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The Power of Ten

Five ways to improve your life on the farm by at least 10 percent

By SHIRLEY BYERS

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In today’s world, securing a 10 percent raise in wages would be considered a significant accomplishment. The elimination of a 10 percent sales tax would be a gift and a 10 percent increase in the gross income of most Canadians would amount to thousands of dollars.
At the same time, a 10 percent improvement in most endeavours is attainable. We could probably manage to consume 10 percent fewer calories in a day, to save 10 percent of our income and to work ten percent harder than we presently do.
Let’s look at the power of 10 on today’s small farm.
1. Cutting the farm fuel bill by 10%
It will come as no surprise to most farmers that the number 1 way to save on fuel bills is to switch to no-till (see article this issue). The once traditional practice of ploughing, disking and harrowing before seeding uses far more fuel than one or two passes with a spray before seeding. This practice will slash fuel bills by at least 10 per cent and also save on wear and tear on farm machinery.
But if you’re an organic producer or if you’re already into no-till there are other strategies that can shave dollars off your fuel bill. Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer, interviewed for the online Farm Energy News (http://www.farmenergynews.com/minifeatures/savingfuelonfarms.html ) said that when it comes to cutting the farm fuel bill, it’s important to maintain the right kind of tires at the proper inflation. The correct pressure improves traction, floatation and wear. Most tires on most farms are over inflated and that causes excess slippage.
Tire slippage occurs when the tires are turning faster than the ground speed of the tractor. This could result in less than 60% to 70% of the power that a tractor engine develops being used to pull an implement through the soil. It could even drop to 50% on soft and sandy soils.
However, there must be some slip between the tires and the soil surface for an efficient operation. When pulling a load, the correct amount of slippage is 8 to 12 percent on a firm surface and 10 to 16 percent on soft ground. This does not apply to rubber tracks, which have almost no slippage.? To determine if a tractor has the correct slippage, measure the distance after 10 tire revolutions in the field pulling a normal load. Next, measure the distance after 10 revolutions with no load on a driveway or other hard surface. This is representative of zero slippage. Then calculate the percentage between the two numbers to determine if you have the correct slippage.
Check tire pressure once a week during times of heavy usage. And invest in radials rather than bias tires. Radial tires outperform bias tires so they’re worth the extra cost.
Replace tires with worn out lugs (think slippage)
Use single tires unless duals are needed for traction and flotation Extra tires can increase rolling resistance and use more fuel. Use singles unless duals are needed for traction and flotation or a controlled traffic system.
Maintain equipment. This includes changing air and fuel filters. A partially plugged fuel filter restricts the amount of fuel getting to the engine.
Replace worn out equipment parts. Keep ground-engaging tools sharp. This can make a big difference in fuel consumption and field efficiency, Reeder said. Remember, tractors can vary in fuel efficiency. For fuel efficiency information on tractors built since 1999, go to http://tractortestlab.unl.edu.
And finally, try to cut down on tractor use. Consider using a small motorcycle, scooter, or a bicycle for those trips home from the field.
To determine if a tractor has the correct slippage, measure the distance after 10 tire revolutions in the field pulling a normal load. Next, measure the distance after 10 revolutions with no load on a driveway or other hard surface. This is representative of zero slippage. Then calculate the percentage between the two numbers to determine if you have the correct slippage
2. Gather 10% more eggs
Typically egg production slows down as the nights lengthen and the cold strengthens. But, according to Brian Fairchild, author of Poultry Lighting, a good diet, plenty of water at all times, adequate protection from cold weather and judicious lighting can keep those hens laying, no matter what the date on the calendar.
Light influences bird behaviour, metabolic rate, physical activity and reproduction. Chickens are birds and birds’ reproductive systems are stimulated by long day lengths. This is Nature’s way of ensuring the primary product of eggs, baby birds, are hatched in warmer weather when they will have a better chance of survival.
To a chicken, day length is interpreted by whether or not light is present during a period approximately 11-16 hours after dawn, known as a “photosensitive period.” So, if the sun comes up, or the lights go on a 5:00 a.m. and the chicken can still detect light between 4 and 9 p.m. (11-16 hours later), the day will be perceived as a long day.
But, if there is no light detected during this period then the bird interprets the day as a short day. If it’s too short the hen may be delayed in the onset of lay. Also, egg size could be reduced and production will be less than during a long day.
When the days naturally shorten, day length can be extended by supplementing with artificial light using a timer to control when the lights come on and go off. As for light intensity, for egg laying breeds such as leghorns, 0.5 foot candles or 5 lux is needed to stimulate egg laying. Using a dimmer switch, aim for the same amount of light in which a newspaper could be barely read. Heavier breeds such as Barred Rocks or Rhode Island Reds require 2 to 5 fc or 20-50 lux.
Commercial chicken farmers provide year round lighting, 16 hours a day and more, and their chickens lay at over 90% year round, an improvement of at least 10% on egg laying performance, were nature allowed to take its course.
Not all poultry keepers agree with this practice. Some feel that the hens need a break and that non-stop laying, especially in buildings with lights on 24/7 exhausts the hens and is detrimental to egg quality.
3. Cut electrical bill by 10%
Placement is pertinent. Don’t locate your fridge or freezer next to a heat source such as a radiator, heating vent washer, dryer or furnace.
Front-loading clothes washers use about 50 percent less energy than top-loading models. But before you rush out and buy one you should know that there are worrisome issues related to these machines. Moisture can find its way into the rubber gasket on the door and cause mould. Therefore, it might be a good idea to put off purchasing a FL machine until these issues are resolved.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs use less electricity and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. ENERGY STAR? labelled compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75 percent?less energy than incandescent bulbs. One 100-watt incandescent bulb produces the same amount of light as two 60-watt bulbs and uses less energy. Cleaning light fixtures regularly removes dust build up and allows for maximum light output
Many electronic devices continue to use power even when they are not being used, when they’re in “standby mode.” The top ten offenders are room air conditioners, answering machines, clock radios, clothes washers, cordless phones, desk top computers, fax machines, laptop computers, microwave ovens, computer speakers and video game consoles.
The average North American home has 25 or more products that use standby power—devices that are consuming electricity 24 hours a day. Standby power can account for 10% of an average household’s annual electricity consumption. An easy way to turn your electronic devices all the way off, and limit standby power use, is to plug all electronics into a surge protector or power bar that can be switched off when the electronics are not being used
4. Reduce food waste by 10 percent
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, close to half of all food produced worldwide is wasted; discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens. In the U.S. — and we can assume Canadian figures are similar — about $600 worth of food is tossed each year. Therefore, if we can prevent the waste of just five dollars’ worth of food each month, we will have reduced food waste by ten percent.
When buying in bulk consider how much food, teetering near its best before date your family can consume. Freezing extra meat is easy; freezing extra vegetables takes a little effort but what can be done with a case of on-the-verge-of-over ripe mangos? Mango jam? Mango themed party?
Plan ahead, work out your menu for a week and make a shopping list, say the experts. Also try not to shop when tired, hungry or fighting with your spouse, prime triggers for overspending and impulse purchases. Watch those “best before” dates. And know what’s in your fridge.
Wrap bread and baked goods well to keep them fresh but don’t choke the life out of produce with tight plastic wrap. It keeps the moisture in and condenses it into tiny drops of water that dampen and eventually decay the produce. Don’t wash fruit and veggies until just before you use them. Chopping, dicing and even de-stemming gives microorganisms a place to grow.
Organize your menu to eat the most perishable produce first. Berries before apples, fresh fruit and vegetables before frozen, etc.
Ethylene is a colourless, odourless, gaseous hormone that all fruits and veggies release. It hastens the ripening process. High emitters include apples, apricots, avocados, unripe bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydews, nectarines, peaches, plums and tomatoes.
On the other hand, ripe bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, kiwi, lettuce (and other leafy greens), parsley, peas, peppers, summer squash, sweet potatoes and water melon are ethylene sensitive. If you use your fridge’s two crispers to keep the emitters away from the ethylene sensitive, you’ll keep the ethylene sensitive in prime condition for a longer time.
Freeze bread crusts and stale cheese and use later for crumbs and sauces. Throw leftover wine into gravies and ripe fruits into smoothies. Make your own stock with leftover meats and vegetables. Make a weekly date to clean out the fridge. And, when you shop, remember that a bargain is not a bargain if half of it rots before you can eat it.
5. Increase work efficiency by 10 percent
Love your work. This is pivotal. It all hinges on this. You may not relish every aspect, every task associated with farming but if you can honestly say that this is what you want to do with a big chunk of your life, then you’ll get all the jobs done and a lot faster than if you’re secretly hankering to be somewhere else.
Identify Your Strength and Weakness. Figure out where you shine and where you don’t. Maybe you can carry in your head vast amounts of information on crop and livestock performances. Maybe you can save the farm huge gobs of cash by doing all your own repairs. Maybe you can diagnose a sick animal at 40 paces but doing the farm books is like swimming uphill through molasses. That’s okay. Nobody is good at everything. You’ll work much more efficiently if you accept that fact early on and figure out how to find the people who can do the things you can’t.
Think Efficiency
By thinking efficiency a farmer can increase productivity by at least 10 percent. A successful BC farmer shared some of the strategies employed on his farm:

  • When working in the barn, I try to make sure I am always carrying something: full feed buckets in one direction, returning a shovel to its proper place on the way back. To increase efficiency even farther, carry 10% more feed in each bucket for fewer trips, and more cardio benefits.
  • We try to keep vehicles working (as in loaded) all the time: we deliver product to a customer and return with a load of livestock feed. Mileage (and driver time) is effectively improved if the truck is full. Add a trailer behind the truck and we are even more efficient.
  • In the same mindset: We stack up a list of to-dos in town so that a trip to the doctor is combined with getting a watch repaired and maybe a visit to a friend. . .
  • I keep duplicates of basic tools in barns, vehicles and equipment. This often speeds repairs and eliminates the need for a trip from field to shop for tools.
  • If I have to go to the shop for tools, I employ the take-everything approach, so that I don’t have to come back for another wrench. I figure the time it takes to return all the tools is less than a trip from field to shop
  • I use corners of time to get little things done: make a call to a customer while waiting for the kettle to boil, sweep the barn floor while waiting for a water tub to fill up. . .
  • Lists! Not only does a list help me remember what to do and when and in what order each day, but a list helps employees/helpers go about their tasks without having to bother me.

“It seems to me that efficiency is tied up with a sense of when to do something really well (takes time) and when to do a slap-bang shoddy job (super quick). Installing a gatepost warrants a lot of time, washing out a farm vehicle, or cleaning water tubs do not.”
Never stop learning. Take advantage of information offered through AAFC, your provincial department of agriculture or its equivalent, agricultural publications such as Small Farm Canada, ag organizations and folks who have been there and done that. Not only will you be a better farmer, you’ll also be a sharper person. Mental stimulation is one of the six pillars of a brain healthy lifestyle that may prevent or delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If we could delay the time of onset of these conditions by even 10 percent, that would be significant, and another testament to the power of 10.