A spring of breakdowns

Sometimes you just have to laugh and heave a heavy sigh as all your best laid plans are kicked to the side by the latest breakdown. The alternative of letting the frustration explode into anger doesn’t do any good. If anything, it may lead to more breakdowns.
This has been an interesting spring season with so many twists and turns. Yet, as we look at the green dotted lines marking a new growing season across the fields, we realize things worked out once again, despite our best laid plans.
Mark always wants to have the corn planter in the ground by the end of April and done by May 10. We count on the spring rains to bring the first crop hay to harvest height by Memorial Day weekend. Those plans have been tossed out the window very quickly this spring.
As we flipped the calendar to May, very little fieldwork was being done. Seed corn was delivered, but the ground was too cold to fill the planter. Snow and frost still had their grip on the land. The delay gave the guys a bit of extra time to go through the equipment to be ready to hit the ground running when we could finally pull into the fields. Oil and filters were changed. Zerks were greased. Air pressure checked. We were ready to roll, or so we thought.
The only thing starting to grow was the number of breakdowns we didn’t plan on. Four different tractors broke down five times. The corn planting tractor made two trips to the repair shop on back-to-back days before we even hooked up to the planter. I drove that tractor out to pick rocks when I noticed the yellow warning light blinking. That couldn’t be good. I mentioned it to Mark, and we drove it back to the yard as the temperature of the tractor kept climbing. A quick call to the mechanic determined it was probably just a sensor issue. It turned out to be a different problem in the same area. Two round trips and two bills later, the tractor was back home, ready to start planting.
The breakdowns were only getting started. I ran to St. Cloud for two springs for the planter that broke as they hit one too many rocks. A bearing on the disk locked up and needed to be replaced. The old farm truck finally decided it was on its last leg. We can’t put the truck in park, so we need to stop on level ground and hope the battery will have enough juice to turn over the engine. I hauled bull calves to the sales barn on a wing and a prayer with the old truck. Thank goodness for a level yard.
The equipment wasn’t the only thing breaking down. Mark had been dealing with something on the ball of his foot all winter long. Finally, he went to the foot doctor to take care of it. The doctor assured Mark it would hurt for a few hours, but he was going to really go after this sore spot. He went after it all right, but it ended up hurting for almost a week. Besides road trips, I was now on call for milking as Mark gimped around the yard. A modern jazz dancer couldn’t even begin to imitate Mark’s body movements as he hobbled around the farm.
I had foot surgery several years back and had bought a kneeler scooter. It was now Mark’s turn to fly around the house with this fun mode of transportation. I even left the four-wheeler outside the backdoor so Mark would have an outdoor scooter around the farm yard. That lasted only a day. The electric shift locked, and Mark was back to hobbling around the yard again as the four-wheeler was headed to the shop. Another unscheduled breakdown.
It is a good thing Mark’s favorite job is planting corn. This is the 49th corn crop he has put in the ground. It was also a job he could do while staying off his foot. He could never really figure out a way to keep it elevated in the tractor cab though. Eventually his foot has started to feel better, and he’s not hobbling around the farm yard. He’s going to survive this breakdown.
Not to be left out of the breakdown saga, my milk wagon finally gave out. I was struggling all winter with navigating my wagon around the yard. Luckily, we only had a few calves to feed, but spring was coming and so was a baby boom. I found my coupons for Northern Tool and headed to town to pick up another wagon. I ended up making two trips to the store and opening four boxes of wagons to discover the reason they were on sale was because they were all missing parts. The instructions were also missing a couple of steps.
I found the missing parts at the hardware store and used my old wagon as a working diagram of how to assemble the front end. It is amazing how smoothly a wagon pulls when the bearings work and the tires aren’t flat. So far, we have had 10 heifer calves this month and counting. We ended up with three calves in three hours on Mother’s Day. It looks like we won’t be running out of replacement heifers for the herd, but we will run out of room for all of them in the barn.
Despite missing Mark’s planned planting dates, things seemed to have worked out. The delayed start in planting gave the ground time to warm up. Mark thinks this may be the best germination of standing corn he has ever planted.
Breakdowns can be kryptonite to any farmer’s patience during the pressure of spring planting. Despite all your best efforts to maintain and prevent problems, breakdowns happen. How we deal with the delay affects our health and well-being. Sometimes we just need to laugh and heave a heavy sigh as we reassure ourselves that things will work out.
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.


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