Winterizing almost done

Well Winter is almost officially here. It did snow this week at our house but it did not stick. The mountains have been covered in snow for a week. I keep trying to get things done around the place but the paying job is in overdrive and I have been working a lot making it hard to find time. So I have been doing one item at a time when I have a spare minute. This does tend to drag things out.

We had one of the alpaca die, an old white one. He went to the eternal resting place of all farm animals, the boneyard. Half of them are ancient and half are under age 7 now. We are not sure how their food intake is with all of the land they have access to being dried up. I have been giving them round bales but they are also very dry and the rejects. The alpaca have been eating them but we are worried about their caloric intake. So I went out and got a big bale of alfalfa for them. We have done this in past years but one 1300 pound bale is more hay than 11 (now) alpaca can eat in an entire winter. This makes the bottom of the bale mold as it sits on the ground, gets rained on and lasts all winter long. So this year I managed to get the bale up onto two pallets so it is off the ground. This should make it last all winter, so we are able to feed 11 alpaca for $182 all winter long. Honestly, they are fairly cheap to keep. If we had to pay to have them sheared/feet/teeth trimmed it would be about $70/each. After this year that is not looking too bad! I managed to get the weight box placed on the Kubota and filled up with horseshoes. This is much better than the 50 gallon barrel we used last year. Using this on the Kubota I was able to lift the bale about two inches off the ground and I did not have to try and steer the bale to where I wanted it with only the two front tires touching the ground! I still cannot move the bale in two wheel drive, I have to use four wheel drive on the tractor to get enough traction when there is any moisture on the ground. I will leave the counterweight bucket on all winter, I am hopeful that when I put the snow blade on this will help me immensely. I simply do not want to battle putting on chains in the snow.

I managed to get the mower and weed eater moved over into the wood shed since the bridge is functional. I had already drained and rolled up all of our hoses (11) and drained the front sprinklers and blew out the drip lines in the lavender. I just need to get the hoses into the wood shed and I can cut down the bridge. There are two logs that act as horizontal supports. I will have to build new concrete bases in the spring but I am hopeful that I can use the logs again as the horizontal supports. I will just cut off the ends that have softened. I may be able to get another 15 years out of them. They were here when we moved here and I was able to reuse them when I repaired the bridge the first time. I may also raise the bridge about 12 inches. This should stop it from getting washed away in the floods. If it gets washed away after that then Annmarie will design an ached truss bridge and I will spend a couple of months building it. It won’t be a fast project.

We want to move the honeybees to this side of the back creek. The bridge did not fair very well after the flooding last year and half of it has collapsed. It will not survive another spring runoff. In an attempt to save it, I want to cut it down but then we will have no access to the back shed for a few months. This is unacceptable as we will not be able to check up on the bees and we have been feeding them already so they do not use up all of their honey this winter. We would like them to start the spring with a bunch in the hive so we can steal a lot this next fall. This means the bees need to be moved, without killing the queen and without taking the hive apart as it is now too cold to move the individual boxes. I was able to strap the hive together with a tie down but the bridge needed to temporarily fixed to allow for the transfer. I managed to jack the bridge up using two bottle jacks and this morning Annmarie and I went out to move the hive. It is very heavy and it was decided that just walking and carrying it was not an option. We strapped it to a hand cart and worked it over into the lavender patch. The only problem it will have now is if a huge branch falls down and crushes it. We don’t see that as highly likely but it is possible. We wanted it in the corner to provide some shelter from the wind and weather.

The weather is all screwy again. I am pretty sure that is going to be our new normal. We had 1.35” of rain in a 24 hour period. We set a new record for rainfall in a single day in November. So far we have gotten 1.59” of rain in November and its only the fifth and it did not rain yesterday. We did have a windstorm last night that peaked up to almost 80 mph winds. This of course caused us to lose power last night as all the power lines are above ground and susceptible to tree limbs or poles falling. They had the power up and going by around 1000. Luckily for us we have a propane stovetop and propane stove. We just lit both of them manually and had heat and coffee. Coffee before breakfast, always. There is a reason we keep an old coffee stovetop percolator. We have figured out we are going to have to keep a few gallons of water on hand. I used to keep plastic jugs but found that they will leak over years so we are going to reuse the gallon glass jugs I used to use to make mead. They will not leak and now that we use the old safe I can get rid of the new safe and we will have room for four gallons of water. We did figure one thing out though, we have an old fashioned land line as those used to work 24/7 without power. When our area lost power the land line went dead also. We will now be cancelling our backup as it no longer works without power. Our cell phone service is spotty but its what we have. I will need to get a solar charger for our electronics. We should probably look into solar panels so we have some type of power if the grid goes down but I am unsure about a battery bank and think the technology might be way better in five years. Our puppy did not like the wind storm, every time she went outside she barked at the wind for about 30 seconds before going outside to potty.

