Gene Logsdon and Friends

Here’s Mud In Your Sty

In Gene's Weekly Posts on March 20, 2013 at 7:32 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

Mud is the most appropriate icon (how I hate that overused word anymore) of the struggle between humans bent on making money in farming and a nature bent on stopping them. Mud in springtime turns barnyards into forbidding quagmires that can swallow pigs. I say this with some authority. As a child I got stuck in the mud behind the barn and had to wait, screaming in panic, for my father to extricate me. Many years later, a farmer told me, aghast, about visiting a neighboring farm where a cow was standing up to her belly in mud. She was dead.

Mud is the main obstacle to success in year-round pasture farming. Heavy cows can turn a thawing pasture sod into a sea of quicksand in March. And now that tractors have four wheel drive, they will haul hay out to cattle without getting stuck. Instead they cut big ruts and ruin the pasture that way.

So acute is the problem of burying monster farm machines in muddy fields that the Purdue Extension Service has put out a 96 page manual called “Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely.” I can give you a two-sentence summation of what it says: When you bury a huge tractor or combine, call in a professional wrecking crew to pull it out even though it will cost you hundreds of dollars. It serves you right for being so stupid.

Tractors are powerful enough now that when used to pull out other big powerful tractors or combines, the cables or straps or chains used to do the pulling break, fly back, and may kill or injure anyone standing nearby. Farmers are not used to the awesome power of their big machines but experienced wrecking crews are supposed to take that possibility into account. In some cases, it is easier and safer to lift the machine out with a crane rather than try to pull it through a sea of mud.

Some great stories about mud and machines can be heard these days wherever farmers gather over beer or coffee. My favorite— and I know this is a true one — is about a farmer who always made sure that he not only had the most horsepower in his traces but paid minute attention to all the details of farming. A very particular kind of guy he was and believed that a penny saved was a penny made. Waste not, want not. That’s how he got rich, he would remind one and all. Finishing up harvesting corn in a particularly wet fall, he espied a stalk still standing all alone out in the middle of the field because it was growing at the edge of a wet hole where the surrounding corn had drowned out. What was one ear of corn to a guy who grew 4000 acres of the stuff? But he couldn’t stand it. A penny saved and so forth. And maybe by now the edge of the wet hole had dried out enough so that with a combine capable of trampling army tanks, he could slip in there and nab that last ear without getting out of the cab. Before he buried his beast, he was pushing a wall of mud ahead of it as big as the combine header. It took three (3) other beasts plus 5 cables (three broke) and finally a crane, not to mention $1400 paid to the crane operator to get that combine back to shore.

Mud, writes Extension Educator Mark Landefeld in the Feb. 26 issue of Farm and Dairy, costs farmers money in the feedlot too. Some 4 to 8 inches of mud reduces feed intake 5 to 15% and mud 12 to 24 inches deep 15 to 30%. On good old Ohio clay, no one knows how much gravel you would have to dump on a feedlot before it would quit sinking into the earth in just one March.

Concrete seems to be the answer and then the manure builds up almost as deep as the mud did previously. Some farmers are using geotextile pads to keep the animals above the mud, but from what I hear, that works much better with small numbers of animals.

I am one who thinks that small-scale pasture farming is the wave of the future because not only is it the cheapest way to produce meat, milk and eggs, but because mud will force upon us the decentralization of agriculture. Mud will dictate small numbers of light animals on small farms— think sheep, goats and dwarf cattle.  Mud will be the one thing that Monsanta Claus will not find a way to genetically engineer into something that won’t swallow a tractor or a pig.
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  1. Even $1400 isn’t the end of it. You’d still have the clear the mud out of the works.

  2. “think sheep, goats and dwarf cattle.”

    Think also scythes, broadforks, and hand spreaders.

  3. I’d love to see more local small-scale pasture farming, but most farmers think or are led to large-scale farming, or are contracted by large-scale corporations, so I am afraid that the future will be more concrete floors and automatic manure clean-up twice or three times a day.
    Plus, these water mattresses for your cows work only on concrete floors, not mud… ;)

  4. Many years ago, we came home with a load of hay for the horses in the fall after the rainy season had started.
    Hubby (who was in the first year of living in northern California): “Let’s just drive out and feed before we unload.”
    Me (who had grown up in the area): “You don’t want to do that.”
    Hubby: “Oh, we’ll be fine.”
    Me: “You don’t want to do that.”
    Long story short, the pickup got to the far side of the pasture and sank up to the bumper with a full load of hay on. Took us seven hours to winch it out (at that time we had no tractor, backhoe or similar equipment — which was probably just as well, as we would have had multiple stuck vehicles). I thought he’d learned his lesson, but a week ago he sunk the backhoe up to the floorboards because “It didn’t look wet.” Then son-in-law went down to the same area two hours later, sunk the four-wheeler and made the same excuse. My daughter took pictures for blackmail purposes.

