Farm life practicalities

I find myself worrying that our recent trend of posts have offended some of you. Now, most of you are probably aware, at least on some level, that life in the country is not all idyllic and peaceful. Especially not when you’re surrounded by 100’s of acres of what is essentially idle land that has been planted in native grasses, trying to raise domestic animals that are by their very nature prey to the predators that live in those 100’s or acres of native grassland. But, Steve’s rather blunt about the measures that we have taken to protect our investment. I’ve tried to suggest that he move on, but he’s rather stubborn. I suppose that’s a good thing, as I’m rather stubborn as well. So, I hope you’ll stick with us and not judge us too harshly for having to protect what needs protecting. I promise this trend will end soon – or at least I hope it will. I’m not a big fan of searching for the angry racoon at 3:30 in the morning dressed in Steve’s robe, and carrying a 22 rifle and a flashlight.
In the meantime, I’ll gush a little bit about how exciting it is to have the barn useable this winter. No, the roof will not be repaired, nor will the entire floor be fixed. But, remember that the sheep had next-to-nothing for shelter last winter. Even with a big hole in the roof at one end, the rest of the barn will provide more shelter than they had last year. We’ll start repairing the floor at the end nearest the house, and stop when we run out of time. We’ll put panels up at the end of the good floor, and that will be where the sheep get to stay for the winter. We only have 7 of them (or will only have 7 by winter). They don’t need very much space to sleep and eat in anyway. The hay has been moved into a much more secure location (thanks to Hector), and we have a plan that will eventually allow easy access to that space for future unloading. And, it’s in the barn – right where we will need it.

You see, this barn was built by folks who knew how a barn was supposed to operate. There’s a large open space where the animals live. I suspect that this space originally had stalls for the draft horses, but that’s just supposition. And there are two very large feed bins. Bins is really not the right word. Imagine rooms approximately the size of a decent living room. But empty with a tunnel over the door. When Grandpa fed the sheep, he fed chopped hay, and the chopped hay was literally dumped into these rooms. The tunnel over the door allowed a person to walk in and scoop what they needed from right by the door. The feed would shift and re-fill the space, always keeping the feed handy, at least until the level dropped. Then you had to go a bit further in. Still, it was a good system, and it works just fine for baled hay too.
It feels like a win that we’re going to be able to salvage a good portion of the building and put it to good use again. It’s been standing for over 100 years. Here’s hoping that with a little rejuvenation and minor (okay sort of major) surgery, it can stand for just a little bit longer.
On another note, this is Sarah’s favorite of the photos she took. She doesn’t really like Steve’s favorite. Anyone want to weigh in with their favorite? We need some neutral voices to break the tie. I’m staying out of it, because I’m just very proud that she took the initiative and then took some great photos.

Predators 14, Steve 6

It was a short night.  I had to stay up late doing work on computer (my fault I procrastinated) and Annmarie woke me up at 0330 thinking she heard the chickens squawking.  I was not really awake.  She got out of bed and saw a raccoon out our back bedroom window.  By the time I got the screen out of the window and she got the flashlight (moon was about 90% full, but not quite enough light to see through a scope) the coon was gone.  I went back to bed while she did the armed perimeter sweep.  We got a twofer!!!  Two teenage raccoons in the trap!  She left them alone and came back in the house.  The rooster started to crow at 0430.  It was hot.  Needless to say I did not sleep well.  So I dispatched the raccoons this morning.  Hopefully, the weekend will see the last of the raccoons vanish.  

Predators 14, Steve 4

Another one bites the dust!  So what is worse than 1 raccoon?  Two.  What is worse than 2 raccoons?  A family!  The one Annmarie killed and the one I dusted this morning were both from this year.  They are the size of a large cat.  A very mean and nasty cat that hisses and spits at you.  So based on my last experience with a raccoon family (I had to kill 2 adults and 6 teenagers) I have a ways to go still.  I looked into an automatic door for the run so that the chickens would be let out of the yard automatically at sunrise and locked in automatically at sunset.  It will cost $200.  I could patch one together for about $60, but it would have exposed parts and subject to more external forces.  We are still discussing the need for one, and do realize that any lapse in memory is going to mean more dead chickens.

I had two “fairy” eggs for breakfast.  They are the first eggs to come out of chickens.  They are typically very small and have no yoke.  I added them into my scrambled eggs.  This is good news.  It means my other 11 chickens are going to start laying soon.  The people at my work will be happy about that.  I haven’t had very many eggs to take to work.

