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Friday, 13 July 2012

The Stocky's Guide to Seeding.

Ahh, seeding time. It's like the first day of school for new kids, repeated each and every year. You're nervous, unsure as to what the year may bring, what drama will unfold. Will that big bully Mother Nature pick on you again like last year, or will she have a change of heart this time and not steal your lunch money? You're also excited, hoping against hope to nail that elusive Holy Grail of grain growing, the trifecta of a perfect season, high prices and a dry harvest.

Fill her up thanks.
For the seasoned grain grower, seeding time is like the Boxing Day Sales. If you don't get in and get it sorted quick smart, you run the risk of missing out. Especially in our area. The Northern Ag Zone has such a short season it's not funny. The average break is around the 20th of May, and by the middle of October canola is getting swathed. So you can imagine the flurry of activity the occurs has tractors roar up and down paddocks, guided mostly these days by satellites thousand of kilometres away, with a steering wheel attendant who basically keeps an eye out for trees and swings the tractor 180 degrees in between reading Zoo Magazine the Farm Weekly.

But not all are solely focused on tractors, trucks, seed and fertiliser at this time of year. Spare a thought for the stock farmer, who after being burned with last years hay prices, has decided to scratch a bit of feed in for his precious animals. After all, how hard can it be? Sit in the tractor all day listening to the radio. Money for jam, right?

As a stockie, no doubt your seed and super bin has been used over the summer and autumn as a feed wagon. Now while the cheap seconds from the seed cleaners make for good sheep tucker, they make lousy seed stock. So best clean out the bin. Ours had been sitting in the shed for a few weeks untouched, and as I opened the door a nice mound of freshly chewed seat cushion fell to the ground. Rat 1, truck 0. The bastards. A turn of the key and the old girl whirred over and fired up. And made a horrible wet chunkita chunkita sound as the rat camped on the manifold went through the radiator fan. Truck fan 1, Rat 1. Game, truck.

Now, the elevators on the old bin were very religious. As in holy. Which didn't matter filling sheep feeders, as the clean up crew is the keenest you'll ever see. But having your $600 per tonne oat seed and the I-don't-even-want-to-think-how-much-per-tonne fertiliser spill out on the ground is not clever, so a bit of patch work was required. A few strips of tin, half a tube of Sealastic (of which only 1/8th went where it supposed to), 5 drill bits and a few pop rivets and the elevators were good as new. Bloody pop rivets, I now know why welding was invented. While the going was good I thought I should change the oil too. Now, I won't go into details, but it involved ants, skinned knuckles and spilt mess. But if Main Roads WA should ever need some more bitumen they should contact me. Just add blue metal and she's good to go. Should probably drop the sump oil more often, she was a bit tar-like.

Vintage edition.
The truck done, next step is the seeder. People talk of family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, some dusty old clock that sits on the mantel piece behind the new wide screen telly, or your Mothers Grandmothers tea set, that nobody is allowed to touch on threat of death. I can remember very clearly as a kid Dad and I standing on the back of his old combine, and with a broad sweep of his arm, he declared, "One day, Son, this'll be all yours." Little did I know he was talking about the combine. My inheritance down payment was a 511 6 row International 28 run tyned seeder, the very same one I first cut my teeth on some 15 odd years ago. In between snaffelling the combine in 2006 and last year, we'd upgraded to a 50ft disc seeder and air cart. Sick of cropping for the fun of it only, we sold the oh-so-wide bar last year and blew the cobwebs off the old combine for the hay program. Let me tell you, down sizing from a 50ft bar and six tonne cart to a 22ft combine can be classified as strange and unusual punishment and there should be a UN convention against it.

The beauty of the combine is they are simple. Four grease nipples, stick in the fertiliser stars and covers I'd removed at last years cleanout and she's good to go. Except the points. Bloody points. Points are the sharp earth diggy bits, fairly crucial bits of gear, but if they wear down too much the tyne that carries them also wears, then I have to raid a vintage farm machinery museum for replacements. Sick of fighting with rusted on bolts, last year I converted them to Knock-on points, or as I call them, Rattle-offs. An adapter is bolted to the tine and then the new point slides over that, held on by friction and the pressure of the dirt. Or at least that's the plan. What actually happens is while changing over the points, the vibration of hammering the last ten or so one rattles the first sixty back off. As does driving down the road. But it still beats fighting with seized bolts.

