My “new” job on the farm: Rock Picking

Here in southern Minnesota we have a problem. Our fields tend to grow rocks.

Some fields seem to grow more than others. Some have lots of little rocks, others like to throw a few large boulders our way.

I often get asked if we still have to do jobs like rock picking on the farm by audience members of my Speak for Yourself presentations. A lot of them had that job for local farmers growing up. It usually involved going out with a wagon pulled out by a tractor to the field, and going up and down looking for rocks and throwing them on trailer. I do remember doing it this way too when I was younger with all of my siblings.

However…I’ve gotten an upgrade! :) My father-in-law purchased a rock picking attachment for the skid loader.

The skidloader. Don't worry I have air conditioning and a radio set to the country station :)

The skid loader  Don’t worry I have air conditioning and a radio set to the country station :)

So how does it work and why do we do it?

First the HOW: The attachment is operated with hydraulics. We hook the attachment up to our skid loader and It has a “sweeper” arm that when you dig down with the bucket and then lift it up, it helps sweep the rocks (and soil) into the bucket. The bucket is slotted so the rocks stay in, but all the soil is able to drop back down into the field.

Now, the WHY: Some rocks are really heavy and large so this attachment helps us move rocks from the field that we would otherwise have to bring heavier equipment in for. We move rocks out of our field for a variety of reasons. One reason is because if there is a rock there, no seed is going to grow or be planted there. Another reason is because they can cause a lot of damage to equipment. There is nothing worse than hitting a large rock with your field cultivator and wrecking your shovels. Then you have to spend money to replace those shovels and it also causes downtime when you only have a small window for planting season. If you hit one with the planter, you could damage the opener discs that make the small trench that your seed goes into. If that gets ruined, then the seed won’t be planted at the correct depth. Rocks take up prime soil ground for our crop, so if we are cultivating and there is a rock, we can’t cultivate that spot either.

A better shot of the bucket. (sorry the hubby had the camera and his skills are well, subpar)  As you can see, some soil was very heavy and wet still so there is some in the bucket yet.

A better shot of the bucket. (sorry the hubby had the camera and his skills are well, subpar)
As you can see, some soil was very heavy and wet still so there is some in the bucket yet.

It’s nice because I can be running the rock picker while Mark is in the tractor cultivating. If he spots an area where there are a few, a quick phone call to me and I’m headed over to save the day and get that rock out of there! Okay…I might be glamorizing my job a little bit, but hey a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do! There is now actually a phone application you can purchase where when the farmer is in his tractor and encounters a rock, he can push the screen in his tractor, plot where the rock is on his map and then this map can be sent via the application to another phone (or mine in the skid loader) so they would have a GPS coordinate of where the rock is and can quickly race out there with the skid loader to remove it. We aren’t that high-tech yet, but I’m working on the papa-in-law to get this application! :)

Now, you might be wondering what we do with all of those rocks. Some end up in gardening beds, or in rock piles in an area of the field. Others end up used where culvert and tile inlets are. Some are used to help prevent soil erosion in certain areas of the field as part of buffer strips. They usually find a new home one way or another.

Do you have questions about rock picking? Do you have stories about picking rock when you were younger? I’d love to hear them!

-Sara

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