Tag Archives: muck

Welding muck in the rain.

According to somebody who knows, farmers and Royal Marines have at least one thing in common, an utter disregard for doing things by the book. (A blithe disregard of health and safety may be one of the other things they have in common.)  So over the years, my occasional ventures into agricultural engineering are such as to give proper engineers palpitations. Were any to stop to watch what I’m doing, they’d probably have to go and have a lie down.

Over the years I’ve had to do a lot of percussive maintenance with tractor mounted slurry scrapers. The problem is that these take a lot of hammer. They’re used at least twice a day whilst cows are housed, they’re marinated in muck (which does nobody any good) and they’re often used in the dark or semi-dark. So yes they get well used.

Now scrapers don’t have all that many wearing parts. There’s the rubber that makes contact with the concrete that does wear out. There are also the pins the scraper pivots on. Because for those who’ve never used one, a scraper is meant to be able to pull muck as well as to push it. Indeed when you stop and think about it, you want to be able to pull muck out of the building (so the scraper can get close to the back wall, the last thing you want is to have to shovel a tractor length of muck by hand.) and similarly you want to be able push the muck into the slurry pit. After all, pulling it into the slurry pit means that the tractor has to go first. This is generally something you try to avoid.

Actually in the picture at the top of the page, the pit cannot be all that deep, you can still see the tractor.

But back to the pins the scraper pivots on. In the picture, the red arrow points to one of them. The pin connects A to B. Obviously they’re pretty hard steel. The last thing you want is them bending and buckling so the scraper no longer pivots.

But when you have a piece of steel (like B) swinging on a hard steel pin, if B isn’t as hard as the pin then B is going to wear. So B should be pretty hard steel as well, but in fact you’re running to expense. At what point do we call a halt.

I’d love to discuss the design of these scrapers with somebody who actually understands it all, but as far as I can see, you want everything to fail simultaneously. After all, they aren’t going to last forever. In theory the rubbers can be replaced but by the time the rubber has worn out, the bolts holding it on are so rotted they have to be cut off and the ‘wings’ have taken so many knocks they are only half connected to the rest of the scraper. So using high quality expensive steel just makes the tackle even more expensive and won’t increase life all that much.
In theory if you wash the scraper off after each use it would extend its life. But frankly if you’ve got time to do that, you’re either employing too many staff or you’re not milking enough cows.

Anyway back to the scraper. B wears. In fact what happens is that, in slow motion, the pin cuts its way through the metal of B until the hole in B is actually a slot.

Now doing the job properly and thinking about it, when buying another second hand scraper, I’d weld a couple of hard steel washers to B, one each side of the hole. This I would do when things were dry and clean, in the workshop where I could lift and twist things so that I could get to weld it properly. That way it would take the pin so much longer to cut its way through. Yes, because life is so slow and relaxed round here I have always had time to do sensible stuff like that. Oh look, a unicorn.

Instead, this is agriculture and everything is done in a rush. One morning you discover that the pins have escaped, B has a slot rather than a hole, so you hammer the steel back into place (because once the pin has broken through, it stops wearing as much and starts bending the softer metal out of its way) and then weld a bit of steel across the top of the slot to hold the bits into place.

But remember that you’re welding steel that has been marinated in muck for some years. So things spark and splutter a bit. Also there’s the frantic looking round for a piece of steel to weld across. Obviously in the fabulously appointed workshop there’ll be all sorts of handy bits. I’ve patched scrapers up with all sorts of odds and sods over the years. On one occasion I ended up with what I suspect was an old clog iron from the sole of somebody’s clog. For reasons I never understood it had been tacked to a beam, perhaps they’d hung something from it? If they did it was at least a century ago and I’d got fed up of trying to avoid knocking my head on it and had taken it down.

But it was just the right size and thickness to weld as a band over the top of the metal I’d hammered back into place. So I cut it into lengths and held it in place with mole grips and welded it up. It is was barely drizzling, it wasn’t raining properly.

I think the technical term is ‘clagged it on.’

