off on vacation, everyone, and have a good time!

Tomorrow: Day One on my own

Jerlene CannonIf I Ran the Farm: Training Day
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