Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23, 2015: Not So Neat and Orderly

Take a look at these two photos.  They both have something in common.  On this Memorial Day week-end, we take a moment or two and remember all the soldiers who have served and have died in that service. Often we see photos of those symmetrical battlefield cemeteries with row upon row of graves laid out in precise order.  Amazing in their perfection, poignant in the shear numbers,  but we also know that is not how it was at the moment.

The upper photo, the battlefield along the Greasy Grass, also known as The Little Big Horn is a different kind of military cemetery.  Scattered across hundreds of acres, along a nearly 3 mile ridge are simple white markers, showing where a member of Custer's 7th Calvary fell.  Interspaced with them, added later, are markers also showing where the last free roaming plains tribesmen also fell, although their numbers are few.

The lower photo is every much a battlefield cemetery like those neatly arranged monuments seen so often in photos this week-end.  It is even more-so like the cemetery that is the ridges and ravines of the Little Big Horn.  A lot of soldiers fell in this nondescript patch of woods.  Their bodies were scattered where I was standing to take the photo.  They were bent over the makeshift stone wall that can be seen in the distance.  They were piled one on top of the other on the sloping ground beyond that wall.  This is where Chamberlain and his handful of men from Maine made their stand on the Union left flank,  Little Round Top, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

It's not the neat, tidy, orderly military cemeteries I think about on Memorial Day.  It is places like these I think about. The Little Big Horn and Little Round Top, nearly a continent apart but have one thing in common.  Here is where you can sense and feel the horrible randomness and mayhem that is war.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

May 16, 2015: Wouldn't It Be Nice?

Now wouldn't this be nice?  Go to your boss, request your retirement and it is approved.

Unfortunately, as it stands now, there's no way my boss would give my request a thumbs-up.  It's not so much a case where my skills and knowledge are indispensable to the operation.  In fact, the opposite could very well be true.  I need the company more than the company needs me. 

No, I'm certain my request for retirement would be met with a large degree of skepticism by my superior.  There probably would be very little discussion.  It would be more like a monologue with remarks like, "Are you nuts?" or "What have you been drinking?"  Depending on mood, it could even go so far as, "Are you out of your f*#%ing mind?

So I'll just keep working for the foreseeable future.  No matter how polished my skills of persuasion, there's no way Janice is gonna let this fly.

By the way, this was stenciled on the frame of an old stock car on display at Hardin, Montana. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015: Mothers and Grandmothers

Two photos, each of a mother and a grandmother.  The top picture is my mother holding our first baby, Seth.  The photo above is, of course, Janice, holding our first grand child, Cam.

Conditions were interesting to say the least when Janice had Seth and Grant.  Both were born at a clinic about 5 miles from where we were farming.  In both cases, Janice and baby went home a few hours after they were born.  Each time I took her and baby to spend a few days at my parent's house located on their farm a mile or so away.  That's how it came about this photo of my mother came to be.  She was holding her grandson, in her house.  He was not even 24 hours old.

Fast forward 34 years and on the opposite side of the country.  The next generation of grandma is holding her first grandson.  A far cry from the little small town clinic where Cam's dad, Grant was born, this little guy came into the world in a modern hospital in Philadelphia.  Where Janice and I raised our sons in a very much "seat of the pants" style, Cam's generation has the advantage of parents tuned into a wealth of parenting information and support.

My mom was not your quintessential grandmother.  She took her house work and farm work seriously to the point it was a full time job. The idea that because she was only a mile away we had an automatic built in baby sitter just didn't hold water.  But she did fulfill the main requirement of all grandparents.  We only have one main responsibility, love our grandkids unconditionally.

When you look at these two photos, is their any doubt each of these mothers, each of these grandmothers are enjoying upholding that requirement? 

There will be all kinds of different tributes to mothers today;  gifts, brunches, cards.  To my discredit, I've never been good at that kind of thing.  So I guess this will be mine.

Two photos.

Two mothers.

Two grandmothers.

Two examples of unconditional love.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May 2, 2015: The Batch Room

This is my office at Conway Feed although I actually don't spend a lot of time here.  With two pellet mills to keep running, a roller mill to check and a boiler to watch, the batch room is just another stop on my constant rounds.  Still, this is where the final feed formulas are mixed and sent out to the customers, be it bulk delivery in 20 ton lots or single 50 pound bags.

I'll give you a quick tour and in the process a little idea what it takes to mix livestock feed.  On the very left, just in sight is the console that controls the application of veggie oil and molasses on the finished feed.  It is sprayed on in a long mixing chamber located about 30' above the room.  Although I don't exactly remember what I was making at the time of this photo, I can tell you I was spraying oil on it, but not molasses.  You can see the lower needle is giving me a reading (oil) while the top needle is off, (molasses).

Hanging on the cabinet you see sheets of papers.  Those are the current scale ticket numbers for the organic ingredients currently in inventory.  For every batch of organic feed I put out, I have to record the scale ticket number of each ingredient used in that mix.