Predators 14, Steve 3

Well this is my catch up post.  We have been very busy with other things and haven’t had time to make a post.  So I am going to try and catch everything up.  For starters I snagged another raccoon in the live trap on Monday night.  I had to go to work very early Tuesday morning so Sarah and Annmarie had to finish it off and take it up to the bone yard to dump off the body.  Of course I managed to lose one more hen in the last week.  I haven’t done an official count in the last week, but I saw a new pile of feathers.  I will do one next week.  So I reset the trap and baited it with dog food tonight when I locked the chickens up.  I have been looking at my new baby chicks and I think I ended up with more roosters than hens.  The chickens are definitely of different sizes now.  I have 7 huge chicks and 4 small ones, plus one normal small showgirl and one showgirl that is so small if I did not know any better I would say she is a brand new chick.  Just tiny!  I played with them for a little while today.  We try and get them used to some handling.  We haven’t had one as friendly as “Wally” our WalMart greeter that got eaten last year.  Wally would jump up on the perch and want to be petted whenever you went into the coop.  She got eaten by a raccoon.

The barn is dug out!!  I am not sure of the total hours exactly, but it is somewhere just over 80 hours.

Hector did a great job.  The barn floor is in real rough shape.  I never could have used a piece of equipment to dig it out.    We did go over our budget by about 50% but it was worth it.  Now I need to work on the floor and supports after I figure out how to get the last 1 inch of sheep crap off of the wood floor so I can tell what is salvageable and what isn’t.  You can see the “dirt” on the wood floor (it is sheep crap).  I tried to use the hose with a spray nozzle, it got about 40% off but that glued on stuff was not coming off.  So I am going to use a pressure washer on it and I am sure it will work.  I will also pop a board up off the floor every 10 feet or so to spray the crap under the barn instead of working it toward an outside door.  Pretty obvious where the crap level was!  
Hector also dug out the attached lean to on the end of the barn.  It was even deeper than the barn as the cows used to get in there and hang out.
So this is all completed now.  It was finished today.  The floor is some menagerie.  I cannot sense any rhyme or reason to the direction of the different floor sections or why there are so many different sections.  Kinda weird.  This section is going to get ripped off so I can use the tin ceiling for the main barn and the wood in the barn.  
This is the pile of crap from the main part of the barn.  In the middle is a path so you can get to the barn.  Once this gets wet I expect those large chunks to turn into a smelly mush.  In a couple of years this will be primo compost!  The metal silver topped building is my chicken coop and the building to the left of that is the old house that we are using as a shed.  It is the shelter for my future wood shop.  You can see by the dryness that Summer is here.  We had a very impressive lightning storm today.  I expect some fires from it.  
This is the pile for the lean to.  All this was removed with a pick ax, shovel and wheelbarrow.  Not easy work, but Hector did a great job and wants more work.  I had a hard time explaining that I had run out of money and he did great work, I just could not afford for him to keep working.  I managed to get it across and wrote his phone number in the wood of the barn with a nail for future reference.  
I took this picture through one of the old barn windows.  They had some heavy duty screen on them.  We are going to screen them again and place wooden shutters inside the barn for ease of operation of the shutters.  I am still not sure if I will use fly screen or just use some hardware cloth (heavy duty mesh wire with 1/2 inch openings).  I figure the bugs can get in anywhere, but the hardware cloth will keep the birds and predators out.  Sarah took this last picture at Sunset the other day.  The longer I look at the picture the more I like it.  The symmetry works, the sky and ground lines line up, let me know what you think of it.  
Sarah’s sunset picture

Barn washing

The main section of the barn is shoveled out.  Hector is now digging out the lean to enclosure.  It is even deeper than the barn.  I went out and spent a couple of hours washing the inside of the barn.  I had to buy some more hose to reach the barn.  The barn floor and walls are covered in sheep shit and it is not easy to get off.  The floor has almost an inch of crap glued to the wood.  I am having a hard time getting it off.  So I will borrow my parents pressure washer and give that a try.  I will have to string a bunch of extensions cords together so I can power the washer.
The floor has 1 inch gaps between each board.  I am sure this is due to shrinkage over the last 100 years.  So I am definitely going to have to do some work on the floor to make it safe for the sheep.  We have about three large holes in the floor.  I figured I would get the crap washed out of the barn then I will crawl under the barn and shore up the foundation.  It is nice and hot here so it won’t take long for the area under the barn to dry out.  Nothing like crawling around on top of sheep poop on my belly and back.  At least it will be dry.  I had to strip outside before coming in the house tonight.  I had wet poop all over me.

