Let there be light

The weather station is still working 24 hours later. Annmarie will have to figure out why its not talking to the Weather Underground as she is the go to electronics fixer.

When I went out to the barn this morning we only had one more lamb, a single, that makes the second single we have had this lambing season. I am counting as it has been very few this time. I got the new mom and baby over to the momma area and I used the isolated ewe’s lamb as bait and she walked through the whole crowd of sheep to go over into the chute system allowing me to move her into the momma area.

Annmarie and I have been talking about what we can do to better divide up the barn during lambing. One of the things we started this time in earnest was figuring out how to move a wall in the main part of the barn therefore expanding the momma baby area as lambs are born. We still need to keep the chute intact to allow us to get the sheep in and out of the barn. We went to Premier1fencing website today and ordered all the stuff. I will need to cut two 16′ 3×3 in panels into four foot sections and we will be ready. This will make it possible for us to just create a moving wall with gates in it for easy access throughout the barn. We probably have 50 bungee cords in use in the barn. When you have to jump over the wall or undo the bungees its easier to jump over. I only almost fell on my face twice. The nice part is there is a thick layer of poop impregnated straw just waiting to pad the fall. It would be more humiliating than anything.

If you look closely at the side of the grain bin in the below picture you will see our new Dewalt rechargeable light. I bought it as a Santa gift for Annmarie. It is incredibly bright and makes it a dream to work out in the dark. I was trying to figure out how to install boards everywhere to clamp it on when we accidentally discovered it has magnets! (Annmarie read the directions) She discovered it would stick to the grain bin fantastically so today I went out and used an old piece of tin and made metal pads throughout the barn on various walls.

You can see two of them on this wall at both ends of the picture. I installed five of these on opposite walls. The one end has the metal grain bin to mount on and the other side has a 2×6 that the light can be clamped onto. We can now move the light all around the inside of the barn. It is so cool we may get a second one and I can put off installing solar panels and a 12V electric system for another 3-5 years. Its rechargeable so we can just bring it inside the house and recharge it. We have had it a week and it is just as bright as ever. We typically only use it 30-60 minutes a day.

The chickens are enjoying the back hillside today. It is truly amazing to realize its almost January and we still have green grass on the hillside. You can see the weather station on the right end of the wood shed. We are getting a great wireless signal from it.

Joining the Collective

It was weather day today. We bought a weather station for the farm. We wanted one that would track and trend our weather and after further research we decided that connecting to the Weather Underground so that our data flowed into a national database was beneficial for all parties. The best part of the one we got is that it connects directly to the internet via our modem. It doesn’t have to go through our computer. This would not have been possible without our investment in fiber optic cable directly to the house and a business account.

Annmarie and I had already discussed where we were going to mount the weather station, the wood shed. We had not quite decided on where we were going to attach it. After further reading this morning I discovered we could mount it on 3/4″ pipe. It also said we should use lithium batteries for optimal performance and for any temperatures below -5F. So I ran to town for 10′ of pipe and some eyelets and some J bolts. I had to call Annmarie out to the shed as I wanted to mount it in the middle, then I wanted to mount it on the near end, Annmarie wanted it mounted on the far end. I mounted it on the far end. I had to drill a hole in the roof, insert the pipe from the roof side and then J bolt it in place after leveling it. I then had to put up two support boards inside to keep the main bolted support in place. The final step was to put the weather station on top of the pipe. Unfortunately, the pipe is now seven feet above the roofline and I had to move my ladder to a slanted hillside. I thought I had it supported when I climbed up to the top of the ladder but I felt it shift. I needed to find due South for the solar cells to maximize their output but I could not find the compass app on my phone! My legs were shaking the wind was picking up and making the ladder move and I kept envisioning me falling from 20 feet up in the air and counting as a trauma activation patient at work. I finally had to use the search function in desperation to find the compass. I got it in place and secured and got down as fast as I could. Annmarie got it all set up inside the house and even managed to put it on our WordPress blog site. It should be live in the next 24 hours.

It was my turn to go out and work the sheep. We had talked about moving panels around to create a bigger baby area as we are expecting 80 babies. So I moved panels around and found two old wooden gates up in the loft of the barn to bungee into a temporary wall. It is fairly obvious that I will need to weld three custom length panels to make it so that we can easily do this in the future. We will be able to store the panels on the walls so they will be available whenever we need them. I will do it out of 3×3 mesh to keep the panels as light as possible. Or I could just buy the twirly spiral hinges Annmarie wants and cut four foot sections of paneling and put them together in any order we want. That sounds like a more reasonable plan and actually doable.

We did not have any more babies today and the lone ewe still only has one baby. I just think our sheep are super fat this year. We have started to cut back a little on their feed. Hopefully, tomorrow we will have another spurt in babies.

