Monthly Archives: March 2014

Weekly Column

Signs of spring
By Susan ManzkeIMG_3327

Ever since Groundhog’s Day, people have been looking for signs of spring. Until recently, winter has held a firm grip on our world, meaning signs of spring have been few and far between.
Of course, seeing the first robin is a big sign of spring. For us, it’s also the return of sandhill cranes to our back 40. The trio that came our way looked to be shivering in the snow as they came on a very cold day. At the same place, turkeys came out of the woods. We had been wondering about them all this long, cold winter. There’s talk of many not surviving, so good to see a few turkeys to view. The last to walk into our view were deer. About twenty went single file from our neighbors hay field, eventually crossing our wheat field. It was nice to see that they survived our wicked winter.
Many years, we’d be hearing peepers chirping their wake-up call by now. This spring the frogs are still tucked in. They need more warmth to wake them up.
My last sign of spring isn’t one of my favorites. This sign says that the raccoons are on the prowl!
Bob came back inside after doing chores one afternoon. He set a container of six eggs on the counter and asked, “How many chickens are we supposed to have?”
I did not like the sound of his question. There were supposed to be 22 chickens. Bob didn’t think there were that many in the chicken house.
As quick as I could I slipped into my boots and coat, and headed out the door. We were down eight birds. A new hole in an old ceiling panel showed where the raiders had gotten in. The crazy thing was that there wasn’t a pile of feathers or signs of blood anywhere.
Bob shook his head. “It looks like some person just came in here and helped themselves to a few of our young birds.”
Well, it wasn’t any person who had plundered our flock. There, high in the corner was a claw mark by a hole. Those raccoons had chicken take-out for their meal last night.
Daylight was slipping away. Bob searched for scraps of wood for a quick patch. We also needed a ladder, screws, and a power drill. After gathering supplies, we shooed the surviving chickens out of the pen so we could fix the ceiling.
Bob couldn’t hold the hunk of plywood up and work the drill, so I stood under and held up the patch with a shovel.
Even up on the ladder, working over his head was a difficult job for Bob. His arms ached as he worked to affix the patch to the ceiling—I soon learned that looking up while he worked didn’t help. The vibration from the drill brought down all kinds of gunk to get into my eyes.
We did the best we could that night. All holes were closed. We even set up a live trap, bated with a can of cat food. At the end of the day, we wished the chickens well and went into the house.
The next morning we discovered there had been another raccoon raid. We were down to eleven chickens! And nothing in the trap, not even the can of cat food.
New holes had been created by the raccoons in the soft ceiling panels. More patching took place.
I suggested we bring the chickens onto the back porch for safety sake. Bob didn’t think much of my solution. We patched more, all the while Bob grumbled, “We fed those stupid birds all winter long and now that they are finally laying eggs, those ##%%## raccoons have to get in.”
I had another suggestion. “Maybe we’d better turn off the light timer. I think the light works like a beacon for the raccoons so they can find the littlest hole and make it bigger to get in.” (We put on a light about three thirty every morning during the winter so the hens have enough light. They don’t produce eggs unless they have 14 hours of light.)
It has been a week now without another successful raccoon raid. Problem solved. (Knock on wood.)
Even with all the carnage there was one positive occurrence. The raccoons took care of our problem of having too many roosters. We are left with one: the old man of the flock, with four-inch long spurs. The raccoons must be gourmets when it comes to chicken dinners. They knew the old rooster would be too tough to eat.

You can connect to another Wisconsin State Farmer column of mine if you go to this link.

Farm Show Starts Tomorrow!

I keep checking the weather report for what is to come the next three days of the WPS Farm Show. It sure doesn’t sound real springy.

Tonight, we’re going to have snow. Tomorrow, Tuesday, The first day of the show, cold and windy, about 23. Wednesday it will make it to the mid-30s and sunny. Thursday they say 40 degrees and rain.DSCI2032

No matter Bob and I will be in Hanger C #5599. It will be nice inside.
Hope to see a bunch of my friends there.


(I will continue to search for spring everywhere we go.)

A 2007 truck ride well remembered

A ride to remember
By Susan Manzke

You’d think that spring weather would make Bob happy. Oh he is relieved winter is over, but spring brings other problems. Ever since the snow melted and revealed all the stones thrown up on the grass by the snowplow my husband has been fussing about the rocky mess. As early as possible, he started raking, only to earn himself blisters on both his hands.