So a piece of blacksmith iron that came out of the forge perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago was used to cobble together something a little more modern. Not only that but whatever the analysis and temper it had had before I got to play with it, by the time the welder had heated it up, and the molten weld had soaked up the muck around it, I shudder to think what its properties changed to.

But any job that gets you ‘back on the road’ for the cost of two welding rods is a good job.

Always remember, if some other part of the scraper gives up the ghost before bit you repaired breaks again, it was a successful repair. If you want pretty, I suggest you follow the YouTube channel of one of the more fashionable ‘influencers.’

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There again what do I know, ask one of the experts featured below!

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.

Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”

Lentil Curls

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I have undertaken a social survey and fully intend to astound you with the results. But first, I thought I better set out my stall with regard to the current unpleasantness. You might have noticed, but here in the UK we’re going to have a general election. This has several immediate results. The first is that social media is full of memes, faked photos, wild claims and downright lies. Personally I suspect the Russians have pulled out, being unwilling to sink to the level our political party black-ops teams have achieved entirely on their own initiative. Not only that, but the discussions will inevitably get more and more acrimonious as we get nearer to the big day. If somebody came up with a way of ‘fast forwarding’ life so we could get to the 12th December without having to suffer from this deluge, they’d probably make a fortune. Especially if they could also come up with a way to ‘pause’ and ‘replay’ some of the more interesting things we’ve done in the past to help fill in the gap.

Now initially I had wondered whether the election campaigning would at least have had the effect of driving the endless posts about ‘only x more days to Christmas’ off social media. Then I found myself hoping that the Christmas posts might just be able to swamp all the general election nonsense.

So I came up with a cunning plan. I just about managed it during the 2017 election. I’m going to do my bit to keep my facebook page an oasis of gentle humour and tranquillity. Obviously I reserve the right to mock unmercifully any of the more bizarre flights of political fancy. After all, I’m the one who writes fantasy fiction. If they start venturing into my genre I reserve the right to subject them to incisive literary criticism.

But in the interests of good taste, I trust the political pygmies jostling for the lucrative positions in parliament (in crude terms a MP earns four times as much as the median family income in this town. I trust they will explain to us why they think they’re worth it) will remember their manners and will instruct the sundry deniable and expendable minions they use to mount social media campaigns to restrict themselves to posting positive information about their own campaign. After all, if all they can post is knocking copy, they cannot have much positive to tell us about their aspirations.

Still I have some important information to impart. I have undertaken social survey of great depth and I feel the results have the most remarkable implications!

In the past, when walking through the lanes, often following livestock, I’ve made a habit of picking up crisp packets and similar, for proper disposal. As a result of this process I came to the conclusion that the favoured flavour of crisp was salt and vinegar.

Academic rigour insists that I state that the favoured variety for throwing out of the car window when you’d finished eating them was salt and vinegar. It may well be that, for example, more people purchase cheese and onion, but cherish the packets and only discard salt and vinegar.

But still, if I were to stock only one flavour of crisp in my notional emporium, it would be salt and vinegar flavour.

But now, recent researches have shown a major change in crisp buying. The last lot I found and have suitable recycled as energy were’ Lentil Curls, sour cream & onion’ and “Sunbites grainwaves. Sour cream & cracked black pepper.”

It is obvious that amongst litter louts, sour cream has displaced salt and vinegar as the snack of choice for the discerning oaf. Not only that but it is obvious that our sub-sentient discarders of food packaging are becoming more discerning. Either that or our area has been hit by a wave of aspiring middle class pseudo-vegetarian crisp eaters?
Note well the fact that the potato has been cast into the abyss, replaced by grain and lentils. Have we a new generation of hipster snackers? Are we looking at the arrival on the scene of a more woke generation of people who discard their litter in the countryside?
Let us be fair here, there are people who have been awarded doctorates for theories advanced with less evidence. At the very least I should be allowed to mention my books on the strength of it.

