June 24-26, 2019

6/24 – 6/26 2019

Sunshine.  Glorious sunshine.  For many, it makes the walk to the car more pleasant after work, but for us it’s a ticket for dry shirts and a gateway to long-delayed tasks.

PennDOT also took advantage of the nice weather, using the past three days to tar and chip various roads in the immediate vicinity.  Their gravel stockpile is just a few hundred feet from our house near an intersection.  Each time the boom on their front-end loader is lowered from a heightened dumping position, the depressurized hydraulic fluid rushing back to the reservoir makes a wailing sound not unlike a cow experiencing serious distress.  Frequently my focus has been snapped away from other tasks as my ears register the sound and my entire body tenses into fight mode, prepared to speed across the farm and aide a member of the herd.  To be sure, I was glad to see the last of the gravel scraped up and dumped into a waiting truck.  Maybe now I’ll be a little less twitchy.

I’ve been working hard to promote the existence of fungi in our pastures.  Though this particular musing does not provide nearly sufficient space to explain the fascinating relationship between mushrooms and grass, I’ll take the time to say at least that photosynthetic plants, in the absence of fungi, will live, but will never thrive.  Due to tillage, herbicides, and poor management, fungi are nonexistent in most agricultural soil, including in hay fields and pastures.  Mushrooms are popping up all across our landscape, and I’m thrilled to see them.  My studies, though, recently reminded me that with every positive, there is usually a negative:  Pilobolus crystallinus is a fungus that is wholly devoted to breaking down herbivore dung.  In order to propagate, the saprophyte extends spores atop a fluid filled sack into the air, then explodes the sack, flinging spores up to three meters from their starting point.  Unfortunately, a certain species of herbivore parasite known as lungworms became privy to the Pilobolus rocket propelled transit system and developed a commensal relationship with the fungus.  There is documentation indicating that lungworm nematodes, which live in the same herbivore dung pat as the fungus, climb to the top of the sporangium and take the free ride through the air, thus increasing their likelihood of encountering a cow.  We do not have a problem with the parasite, and I remain confident that our migratory grazing system (versus a fixed system in which the cattle must graze where they poop) will sidestep the problem.  I mention all of this only because it’s hard to not be fascinated with the way things work in the world.

My good friends Steve and Linda, long time customers in Pittsburgh who moved to Florida a few years ago, stopped by the farm during their visit back to Pennsylvania.  They arrived to see the place just as Justin, a friend from high school, was coaxing his daughters back into the truck after their visit to look at the calves.  It brings joy to my heart when people come, see, and enjoy this farm.

Since the mud is subsiding we were able to begin hauling manure out to help continue revitalizing the landscape.  A by-product of our grain fed beef herd, manure is treated like a treasure by our family.  If it’s spread in wet conditions, the fertilizer runs off into waterways, eliminating the benefit of it, not to mention creating unnecessary pollution.  To avoid such a calamity, we store manure during the rainy times so it can be distributed in better weather to great benefit.  There was quite a pile to remove thanks to the downpours we’ve been receiving for nearly all of spring.  Dad worked on hauling for some time, then handed the task over to me for a later shift.  We’ll be working at it again today.

I got our utility vehicle stuck in the field.  The old machine, after years of abuse, has bald tires and no longer functions in four wheel drive, so the soft spot I encountered was the unexpected end of my journey.  Certainly I was not planning to carry everything by hand that needed moved along with the herd, but carry I did, and the Cub Cadet sits in the middle of the grass looking lonely and out of place.

The only reason I didn’t take time to yank the small machine out of its muddy confines was a deadline to pick up Henry from my parents’ house. Gina works late on Wednesdays, and Mom helps a nearby Amish family with their deaf son on the same day, so I am recruited to supervise infant activities while everyone is occupied elsewhere. For someone like me, who becomes rapidly uncomfortable in the absence of activity, it’s refreshing to experience forced free time. Henry isn’t concerned about anything other than the curious oddities that accompany infancy, so we sit in the grass or work on simple projects that don’t require my full attention, and that is the full agenda. It’s the perfect thing to do on these glorious summer evenings.