It’s that kind of cold when your eyebrows and nose hairs freeze as soon as you step outside. You hope you don’t drop something from the double-insulated gloves you’re wearing because you have so many layers on that you can’t bend over to pick it up. Just kick it into the snow. It will be there when the thaw comes.
It’s that kind of cold where physics and geometry become essential to feeding the cows, horses and sheep. I just wish I had paid more attention in math and science classes.
The tractors wouldn’t start so I jumped into the skid steer. In the race between the battery and the starter, the battery won. Or lost, however you want to see it.
I stuck the charger on the skid steer and looked at the flatbed pickup.
The same thing happened last year so I knew what to do. Last January, my engineer-minded friend, Michelle, and I hooked two tow straps around the 12-foot high stack of bales and pulled them down with the pickup. No problem.
I pulled into the stackyard. The closest bales were stacked two high. I dug out the tow straps, and wrapped the one with the knots in it around the top, 1400 pound bale. One tow strap wasn’t long enough so I hooked two ends together and tied a slip knot – a single chain stitch in crochet parlance – into the bed of the truck and pulled. The tow strap followed, but the bale didn’t.
The strap had taken the path of least resistance, a fundamental law of physics.
I tried again, this time tying the slip knot lower, around the hitch. It was all about the angles. Gravity prevailed. The bale toppled.
I reset the tow straps, jumped in the pickup and thought about inertia and acceleration, principles of physics. It takes the most energy to overcome inertia so I floored the pickup. The bale chased me through the stackyard.
Geometry quickly came to mind as I hoped I chose just the right angle to make it through the stackyard gate.
Einstein’s theories of space and relative time popped into my head as I crossed the county road and through the next gate. Good thing no cars were coming because I certainly had overcome that inertia.
Friction was the next law of physics to join me. And lack of friction. A couple of inches of snow padded the driveway and slowed my load for a while. Then I hit the hill where ice had formed.
As the bale swung my pickup in an arc across the ice, I wondered if Newton had ever considered the correlations among momentum, πr2 and centrifugal force.
Newton’s third law struck at that moment. For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the bale flew out of those confining tow straps and bounced to the bottom of the hill, the sheep and cattle spotted it and came running from the opposite end of the pasture.
They dove into that bale, sheep reaching under cows’ bellies, all grabbing a bite.
As their jaws masticated, I watched yet another law of physics in action – that all of the energy going in to digesting that fibrous hay will create a lot of heat. All of those bugs zipping through the rumen, gobbling carbs and protein, will keep those cattle and sheep cozy warm, even on the coldest day.
So when a kid tells you she wants to be a rancher, remind her to pay attention in her geometry and physics classes.