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What we don't know
Posted by Jon Bonine at 2015-06-23 10:50:05
The daily farm question from the 19th on fertilizers has me thinking. Are there any farmers or gardeners today who don't know the answer to that question? It seems like simple basic knowledge to us. Was it so in the 1930s? How many of the questions of that time were simple basic knowledge everyone knew then, but we don't know?
Thank you Jerry for posting those questions. And thank you everyone else for all your insights into stuff we should all know. We don't know what we don't know, until we learn.
Response by Mptclinics in IL at 2015-06-23 22:35:22
I think this applies to many aspects of farming. What was once considered common sense knowledge is now nonexistent for far too many. We see this on a regular basis with the interns that show up at our farm. Very few of these young adults know how to do simple tasks such as swing an ax, hold an electric screwdriver, pound a nail with a hammer, hang a plum line, or even dig or tamp a post hole. We have to explain each task carefully and thoroughly because the very basic knowledge just isn't there. Our society is way too far removed from agriculture today. I can sympathize to some extent as I am equally lacking in regards to technology, but I can live without a smart phone or a television (and I do). I can't live without food.
Response by NoraWI at 2015-06-24 04:44:17
Every day is a learning experience. And more so with the internet.
Response by Jerry Hicks at 2015-06-24 05:24:39
Thank you Jon for your comments. I am always glad to hear from folks who are enjoying the questions.

I was at a party recently and got to talking farming with a few of the guests. I mentioned this site and the farm questions I was posting. Someone asked me to ask a few of questions off the top of my head and see how many they new. I started with the recent fertilize question, thinking it would be a simple one. I would say half the folks there knew that the three numbers on a sack of fertilizer stood for N-P-K or Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. I was really surprised, thinking that was something everyone knew, especially farmers. I have some old farm books from the 19-teens and I am constantly surprised at how advanced some of the ideas are compared to what was common knowledge of the time. And here I have to say, common knowledge wasn't the same in all parts of the country and still isn't. I find farmers in my area who have no idea why they do certain things, but they know if they do them they tend to get better crops. Some of their ideas border on superstition in that they may be sound farming principles, but not know or understanding why the particular practice works, they can only do it exactly the way they were taught and not vary from the routine if circumstances warrant it. I am sure things are different in other parts of the country, though there are likely areas that would have much in common. My part of the country is slow to change and tends to have deep rooted cultural practices that may or may not have scientific validation to back them up. Many small farmers still drop their corn in hill of four saying, one for the gopher, one for the crow, one for the worm and one to grow. Many still plant and harvest by the signs, though they may have to ask an older family member to "interpret" what the signs mean. Farmers still on occasion tell me that a sick cow may have the "holler horn" or "holler tail". I've been told by older folks who come out to see me farming the "old way", to make sure I never feed my mules an even number or ears of corn. There is a belief that mules should always be fed odd number ears and evens result in poor performance. But also when "science" does make inroads it tends to take root if backed by a person who has the appearance of knowing. Farm chemical salesmen and equipment salesmen have done their job well in Kentucky. I had a neighbor ask me if I really thought manure was any good for the soil? He had been told it wasn't worth applying and he only used purchased fertilizers. There is also the mantra of get big or get out and it applies to everything. Some farmers buy equipment that is bordering on too large to even turn on a small hillside farm and they'll tell me "you gotta get big!" I think the learning in agriculture has taken great leaps since about the 1880s or 90s, but that knowledge still has completely been disseminated to all pockets of agriculture. But I tend to think it has always been that way. Old traditions handed down from experience and new ideas, often mocked as "book farming" only take hold once they have proven themselves with repeated application.
Response by Barb Lee at 2015-06-24 10:03:28
I have proof in my hands of the consequences of doing the traditional things - like applying N-P-K as balanced fertilizer. And what isn't known about these so-called traditional practices is causing endless trouble.

Our carefully balanced, nutritionally complete horse hay was left standing too long and is now trash, so we cancelled the harvest and bought commercially grown (N-P-K) timothy from a dealer. The hay is "low carb". It got that way by being rained on. Otherwise, the hay looks good on the surface, with about 13% "crude protein". But when you crunch the nitrogen:sulphur ratio, some of that "crude protein" is non-protein nitrogen, which enters the blood stream as blood urea nitrogen, which can cause all sorts of trouble. There is "adequate" calcium:phosphorus:magnesium for horses according to the NRC, but barely enough to offset the excessive (over 2%) potassium, which will end up causing a calcium/magnesium deficiency in the horses' bodies. If you crunch the grass tetany ratio, the number is 2.03, with the outside safety limit being 2.2. This is a set up not only for grass tetany (if fed to cows) but of metabolic problems for the horses. In other words, potassium has been applied to such excess, that it overwhelms the seemingly "adequate" levels of calcium and magnesium. So there's your N-P-K. Excessive nitrogen to get the YIELD. Excessive potassium to get the YIELD. Maybe enough phosphorus, but will have to be increased to offset the additional calcium and magnesium required, which will hopefully take care of the looming calcium/magnesium deficiency caused by excessive potassium. Needless to say the traces minerals in the hay are deficient and will also require supplementation. All I can say is, God help my horses.

Response by Dale Wagner at 2015-06-24 10:46:26
Adapt or die. You can't farm at a loss forever.
Never be the first nor the last to try new ideas or tools.
You need to find out why your neighbor is doing better than you.
Farm field days are important if only to cull salesmen.
The best learner is the best observer.

