Farmer invents DIY solution to remove grain bin clogs

I came across an article which describes DIY system for unclogging grain bin augers from outside of the bin. This is a big deal in terms of improving safety, since entering a grain bin to remove clogs is one of the most dangerous tasks on the farm. With the wet weather this year and the late harvest, wet grain and clogs have been a huge problem this year. It seems like hardly a week has gone by lately where I haven’t seen an article about someone becoming trapped in a grain bin, and way too often these incidents have been fatal.

The DIY solution for clearing a clog from the outside was designed by Guy Mills, a Nebraska farmer. His solution uses a hose, a steel pipe, two elbow joints, and a heavy duty (250cfm) compressor to blow the clogs out/apart a few inches at a time. While most compressors that you would use to say put air in tires or operate drills don’t have that kind of pressure, most rental places have them for less than $50 a day. The compressor really packs a punch though, so if your bin is older use caution so that you don’t accidentally cause damage in the process of removing clogs. Also since this solution uses compressed air at very high pressures/velocities be extremely careful that the components you choose and your assembly methods are able to handle the pressure and follow all safety recommendations for the compressor itself.

Here is the link to the original article which gives more detailed instructions on how to build and use the de-clogger:

Image result for grain bin clog

Scraped the top of my head this morning so let’s talk about head injuries

After a week of helping several of my friends move into new apartments, I’m back on the farm and was wanting to make another post. I was thinking about what a good topic would be when it hit me, quite literally, in the form of having a minor injury of my own this morning. I’ll start with a quick write up of what happened and the steps I’m taking to stop it from happening again, and then I’ll provide some resources on head injuries.

What happened:

I was doing morning chores, and checked on my sister-in-law’s ducks. It looked like they were getting low on food, so I decided to feed them. The ducks live in an old corn crib, the kind with the wire mesh sides. This is great for the ducks because they have a ton of space where nothing can get at them, but it means that whoever is feeding them has to go in and out through the corn crib door, which is maybe about 4 feet tall. The bottoms of the vertical wires at the top of the door frame stick down about 1/8 of an inch below the horizontal wire. When I went back out, I didn’t duck (pun intended) quite far enough and scraped the top of my head on one of the bits of wire sticking down. Not a serious injury by any means, but since it’s on the top of my head it hurt like crazy and I now have a 3 inch long scrape/bruise that is going to be bugging me for a few days.

Factors leading to the injury:

The design of the door was the main factor that led to the injury. The doorway is too short to get through without stooping, the ends of the vertical wires stick out in such a way that they can easily scratch someone, and there isn’t anything to warn you that the sharp bits are there. I’ll also cite worker inexperience since I rarely feed the ducks. Also, talking with other people it seems like everyone has scraped themselves on those wires at some point so this is also a case where an ongoing issue hasn’t been addressed and multiple people have experienced the same injury.

Corrective measures:

To make the hazard easier to see, and to dull the sharp edges I wrapped the whole top of the doorway in neon pink tape. Hopefully this will mean that the scratch I got this morning will be the last time anyone gets hurt by the ends of the wires. Also, it’s a super cheap solution that doesn’t interfere with how the door closes. Prevention doesn’t always have to be expensive or complicated!

Image result for neon pink duct tape

Additionally I’d like to share a few articles on assessing and treating head injuries that I was looking at this morning. Fortunately I didn’t have any symptoms of a serious injury, but even so it felt a lot worse than it was because there are so many nerve endings in your scalp.

Here is the article from Colorado Children’s Hospital that I looked up earlier that seemed the most helpful. It’s about head injuries in children, but the same information works for adults too. I like how they clearly spell out when to call 911, when to go to urgent care, when to see a doctor non-urgently , and when to treat at home.

Here is another article from WebMd that covers a lot of the same information:

Dealing with mud in fields: an introduction to field tile

Continuing with the theme of dealing with mud, I thought I’d share some resources on installing and maintaining field tile. Field tile is one of the main ways to deal with fields that are persistently muddy. Field tile instillation and maintenance can be a big job. I’ve helped dig holes and unclog tile multiple times and for me it was one of the more annoying farm jobs I’ve done. The older terracotta tiles which were common until the 1980’s can crack and collapse over time and any type of tile can get clogged with tree roots and miscellaneous debris. Once we even saw a full grown fish swimming through the tile sideways! Despite the drawbacks, if a field is waterlogged year after year, investing in tile can make a huge difference in being able to reliably get good yields, and often pay for themselves in increased profits within five years. Reducing mud also can improve safety since it makes it prevents equipment from getting stuck or damaged and prevents mud from building up on surfaces. I’ve put together a collection of articles that cover different aspects of installing and maintaining field tile.

