Back deck progressing

Garden area ready for gravel

It occurred to me this morning after rereading my blog entry from last night that I was not very eloquent.  One may say I was downright dry and factual.  That is what happens after only three hours of sleep in 36 hours.  I usually upload the pictures to the blog on the same day I do the work, but most of the time wait a day or two to write the discourse.  This bites me in the proverbial butt when I am busy and working around the farm on a daily basis.  I don’t like to get too far behind hence my dry diatribe last evening.  I will forthwith correct my lackluster litany. 

Friday, I went to the dreaded Home Depot with Annmarie.  I needed some boards for the heat pump enclosure and Heath was out back digging up the garden area.  So progress was being made while I went shopping.  We picked up the cedar boards for the enclosure and two sets of risers for the stairs, a two and three stepper.  They are not cheap, but I did not want to cut them!!  I also picked up some pressure treated 2×12 for the actual steps.  I am still not sure how I am going to attach them to the concrete yet.  There area multitude of ways, and I have not settled on the easiest way yet.  I will probably just assemble the steps and see how they fit then decide how to attach them.  Annmarie wanted to go look at closet kits.  I will be putting in a real closet kit in our walk in closet soon.  It is coming.  We got a smattering of rain yesterday, not enough to do anything but hopefully the mountains that are burning up will get some precipitation.  I had big plans on going out and painting the front fence but it is starting to look like rain again.  Since the stain is water soluble, I don’t think that will be a good idea.  I will check the weather forecast.  I may have to finish cleaning up the garden area by the back gate.  There is a pile of dirt there that needs to be moved then the dirt on the backside of the fence needs to be raked out and flattened. 

Back deck/elevated garden area.

Back deck heat pump view

I had the nephew out again this week for three days.  I had him finish digging the front ditch.  We do still have a little bit of water, it isn’t much but it is still present.  I have decided to make the back deck a priority.  We finished digging it out and I installed the new rock wall.  Unfortunately, I was being a cheapskate and did not purchase the blocks that you can stack vertically and have a ceramic pin holding them all together in a single vertical wall.  They were $9/each and I could not spend it.  Instead I bought the $1.79 blocks and had to overlap them.  This necessitated some gravel behind the blocks to hold them in place.  I had the entire rock wall done, stood back and looked at my handiwork and realized that the heat pump was going to be an eye sore.  There is no easy way to move the heat pump so that means hiding it in such a way that air can still flow around the heat pump.  I had to tear the wall out again and then move it out of the way to dig some post holes for the decorative wall.  I dug and set the posts and then reinstalled the rock wall.  I did not have any boards for the louvers so that will be a trip to Home Depot.  Heath filled in behind the blocks with gravel.  I built a channel to protect the power and coolant lines. 

Brick wall up, now just need to add gravel and compact.

Buried concrete for clothes line.

We struggled with getting the clothes line out of the ground.  I had to use the tractor to bend the steel angle iron back and forth long enough it caved in and broke.  I knew there was some concrete buried.  I had no idea it was over three feet long and 18 inches thick.  It took quite a while to get out and it was the maximum the tractor could lift.  I accidently cut the fence trying to put it on the other side.  Now I will have to patch the hole.  I had to shorten the water box so it would stick lower than anything else.  That way we don’t stub our toes on it when walking across the pea gravel floor.  I am going to use paver sand with epoxy to pour over the pea gravel to make it a solid surface.  I purchased the two sets of stair risers so I would not have to cut them myself.  I would be happy if I could get it all done this week except the for the pea gravel. 

Stuck again.

Stuck again.

I spent the morning getting my alpaca shears sent back to the company.  I wanted to save time on the repair job so two weeks ago I ordered the new shear head and comb screws.  They came late last week and yesterday afternoon I finally attempted to install them.  I got all my needed tools, could not find the owners manual so my ipad and the internet came to the rescue and I camped out on the old house porch.  Five minutes into tearing it apart and cleaning it I realized there was a reason that Premier said these need to be sent back to the company for repair.  The shear head has a bearing seated in it.  I did not know this and did not order a spare bearing.  I called this morning and got directions on how to send it back and where to send it.  Hopefully, I will get it in a couple of weeks.  I left a note detailing what was broken and how 3.5 of my 8 alpaca were sheared.  I am hoping my sad story will expedite the repair. 