I did remember to lock the chickens up tonight.  I had to replace a couple of the yard sprinklers so I can keep the grass green inside the chicken run.  Letting them run around helps immensely.  I planted grass, but the chickens ate most of the seed.  I did get a little to sprout.  We have decided that a door that opens automatically when the sun rises and shuts when it sets is a necessary option.  I will need to order one and wire the coop for power.  Just one more thing to do.

Barn cleanup – leaps and bounds

It is amazing!  The progress is fantastic.  After seeing more of the floor, I am really glad I did not try to drive any piece of equipment into the barn.  It would have fallen through in places.  Hector is out there digging away right now (1000).  Probably another two days.  It will have taken him seven days to dig it out.  I will need to work on the foundation before I can move the wall in.  After surveying the rafters, I am going to have to halve the barn on that side.  The wind tore up the roof support beams that were left for almost another 20 feet.  I hate to make the barn smaller, but in reality it is so much more barn than we will ever use even after it is shrunk.  If we do nothing the barn will disappear by falling apart.  Not a very dignified ending.

Look at the dark patch along the walls.  That was the height of the sheep dung in the barn!  Hector is still digging (1530). I went out and had a conversation with him.  It was an effort in frustration.  He wants to work, as he can see all the stuff that needs to be done on the farm, but I had a hard time communicating that I could not afford him to work all the time.  I got him set up to take a day off tomorrow and come back on Thursday.  He will finish the barn and then dig out the attached lean to on the back side of the barn.  That will let me tear the tin off of that roof and take down that addition to the barn.  I will use the tin over the part above where the sheep will be hanging out.  I truly do understand the importance of mucking out the barn in the Spring now.  I will need to get some straw to use in the winter.

You can see the different levels and layers in the barn here.  I will get a hose and pressure washer out here before I do anything else and get it all cleaned up.  Seems like overkill, but it will make it far easier for me to tell what is good wood and reusable.  Besides once every 100 years the barn can have an inside shower.  See the black mark on the wall?  It is much higher in the back of the barn.  Everything is starting to dry out here.  I have not been watering the lawn (no mower, and sheep have been banished from the yard for eating my roses).  So I tried the age old tactic of not watering.  It helped but I almost killed my grape plant in the back yard.  So I am now watering the yard and starting to drag our hoses to the surrounding sheep pasture to get about 50 yards watered around the house.

Annmarie forgot to lock my chickens up the other night and I think I lost another one.  I have 27 hens now and 1 rooster.  This doesn’t include the 13 babies I just got a couple of weeks ago.  Predators are not my friends this year.  If only I could keep a weed eater going…

Here is a picture of the fields I just took yesterday.  We have cheat grass everywhere!!

The grass is greener….

So, apparently our sheep are dissatisfied with their pasture. Before Steve went to work, he chased a ewe and one of her lambs back inside the fence. This morning, I looked out the kitchen window and noticed two of the adult sheep laying out on the hillside next to the fence. It was already pretty warm, and the rest of the sheep were huddled against the woodshed or under the bridge. It was kind of odd to see these two out in the sun. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard the coffee girls in a while. They are quite vocal usually. So, I went out and checked, and sure enough, Long Tail and coffee girls were outside the fence. Speckle-butt was still inside the fence, but was apparently keeping Long Tail company while they all cooked their brains. I opened the gate and walked the wayward children back in. They rushed right over to the shade of the tree by the chicken coop and rested for a while. They appear to have recovered quite well, and the coffee girls are once again talking.

A little before 7:00, I was on my way down to Mom’s for some conversation and coffee, and I noticed that Short Tail was acting quite agitated, and her boys were not near her as they usually are. Then I noticed some unusual movement in the tall grass near the cars – definitely outside the fence. Of course it was Lucky and Darky, Short Tail’s boys. There was not a convenient gate this time, so I just urged them back towards the fence, and they wiggled under in what was most likely the same place the came through the first time. Now, the feed is a little dry, no doubt, but it’s no drier than anywhere else. Still, we’ll start a sprinkler next week.
On the barn front, our laborer returned today and made more great progress. He cleared another 12 feet or so today. I am absolutely thrilled with how much he’s getting done. And he’s gladly coming back tomorrow too. Conversation is a bit of a challenge, and even something as simple as “have a good evening” does not apparently translate well. Now, I have a tiny tiny bit of Spanish, but I don’t ever recall the phrase I need until after I’m back in the house and we’ve stumbled through with what little English he has. We manage, but it’s not easy. Still, we get the important points through. And, he’s an incredibly hard worker and seems truely happy for the job, so everyone wins.