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.

White Christmas

Surprisingly we woke up to a white Christmas here in Eastern Oregon. When we went to bed there was no snow, we woke up and viola snow!

I was on turkey duty so Annmarie and Sarah went out to take care of the sheep first thing in the morning. There was a set of triplets in addition to the twins that were born the evening before. The mother did well once we got her in the separate enclosure and her biggest baby could quit following everyone else around the barn and concentrate on her.

We knew the sheep would start popping babies out left and right since we had not had a ram in with them at all for six months prior to us dropping the new ram in with them. We have never had this many ewes this close together before. Our goal was to get lambing over with quickly. Here’s hoping it goes smoothly. So far its a bunch of little brown babies!The snow didn’t last until the next day but it did last most of Christmas Day.

Little bit windy

It’s been a long week. I am playing catch up and the weather is not really cooperating. Our door latch from Ukraine came this week and it fit perfectly! I was able to get it above the door knob without having to move the knob and I was able to use the hole I accidentally drilled through the door frame 10 years ago. It was almost like I had planned this ten years ago! I talked to Annmarie and I think she is going to print me a plastic bushing on the 3D printer that I can slide into the wooden hole so the door latch doesn’t widen the wooden hole. It is amazing what you can find on the internet these days and have shipped directly to your home. So now none of the dogs can get into the craft room, same for little kids.

The weather has been very strange all week, we have horrible winds. They are sustained around 25-40 MPH with gusts over 70 MPH. Luckily the place is old and has survived 95+MPH winds. The stuff damaged in that wind storm has been repaired or torn down since that occurred right after we had moved in. I have been careful since then to make sure that all stuff is over built due to the unpredictability of our weather and the wind. The wind blows all winter long usually, just not this hard. Our new windows always bow and flex in the wind so we are always surprised at how well they do, none have ever broke in a wind storm. The temperature is over 50 degrees F, which is absurd for a winter in Eastern Oregon. Luckily, our front spring fed creek has been rising steadily over the last two months so there is water going into the ground somewhere.

I started patching all the old curtain rod holder holes in the walls this weekend. I want to get them patched, primed and painted before Christmas. One less eye sore in the downstairs area and one step closer to having a completed main floor. My current dilemma is I cannot find the door to the closet that I removed when doing the floor. At this point I really think I tossed it onto the burn pile and lit it on fire. This sucks but I cannot find it and have dug all around the house with no success. One more thing I am going to have to duplicate. I will finish getting the pictures up on the wall soon also. I am a definitely the 90% project completion type of guy, those last 10% are brutal to finish.

I went outside today to do some more work. The weather was not super conducive to it but it was not freezing so I figured I could get something done. My big goal was to move the scrap metal pile that came from the old house (it has only been there since August 2018). Annmarie can see it just outside the fence through any window on the SE side of the house. She does not like it and thinks I need to move it before our company shows up in January. I was going to bring the old pickup trailer around but it still needs a tire swap and this weather is not conducive to climbing under anything suspended in the air so I opted to use the tractor and just make more trips. After the first load I got distracted and ended up dragging all of the horse poop out from around the barn and releveled the compost pile I had spread out earlier this fall. I need to plant grass seed on it but that is not happening in 45 MPH wind. After every load taken to the metal scrap pile I kept my eye out for more scrap metal along the way, grabbing it off of fence posts and the base of fences. I stash it there all year long as I find it or it surfaces from the ground. I went over and cleaned up the last of the old metal Smith shop area. I took a bucketful of keeper metal to the barn and stashed it in the barn. I took the last of the falling down wooden worktop and put it on the burn pile. I even managed to push the two bucket loads of old hay baling wire that I found buried outside the metal shop onto the scrap pile. My scrap pile is sufficiently big to attract someone to come claim it. It is not worth very much and there are a few gears inside the pile I would like to reclaim if I can find them. I managed to find a manual brake system with the notched locking piece and the handle just stashed over there. I kept that. Eventually I want to put some nonsensical gears and handles and steering wheels throughout the barn.

Annmarie asked me about the grass fields I planted this week so I took the time to run up and check on them. This is good and bad news depending on how you look at it. The first field got done two weeks earlier than the second and got two good rains and some warm temperatures, that is this very nice green field. The second field was two weeks later and I ended up finishing it up in the rain and then it got really cold. It is currently still very dirt like. On the plus side there are no weeds growing either which tells me that the growing conditions are just not there yet. I would love to burn off the barley field but I am afraid to light anything on fire in this wind so it will just have to wait.

I was fortunate to finish the machine shed ceiling support before the windstorm.

We also have a new calf on the ground, it is a week old today. It is probably our biggest calf to date and the mother is still crazy. I cannot wait to get that fence line up so the cows cannot hide down near the creek. They will be stuck in the field away from water. We may need to build some form of three sided, roofed enclosure so the cows can shelter the babies. I will have to consult the wife and mother-in-law for design guidance. I have enough left over 2×8 and 1×12 to make a wooden structure that looks like all of our other outbuildings. I even have some leftover old metal roofing that I can install so it slants toward the hillside so you won’t see it from the houses.

The sheep are so pregnant it is painful to look at them. Every morning we go out expecting to find 8-12 lambs on the ground and every morning we are disappointed. I told Annmarie they were all going to come on Christmas Day and I will have to get the turkey in the oven before helping her corral all the new moms and babies. Today I switched gates around and set up the momma/baby area. I moved a feeder in there for them and filled it with alfalfa. This caused me some problems after the sheep figured out I had the good hay in the momma area. I had to manhandle three ewes to get them out of the area and away from the feeder. I did forget to move one inside gate to allow access to the outside baby area. I will need to bring over some more straw for that area anyways. The goal is to have it all ready so on baby day you just have to toss them in. If you have to do all the setup also its a very long and painful process.

Our 6×8 foot greenhouse came in the mail also. I am going to put it in the orchard after I make a concrete footing for it. If I don’t do that the wind will blow it away. I was going to set it on some loose bricks but after this week there is no way I am going to not attach it permanently with some heavy bolts weighted down with some concrete!