Command and Control
This year I’m making efforts to approach our farming operations more systematically to make things easier on everyone. Chicken production is the focus since that’s where we’re putting the most work these days, and that’s where things have always been the most chaotic.
I finished wiring the newest chicken brooder trailer today. Our brooders have evolved steadily, but the system for controlling heaters, ventilation, cooling fans, and lighting schedules has gotten out of hand. I’m adding more electric controls to the system, but in doing so my goal is to reduce the complexity of the daily workload. In our other brooders things are so tricky that I am the only one who knows how to work all the doodads, and sometimes I stump myself. I want to make it something that AJ can easily handle with daily checklists and that he can maintain when I’m away from the farm. All the controls will be labeled and each checklist will have the settings for the chicks at their stage of life for that specific day. Since we are using automation, I also am planning for overrides or workarounds in case any of the controllers fail.
In the course of planning out the control system, I realized that one important requirement in making the brooders easy to operate was putting knobs on all devices. Too many timers, thermostats, lighting controllers, etc., are moving away from knobs to LED/LCD screen readouts. The problem is that each device uses some weird programming sequence, and no two devices use the same sequence. Hold down the PRG key for 5 seconds, then scroll through a bunch of forgettable abbreviations, then hold down the RUN key for 2 seconds to set the program. Wait, was I supposed to hold down PRG again before RUN? Just checking the temperature settings can require pressing ten key strokes. This is stupid.
Knobs are just a far better interface for this application. If today I need to set the brooder thermostat to 90 degrees, I don’t need to study a manual to understand the keystrokes; I just point the knob’s arrow at 90. In two days when the chicks need less heat, I can twist it back to 85. Simple. Easily remembered. Easily verified. Easily communicated. Perfect.
Also, for the daily almanac, we all enjoyed being outside on an extraordinarily warm day. I chopped a path in the ice at the bridge to ensure that the meltwater had a place to go. The ice and water was up to 3 inches from the underside of the bridge and I was concerned that it might wash the bridge out. After I got a channel carved in the ice, the rushing water cleared a path and after a few hours dropped the water level to a safer height. Later, because the weather was so warm I was able to caulk the leaks in the brooders’ roof. The kids climbed up too. I’m not sure what there is about a roof, but roofs demand to be climbed upon. Maybe it is something about the new perspective. Everything looks different when standing on a roof.