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Purdue Extension of Fulton County-Wild Ideas


Wild Ideas


 Did you ever have a wild idea? Now some people have wild ideas, others have them and actually act on them. There is really no definition for the term, but I suspect the thought of a light bulb was considered a wild idea at one time. Even the ancient thought of the world being flat was gradually disproven starting in the 4th century BC with the wild ideas of Plato. By the time Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, most scholars maintained that the Earth was a big ball.

In agriculture, there have been a few wild ideas, I will go back to my youth when I was subjected to one, not of my own doing. Mowing hay is normally done by one of two methods. One most prevalent today is a series of rotating horizontal knives slicing the crop off a few inches above the ground in a system called a disc mower.

 Traditionally, the other was the one-long-piece cycle bar mower where jagged cutters remove the plant from just above the ground in one single stem piece. That is what we had on the back of the International H tractor. It laid the cutoff plant on the ground to dry. We then raked it several days later and baled it the same day. Our baler was one that produced what is today referred to as small square bales. An Allis Chalmers WD-45 tractor pulling an International baler followed by a flat rack wagon with generally two people stacking was our setup. I was always one of those stackers doing the manual labor behind the baler.

We had a neighbor that used a third type of mower called a flail chopper. It is a vertical mower that has chains that hang down with knives on the end. When it cuts off a plant it throws it into the air and can cut it multiple times before it hits the ground. Rather than a single stem it slightly pulverized the crop.

Red clover is an excellent Northern Indiana forage crop we have been planting on our farm for many generations. It can be a little fine and what we refer to as dusty. I still have an item called a clover seed buncher that farmers of the past would use to collect clover hay, mowed down by one of the cycle bar mowers, gathered, and threshed for the clover seed that farmer would then plant for another hay crop or sell to a neighbor. 

Clover hay is great feed for cattle, sheep, and goats. It is easy to grow, but it only lasts for two years (some seeds now three) before it has to be replanted. It adds nitrogen to the soil, and this makes it perfect to rotate with corn. A very win-win situation. 

Flail chopping clover, as my neighbor did, was a win-lose battle that I can still vividly recall 55 years later when I was on that wagon baling on a windy day. It was easy for the neighbor to cut, but I was the looser as my eyes were just full of dusty, aggravating, itchy clover. 

For me, one of the most physically taxing jobs on the farm was picking rock. I could have easily left that wagon and gladly hitched up the stone boat. Whoever it was that had the wild idea of flail-chopping clover needed to have found himself on that wagon. We could have put a stop to that notion. That is one idea that never needs repeating

That is unless I wish to not suffer alone, and facetiously, start the Clover Flailing Society that promotes clover mutilation. I can be like the Flat Earth Society, which really does exist today. I just hope I don't go over the edge.


Mark Kepler

Purdue Extension Educator, ANR

Fulton County