I Don’t Care Who You Are, This Is A Pretty Sight…

Where's the pot of gold?

The WildBlue satellite spot beam 35 was out for most of the day, so I have not had access to the internet until this afternoon.  So this photo is being posted a day later than I would have liked.

We were fortunate enough to receive 2 inches of rain Friday and into Saturday.  With the 2 1/2 inches we received the prior week, it looks as if our pastures and fields will be growing like gangbusters.  Once dry creeks are now flowing again, and the catfish pond will regain it’s previous glorious fullness soon, which is a big relief to me (not to mention the catfish).

After the rain stopped, we were again fortunate enough to be presented with a superbly brilliant rainbow.  I figured that, no matter how you happened upon this page, you would appreciate a moment to enjoy a beautiful rainbow with us.

PS – In case you were wondering, I raced over to this pasture to find the pot of gold, but somebody must have beat me to it!

The “Ouch” Factor

Diesel fuel containers

The photo above shows how we obtain our off-road diesel fuel to supply the needs of our tractor.  In order to purchase off-road diesel (which is devoid of state road taxes), we must travel 16 miles each way to the nearest supplier.  Safe fuel handling practices dictate that fuel containers be removed from the bed of the truck before filling, so we place the cans on the ground to pump fuel into them.  The containers are then lifted back into the bed of the truck for the journey home, where they are off-loaded from the truck and carried into the barn for storage.  When it is time to fuel the tractor, a container is carried from the barn out to the tractor, where it is emptied by hand into the tractor’s fuel tank. If I were to attempt this feat while standing on the ground, then the fuel filler neck would be at eye-level, which is not a particularly safe way to fill a tank with hazardous liquids!  As you can see from the photo below, by elevating the bush-hog into the uppermost position, I can accomplish the refueling from a position that affords eye safety.  On the other hand, it isn’t a position that is easy on the back!   Ouch!!!

Fueling the tractor

Now let us do some math.  Ouch!!!  Okay, I’ll do the math, you just follow along with my reasoning.  This tractor burns 1 gallon of fuel per hour.  According to the tractor’s hour meter, I have run the tractor for a total of 1200 hours in the past 5 years.  That amounts to 1200 gallons of diesel fuel.  There seems to be some controversy over the weight of diesel fuel, but assuming a conservative 7 pounds per gallon as the factor, that translates into 8400 pounds of diesel fuel that the tractor has consumed.  Each gallon of fuel had to be handled several times; 1) loaded onto the truck for the ride home, 2) transferred from the truck to the barn 3) carried from the barn to the tractor 4) lifted and poured into the tractor’s fuel tank.  So now we have determined that I have handled a total of 33,600 pounds, or nearly 17 TONS of fuel!  Ouch!!!  No wonder my back sometimes hurts.

Now for some more math.  Ouch!!!  As you can see from the first photo, I fill 6 fuel cans at a time, because that is the number that will fit across the back of the pickup bed, affording lateral stability as I wind my way around the Ozarks landscape on my way to the filling station.  I fill each container with 4.5 gallons of fuel, therefore each round trip to the station yields 27 gallons of fuel (4.5 X 6).  We know from the paragraph above that we have used a total of 1200 gallons of diesel fuel, therefore we can conclude that there has been a total of 44 round trips made to obtain this fuel (1200/27=44.44).  Now if we multiply the 44 round trips by 32 miles, we obtain 1408 miles traveled to fetch diesel fuel.  Dividing by the abysmal 16 miles/gallon that my truck manages to achieve (he admits, covering his face in shame), and then multiplying by an average fuel price of, say, $2.00/gallon, we can determine that I have spent close to $200 just to fetch the fuel!  Ouch!!!  No wonder my wallet sometimes hurts.

As an aside, well, I’m almost too embarrassed to share it with you, but here goes.  Over the years, I have been purchasing off-road diesel fuel for use in my tractor.  As mentioned previously, off-road diesel fuel is devoid of road taxes.  Sometime in the past (I don’t know when), the state legislature decided that off-road diesel should be subject to the state sales tax of 7%.  So now, using today’s fuel prices, the calculus (ouch!!!) goes something like this:

Off-road diesel (16 miles away)= $2.65/gal + 7% sales tax = $2.84/gallon

On-road diesel (available locally) = $2.79/gallon

Price of my embarrassment = ???   Ouch!!! 

