Cutting Edge Tech on the Rock Farm

These school holidays are fast upon us – and the weather this weekend is bitterly cold and windy.  Perfect weather to be inside and making the most of the new heating system on the Rock Farm (see – keeping-warm-part-1).

We have enjoyed a nice break from the endless running around chasing kid’s school, sport and music commitments.  Instead we have caught up with family and friends and tried hard to do nothing…  It has been a pleasant change to actually read a novel.

But not all has been quiet.  An almost constant whirring and beeping has been coming from the the study nook.  It has been emanating from the latest tool on the Rock Farm.  Unlike the majority of tools here that are old style and barely changed over the past 50 years or so, this one comes from the other end of the spectrum.  It is our very own 3D printer.

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The (not so) Little Fisherman received a box of parts a while ago, and eagerly started putting them together.  They were remarkably complex, and I started to feel a little bewildered as he tackled his task with enthusiasm.  Disaster struck though, when he lost the instructions when he didn’t shut down his computer properly.  A few months of emails back and forth requesting another copy of the assembly instructions with Chinese manufacturer who mis-understood our requests entirely.  Eventually we gave up and took a punt plugging in the last couple of wires.  Thankfully Murphy was on our side that day, and the printer came alive and successfully printed its calibration cube.

Since then, I have been amazed at the progress.  Within a week, the (not so) Little Fisherman had stopped downloading designs from the internet and had started making his own creations.  Initially plenty of catapults, trebuchets and other mini-weapons of mass destruction were crafted by the printer as we learnt it’s capabilities.

And then I thought it was about time to start harnessing this unbridled enthusiasm for good… and asked the (not so) Little Fisherman to design and make for me a  new gear knob for the tractor.  A simple round knob was required, with a central hole to fit over the metal linkage.  It had been long missing from the tractor, but proved to be a good exercise, particularly in the precision required for measurement.  We used a vernier caliper to measure the precise diameter for the central hole, and it fit perfectly.  I was very impressed.

And I quickly put the tractor to work tidying up the garden.

But the next challenge is proving to be a bit more difficult.  Somehow I had also managed to break the centrifugal dust bowl filter…  The (not so) Little Fisherman initially baulked at the size and shape of the problem – but has managed to come up with a design.

He has spent a fair bit of time measuring and even trialled the construction of a torus of revolution for the base to ensure he had it exactly right.   Don’t worry – I had to google the name of it when he told me he had made a torus!

The only problem is that this is a particularly large and complex build.  The print time will be around 55 hours – if only I can hold my breath that long, I can’t wait to see what the little machine will produce!

The best part is that I am in good hands.  I now have a talented young man who is learning skills to repair old and worn out items with good-as-new parts.  I feel excited to be part of this new technology that will allow us to repair many more items previously considered beyond saving.  This cannot help but contribute to reducing our footprint on this precious planet.

A large part of our choice in living on the Rock Farm was to give our children a well rounded education, with academic opportunity tempered with responsibility to care for the land and livestock.  It is a constant juggling act, balancing the competing interests of their schooling, our work and their real education of life and how they can make a difference in this world.  Giving a child opportunities to pursue their interests is the wish of most parents and I am immensely proud of this fellow and his first steps into the future.

 

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A lesson on leadership – taught by a calf

On the Rock Farm this winter we have a six month old calf that was a bit of a bonus when he was born.  Unexpected, he was a delightful surprise that has grown into a healthy and strong steer of around 200kg.

He is now old enough to be weaned, and the (not so) Little Helper decided his school holiday project was to break the calf into halter.  We did point out to him that whilst it was our responsibility to give him the best life we could, ultimately his purpose is to be processed into beef…  We agreed that we wouldn’t do this on our place.

Having not broken a calf in before, we had to seriously consider our strategy.  My young son decided he wanted to follow some of the principles he had seen in action at The Man From Snowy River Breaker’s Challenge over the past couple of years.

I think Mum (with the white face) is enjoying the weaning process too!

Whilst a horse is a different beast entirely from a calf, we really liked the way the horsemen harnessed the horse’s natural strengths and worked with them.  We decided that we wanted to develop a relationship with the calf where the behaviour we wanted was easy for the calf to do, and the behaviour we didn’t was hard.

Lesson One: Consistency – your words have to match your actions

As you can’t use words, you have to be entirely focused on what your body language says to the calf, now named Moo.  It really makes you think about what you are asking him to do.  And when he doesn’t do what you want, it is usually because you have put your body, or your arms, or even your eyes in the wrong place.

The young fellow is moving the calf away from him using old horse whips as extensions of his arms

It is an entirely pure response. You can’t hide anything.  And your actions have to match your intentions.  If you want him to turn towards you, you have to really think about what you are asking him to do.  Remember you have to reward the behaviour you are seeking.

Lesson Two – Assertive, not aggressive

You must be assertive and assume to role of leader of his herd.  It is essential for your safety with a calf that weighs 200kg and is immensely strong.  We were very keen for Moo to turn towards us instead of away from us.  This is to keep his back legs away from us (where he could take a kick if he felt threatened).  By using rods as extensions of our arms, we were able to project our body language onto him at a safer distance.  We kept asking and putting pressure on him until he did what we want.  Soon he would recognise what we were asking and turn towards us most times.

Being the leader of the herd, you have a responsibility to meet the calf’s needs.  We had to step up and meet his need for safety, for belonging, for shelter, food and water.  By  meeting his needs, we are fulfilling his requirements to be part of a herd (even if we look different to him)

Lesson Three: Make the good behaviour easy and the stuff you don’t want hard

The calf naturally didn’t want to be with us at all.  He moved away from us and sought refuge by sticking his head in corners of the yards.  This behaviour was not what we wanted, so we continued to put pressure on the calf by moving towards him and making him keep moving away from us.

Until he stopped – and looked at us.  As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and took the pressure off.  And it was amazing how quickly he worked out that stopping and looking at us gave him the reward of us stopping the pressure – and lunch.

As soon as he did what we wanted, we stopped and rewarded him with a break

Each day we worked gently with Moo for around 15 minutes or so.  It only took a couple of days and we were able to put the halter on him.  The same principles applied – the pressure stopped as soon as he did what we wanted.  It didn’t take him long to work out that following us around was the best way to stop the pressure.  We modified his natural behaviour to generate the behaviours we were looking for, than trying to break his will.

Lesson Four: You have to be mentally ready

A couple of times the (not so) Little Helper and I were tired and not in the head space to enter the yard with Moo.  It was almost instantly apparent that we were not achieving any progress.  The best action to take was to stop the session and come back when we had mentally prepared to put our best foot forward.

Lesson Five: Mistakes are OK

We made plenty of mistakes.  And it wasn’t a problem.  If we put ourselves in the wrong place, Moo’s behaviour would let us know.  It wasn’t that he was doing the wrong thing, often we were.  The main part was to look at what we were asking and reflect on how we should approach the problem differently.  Often it was that we were looking at his shoulder instead of his flank – and once we understood what we were doing from the calf’s point of view it was easy to change.

What does it mean?

Training a calf has been a great opportunity to reflect on how we treat each other and are treated.  When you enter that yard, you have to be the strong leader that the calf is looking for… and you can’t hide behind clever words.  The calf reflects your behaviour in the purest sense, as all he responds to is your body language.  You have to be firm, consistent and look for ways to make it easy for the calf to do what you want.

Unfortunately at Christmas time or so, Moo will be sold.  It will be a sad day on the Rock Farm for which I hope the (not so) Little Helper will forgive me.