I was thinking about staining the fence but it was too hot.  I washed the fence off yesterday and Annmarie is supposed to be getting me another gallon of stain today.  It needs to be five degrees cooler.  Instead I fired up the mistress and went out into the orchard to flatten out the mud and dirt piles from the backhoe.  On the North side of the large tree I had great success, the South side had multiple large piles of mud.  These were not dry and the tractor kept getting stuck.  I managed to  spread it out in a semblance of flat.  This will let it dry out faster and allow me to work it flat in the next week.  I went near the house were the bowl shaped earth was and filled it in.  It filled in nicely and was just going to make one pass right along the ditch bank.  The ditch bank was not firm, not at all.  Both my front and rear tire dropped down into the ditch and I could not get the tractor out.  I will have to wait until Thursday when I can pull the pickup around and then have someone pull while I drive the tractor.  There is always something. 
We have opened up all our pastures for the cows, sheep and horses to go wherever they want.  The feed is very dry so we wanted them to find the best feed available.  The horses seem to be hanging with the sheep.  The cows stay to themselves.   

Almost flat enough.

Needs to dry out some more so I can make a second pass

Catching up.

Front ditch cleaned out with backhoe.

chute gate #1

Friday, I got a phone call telling me the backhoe was fixed!  I was at work but I made plans to get the ditch finished on Saturday.  Saturday rolled around and we had to go yard sale exploring.  Our local town has a community days one weekend a year and everyone in town has a yard sale.  We went to over 20 yard sales in four hours.  I love to get yard tools but this year it was mostly clothes and none my size. Last year I found five pair of newer blue jeans!  I am still wearing those but they are starting to show farm wear.  After we ate an entire plate of fresh fries and some barbecue pork we came home so I could fire up the backhoe and dig out the ditch.  I dug out the ditch and knocked down the berm alongside the ditch.  I want to flatten it all out so I can use my little tractor to clean it out.  The backhoe is so large I had no luck using the bucket to flatten out the dirt.  It was mud in places and I kept trying to get the backhoe stuck.  I finally gave up and figured I would use the small tractor.  I am pretty good now using it to level the ground, lots of practice. I will let the mud dry out a little so I can drive the little tractor on the mud pile safely.  I parked the backhoe up by the driveway so I could hose it off. 

Monday after cleaning the mud off the backhoe I tried to start it.  No go, it just beeped at me and no lights came on.  I called for advice and was asked if I left the key on.  I said no, then was informed the ignition switch is very sensitive.  I asked where the battery was and three bolts later had the charger plugged up to the batteries.  It was the batteries.  They were sucking juice down as fast as they could.

Chute gate#2 painted

 That left me with wire brushing the two corral chute gates, priming them and then painting them.  They cut down each end of an existing damaged gate from the scrapyard.  Gate #1 will be used for the loading end of the chute.  Gate #2 will be used inside the chute as it has an opening mechanism on the top of the gate, making it safer to manipulate with animals in the chute.  I used green because that was the color the hardware store had.  I really wanted red but no luck.  I am sure they will get scratched up soon enough, but they look mighty good now.  I did not spray any clear coat on them. 

Pump work done ready for test.

irrigation pond is getting mossed out.