But I digress.

My father used to frequently say “Son, the legs go first!”  But then, he spent the better part of his life running a factory.  He put many miles on the soles of his shoes, so one would expect the legs to go first.  While I do lots of hiking around the property here, I find that I am called upon to perform heavy lifting much more than I recall doing since my younger days.  And so I would have to say “Dad, the back goes first!”

So the question that nags at me is this – is there a better way to accomplish this task of fueling the tractor, which, while seeming to be a trivial task, can wreak havoc on the backs of those of us who don’t feel as young as we once were?

One popular option that many farmers turn to involves the installation of an elevated, above-ground fuel storage tank, which is periodically replenished by a local fuel distributor.  These systems are gravity driven, which is both a blessing and a bane.  A blessing, because pumping equipment is not required.  A bane, because gravity cannot be shut off.  There are many potential points of leakage in a fueling system.  With gravity continuously at work, any leakage, no matter how slight, will eventually empty the tank.  There was an incident that occurred about 5 years ago in an area around Beaver Lake, about 75 miles away.  A fishing resort owner had a 300 gallon elevated tank installed for the convenience of his guests.  The tank valve developed a leak sometime during the night, and approximately 200 gallons of fuel seeped into the water table.  To make a long story short, 5 years later there are about 100 households with contaminated wells.  Their water has to be delivered weekly by truck and pumped into plastic holding tanks placed on their property.  The owners of the resort had to declare bankruptcy when their insurance policy reached the limit of the insurance company’s contracted liability.  Ouch!!! 

And this scenario, with some slight variations, is played out repeatedly across the country.  As I was driving down the road this winter, I saw these tanks on a neighbors  farm, so I stopped to take a picture.  To me, this looks like a disaster waiting to happen. 

Elevated fuel tank

Were I to install a fuel tank, it would have to be built of quality parts.  I would have to keep the tank, fittings, hose, valve and nozzle in tip-top condition.  And the entire assembly would have have a seepage-proof containment system with capacity at least equal to the capacity of the tank.  All-in-all, this would be a safe and effective system, which would certainly relieve the pains in my back, but man, would it be costly!

So it’s off to the station to fill those darn fuel cans.  Ouch!!!  Ouch!!!  Ouch!!!

Flashback Friday #2

Let’s turn the clock back to the year 1966.  If you were around in 1966, you would have found the following to be true:

Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States.  The new Medicare act was implemented.  The Supreme Court issued the the well-known Miranda decision.  It was a bad year for Los Angeles sports fans, as the Baltimore Orioles swept the LA Dodgers in 4 games, and the Boston Celtics bested the LA Lakers in an extremely competitive 7 game series.  The Oscar for Best Picture went to “Sound of Music”, and Frank Sinatra walked away with the Grammy award for Best Album of the Year.  On the economic front, you could buy first-class postage for a nickel.

But the most important 1966 event in the agricultural world was the introduction of the John Deere model 1020 industrial tractor.  The significance of this tractor is that it signaled to the tractor world John Deere’s intention to compete vigorously in the low cost utility tractor market.  To be price competitive, John Deere needed to cut production costs, and to that end, they developed a three-cylinder gasoline engine, which was put into their new model 1020 tractor in 1966.  This tractor is credited with starting the 3-cylinder utility-tractor engine configuration, which is so popular  among tractor manufacturers today.  Here is a picture of the John Deere model 1020 tractor, which sold for $4500 back in 1966-

John Deere 1020

This is a 1966 John Deere model 1020 tractor that is owned by my neighbor Jimmy.  This is not a “coddled” tractor restoration by any stretch of the imagination.  This is a work-a-day tractor that is put into hay production and bush-hogging use regularly.  Periodically, this tractor needs to be “convinced” as to who’s the boss.  Jimmy stores a large, heavy hammer in the tractor’s tool box for just such occasions!

