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.