Lambs squared

Annmarie said the sunrise was beautiful. I was inside nursing a cup of coffee and doing the dishes while she went out to check on the lambs. It has been 44 hours since our last post and we have only had one lamb born in that time frame. Honestly, sometimes the life of the farmer will make you crazy. The timeline is not set by you, its set by the animals and the weather. Even after all these years I want to drink coffee and take it slow in the morning and Annmarie has already been out to the barn and is now making us mashed potato, ham and onion pancakes for breakfast while I “blog it”.

The last 24 hours has been full of those teaching moments. Thursday night I woke up to Annmarie hollering “Chickens!” Followed by a slap to the chest. We sleep with the windows open year round and so when something is picking on the chickens we usually hear their death squawks, it is a very distinct scream. We have an automatic chicken door, if the stupid chickens would just go inside the coop before it gets dark then they would be perfectly safe. I have been getting eggs on a more regular basis but I don’t go out every night. I have noticed over the last two weeks that 1-5 chickens are protesting and refusing to head back to the coop until the automatic door is already shut. When I do go out and notice them I throw them inside the coop, unfortunately I don’t always go out and the predators seem to be more reliable than me when it comes to visiting the coop.

I leapt out of bed and grabbed my glasses and almost ran downstairs naked, but its cold outside and the death knell had already been sounded so I figured there was no saving the chicken. I grabbed the first bathrobe I could and ended up with a thigh high robe and headed downstairs in my slippers and robe to confront another chicken destroyer. I grabbed the trusty laser sight Walther P22 pistol and ran out the front door. I went right for the coop via the front yard. I wanted to catch the varmint in action! I spotted feathers as soon as I got out of the yard, there was a trail leading out of the coop yard door headed toward the barn. I started following the feather trail in hopes of finding the cause of said trail. I went over by the barn, looked in the front creek, flashed light over the hillsides and under barn to no avail. I headed back to the barn and spotted a chicken over by the old house. It was the source of the feathers and it was still alive! So I decided to leave it and complete my patrol. The last place to look was over on the dry creek side of the old house that runs behind our house. A HUGE fat raccoon was waddling away and he was already about 60 feet away. I quickly discovered a few problems. When you shine the super bright flashlight on the object of your desire, you cannot see the laser dot. 60 feet is a long way to shoot a pistol at a moving target and after three shots there is so much smoke, your super bright flashlight now makes it look like light is emanating from your head. To combat this shroud of light surrounding me I pointed the flashlight way off to one side and focused the laser dot near said enemy and blasted some more. All in all I hit nothing, Annmarie is now ribbing me about my shooting accuracy and just going out and plinking is not the same thing. So after the sheep are done lambing I will be going out after dark with my trusty Walther P22 pistol and shooting at my target in the dark with a flashlight only. I may have to resort to doing it in a bathrobe and slippers or just the slippers to mimic my combat environment. The battle was lost but the ongoing war is not yet decided. I will not give up!

So as soon as I get home yesterday I am walking down the sidewalk and Annmarie hollers from the barn that she needs some help. I expected this as we were going to try and go to the movies. The next words out of her mouth brought dread to my head. She cackles “you better bring the shoulder gloves”. There is only one reason to grab the gloves, someone needs help birthing a lamb. I have only had to assist twice in eight years and so far I have a ewe survival rate of 50%. Annmarie and I have this discussion every time I think I am going to have to pull a lamb out. I don’t like it. She says her dad did it all the time. I tell her she grew up on the farm so she should do it. She tells me I have helped deliver human babies so I have more experience. I tell her they are in no way the same as you don’t need a shoulder glove to help with a human birth! She then states I have done it twice already so am the more experienced as she has never done it so I get to do it again. This is typically done with me laying on the barn floor and Annmarie holding the ewe down. I dread it every time it comes up, we have the exact same conversation every time and every time I end up wearing the glove. I grabbed two gloves just in case and went out to the barn.

She had isolated one ewe and her single baby. The baby was huge and she was worried that a second baby was stuck. The mother was active, interactive with her lamb and eating and drinking. I told Annmarie I don’t go in until the situation is desperate. This was no where near desperate, personal crisis averted. We fed and watered the rest of the sheep, Annmarie had already rearranged the barn and added in the two wire gates. We will do some more pen building today.

After the movies I had to go out to the barn in the pouring rain to check on that ewe and her baby. Luckily I got some new mud boots this week and going through the mud pit to get to the barn is pleasant. I keep tying to plant some kind of grass or cover that will last the summer but this rock bluff gets parched and hot and everything dies in the summer.

Every picture has baby lambs hidden all over the place!

Lambies are here

The quail have discovered our yard. We like this as we get to see them and the dogs seem to ignore them. The only real problem is our very large living room windows look out onto the yard. The stupid quail think they can fly through the window! I heard a large crash in the living room and ran into it from the kitchen, there were feathers on the window but by the time I got to the window the cat had already managed to pounce on one stunned quail and bit it in the neck killing it. I saved the other one but it had broke its neck and was dead so I didn’t really save its life. We would love to have 50+ quail flying around all over the farm, instead we have about 15 now flying around and we are two more short now.

