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Irons in the Fire: Small victories

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 26 April 2017

It was one of those days when Mr. Murphy’s law ruled supreme. As a matter of fact, I think the entire Murphy family was in on the act. It seemed as though any event going to occur that day was going to go wrong for me.

Calving season had started off well enough. After a decidedly wicked winter, things had warmed up and dried out for five or six days. The babies had started to arrive at a pretty good clip, and the prospects of metaphorical clear skies and smooth sailing for the season looked promising.

Old Mother Nature, though, had different plans for my imaginary state of well-being. The nice weather lasted for almost a week before she released the twin demons of cold and snow again.

The day in question came in the middle of a three-week stretch where we’d rarely seen the sun during the daylight hours, and the nighttime temperatures hung around in the teens.

I had been living on no more than two or three hours of sleep a night, and on this morning I was tending to two calves in the warm box whose heifer mothers had chosen to calve in a snow bank and were not really catching the spirit of the whole motherhood thing.

At about daylight, I decided to take a load of straw to the heifer pasture. However, the dim headlights and the smell of an overheated truck and a burning belt alerted me to the fact that the alternator had gone out on the truck. I limped back to the shop with the wounded truck so I could play mechanic before the day had really even started.

My already foul mood was starting to sour like the milk that seeped into the back seat of the car from the leaking milk jug two weeks before.

Now replacing an alternator is not really a terribly difficult job – but as with a rain dance, timing is critical. I had critters in need. I didn’t have time for breakdowns. Once I got started on the project, I found I didn’t have all of the right wrenches.

I had a 3/8-inch wrench but needed an 11/32. And, of course, there always has to be a metric nut thrown in there for good measure. I could find an 8 and a 9 wrench, and an 11 and a 12, but all I needed was a 10. Once I got the thing off, someone still needed to run to town to take the core in and get a new alternator.

Any sort of mechanic work is unpleasant, at best, when your mechanic skills are in the mediocre to poor range like mine are. But in cold weather and under pressure from every other unfinished task, even a job as simple as an alternator replacement can seem overwhelming.

I tried a few different combinations of cuss words and phrases, but that only seemed to darken my mood and the day’s outlook.

It was in this despondent and crestfallen state I was somehow able to catch a small ray of light – not unlike the beam from the miner’s headlamp I found to replace the cheap flashlight I’d been using to light my way through the process. In finding the new light, I caught my breath and found a small victory.

I won another battle when I found the set of new metric sockets that my wife gave me for Christmas, and yet another when I located a diagram of the serpentine belt placement under the seat of the truck.

I decided then, that although I still had a Mt. Everest in front of me that day, I’d focus on the next step in front of me instead of the massive, dark cloud that shrouded me.

The nature of the work in front of me that day didn’t change, but my ability to get the work done somehow became magnified when I changed my approach. If you’re 15 points down, you can’t win the game with a 16-point shot. It has to be done one possession at a time.

I got the alternator replaced and went on to the next skirmish. I got the two calves warmed up and was able to reunite one of them with its mother. The other calf was at least alive, and I could keep it that way with a bottle until I could get its mama in a pen tomorrow.

I didn’t get the tractor stuck in the stackyard, and I got the feeding done – one bale at a time. I tagged five more calves, and every one of them was alive.

I got my tail kicked on a few battles, but I won most of them. At the end of that day, I was still in the game and had figured out a way to work my way through the rest of the war that is calving season. More importantly, I took heed to a lesson that has been force-fed to me countless times before. This time, though, I may have listened.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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