Saturday, June 13, 2015

Finished WIth Wheat Harvest

Hey!? That's not supposed to be sticking outta my tire?!
I finished up this year's wheat harvest a few days ago, and I can summarize the results by saying that we didn't get enough rain at the right time, we got way too much rain at the wrong time, I grew a lot of straw and not much grain, and all the weeds that I thought I had finally gotten under control came roaring back due to all that rain. This wheat crop had drought, flood, disease, and weed problems. 

We also had equipment breakdowns to add to all of the above, on about the third day of harvest, I ran a broken hay rake tine into a combine tire (who knows how long it was laying out in the field), the combine started driving at a funny angle down the backside of a terrace, and we had to take a flatter-than-flat tire off of the combine in the middle of the wheat field.  If you've never had the experience, it's more fun than I can describe to hang off of an eight-foot long chunk of pipe you're using as a cheater trying to break some lug bolts loose, and then trying not to get crushed by the tire when you finally get it broken loose from the hub.  Putting the fixed tire back on is even more fun, with all the drama of getting it back upright, almost back on the hub (How the heck are we gonna get the holes all lined up?), while also trying to not get flattened by a falling tire and/or have the tire go rolling outta control down the hill.  Hanging off of the end of the eight-foot long piece of pipe to get the lug bolts torqued to spec (they gotta be torqued to exactly 405 wrapped up the fun for the day. 

After the epic flat tire battle was finally over, everything went about as smooth as it usually goes, a couple of pins that kept some augers running shook loose inside the combine and it was a simple matter of practicing my contortionist skills while standing on my head to put some new pins back where they needed to go. I also managed to set a new personal record that I'm pretty proud of by only bashing my head three times into the folded-up unloading auger.  It's always in the same place when it's folded up, but I always seem to hit my head on it whenever I walk around the combine, I wish I could figure out why that is.
Combining the pasture-cropped wheat in the weaning pen. Would someone please clean that windshield?
I promised myself that I was going to harvest the wheat that I pasture-cropped in the weaning pen so I could get a better idea about how or if pasture cropping would actually work on a larger scale.  But, before I could harvest my pasture-cropped wheat, I had to maneuver the combine through two sets of gates and a small pen by the loafing shed which would normally be a pretty simple matter if I hadn't tried to save a little time by waiting to unload the bin of the combine until after I had combined this little two acre field.  Since I had a partially filled bin, I couldn't fold up the auger, and with the auger folded out I couldn't go through the gates without smashing into the loafing shed.  So I had to carefully back the combine through those gate openings, and in the process I entertained everybody that happened to drive by at that particular moment.  In the typical way that things seem to go in my world, there wasn't anyone to be seen on the road all day until I decided to try to back a combine through some gates, then there was parade of traffic and onlookers.

For whatever reason, some of my best wheat yields this year might have been from this pasture-cropped area of wheat which is both a little interesting and a little disappointing.  It's a little interesting because it might actually be possible to convert all or part of the cropland to a perennial grass pasture and still plant a wheat crop by pasture-cropping, and it's a little disappointing because my "normal wheat" yields should have been  better than this pasture-cropped area.

I could almost understand having a lower yield in the pasture-cropped area but a higher profit (due to lower input costs), but getting the same or better yields in the pasture-cropped area doesn't make sense.  I'm still thinking about what it all means about how or why I'm growing wheat at this point, and what I might need to change.


  1. "We also had equipment breakdowns to add to all of the above, on about the third day of harvest"

    I find equipment breakdowns to frustratingly come in bunches. Like they're hunting for your wallet.

    I need to change the oil in my diesel. No big deal, but a knowledgeable friend who rode with me the other day claims I have a wheel out of balance. Great. And the soft top I put on my Jeep had a defective part, no big deal, it's under warranty but the part is on back order. And then yesterday I blew a hole in my Jeep exhaust just in front of the catalytic converter. I have that patched, so I don't flood us with exhaust, but I best buy a new converter and that's going to cost a couple of hundred bucks. And I need to change the Jeep's oil also.

