June 23, 2023 at 10:11 p.m.
THE DAY THAT WENT AWRY
A miss is as good as a mile
Today, Mullikin, his parents, Mike and Julie Mullikin, and his sister, Heather Keane, own around 60 Jerseys, milking 44, near Wauzeka.
On that day long ago, Mullikin and his father had been preparing to chop hay, and Mullikin was getting the silo ready. He was at ground level, outside the silo, using a large drill to raise the silo unloader. Everything was going OK until the unloader was about halfway up the 60-foot silo. That is when the worm gear failed, and the unloader came falling down.
Mullikin watched as 30 feet of cable unwound in a matter of seconds. A little puff of air came out of the silo chute, and then all was calm.
“It was so eerie because it was ghostly quiet,” Mullikin said. “You would think there would be a big bang or something, but no.”
At first, Mullikin did not realize what had happened. When he looked inside, he saw that the unloader had landed on what little haylage was still left in the silo. Besides the cable that had gotten slightly tangled in its rapid unleash, there did not appear to be much damage. Mullikin thought that since it had a soft landing, the unloader was probably fine.
“At first glance, everything seemed to be fine,” Mullikin said. “From what I remember, Dad didn’t seem too excited, and I honestly don’t remember how much we inspected it after that.”
They untangled the cable, fixed the worm gear and raised up the silo unloader as originally planned. Then they proceeded to chop haylage and fill the silo with feed. Later, when they planned to start feeding from the silo, they realized their problems were not over.
“I went to use the silo, and it wouldn’t work,” Mullikin said. “I went up to look closer at the unloader and come to find out it actually had sprung the auger.”
This meant Mullikin and his father had to remove the auger from the silo unloader and replace it with a new one. It was a lot of extra work to remove the damaged auger out from the top of the full silo, rather than pulling it out at ground level.
“You learn a lot when things like that happen,” Mullikin said. “If that would ever happen again, that’s the first thing I would check (the unloader). Running it would have been a fantastic idea as well.”
The experience, Mullikin said, made him even more aware of the dangers that farming put him in. He had spent time working at a sand mine where company protocol prohibited employees to work under a suspended load, but in farming, he said, there are situations where the job just has to get done.
“Those are super-real hazards that I don’t know if there are safeguards that can really be put in place,” Mullikin said. “It’s a risky proposition, but sometimes that’s just the way you have to do it.”
He said safety is on his mind constantly when working in less-than-ideal conditions, and he realizes that anything could go wrong at any time. He does his best to be prepared for anything and tries to anticipate possible dangers.
“I’ve always wondered, ‘What if the pulley fails? What if the cable fails?’ Now I know what happens when the worm gear fails,” Mullikin said. “After the fact, we learned to look things over a little better.”
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