Just a few of the things I have learned!
Response by Vince Mautino at 2015-06-24 12:24:58
Sometimes I think we way over think all his hay nutrition stuff. To tell the truth, I have been feeding livestock for over 60 years now. Not once have I had the hay tested.

There have been times when farmers in eastern Colorado have cut and baled tumbleweeds because that was all there was to feed due to drought, or in Texas ,they burn off needles on cactus and let the cows eat what is left.

When I lived in New Mexico, we fertilized alfalfa with Super Phosphate and got 5 cuttings a year. We sure fed a lot of cows and horses on that hay.

A lot of this special feeding or worrying about what is in the hay makes us humans feel a lot better than what it does the livestock I believe.

Feeding 25-30 cows, we always had adequate milk production. Feeding half a dozen horses or mules, I never had one quit on me for lack of food or have any maladies from poor hay. At the most my animals have a mineralized salt block all year and a sulfur salt block during the summer to help with the fly population.

Probably most know about NPK because people fertilize their lawns or small gardens.

Semi rural folks now, don't know all the ins and outs and just use what they see advertised.

I live on a smaller place now surrounded by city folk who moved out here to "be in the country", However, it is amazing ,everyone of them hires someone to have the smallest thing done or fixed. They don't know the simplest thing about doing anything or maybe they have a lot more money than me.
Response by Barb Lee at 2015-06-24 15:34:26
Vince, the overthinking of nutrition comes from areas of the country where, for one reason or another, long-lived animals such as horses, are experiencing an epidemic of metabolic diseases. Naturally, if one has never had such a problem, it seems that others are making too much of a fuss. Would you believe that a friend of mine had some hay tested that was 30% sugar? That and nothing else of significant value. The reason for the sugar is because the first thing plants make is sugar. The plants then use minerals as catalysts to create protein and other nutrients from the sugar. When the soil conditions are as leached as they are in W. Oregon, that's what you get...killer hay. Most of the metabolic diseases of livestock can be traced ultimately to mineral imbalance. Including grass tetany. There may be plenty of magnesium in the soil, but at certain times the grass can't get at it. So the grass takes up potassium instead, which further exacerbates the magnesium deficiency. I totally understand how you feel, but can show you at least anecdotal proof that Oregon hay is responsible for a profound epidemic of metabolic related diseases. And I have tragic experience of animal deaths here on this farm due to mineral deficiency. It is real, not for everybody, but for a great many of us, it is VERY real.

Response by Doug Aaron at 2015-06-24 17:32:53
Watch a few episodes of Ag PhD on RFD-TV and you'll find out how far the technology train has roared past you.
Response by arlee at 2015-06-24 18:30:22
cut your hay, dry it, bale it--- feed the legumes to the cows and the grass to the horses ---very simple
Response by jcmo at 2015-06-24 22:54:03
I agree with Vince and arlee. In my opinion humans as well as horses are all living longer due to technology and that is why we are experiencing more health issues with both and we all have to diet and know exactly what is in our foods to achieve more years of life. Back in the day horses where done working in their teens where now its not uncommon to see a pretty fit team well into their twenty's but on a well rationed diet with regular vet checkups and tested hay and also because as a society we have accepted our animals as family instead of tools. As far as knowledge lost goes I don't know if a lot of people would have the brain capacity to know everything from the past and also keep up with the modern changing world with the pace that we are at today it would be impossible. Driving your team to the local McDonald's to use WiFi to update your smart phone is a way bigger task than it was in the old days where you just drove them to the nearest town to get supplies for your homestead no cars no WiFi no smartphone
Response by Dale Wagner at 2015-06-25 01:26:27
I know of more than one rancher that moved from the desert to the coast where the grass was green. the stock didn't do good in the desert because it was to far between a bite of grass and a drink of water. The stock didn't do good on the coastal grass as it didn't have any food value in it.
Some times you can't win for losing.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2015-06-25 12:43:33
That is one good thing about owning and using mules. They can't stand too much prosperity and will make living on that poor quality hay.
Response by Catherine in VA at 2015-06-25 21:45:46
I''d actully toyed with posting about my woes finding decent help. Some of it is work ethic. But so much of it is people being so disconnected from what would have been basic, common knowledge even 20 years ago. I grew up in the 'burbs. But I can do most any farm work myself because I have to. If I tried to hire someone, it would never get done. I'm finding that most people I interview think they'll do well because they worked with pets. But they have no clue of the realities of farm animals, and it makes for a difficult transition. I've had one young lady adamant that I take an ailing meat chicken to the vet. One that insisted on filling the chicken feeders at dusk, not understanding that they go to sleep at sunset & she was just creating a potential rat issue. Others that won't refill waterers if they see water in the base. The guy that broke a hammer trying to hammer insulators directly into the fence boards, despite me explaining that pressure treated oak is like concrete and actually demonstrating the job.

In this area, Mexican men are the best help you can get. Many grew up on farms and know how to get things done. Most will do things exactly the way you demonstrate, even if they privately think your way isn't the best. And they don't overthink tasks or throw too much expensive machine power at a task. For example, I have 2 acres in the front that need clearing. American men my age (40) insist that it needs bush hogging. There are rock breaks sticking up 4 feet. The mexican guy that works for me asked it I had a machete. And he's right. That would be the easiest way.
Response by J Fox North Central NE at 2015-07-17 13:10:31
"What we don't know" I would say for me, it would fill a big bale yard full to the brim. What I do know might cover a small feed box. Still working on switching them around, its a full time job for some of us.


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