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.