On top of the main console you see two switches and two lights.  This controls the main distributor on top of the elevator that takes finished feed from the scale surge chamber to the top of the mill, and then either, across the shaker screen for pelleted feed, down the by-pass, (by passing the screen with meals), or down the West Fill auger which goes across the top of the entire mill.  Judging by the setting, I was putting out a meal using the by-pass setting.

Above that is the digital read out for my main scale.  When I took the photo I had a mere 336 pounds of something in the scale.  As typically batches are seldom under 1 ton and can be as large as 2 tons, such a small amount represents a flush that I am holding until the system clears of the feed currently being sent.

And then there is the main console.  This tells me what bins contain what feed ingredients as well as the six truck load-out bins.  It also tells me the routing I have set up for the feed going out.  Right now, (although it is hard to see in the photo) I'm actually sending feed down to the sack-off where it will be put in 50 pound bags.  If you start down at the lower right and follow the lights feed is exiting the scale, going up the texture elevator, by-passing the shaker screen, (note the "Lo/By" written in grease pencil....we write the current position of the distributor in that spot as a reminder), across the truck load-out bins and off to the left of the schematic telling me it's dumping into one of four bagger bins or the flush sack.

Below that are the bins themselves. To the left are the six truck load-out bins, each with a capacity of about 16 tons depending on the density of the finished feed.  When the photo was taken I had been running organic dairy feed in 3 ton lots.  Four different farms each were going to get a delivery of 3 tons of 4 different organic dairy formulas.

In the ingredient bins, 47 has whole cotton, 46 has 10 tons of ground organic barley sent to me by the mixer guy down the west fill, 45 has conventional rolled corn, 44 conventional rolled barley, 43 is my crimped oat bin, 42 is empty but is one of two bins Pellet Mill 1 empties into.  Currently Pellet Mill 1 is running Standard Crumbles, (mink cereal) and it is going into 41(Note the grease pencil "1" over the bin.  That tells me which bin the distributor for Pellet Mill 1 is set on.)  40 is another mash bin used by the mixer guy and has ground organic corn which will be later blended with the barley in 46 and sent to another organic dairy.  39 and 38 are the bins used by Pellet Mill 2, and by the location of the number "2," Baker Organic In is being pelleted into bin 39.

On the desk top you see some paper work and a keyboard.  The top sheet of paper is the mix ticket for the formula I was currently batching.  It's hard to see, but judging by how few lines of type, I'm guessing it is the Baker Organic In.  It is a straight pelleted feed, so I will not blend any additional ingredients into the feed other than the pellets coming out of bin 39.  I'm guessing I'm sending the last of a batch of conventional feed to the bagger, and holding a flush of Baker Organic to be sent to a flush sack before sending the actual organic feed into one of the truck load outs.  (When I am running organic feed, a fair amount of advanced thought and bin management has to happen in my head so as not to get myself bin tied with organic feed to send, but nowhere to put a flush.)

The keyboard controls the entire process showing commands and the batch/scaling process on a monitor not pictured to the right.  To start batch of feed, I first type "5."  The prompt calls for the formula number.  In the case of Baker Organic In, I would type 0196.3.  (Yep, done it so many times I can remember the number.)  0196 is the actual formula number, the .3 indicates on the computer paper work this "C-system" (batch).  Once I type in the number the screen shows me the bin the feed was in last and the 100% batch weight of each ingredient.  I have to then make sure the correct bin is typed in, using our PF keys to make necessary changes.  In this case I would make sure the computer knows to pull from Bin 39 and that the batch weight equals 4000 pounds.  Happy with that, I exit out then type in "2."  Again the prompt calls for the formula number.  Once entered, I again double check to make sure the 100% batch weight equals the weight printed on the paper mix ticket.  Next it calls for the batch percentage.  Baker Organic In is a 5 ton run which equals 3 batches at 83.33%, so I type in 83.33, hit enter, then where it calls for the number of batches, I type in 3.  Once I hit "Enter," the final weight appears, (in this case 5 tons) which I double check against the mix ticket to make sure my math is correct.  I hit "Enter" again to print the parameters, and once more to start the augers pulling feed out of bin 39 and into the scale.  I double check my routing outside, and when the first batch is weighed, a "Verify" light which is located on the large box sitting on the console, comes on.  This forces me to double check my routing before hitting the "Verify" button on the same control box.  This releases the scale gate and sends the feed on its way out the door.  Subsequent batches automatically dump and do not require verification.

There is one other light we live and die by that is not pictured.  On the far upper left of the console controlling the oil and molasses is a green light that indicates feed is passing through the main mixer.  If my elevator light is on, an after about 20 seconds that green light is not on....I've got a plugged elevator, which is always good for a string of swear words.  With the green light on,  down a set of spiral stairs I race with a "sticky note" on it the name of the feed, the weight, and load-out bin is written.  I pass under the truck load-outs and make sure I hear the feed hitting the appropriate empty bin then hang the note on a white board in the office for the truck drivers.  All this is done on the run as I need to hustle back upstairs to make sure the process is continuing.  When the entire formula is complete the computer types out the run summary of weight which I record on our batch/run sheets.  Then it's on to the next formula, but only after I deal with the pellet mills, roller and boiler.

On average, about 20 times a day we go through this process.  This not a job for a person with a sluggish spirit.