Kidney removal
This year took a little while to get wet. All around us dust was flying as the big croppers let loose, burning paddocks & diesel like crazy. We held off for two reasons. One, I can't get the machine in the ground when it's dry, and two, when you've only got 80 hectares to put in, it's not a big worry. But finally the rain came, and that same day I saddled up the old truck and headed in to the fertiliser works to get our one and only load. Which is good, because I only have two kidneys and it cost me one of them for four tonne of DAP fertiliser. Ouch. Operation complete, I staggered back into the truck and drove home to put some seed in her and I was ready to start.

Very sweary
You may have heard me mention that Murphy was a farmer. I hate that man. Our sparkley new auger has not missed a beat since we bought two years ago. Fires up first time, every time. All I had to do was drive it out of the feed silo, flush it out, back her into the seed silo and fill the truck. Fifteen minutes tops, and I'd be seeding. Murphy was having none of that. A turn of the key and the engine whirred over. And over and over and over. No worries, the fuels been sitting a while, I'll drain the carby and put some clean fuel in it. Whiiirrrrrrr. Whiiiiiiirrrrr. Cough. Whiiiiirrrrr. Fine, must be moisture in the spark plugs. Pulled them out, sprayed them down with some CRC and screwed them back in. Whiiiiiirrrrr. Whiiiiiirrrrr. This where my tried and true method of abusing the absolute hell out of the engine came into play. To no effect. Funny, that usually works. I pulled the spark plugs back out again and earthed them out to check the spark. Intermittent. Ha, that's the problem, all I have to do is pull out the coil, there must be moisture in there.

Spiral worm larvae
The trouble with new gear is I'm only really experienced in vintage stuff. I can strip down an old honda motor in no time with a 10mm spanner, but this shiny plastic looking thing on the auger had me worried. I phoned the local small engine man who confirmed my suspicions about the coil. "Bring it in and we can soon replace it." Trouble was, I wasn't game to strip the engine down in the open, as there were still showers coming down, and the auger was unmovable with no motor. So after one more failed attempt at ignition, I started unmounting the engine. As it turns out, they don't seem to be design for easy removal. Somewhere in the augers home factory, an assemblers ears should have been burning so hard his head exploded. An hour later of fighting with brackets, pulleys and safety covers,  just for shits and giggles I turn the engine over one last time before removing the battery leads. And away she went, like nothing was ever wrong. It's a this point you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Another hour of rebolting the auger back together and finally the truck gets loaded.

No, you don't want whats in here.

Stripe worm. Not mine.
After racing the sheep who recognise their feed wagon at the gates, I make it to the paddock. Fill up the combine and we are away. I mentioned earlier most machines are steered by satellites now. Not mine. While I do have a guidance system, the steering is all handraulic. In fact, when I punched the seeder width into the system just to track the hectares, I'm sure the thing laughed at me and shut down. A couple of days and the first paddock was done, in between feeding sheep and stopping with four laps and the headlands to go to draft sheep. Heresy in any self respecting croppers eyes. Another sacrilegious act, although still a surprisingly common one, is the infestation of Spiral Worm, or more commonly these days, Stripe Worm. These worms are nasty little pests, the infestation occurs at seeding time when the operator gets a little optimistic, or just plain forgets to fill the seeder. And they almost always occur in the paddock along the main road. The only cure is to re sow and hope nobody notices. The devastating effects of stripe worm can be seen in the photo, kindly provided by Corey Blacksell, who calls them his test strips.

Keep your eye on the dot.
The first paddock done,  I waited for the weather to clear to spray out the other paddocks which by now had an amazing large green tinge on them. Not four days earlier the place was a dust bowl. It's a funny game this cropping. Pray for rain to turn brown paddocks to green, then hope it stops long enough so we can turn them brown before letting them come back green. This is where my years of playing video games comes into good use, as I chase the little green guidance dots up and down the paddock, having taken to the foam maker workings with a sledge hammer some years earlier.

Once the paddocks were sprayed out it was a simple matter of more driving in ever decreasing circles with the seeder and jobs done. And as an added bonus they all came up, which obviously means I put the seed in right way up. The trick now is to keep the sheep off them.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbours airseeder.

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1 comment:

Saskia Pickles said...

Just discovered your blog and love it! While determining if the weather will steal your lunch money, perhaps you'll identify with this?