    • Beth, I have a friend, very successful in business because of his great power of positive thinking, But because of that he cannot ever believe he can;t drive wherever he wants to. He has gotten stuck in mud countless times but never learns. It is a family joke. Gene

      • Gene, I don’t know if it’s the power of positive thinking or just a short memory, but whatever it is, it doesn’t keep him out of the mud :-) And the other funny thing is that son-in-law was ticked at the old man for getting stuck, so for him to get buried as well caused considerable snickering (behind our hands of course; wouldn’t want to hurt the guys’ feelings) by the two adult females in the family…

  5. The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.

    I think the fella in the photo didn’t know that.

  6. Wow! A small platoon of big workhorses couldn’t help THAT tractor. Harness wouldn’t hold.

  7. Some would say that the tractor pictured is only half stuck. The right side looks pretty good.

  8. Been stuck enough times now that I never put a tire on soggy wet ground unless I get out and check it out first usually by jumping up and down and stomping around. Also I never leave home without a couple tow straps just in case I seem to forget the last time I got stuck, and get suck again……..it is always fun however to load up the tractor tires with a ton of good sticky mud and go flying down the road to fling it off,that never gets old no matter how old I get.
    t

  9. In my very first year here at Persimmon Ridge, I learned about mud! I pulled into and was hoping to go “through” the old tobacco barn here in March. Alas, gumbo mud pinned and wedged me tightly within the opening of the back door of the barn. My little Ford Ranger was in over her head! A friend came to my rescue with a little Toyota Tecumseh–man was he puffed up about that! But that little Toyota truck pulled me out of the mire in nothing flat!

  10. I think I’m the one in the car following Troy.

  11. My folks have a five acre plot on top of a tall, sandy hill — so I never really “appreciated” mud until we bought our farm a few years ago. Now I realize that my folks are truly part of the 1%; not the one percent that the tax collectors are after, rather one of those lucky few who don’t have a care in the world come March and April while the rest of us sing the Mud Slinger’s Blues.

  12. Our land, here in Latvia, is still covered in snow and ice and I know when it melts we will have two to three weeks of increasing mud, good job we are taking the opportunity to go and see new grandchildren then! At least that will stop the temptation to go on the land with the car, even though it is four wheel drive.

  13. When I was in Albania, I watched a tank get stuck, then the recovery vehicle, then the bulldozer and a soldier. A crane hook was lowered to the soldier when it pulled him up his boots stayed in the mud.

  14. We’ve a bra for our Dexter milch coo she wears to keep her teats outa the mud. The sight is a traffic stopper.

  15. Last year due to the drought , we had no mud season at all ! I will tell you it felt really strange to not have mud issues at all. I put in a gate post at the end of March last year and it was dust dry all the way down. I am hoping for a heavy MUD season this year ! At present we still have 3 ft of snow on the ground. I find on wet years I can harrow the meadows earlier if I use the horses instead of the tractor.

  16. I’ve got mud on my mind these days. I’ve been stuck deep in it before, but that’s not why it’s on my mind. We’ve had an unusually wet March and I haven’t been able to plant any of our spring crops yet. The gardens are all just mud and you know what it will do them if I till them now.

  17. I no-till for folks in my neighborhood. This means they call me to plant when it is too wet to work ground or they want to go hunting.
    If you do a web search for photos with the terms, Stuck 2-155 or stuck great plains drill, you will find several photos of my misadventures. My frustration at suddenly sinking to the axles is seldom tempered by the farmer’s claim that he had in fact “walked” the field before my arrival.
    I have found that the best plan upon getting stuck is to stop when you first start to spin. Then go get another tractor twice as big as what you think you need, and pull it out on the first try.
    Having to dig out a White 2-155 FWA and a Great Plains no-till drill with a shovel despite the fact that you also have three other tractors attached to the 2-155 is not the way to spend the afternoon.
    Another interesting fact is that should you get stuck, it is a given fact that nearly half the neighborhood will drive by at some point during the unsticking process…

  18. There was a good article about some smaller steer, that might be good for vermont and the style of farming you preach, in my local paper. From your previous books you are not big into new breeds but this does seem to make sense if there is real numbers behind the growth found. http://www.7dvt.com/2013could-lowline-angus-cow-save-vermont-beef

  19. my dad moved us to our farm in 1962. The first weekend, he promptly got a farmall super C buried in the woods. I was 10, and after a week of digging I swore to myself that I would always give mud its due respect.

    51 years later: if you were to feel the back right part of my head, like a phrenologist, you would find a bump where the “can I get across this piece of ground?”-calculating region has developed over the years.

    I agree with someone above: once you have spun the tires, quit while you’re ahead and get help. you’ll be glad you did.

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