Since the clippers are broken and the parts are on order it was time to get back to making the irrigation pump work.  I had my nephew climb into the pond and clean out the moss and green growing things out of the pond.  I worked on the pump.  I installed a new 1.5 inch valve on the prime line side and cleaned out the pressure switch enclosure.  I had to spray some more hornets as they were nesting on the bottom of the pump housing.  I had to take off the foot valve and clean it out.  I broke a collar used to hold the inlet pipe onto the pump.  Since this is the second thing I have over tightened in a week, Annmarie has pointed out that I need to start moderating my strength. Not a problem I have had in the past. All the dead thistles were cleaned out and I took the tractor and spread out the now dried mud pile from the new irrigation pond.  I did put a cover over the hole in an attempt to fill the pond so I can test the pump.  It needed to be straightened out slightly so I used the back of a very large pipe wrench as a hammer and the concrete weir as an anvil.  I got it mostly straightened but there is a 1/4 inch gap on one side.  I don’t know if the pond will fill with this small leak.  I am thinking about splitting an old hose lengthwise and putting it around the edge of the metal cover to act like a gasket.  I will check on the pond in a few days.  If the water were running faster the small leak would not matter.  There is hardly any water running at this point.

 We stopped for lunch and I checked the outside temperature, 98 degrees in the shade.  We cannot shear the alpaca and the pump pond needs some filling time so it was on to another project.

North side of barn lot culvert crossing.

The barn lot culvert crossing still needed to be finished.  Heath had moved rocks over near the crossing last month.  So we went out into the heat at 1:00 pm.  Heath brought a gallon jug of water 2/3 full and I brought a little 16 oz plastic bottle half full.  The first thing I did was toss my water into the front creek to keep it cold.  I took the north side of the project and Heath took the south side.  After every layer of rocks were placed I would pile up dirt with the tractor and then spread it out and drive back and forth to compact it down.  After my water ran out I went upstream of the culvert, cleaned out a small spot of rocks and moss and started filling my container from the spring.  It was amazing!  Nice and cold and fresh from the source.  I did get a little dirt but not enough to make me think I was drinking cowboy coffee.  Heath was not having any of it and did not partake of the thirst quenching goodness emanating from the ground.  Annmarie has been telling me for years the spring is safe to drink from and just this last two years I have come to believe her.  I have been drinking from the front creek several times this year and have never been sick.

 We just kept after going, it was hot and nasty.  The rocks just kept getting heavier and heavier.  I know Heath was seriously considering whether it was worth the wage he was making.  He was tired when we were done!  I went inside after completion and added salt to my entire meal, then after a few bites doubled down on more salt.  After dinner I asked Annmarie to pop some popcorn.  She insisted she salt it.  Normally, it is so salty most people don’t like it.  I got my own pile and doubled down on the salt again.  About 2/3 of the way through the popcorn I started to taste the salt.  It made me gag.  We should have quit moving rocks in the sun two hours into the project.  It was 102 degrees when we came into the house 4.5 hours later.  Eventually, I may learn to slow down and take things easier but I am not quite there.  The crossing looks great and now I can pull a trailer straight across and not have to drive through the spring.  The animals love it.  This fall after it starts to rain some I will put a layer of gravel over the crossing.  It is so dry and dusty now I am afraid the gravel will just disappear without doing any good. 

South side of barn lot culvert crossing.

Trumpet vine outside the house, covered in honey bees.

Alpaca chaos

This is what happens when the trimmer head breaks!

There are still 7 alpaca left to shear. I had my nephew come out to help me shear. I have a few days off work and figured I could get them all done in three days. We left the five volunteers in the barn lot so the rest would be easy to catch.  We started with another white one, they are the most vocal and not my favorite color so I figured practicing on them was good for everyone else.  We snagged one without too much trouble and got him into our shearing area and up against the panel.  We finally laid him on the ground and tied his back feet up.  It went much faster after that.  It took me 2.25 hours to shear him!  This is a dramatic improvement over Saturday’s three hour time, to be exact a 25% improvement.  Pretty good, we also managed to save the saddle portion of this alpaca in a gunny sack.  Unfortunately for the alpaca it came at a cost.  I cut him four times with the electric shears.  The bleeding stopped right away and they were all superficial but it still stung.  Plus, when I trimmed his toes I made one bleed pretty good.  Their toes are way overgrown.  I don’t think the place we got them from did anything with them last year.  So we are playing 2 year catchup.  The shears worked better as I changed the top cutting blade.  We took a break and went inside for lunch.  I had to put Zeke on the run at this time as he had been harassing the alpaca against my strict instructions.  After being chased off the alpaca he had cornered the boy sheep in the ram pasture.  He was not complying with the leave animals alone unless instructed policy.  He spent the entire afternoon on the run watching us but unable to terrorize anyone. 


