Friday, January 28, 2011

What Hat to Wear Today

Carpenter, definitely.

Last week when I tossed down a bale of hay, it hit the bottom step hitting it in just a way that it broke the step. What added insult to this incident was I had just replaced that step, along with two others, the month before.

Since working with power tools when you can't feel your fingers isn't a wise idea, I traversed the treacherous step until the temperature hovered above freezing.
With a downright balmy 37 degrees this afternoon, it was time to uncover the table saw and find a suitable board in my lumber pile to replace the step.
Farming isn't always about feeding animals, driving tractors, planting and harvesting. A lot of the time it's about fixing things. It doesn't matter if you have chickens or cows, all livestock requires infrastructure. From roosts to shelters, feeders to fences sooner or later something is going to need fixed. Equipment must be maintained or you'll really be faced with the nightmare of constant fixes. I know several farmers who never maintain their equipment and it seems their life is one big emergency trying to mitigate constant disaster. I have been blessed with the knowledge that allows me to wear many hats around my farm.

The truth is that I now use more of my college education that I have in any of my former professions. Here are just a few of the hats, in addition to carpenter, I must wear in order to do my job well.

This spring I lined up all my equipment that had engines, motors and blades out in front of the barn and got out my tools. I pulled the plugs, points, condensers, air filters, frayed belts & cords and blades from everything and then headed down to the local equipment shop for replacements and sharpening. It set me back $62 and two full days. Everything got lubed, oiled, filled with fresh gas and put back together. And all summer long, everything started when I needed it to and worked just fine.
Plumber also falls into this category and it's saved my rear-end on many occasions. From replacing the guts in my toilet to repairing a busted sub-zero hydrant (in record time, no less prior to a night out in DC), my pipe wrench has been well worth its weight in gold.


This is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many--a'hem--'farmers' call the vet out for the simplest of things to do stuff they should be doing themselves. My biggest personal peeve is those who decide to raise livestock, but refuse to own a gun and humanely dispatch animals that need to be put down.

One of the most infuriating things I've ever had to do was kill a suffering lamb for a vegetarian CSA manager who decided to raise meat for her customers. Not only did she take the triplet ram lamb to the veterinarian to be "saved" (read: say goodbye to all profits), she left it suffering in her bathtub hoping it would "just die" while she worked in her greenhouse. When it didn't and she could no longer stand that awful sound animals make when they are in the throws of death, I was the one who had to shoot it.

I can see calling out the vet (by the way, it's a $48 service call just for them to show up during normal working hours and $75 for the off hours) for valuable breeding stock or dairy animals, but most issues with livestock bound for consumption, a tube of Super Glue, duct tape, Peptobismol and blood-stop powder works just fine. If not, get out the gun, string it up on the pole and call it "family meat". Oh yeah, add Butcher to the list.

It doesn't matter if you are raising animals or produce, having a basic understanding of soils, water and the life forms with which you will make your living is critical. Simple things like learning how to read a soil test and know what to add to balance for optimum fertility or understanding the life-cycle of a pest or a parasite so it can be mitigated without harsh chemicals make a difference. If I hadn't had a university education in these subjects, I probably would have listened to the idiots who told me to bulldoze my entire property, spray it with herbicides and plant a monocrop for pasture.

Sales & Marketing

If you're going to raise it, you're going to sell it one way or another. The better you are, the more money you make, period. Also worthy of mention in this category, is Accountant, another thankless job that I hope to someday outsource.

Speaking of outsourcing, there are a few things on the farm I absolutely refuse to do--serious electrical work and running a chainsaw. Give me a tractor, a backhoe, any type of hand too, power tool, mower, weed whacker, but I draw the line at a chain saw. Yes, there's one on my front porch, but it's not mine. I fired it up once thinking I could overcome my shortcoming, but I chickened out before I put the blade to wood and opted for my DeWalt Sawzall instead even though it took three heavy-duty extension cords to reach my destination.

Little electrical stuff is within my realm, but when it involves tying into the breaker box, that's where I draw the line. The most frustrating thing about my job is that I am only one person and pretty darn pig-headed when it comes to asking for help. While I may be able to do most of what needs done, ultimately, it boils down to time. Some days the clock and daylight beats me before my list is done, but when I do get to cross those items off my list and look back at what I have accomplished, it's a darn good feeling.

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