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Guaranteed to contain no general election coverage

In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

Just another form to fill in

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I suppose we’re all used to cookies and data being collected automatically as we go through life, but there’s still an awful lot of data that people want to collect about us. So they send us forms to fill in.

I can remember that every year in farming we had the June Census. This was a long form that farmers had to fill in and it asked all sorts of questions about the farm’s enterprises, number of people living on it, working on it, etc etc. I watched my mother filling it in when I was still at school, and then as soon as I started work, she dumped the job on me.
Now she was a teacher and, almost by definition, my father was a farmer. So their attitude to form filling was entirely different. My mother would spend an evening getting all the information for the form, going through the records to see how many dairy heifers we had in certain age groups etc.

Then there were questions which she had to ask my father to answer, because there weren’t records for her to consult. So he got to answer the questions like ‘how many tons of silage did we make last year?’

When faced with a question like this, what do you do? By definition you never weigh silage into a clamp. Even if for some unknown reason you counted the trailer loads of grass tipped, the combined weight of grass wouldn’t be the final weight of silage.
Not only that but when you take silage out of the clamp you don’t weigh it either. Especially as we used to ‘self-feed’ the silage, in that we had an electric fence across the front of the face of the pit and cows slowly ate their way back from one end to the other.

Now there are formulas which you can use, given the length, breadth and height of the clamp, and the estimated density of the silage. But it isn’t as if, in June, you can go out and measure how much silage there was in the clamp when you filled it last year, because it’s been emptied since then and is half full again. I suppose it’s entirely possible that you could remind oneself that at sometime in the future you’ll be asked this question so you could keep records. Or you could do what my father did, and say, with absolute confidence, ‘We made a thousand tons.’

Now never, in the history of man, has anybody made a thousand tons of silage on this farm. Even if we managed to get it into our clamp, we’d have the Civil Aviation people complaining to us and demanding we had it properly illuminated as a hazard to aircraft. What had happened is that my father, being busy, had plucked a figure out of the air and had said it with quiet conviction, secure in the knowledge that nobody was ever going to check.

So when I took over the task of doing the June return, it always took me the length of time it took to drink my morning coffee at about 10am. No matter how many questions, or what questions they asked, I could fit it into that twenty minute slot in my day. I answered the questions to the best of my ability without actually frittering my life away checking records.

Since then they’ve stopped sending every farmer this census form to fill in. Instead it’s now the June Survey and they send it out to a proportion of farmers and extrapolate the results from the replies these people give them. Is it any more or less accurate than the old system? Who knows?
But it’s not just governments. I remember reading about a Catholic priest; I think he was in Ireland. The story he told was that apparently somewhere within the Catholic Church used to send a census form to each parish every year. One of the things they asked was the size of the church. (By which I mean the physical dimensions of the building.)
That was easy; he just put in the figures his predecessor had used. Except after a year or two he realised his predecessor was using feet and the form was assuming metres. So the church was reported as three times the size that it actually was. So that year, he converted his feet into metres and submitted the form. He then waited a little nervously for the fall-out. He kept expecting irate phone calls from some office somewhere asking what on earth he’d done to his church building!

Of course nothing happened. So he increased the size of his church every year, until it was so large, you could fit St Peter’s Basilica in the nave. This elicited no response so over the years he shrank it again, until you could have put it in a shoebox and made off with it. Still no response. So a little dispirited he just went back to using the figures his predecessor had used.

And now, I was shown a form that the head office of a charity sends out to all its branches. The person who filled it in explained to me that they’d spend nearly a full working day hunting down all the figures needed.

I commented that they’d made the mistake of filling it in like a teacher. If they’d filled it in like a farmer, it would have taken them twenty minutes.
I do wonder what all these organisations hope to do with these figures. After all, they’re worth every penny they paid the people collecting the data and filling the forms in for them. And as any farmer will tell you, put muck into a muckspreader, you get muck out of a muckspreader.

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Perhaps I could introduce you to somebody with the correct attitude to paperwork?

 

 

As the reviewer so nicely commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”