Alpaca #3, it’s easier when they are tied down.

Volunteer number three was the last white boy.  He was not so easy to hold onto.  We finally managed to get him over to the shearing tarp but could not hold him still.  He just would not comply. This one we tied both his front and back feet to opposite rails of the corral.  Heath then held his head while I sheared.  I saved the saddle area in a wool bag and then finished him up in two hours!  This is a 9% improvement over the previous best time and a 33% improvement over our starting time on Saturday.  I managed to only cut him 3 times.  He let me know by trying to kick me every time I knicked him!  The previous one just laid there and took it.  I also did not draw any blood while trimming the toes.  I use the trimmers to dig out all the dirt and crap out of the center of the claws so I can see where the frog is growing in the hollow space so I don’t cut it with the toenail clippers.  It takes a little longer but I am happy not cutting their feet.  I could have done better on time if I had changed out the clipper blades.  I was cutting too long with a dull blade. 

He’s untied and refusing to stand so I can finish his feet.

It was time for some color, we only have two brown alpaca left to shear.  We snagged the all brown one and once I put the halter on him he dropped to his haunches and refused to move!  We had to drag him toward the tarp.  Once in a while he would explode from a sitting position and jump in the air with all four feet.  Looked like a bucking bronco who ended up laying on the ground when it was all over.  We spread him out and tied the front and back legs. I had accidently overtightened one of the blade set screws.  The video said to tighten them.  I stripped the screw out on one side.  I changed to a full set of new blades, top and bottom.  It worked amazingly.  I was a shearing fool, the only problem was the comb would not stay on the shears because one side was not holding pressure.  It was 4:30 pm our time so I called premier supplies to order the new part.  Nope, they close at 5:30 pm CST.  I did find the part I needed in the owners manual and should be able to get them to ship it ASAP.  I also need some more blades.  The super smooth part on the brown alpaca in the picture is done with a ceramic cutting blade.  The stainless steel are not as sharp, but you can get them resharpened.  The ceramic blades are disposable and cost more.  I had to quit shearing less than half way through.  We did get his toenails clipped before letting him back in with the volunteer herd.  I saved half the saddle.  My back was starting to kill me.  I now have to have a shearing table!  Unfortunately, I will not be buying one at a price tag of $1500.  Annmarie found me the plans for one online and I can build it for around $200.  It is made out of black iron threaded pipe and a full sheet of 3/4 inch plywood.  Plus some canvas for the belly strap.  I am totally going to do this!  Tomorrow night I will make myself a parts list so I can start purchasing the needed material.  No more bending over!  The bad part is I still need to trim teeth.   This is the worst part of alpaca care.  I am saving it so my buddy Rob can help!  He loves handling the animals.  Tomorrow will be work on irrigation day.  I have not tested the main irrigation pump yet. 

Alpaca madness

Just getting started.

Today was the day we were going to bust out the shearing on eight alpaca.  We had a plan, I had attempted to recruit help but it failed miserably so it was just Annmarie and I.  I had to stop and pickup some tent stakes and a wire saw at D and B store before coming home.  When I got home I went upstairs to change but could not find any work pants.  I like the cargo pants as you can fill them up with various handy small tools.  I just grabbed a pair of blue jeans out of the drawer.  All blue jeans are work pants!  I then went down to the dining room and watched a you tube video on how to install cutter heads onto the electric shear we purchased off of Craigslist several months ago.  After 6 minutes I had the head on and adjusted correctly per the video with the understanding that when in use I would need to “find the sweet spot” of tightness to get the cutters at their optimum performance, I love technical terms.  I then went out and put out four flakes of hay in the barn lot and opened up the gates so I could run the alpacas from the orchard into the ram pasture then into the back barn lot then into the front barn lot then into the corral.  It sounded simple enough, we do it all the time with the sheep.  I had strung an extension cord from the front yard up to the corral and gotten some tools and the dremel.  I went over and started to gently coax the alpaca toward the gate into the ram pasture.  Now mind you I was not ready to shear yet as I needed to stake out the canvas tarp and get the hoof trimmers and a hacksaw and install a eye ring into the top of the one of the corral posts.  Annmarie spotted me and asked me if maybe I should be ready to shear the alpaca before getting them all riled up. 