Starting with the basics, here is an article that gives a good introduction to what field tile is and how it works:

Generally it is best to have tile installed by a professional. Getting a field tile system that works is much more complicated than digging a hole and sticking some tubing in the ground. A lot of factors must be considered including the soil type and density, the volume of water than needs to be drained, the placement of the outflow drains, the grading of the tile line, and the spacing and layout of the tile to name a few. Depending on what’s in your area, you may also have to consider conservation and get the instillation approved by the county, so check what your local regulations are early on if you’re thinking about installing tile. This link to a presentation by the Wisconsin extension shows an overview of some of the technical considerations involved in designing a tile system. Some of the things they cover in this presentation were covered in the fluid mechanics classes I took as an undergrad for my mechanical engineering degree so it’s pretty technical stuff.

Repairing field tile can reasonably be a DIY project depending on where the issue is and the characteristics of the individual field. Again, in some areas even repairs need to be approved by the county so make sure to check local regulations before you dig. The Indiana extension has a guide on how to fix several common field tile problems.

Tagging problems (literally) an idea from the 2018 MRASH conference

A few weeks ago I went to the Midwestern Regional Agricultural Safety and Health (MRASH) conference in Council Bluffs Iowa to present the results of the part of my research that developed the agricultural self-report system.  At the conference, farmers and ag safety people meet to talk research and different strategies they’ve tried to improve safety.

One of the farmers at the conference talked about system they were using at their large grain operation and it seemed pretty easy and useful so I thought I’d share it here.   Basically, what they do is have everyone carry around cheap red tags that hold on with wire and a marker.  If a piece of equipment is broken or being worked on, they write the problem on the tag and attach it in an obvious spot like the steering wheel or hitch or key so that if anyone else tries to move it or use it they know there is a problem and have what is going on with that piece of equipment.  It’s a variation of a safety strategy called lock out tag out, which involves putting a lock or a tag on a piece of equipment so that no one can physically turn it on while it is being worked on. It might be particularly useful for larger farms where not everyone knows immediately about every single problem.  It’s a pretty cheap solution too. You can find the tags at most office supply stores and it’s less than $10 for a huge box of them.

This tagging system is one way to avoid the types of incidents where one person is working on something and then another person turns on the machine.  The example they were talking about at the conference was a case where someone was working on a silo unloader and almost lost their arm because another employee didn’t know they were in there and started running silage. It would also prevent equipment damage caused by someone trying to use something that is already broken.

Red Cardstock Tags (with wires)

Video: Introduction to AgrAbility program

AgrAbility is a program run by Purdue University that provides solutions to help disabled farmers and older farmers to keep farming. They’ve come up with tools and training to help with accessibility and to help make tasks easier.  State-level programs are available in 26 states and are staffed by experts who can help individual farmers figure out which solutions work best for them.  Many of the solutions in their toolbox are DIY. They also have a resource page for veterans and beginning farmers. Click here to check out their website

Safety Tech: The Safety Zone Calf Catcher and Wisconsin Extension DIY Calf Catcher

Came across this video today and thought I’d share.  The name of this device is the Safety Zone calf catcher.  It’s designed to attach to an ATV. It helps make it easier to catch calves for vaccinating and to keep you safe from mom in the process.  My dad actually improvised a similar device years ago by curving a wire panel fence into a circle so he could carry it with him and put it over the calf.  This device is a big improvement though because it reduces the risk of falling while catching the calf, has a much sturdier design, and has the inner gate to help hold the calf still. Costing around $2,000, it is more expensive than a foot hook or a wire panel fence, but it’s a huge improvement in safety and convenience.

Click here to see the Safety Zone website.

When I did a quick search to look for alternate products, I also came across a website from the Wisconsin extension that shows a similar homemade device that can mount to the back of a small tractor. The website includes a set of plans for building your own. The plans don’t include the inner gate that the Safety Zone version has, but it would be easy enough to add one if you want.  They didn’t mention how much it cost to build their prototype, but if you have the time to build your own, you might be able to save some money.

Click here to see the Wisconsin extension’s calf catcher

Click here to see plans for the Wisconsin extension calf catcher.