    1. It seems like it's a never ending job to keep some equipment running, this year the fuel filter and air filter were replaced, oil was changed, a flat tire was fixed, one of the belts running the separator was replaced, the A/C had to worked on (still doesn't work right), a couple of fuel lines were replaced, some coolant lines were replaced, wiring was fixed (stupid rats and mice), and most of the sickle sections (the sharp parts that do the cutting) on the header were replaced. Sometimes I think more time is spent fixing the combine than actually using the combine.

      I figured it up one time that I'm running over a million pounds of abrasive grain and straw through the combine every year with the moderate grain yields and hundreds of acres I'm farming, so I'd guess that this combine has easily had over a 100 million pounds of material ran through it in it's life. I'm surprised every time I use it that it just doesn't quit working out of sheer exhaustion.

  2. I feel your pain. Although removed from the farm for the most part, I still remember all those things well. We almost always counted on something/two or three happening those initial days of harvest that would require lots of frustrations to get fixed. We laugh after the harvest but at the time, it is never funny.

    I can think of at least four or five times we've had a flat on a combine tire and every single time it has been due to a deer antler. Fortunately there is a farm tire outfit about 20 miles down the road that will come out with their wrecker and hydraulic jacks to change the tire for not nearly enough money. Of course we only have flat tires late on Saturday night with a gully washer headed our way on Sunday so sometimes we had to bribe them to fix the flat by flashlight a time or two!

    I remember once while hauling in grain with an under powered tractor and trying to grab too large of a gear too quickly, I stalled out the tractor in the middle of the road. To make matters worse, I was wiggling the key because it sometimes shorted out and broke the key off in the ignition. I remember standing in the middle of the road changing out the starter in that tractor while the entire two county area drove by. Every time!

    How long has the weaning pen been such? I would just suspect that it had a lot higher nitrogen content than your wheat field and that helped the increase in yields. I'm guessing if you had the soil tested both places, you would have your answer.

    1. A couple of years ago when I was topdressing the wheat I spotted a shed antler on the neighbor's field, stopped and picked it up, and noticed that it was laying in a almost perfect position to shred a combine or tractor tire. After that, each spring before the wheat gets too tall, I try to remember to go looking for shed antlers laying in the fields or I at least try to convince someone to go looking for me. I'd think that an antler would do a lot more damage than a tine off of a hay rake.

      We were lucky that we were able to break the lug bolts loose and load it on a trailer to get it fixed the next morning instead of calling a mobile tire guy out. It probably saved about $150 and I was back to combining right about noon (which is about the normal time to start combining wheat).

      The weaning pen has been there for a pretty long time in one shape or another. There used to be dairy cows on the farm, and it was used as sort of an overflow area for the cows waiting to be milked and/or the dairy calves were kept there. Then at one time it was used as a lot to raise pigs. Part of it was used as a garden after that from what I've been told. It was planted to wheat for about 40 years up until the tornado blew all the fences away, then it was pasture until I rebuilt the fences and started using it for weaning calves and as an area for heifers that were close to calving.

      You would think that the fertility might be a little higher than normal due to how it was being used in the past, but from the thin grass growth over the years that I've observed, I think it's been a pretty abused area over the years, with no fertilizer, excessive tillage, over grazing, etc. Recently, nothing extra has been done to increase the fertility besides rotating the cattle through the pen once in a while, controlling the weeds, and having calves in the pen for a week or so at a time.

      I had the cows in the pen in late-Feb. when I was doing some sorting, and they grazed it off pretty short (shorter than I'd normally want to graze my wheat fields), and it didn't seem to really harm the wheat. I'm starting to wonder if that might have something to do with it, that severe grazing removed more dormant foliage so there was less disease pressure or something similar. Besides that, I'm not exactly sure what happened.