Our late neighbor Boots used to cut, rake, ted, and bale the grass in our hay fields until he passed away several years ago.  Now, Jimmy is doing this for us on a share basis.  Here is Jimmy hard at work cutting the hay in preparation for baling this past season-

Jimmy cutting hay with a sickle-bar mower

The hay field pictured above is one of the fields that Retta and I have decided to take out of hay production this year.  It is our hope that by keeping the fields that are close in proximity to the house and barn areas short, we will reduce the effects of predation on our fowl (see previous post).  It is also our hope that the short grass will help to create a fire-defensible zone in the areas around our house.  You may already know that we have been plagued by a spate of wildfires recently (see posts here and here).  I have read claims on other farming and ranching related blogs that tall grasses will not burn, as long as they are lush and green.  I have seen otherwise,  and until the firebug that is running around in our area is apprehended, I will rest easier with short grass surrounding the house and paddock areas.

Like all other land-use decisions a property owner faces, this decision involves various trade offs. Short grass means less cover for predators, which is our goal.  But it also means less cover for the wildlife that have learned to make effective use of the tall grass.  Birds of various species use the grasses to nest in.  Deer use the grasses for browse and for cover.  Grassy areas along the forest-field transition are used by the deer to give birth to their young.  Wildlife of all types will use the tall grasses to bed down in.  And who hasn’t heard of the proverbial “snake-in-the-grass?  The long grasses, which the wildlife have utilized up until now, will no longer be available in these fields.  Not to mention the production of several hundred square bales of hay that will be lost.

Wildlife cover

In conjunction with our decision to take several hay fields out of production, we will be compensating by allowing several other fields, such as the field shown in the photograph above, to grow to their full extent and remain tall throughout the year.  These fields will be cut on a rotating basis, such that, at any given time, long grasses will be available for the wildlife to utilize.

Some crazy, eccentric people will sure go through a great deal of trouble just to raise chickens and guinea fowl, won’t they?

The Power of 10X Optically Zoomed VR Mega-pixels

The latest crop of prosumer EVF (electronic viewfinder) digital cameras feature 8 mega-pixel images, coupled with a 10X optical zoom lens.  Some feature VR (vibration reduction) lenses.  If you have never seen a demonstration of the power of this combination of features, you may be interested in these photos.

If you peer at this first photo closely, you will see a group of purple flowers (irises, I believe) that are growing at a distance of 100 feet from where I stood to take the photo.

Purple irises from 100 feet away

In the next photo, I have remained in the same location, but now I have zoomed in fully on the iris bushes.  In 35mm camera equivalency, I have zoomed from a 35mm (moderately wide-angle) shot to a 350mm (long telephoto) shot.

Here are the irises shot from the same location, but zoomed to 350mm

The photo above demonstrates the power that a 10X-optical zoom lens brings to the photographer.  Now, if you again look closely at the photo just above, you will see towards the bottom, just slightly off-center to the right, deep purple petals and a very dark iris bud.  Here, let me help you to see it-

Cropped photo, pixel-for-pixel screen representation

What you are looking at here is simply a cropped portion of the second photo, but there has been no enlarging or interpolation involved whatsoever.  It is merely a pixel-for-pixel depiction of what the camera captured on it’s sensor, and is a good indication of the power that 8 mega-pixel images bring to the photographer.

I will exhort you to think this through as you look at these photos again.  In the last photo you can see the pistols of the iris. You can see the detail of the veins on the petals of the irises.  And the image you are viewing was captured by a point-and-shoot camera from 100 feet away, on an overcast day, at 1/48th second shutter speed, without the aid of a tripod!  Think of all the possibilities with these kinds of cameras!

Another quick example.  Retta found this turtle on our patio last week, and so she grabbed the camera and snapped a few pictures of this fellow.

Say hello to this guy, please.

Or should I say, these fellows, because when Retta examined the photo on the computer, she discovered that the turtle had a passenger!

Ooops, I mean say hello to these guys!

These photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 8800, but the point of the post is to plug the capabilities of this breed of camera, and not necessarily this specific make or model.



Hello everybody, I'm Pedro.  Who are you?  Will you please leave a comment for me?

This fine looking fellow is Pedro.  Pedro dropped by this morning for a visit.  Pedro didn’t tell our neighbors next door that he was going out for a walk.  He just found a way out of his pasture, and wandered on over to chat with our horses, Chipper and Tojo.  Pedro’s owners will be mad at him for misbehaving.  Retta would like to keep him.  Hmmm, maybe I can broker some kind of deal…..

A Tractor for Chickens?

Prior to buying the ranch we are at, Retta and I took the opportunity to visit the property several times, doing the due-diligence inspections all property purchasers should undertake (including, I should note, the all important survey).  During these visits, we noticed, behind the former milking barn, an odd looking contraption, half-buried amongst the odds and ends that always seems to accumulate behind old milking barns. As neither of us recognized what this object was, it soon disappeared into the deepest recesses of our memory banks.  On our last visit prior to closing escrow, while watching television at the Comfort Inn we were staying at, we saw an episode of the P. Allen Smith gardening show.  One particular segment of the show featured something called a chicken tractor.  And what the show portrayed on the screen looked very similar to the contraption sitting behind the milking barn.  Now we knew what that thing was – a chicken tractor.  I had previously heard of lawn tractors, garden tractors, farm tractors, and even tractor-trailers, but I had never heard of a chicken tractor! 

When Retta and I found that we had become the proud owners of chickens (see previous post), we faced the problem of deciding where to house them, and we needed to learn the basics of caring for them.  While looking for information at the local farm store, we ran across a book entitled “Chicken Tractor – The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil”.  That caught my attention instantly, as I never want to be accused of having unhealthy soil, and heaven forbid, unhappy chickens!  Consequently, I purchased that book and learned everything one could possibly know about chicken tractors.  Everything.  Including the information I shall now share with you.  First, here is what one chicken tractor looks like:

Chicken tractor from behind the milking barn

From this picture you can see that this tractor has an enclosed shelter area, which includes a nesting box elevated off the ground.  There is also an outside pen.  Both areas of the tractor are exposed to the ground.  Here is how the chicken tractor is operated.  Put the chickens inside.  Close the door.  Feed and water the chickens daily.  Move the tractor daily.  Clean out the nesting box periodically.  And that is all there is to it.

There are several advantages to utilizing a chicken tractor to house your fowl.  Because the chickens have access to your lawn at all times, they will help control insect populations.  The chicken droppings will help fertilize the lawn.  Most important, the chicken tractor should protect your birds from predators.

There are disadvantages to the chicken tractor as well.  The tractor has to be heavy enough to stay put in heavy winds. The weight makes it difficult to move unless it is designed with an efficient wheel mechanism (which the one above does not have).  In the photograph below, you can see another type of chicken tractor.  This is a commercial chicken tractor, manufactured in Missouri, that is designed to be both lightweight and strong.

Aluminum chicken tractor

In this style of chicken tractor, the lighter weight is offset by the improved stability that the low, wide profile provides.  Varmints cannot overturn a tractor of this type, and it’s light weight make it fairly easy to move around your lawn.  In the following photograph, you can see the design of the three nesting boxes that are a part of this tractor.  The boxes have exterior lids, making it easy to collect eggs and add litter.  The slide-out floor at the bottom allows for easy litter removal.

Well designed nesting boxes

Now for the bad news about chicken tractors.  The biggest drawback to the use of a chicken tractor is that, no matter how heavy and sturdy you construct it, varmints can burrow into it easily, simply by digging a hole in the ground anywhere along it’s sides.  We once lost a whole batch of chickens in one night alone, after some unknown critter dug its way underneath the sides of the tractor.

We now utilize permanent coops for our fowl, with concrete footings at the base.  This prevents critters from taking the underground route to our birds.  And what has become of our two chicken tractors?  The wooden tractor has become an infirmary and isolation ward for any bird that might happen to need that type of TLC.  And the aluminum chicken tractor is just the right size to store a pickup-truck size load of trash.  When it fills up with trash bags, I load the truck and take it over to the county transfer station to dispose of it.  But that is another story.

