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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: It just isn’t cutting it

Tom Heck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 March 2017

Sometimes a person can do everything by the book or owner’s manual – and it ends in failure. Such is what happened here last fall when I was chopping corn silage to fill my back silo. We like to have silage in the ration, which we feed to our cattle. They really like it too, and it’s very good for them.

Normally, we really enjoy putting up corn silage. It has such a sweet fragrance to it. It’s the fall of the year, the heat of the summer is past, and the cooler air is blowing in. The trees are turning their beautiful fall colors, and we usually have beautiful sunny days. It’s wonderful being alive and doing what God has called us to do.

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I started chopping the corn and hadn’t gone very far when the inside row of the cornhead plugged up at the bottom and sheared the shear bolt out. So I shut the PTO off and got off the tractor. Going back to the chopper, I cleaned out the cornhead and put in a new shear bolt.

Then I went chopping again. I did get some silage chopped, but every once in a while it would plug up and shear the bolt out. The problem was: Sometimes the corn wasn’t getting cut off like it should, and stalks were getting wrapped down around the cutting mechanism. When this would happen, it would just plug up and shear out the bolt.

I brought the chopper home to the shop and figured that maybe I had a little too much clearance between the crop guide and the stationary knife. The owner’s manual said it was critical to have the right clearance. The right clearance it said was 1/16th to 3/16th of an inch.

I was at 3/16th of an inch, so I figured maybe that was a little too much and thus the cause of my problems. So I ripped it apart with the help of my kids and shimmed it up so that it was just a strong 1/16th of an inch.

I was sure I could go out and chop off a lot of corn now because I had it set exactly by the book. I was in a hurry too because I needed a lot more loads to fill my silo. I went out to the field full throttle and started chopping. I got some chopped, but I kept shearing out a lot of bolts. It was getting to be a long tiring day with little silage to show for it.

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The next day only got worse – far worse. I started chopping and shearing bolts out again. And then I heard a terrible, loud screech; my family a half-mile away heard it too. It was early in the day, but they knew that Dad was not having a good day chopping corn silage. The terrible noise was the clutch going out in my tractor.

I looked things over, and I knew the most important thing for me to do was to rule my spirit. Getting angry or taking it out on something or somebody wouldn’t help at all; it would only make things worse. So I ruled my spirit and walked the half-mile home, praying on the way.

I got home and told my family exactly what happened. Their response was, “What do we do now?” I said, “We need to put a bunch of blocking and tools on the pickup and take it down to the field along with another tractor.”

Back in the field, we blocked the chopper and chopper box tires since they were sitting on a hill; then we unhooked the tractor and got it off to the side of the field. Then we put our other tractor on the chopper, and I went to chopping again and shearing out bolts. I finally decided that I had better take it home to the shop again.

I looked the cutting mechanism all over again and studied out the owner’s manual. Everything was exactly as the owner’s manual said it should be. I looked at it really close and could see the stationary knife that cuts the corn wasn’t in perfect shape, but it didn’t look bad either.

I was desperate and looking for answers, so I figured I’d better replace the knife. I went into town and bought a brand-new one at the implement shop.

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Back home, we put the new knife in with the rotor, which was in excellent condition. Then I headed back out to the field hoping that it would work well. It didn’t. I kept shearing out bolts, so it was back home to the shop. I was really bewildered by now. I kept praying to the Lord asking Him for wisdom on how to fix it.

I looked at the owner’s manual again, and everything looked perfect. As I studied it out more, I could see that the crop guide, which guides the corn into the knife and rotor, was wore down a fair bit. I thought this could maybe be the source of all my problems.

So now I was faced with another problem: It was late Friday afternoon, and the implement shop couldn’t get me a new one in until the next week sometime. So what was I to do now? My son, Joshua, had a suggestion: “Could you build the old one up with your arc welder?”

I shook my head and said, “I don’t think so.” But as I looked things over, realizing I couldn’t get a new one for a few days and that I desperately needed to get the corn chopped while it was still at the right moisture, I decided to try his suggestion.

It took me over an hour, but we were amazed at what a beautiful job I was able to do on it. It was as good as a brand-new one. It gave us something to smile about, especially considering a new one costs $150.

The following day we put it all together, and then I headed to the field hoping it would work well. It worked a little better, but I sheared a lot of bolts out that day too. That night I said to my family, “I don’t know what to do; that cornhead keeps breaking down. I got it set exactly as the owner’s manual says.

I can hardly get any corn chopped with it. I’ve sheared out between 20 and 30 bolts already, and we only have the silo half-full.” So once again, we prayed, asking God for wisdom on this.

The next morning, I had an idea. I had a friend named Steve who had worked full time as a mechanic at the implement shop in town for years. He quit working there a few years ago and went farming full time. I knew he had a chopper with the same type of cornhead on it as mine.

I called him up and told him all that had happened. He understood perfectly and said, “You can’t go by the owner’s manual. I had the same problems you had. What you have to do is shim up the crop guide so that it’s tight on top of the knife instead of the 1/16th- to 3/16th-inch like they say. If you do that it will work perfectly.” I thanked him and told him I would do it.

Out at the shop, we set it up exactly like Steve said. This time, as I headed to the field, I was in high hopes. I put the chopper into the corn and chopped big load after big load with no breakdowns. It was wonderful, and I was thanking the Lord for Steve and the wisdom he gave me. It didn’t take long after that to get the silo full.

In this world that we live in today, there are many experts out there with books or manuals or other things telling us how to live our lives. But sometimes, like my chopper manual, they don’t work like they should – they just don’t cut it.

But there is one manual that is always right, always perfect and always cuts it, and that of course is the Bible – God’s holy word. It is always perfect and right because God knows everything and never fails or makes mistakes. We can fully trust Him because He loves us more than we can comprehend.

I learned a long time ago to follow God’s manual and not the world’s. And I’ve been extremely blessed in doing so. If you will do the same, you will be blessed.

As for my friend Steve, I sent him a real nice Christmas present.  end mark

Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Email Tom Heck.  or order his book at Tom Heck.

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