I snagged this picture of all the pregnant ewes the day before they started popping out babies. They were very interested in eating as much hay as possible and ignoring me. I had just thrown out another bale of straw a few days before this picture.

The lambs are coming fast and furious now! Annmarie is on winter break from her job and is going out to the barn three times a day to deal with all the new babies. We have had one ewe deliver one baby, one triplets and one quadruplet. We have only had to bummer out one lamb and he was from a twin set. The mother is not very good about raising more than one lamb. We need to cull her. The quadruplets seem to now be triplets and the fourth lamb is now with one of our older mothers that only had a single baby. She is now nursing two lambs and everyone is very happy. So we have 16 lambs and 8 ewes feeding them. We still have 30-32 ewes left to give birth. We usually have about a 135% birth rate but we are over 200% now. If we keep that up we will end up with 80 lambs and 40 ewes! That is a lot of sheep. I will be super happy with a 150% birth rate. In a couple more days we will start letting the older babies go outside with their mommas into our limited outside newborn enclosure. This is our set of triplets. All the babies but three are solid chocolate brown. Three of them are spotted white and brown and very cute. One of those is a girl as I checked while getting lamb snuggles today. We may keep her. Her mother is super relaxed and calm which is what we are looking for in a breeder ewe. Annmarie and I went to town tonight and got two 8 foot gates so we could use them in the barn. Annmarie wants to order some twisty hinges from our sheep products supply company and I will be cutting 4×16 foot 3 inch square panels into 4×4 foot sections for her to arrange in any pattern her heart desires. The small panels make it easy to move parts all around the barn. I will need to grind off the sharp edges after I cut them with bolt cutters. We will order the twisty things when we order some liquid marking paint. Our hope is the ewes all have their babies in the next seven days.

It will only take 20 minutes

Three days before Christmas and the ground is green and the soil is moist, this is not a normal December for our location. I keep hoping we will get a brutal two week cold spell down to single digits. I am afraid of what will happen with the bugs this upcoming summer. I think they will be horrible.

We had decided that we were going to finally have lambs soon. Since we were making the Christmas dinner the feeling was we would get inundated that morning. So on Saturday Annmarie and I went out to the barn for 20 minutes to move the ram over into the bull enclosure. I went to get panels from the large hay bale pile and Annmarie set up panels in the momma enclosure. I used the tractor to haul 7 panels over into the barn lot and then we hooked the panels together creating an alley way to the bull enclosure. I was one panel short so we pulled over a 16 foot cow panel that was stored over against the barn fence.

We sorted sheep using the chute in the barn and got the ram and three young females off the main herd. None of the females are pregnant and can hang out with him in the separate enclosure. We have learned not to put the animals by themselves as they just don’t do very well, always anxious and trying to get through the fence.

The ram with his three females. They were super happy as no animal had been inside the enclosure for over two months allowing the grass to grow undisturbed. We spent 2.5 hours moving and sorting animals!

I needed to clean out both cars as they both have engine lights on but Annmarie’s car seems to have an electronic ghost. Mine just has an engine light. I got a recall notice last week saying it can be a fuel tank indicator that can cause this and the part won’t be available until the spring of 2019.

I had a friend give me some old Toyota truck snow tires and I used the tractor to lift my trailer and change out the tires. I was pleasantly surprised when the tires fit the trailer. We are back in business and I loaded the trailer up with alfalfa from the machine shed. I will store it under cover in the lamb shed. I can feed the ram out of it and it will be available when I need to start feeding the cows small bales. I have 6 large bales left to feed the cows then I will be using the trailer to feed them small bales of alfalfa. The nice thing is I can pull the trailer with my tractor and get another three bales of hay in the front bucket.

Once I got the trailer into the lamb shed I used the 3 point quick hitch to lift it off of the ball. I hooked the safety chains into the hooks and then just lifted it off. This was very slick, now if only it will be that easy when I go to hook it back up.

I had to go feed and take care of my chickens. I had to carry another 100# of feed out to them. I noticed that the enclosure door was broken. One of the sheep got stuck in the enclosure and she just kept ramming her body against the fence in several places. She broke off one of the 4×4 posts. I ended up installing eyehooks and then using chain and a self tightener to pull the broken post into place. The only real issue is you have to pick your feet up when crossing the door threshold. I happened to spot all these hand grinders on the old house back porch. This doesn’t include the three sets we have inside the house.

I am going to have to install a couple of new posts in the chicken fence and rip out about 50% of it. I no longer need it all around the entire coop. The chickens are free range anyways.

I was supposed to take Annmarie out for her birthday dinner and had managed to keep an outside fire burning for three days. I was burning scrap wood, cardboard and branches that the wind had blown out of the trees. We had no wind for that entire time and when we went to go out to dinner the wind had picked up and was throwing hot coals 20-30 feet.

Annmarie made me put it out before we left for dinner. I actually managed to get the entire thing out and cooled so the wind did not restart it while we were gone.