Since the stones are on the lawn and up and down the length of the ditch Bob mows, he started thinking about a mechanical solution to the problem. Last week, Bob decided to call on an ad in the paper for a used hydraulic rotary broom. With this machine he could battle the stone problem without working his hands raw.

Of course Bob hadn’t called immediately when he saw the ad. He put it off and now he was sure it had been sold, but happily, the broom was still available. Since it was a nice day, I decided to join Bob for the drive down to West Bend to check it out.

As we rolled south in Bob’s truck, we observed geese and ducks flying in the sunny sky and turkeys strutting across fields. We left home at three thirty, figuring to return about dark.

Traffic on Highway 41 moved right along, which was nice. As we neared our exit, I phoned the seller, Rich, to tell him that we would arrive in about fifteen minutes. Bob guided our truck onto the exit ramp. Suddenly foul words came out of his mouth. “The brakes went out!” he said as he downshifted and stomped on the resistant pedal.

I gulped and hung on as we headed toward a stopped vehicle ahead of us. Luckily, the car turned onto the crossroad and Bob managed to get the truck slowed enough to make the same turn.

It was five o’clock in the evening and we were heading into West Bend’s rush hour, but Bob continued to drive.

“Shouldn’t we stop and check the brake fluid?” I asked.

“It’s not the fluid,” grumbled Bob. “If it was the fluid, my foot would be on the floor. I have some brake, but it’s real tough to push.” He downshifted again as we neared a stoplight.

I was not happy about the situation. Actually, I wanted to get out of the truck and walk, but I was trapped.

Rich’s directions took us only a short way into the busy city before we turned and headed south. It seemed like we had to dive a long way to our destination, but in fact it was just outside the city limits.

Bob emitted a few addition curse words as he attempted to turn into Rich’s driveway. “The power steering’s out, too,” he said as he muscled the steering wheel around.

When we rolled to a stop, I wanted to get out and kiss the ground, but didn’t. There was too much to do.

Rich was sitting in his car waiting for us when we arrived. “You got something hanging down under your truck,” he told Bob.

Bob explained our troubles as he got out and opened the hood. There we all saw the problem. All the belts had broken.

“It looks like the air-conditioner belt broke and when it flew off it took out all the other belts,” said Bob. “Darn thing is that air-conditioner never did work.”

Rich took out his cell phone and called an auto parts store. “They close in twenty minutes,” he said when he finished his call. “We can take my car.”

He and Bob grabbed the remnants of the belts and took off for the store. I stayed behind, still trying to calm my thumping heart. As I waited, I pulled down the tailgate, sat and tried to relax.

By the time they returned, I felt better. Of course, Bob and Rich were ready to go to work replacing the belts.

My husband only had a few tools with him in the truck: a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers. No matter that we weren’t prepared for this repair, Rich was. He unlocked his shop and brought out an assortment of wrenches. If this had happened anywhere else, I would have had to climb up into the big truck engine and helped Bob. For this repair Bob had the benefit of Rich’s help.

“I guess we couldn’t have picked a better place to break down,” said Bob. “The weather’s good and we got to the parts store before they closed. Things seem to be going my way.” (At least that was his point of view.)

It took an hour to fix the truck and another half-hour to load the rotary broom but we didn’t take off immediately. We continued talking to Rich for another half-hour or so.

Luckily, the ride home was uneventful, yet every time Bob went to brake, he first downshifted, then cautiously applied his foot to the pedal. All I could do at this time was hang on and pray.

Photo from the past

Rachel playing in the park. Photo originally in the Times-Press
Rachel playing in the park. Photo originally in the Times-Press

Who knew that Rachel would end up having her photo in the paper. We were just playing in Lake Park when Tom Duffy stopped by and snapped this shot.
I didn’t put in photos in my column back then. This was probably the first time Rachel had her photo in the paper. Now she takes other people’s photos.

Anticipating the WPS 2014 Farm Show


Last year, Bob and I had a great time talking to column readers at the Farm Show in Oshkosh. It is our advent of spring no matter the weather.
We are watching for signs of spring here on the farm. So far we’ve seen robins in the snow, along with distant turkeys, sandhill cranes and deer. It is good to see some survived the winter. Now I hope they can survive the spring which can be another starving time of the year.

Our next sign of spring should be Tuesday, March 25th. Hope to see you all at the show.