When we did our financial plan for 2015, we budgeted for replacing the barn cleaner chain. The current chain is old enough to be stretched loose and is in near constant need of shortening.
Our plan was to replace the chain this summer while the cows were on pasture and the barn only needed cleaning every other day.
We started the process of replacing the chain by trying to estimate how many feet of chain we actually needed. Glen spray painted one of the flights red and asked me to count how many links it took to get around the barn. So, while the barn cleaner was running, I plopped down in a stall to count as the links and flights went by. Who knew that counting links is as good as counting sheep? I was sleeping by link number 75.
The project got tabled after I dozed off. I've classified it as one of those projects that is easy to put off because it's not screaming for attention. The barn cleaner still works just fine, for the most part.
The pasture gate is now closed and the cows are back in the barn, so we're back to running the barn cleaner twice a day. But after my recent incident, replacing the chain moved up on the priority list.
It was one of those perfect scenarios: I had 30 minutes before I needed to be in the house. Just enough time to run the barn cleaner and chop straw. Nothing ever goes wrong when you've got all day to finish a task, but the minute you say you have just enough time to do X-Y-and-Z, you can almost guarantee something will go wrong.
I started the barn cleaner and watched while the first couple flights came around to make sure the chain was staying together. Then I went to the front of the barn to get the straw for the straw chopper. I thought I heard a clunk while I was up front - the type of clunk a flight makes when it drops into the hopper on the manure pump. But I didn't hear another one, so I figured the chain was fine. I figured wrong.
When I returned to the back of the barn, there was a good stretch of gutter missing its chain. Crap. That's not exactly what I said, but you get the idea.
Dan and Monika, who had been cleaning the stalls and scraping the walk, came running when they heard me.
"I know, Mom," Monika said, knowingly, "don't repeat that."
The first time the barn cleaner chain dropped into the hopper on my watch, I went and got Glen. I've watched the process enough times since then that I now know exactly what needs to be done. So I decided to be a big girl and retrieve the chain myself.
I should clarify here that I had not started the manure pump yet, so the barn cleaner chain was contained in the hopper. Had the manure pump been running when the chain came apart, the problem would have been significantly larger. But there's also a good chance I wouldn't have let a good 20 feet worth of chain drop into the hopper because the sound of the pump trying to push a flight out of the hopper is horrific and unmistakable. In other words, there would have been no second-guessing what I had heard and I would have sprinted to shut the system down.
Anyway, I grabbed the ladder we keep in the pump room for this purpose and lowered it into the hopper. With Dan and Monika watching intently, I climbed down into the poo and started fishing out the flights and links.
Glen arrived at this point and helped pull the chain out from above. He also started reassembling the chain so I knew how many more links were missing. His help doubled my appreciation for how many times he's had to do this by himself.
All in all, it went very well. And as gross as the situation was, there was a bright spot: I got to hear just how much my kids really love me. Several times, they chided me to be careful as we talked about how dangerous the manure hopper is and why this is an adult job only.
"We don't want anything to happen to you, Mom," Dan kept saying.
I really was encouraged by their comments. Because just 10 minutes before, they had been referring to me as the Evil Queen Witch who made them clean stalls and scrape the walk, when no other kids they knew had to work like this.
"You're treating us like slaves," they said.
I reassured them other kids had jobs to do, too, and reminded them families work together because that's what families do.
I didn't need to remind Glen about our plans to replace the chain. He mentioned ordering the chain before I even had a chance to think about it.