When all else fails, this stops forward movement.

So I went back and got everything ready.  We both then went to get the alpaca.  We managed to get them right in front of the open gate into the ram pasture and they simply would not go through it!  So I went back to the barn and got some sticks.  We use them as arm extensions.  We got them all balled up near the gate opening again and they would not go through, no matter how much poking and prodding we did, until they started escaping.  So the plan to shear does not work if you cannot catch an animal.  We followed them and ended up with five of them on the hillside with fence on one side and front spring ditch on the other side.  Annmarie asked me if they would jump the ditch.  I said “sure, I see them on both sides of the ditch all the time”, after further questioning it was determined that I may have not actually seen them jump the ditch. I jumped the ditch and we cornered them near the end of the fence.  I had a brand new five foot wooden neck crook and was going to hook one then grab it.  This did not work for me earlier as I was staring intently at said alpaca every time I got close to one.  They can smell a predator from fifty feet away!  This time Annmarie told me not to stare and maybe just go with the trusty two handed hair grab technique I had perfected this winter.  The tried and true sounded good after several failures.  I waded in slowly not looking at any beast and then leaped on the nearest victim.  I had two handfuls of hair on the first grab and quickly worked my way up to the neck and head to control the lucky volunteer.  Annmarie put a harness on it and started to “lead”, drag it toward the barn.  I opened the gate and of course half the alpaca wanted to sneak out with us.  We thought they would follow.  Nope, they ran away the opposite direction.  Zeke and I went and chased them back while Annmarie led the volunteer.  He decided at one point that pulling on the lead was not working so sitting on the ground does stop forward momentum.  She managed to get him going again and into the barn lot. I just pointed the other four alpaca in that direction and they followed the volunteer right into the barn lot.  I closed the gate and now we had the first five participants in our little learning exercise. 

Those are my pants! Only about 2.5 hours into the first alpaca shearing.

We kept trading off the shearing.

We tied him up to the ring and started shearing.  It is not easy and we were pretty timid to start out as we did not want to cut him with the shears.  That “sweet spot” on the shears is very hard to find.  I spent a lot of time screwing around with the shears.  We were trying to save the fleece, after the first 30 minutes we decided that just getting the old fleece off was the most important task and salvaging any thing was not going to happen.  I trimmed two feet somewhere in the middle of all this with minimum trouble.  I nicked the blood vessel on the third foot and made his toenail bleed a little.  I did the final foot with no blood.  I noticed Annmarie wearing my favorite work pants about one hour into the process.  It took us three hours!  It is hard work and the sun was beating down.  Annmarie ended up with sun burns to both upper arms.  We had to continuously go back over our cuts to get a better cut.  It is a very hard skill and one I am not sure I will be able to master.  That $30/animal they were charging to shear is looking like a better deal.  We expected the hair to get cleaner closer to the skin but the alpaca just kept getting dirtier.  He really needed a bath by the time we were all done.  I still need to cut off his front teeth and check his fighting teeth but I was unsure how to do that.  I had to go watch more you tube videos!!  I locked all five animals in the barn lot and opened it up so they can get to the back barn lot and the front spring.  I hope to start shearing again on Tuesday. 
As an added bonus, Annmarie spotted another set of new twin baby sheep they are less than five days old and I walked over to them and there are no ear tags.  So they are definitely new since we tagged last.  One more thing to catch up on.  I need to get the animals sheared then I can go back to the irrigation pump. 

I think it is a crazed rabbit!! A Giant Filthy JackRabbit!!