Dang Rocks!

Some people have all the luck. Take Pablo at Roundrock Journal, for instance.  Not only does Pablo have cute, cuddly, nameable rocks at Roundrock, such as Stoneman, he is also blessed with the good fortune to possess other memorable specimens.  Specimens with names like “Craters o’the Moon” and “Orange Rock”.  It almost makes you want to go out and adopt the first piece of orphaned schist you can find.  Don’t do it!

Rocks are evil. Evil, I tell you.  And how do I know this to be true?  Ladies and gentlemen, I grow rocks.  Real rocks.  Big rocks.  And I harvest these rocks.  Before you click away from this page, muttering something like “I know rocks, and Hal must be off of his”, let me tell you a little (true) anecdote.

During our first season of owning this place we call home, I spent a great deal of time picking up rocks from our various pastures and fields.  In two fields next to the house, I took extra pains to be certain I picked up all of the rocks, because I intended to add these fields into hay production, and hay equipment and rocks don’t mix.  Using the front-end loader on the tractor, a rock bar, and lots of stoop-labor, I eventually managed to strip these two fields clean of any rocks.

Winter came and went, then spring arrived, and the grass was growing tall.  When June rolled around the grass was just about in it’s prime to be baled.  Now it doesn’t make economic sense for me to cut and bale my own hay, so I usually have a neighbor do it for me on a share basis.  In this particular year, a neighbor named Boots came around with his tractor to cut the hay.  After just a short time cutting grass – BANG.  The sickle-bar mower had hit a rock, damaging several of it’s cutting teeth.  Boots replaced the damaged parts and began cutting again, when another loud BANG could be heard.  More damage to the sickle-bar mower.  And more time spent repairing the mower.  When this happened a third time, Boots came over to have a talk with me.

Boots:  “I thought ya said ya picked up all them rocks”

Hal:       “I did.  I picked up every rock in sight for nearly a month last summer” 

Boots:   “Yeah, but yer field growed more of them rocks this winter”   

Hal:        “My field grew WHAT this winter?”

Boots:    “It growed more rocks.   Didn’t ya harvest ’em this spring?”

Hal:        “Harvest WHAT?”

Boots:    “The rocks.  Ya gotta harvest ’em each spring”.

Now I thought that old Boots had been out in the sun too long or something, but you know what?  He was absolutely right.  These fields do grow rocks.  It is apparently part of a geological process that is normal in the Ozarks.  The best way that I can explain the process that is going on in my fields is to have you picture a batch of chocolate-chip cookie dough spread out in a pan.  This would represent my field – an amalgam of soil and rock.  If you were to pick out all of the chips that appear on the surface of the dough, leaving no more chips visible, that would be analogous to my picking up the rocks in my field during the summertime.  Whenever the soil expands and contracts, such as in a freeze/thaw cycle, or a wet/dry cycle, the resulting dynamics that ensue create an up-force to the rocks below the surface.  Eventually, they will rise to the surface, waiting for just the right moment to inflict their havoc on the unsuspecting, as seen here:

Lurking, always lurking!

If you recall from a previous post, we suffer the loss of chickens and guineas due mostly to daytime predation.  In an effort to stem the tide of such losses, Retta and I have decided to take these two fields (closest to the house) out of hay production.  We intend to keep the grass short this year in these areas, in the hope that our fowl will stand a better chance of survival.  To that end, I was busy with the tractor this morning cutting the grass in these fields, when – BANG – the bush-hog hit a rock.  It was a sneaky rock, hiding like the one in the previous photo, barely above the surface of the soil, but extending out just enough to get snagged by the corner of my bush-hog:


And here you see that, in addition to finishing up the mowing, Hal now has to haul away a big rock, fill in and compact a big hole, and fix the broken blade on the bush-hog:


These are the kind of evil, good-for-nothing rocks I have to deal with out here.  None that are cute, none that are cuddly – just DANG ROCKS!