Barn clean out 100% done

The barn clean out is finally complete, I managed to get it all done yesterday. This is a process that I have been at for a few weeks. The momma/baby area was and is the hardest part to do as it must be done all by hand. I had a thought about ripping out the wooden dividers and gates and taking the large grain bin out which would allow me to clean up that area with a tractor but it has some much added expense. We would need to get about ten more aluminum panels to pen up and divide the momma/babies. Those panels are not nearly as tall but they are always lifted to stay on top of the current depth of matter on the barn floor. The permanent walls have to be pretty high to accommodate the detritus. I will again lament the availability of a teenager to work the summer doing yard work, pulling weeds, digging out the ditch and digging out the barn. I really hope I can find one for next year that likes to do hard manual labor 2-3 days a week all summer long. We are going to let the barn sit empty for another 2-3 weeks then we will toss down bales for the sheep to tear open and spread around on the floor.

We have been talking about getting our septic tank pumped for the last two years. The holdup is on getting the truck into our front yard. The plan was for me to rebuild the bridge and then they could just drive over it. Well in the last two years I have not managed to find the time to do that. But we were starting to get nervous as the tank had not been pumped out in 15 years. The price of materials is very high now and the thought of having to try and replace a drainage field is frightening. So I had two dump truck loads of gravel brought out to the farm and put in the barn lot, a load of 3” and a load of 1.5”. I cleaned up the spring crossing as it is running over basalt outcropping. I had wood and big rocks to get out of the way. I used some of the big rocks to extend the rock wall behind the barn. I placed them all and then covered them with gravel. I then took a small tamping stick and moved the gravel all around to fill in all of the cracks amongst the rocks. The sheep like to play on the rock wall and we don’t want any of them breaking an ankle. I used some of the bigger rocks as a base in the stream bed and then tossed down the 3” rock. I think I could have gotten all of the water to go through the gravel, but it is 3” minus and there were too many smaller rocks. I did manage to get about 80% of the water to flow through the gravel. I spent a few hours getting the crossing all ready for a heavy truck. I called the septic tank company after the Round Up was over. Nothing happens during Round Up and I was super busy at work and did not have the time to spare either, nothing happens during Round Up. I had left large piles of material dug out from the barn on either end of the barn to be cleaned out later. It took me almost a day to clean up the piles of straw, manure and to drag the entire barn lot clean of horse poop. It’s time to start getting things ready for winter.

We need to sort the sheep one more time this summer. We need to count the number we have for butchering. I thought we had the right amount sorted. Annmarie thinks I may have shorted us in the last sorting. We have been hearing the coyotes moving nearer to our house at night. This is usually the reason we are short animals.

Annmarie and Donna are still working on taming down the alpaca. They are getting pretty sure of themselves and don’t mind coming and having a look to see if you will let them into the yard and allow them to eat the green grass.

Calves are coming!

Annmarie talked me into putting all the cows that are due to have calves in one field and locking them in so we actually know when they have babies. This is a new concept for me as I usually have them running all over the farm and we finally get to see a calf when it is 2-4 weeks old and its mother actually lets it wander around with her. Our first calf has been born and more should follow soon. Once the last one is born we can just run them all into the corral and band and tag them all at once. Doing it all at one time will be a nice change.

The sheep bridge I built was not in vain. Even though the sheep initially did not want to use it, they all pretty much line up to use it now. The ram still refuses to go across it, he jumps the back creek every time. Some of them feel that waiting in line is beneath them so they jump. The bridge is 10 feet across and barely spans the creek. I really need to build a 16 foot bridge. The flood really tore up the creek bed and widened the creek by about 50-100% in some areas.

Mr Professional and I spent a day laying block and gravel after I dug down to create a pad area for my mother-in-law’s new shed. The shed is coming prebuilt on a truck, the shed is 10×20 feet long and they should be able to just set in place now. Once the shed is in, we will work on building the ramp.

I am having trouble with a weed called a common mullein. I had to pull in a weed expert and figure out how to kill it. It looks like spot spraying with a lot of sticker and some roundup will kill it in its tracks. It is starting to spread and I had noticed that it was not dying with the 2-4-D & Milestone combination. I am loving the spray set up on the side by side but the side by side needs a ring job and it is burning oil. For every two tanks of gas I have to fill the oil. Sometimes I think I can kill the weeds merely by slowing down and letting them get a taste of the exhaust. I upgraded the spray motor last year dramatically and now get a nice continuous spray. I think we are going to add one more nozzle on each end of the boom.

I am going to have to break out the welder soon. I need to modify the stock rack for the pickup, the flat bed trailer locking tongue is cracking so a new one needs welded on and I need to extend the spray racks. Those are the current big things that need to be welded. There are lots of other little things but those things need to happen soon to keep everything running. We have to go pickup our new ram early this summer.

Sheep out to graze

Annmarie fed the sheep last evening while I started cutting the bridge parts. After we got the bridge installed we both walked up the hillside and attempted to push the sheep back into the ram pasture. The sheep were not really having any of this. We got them down near the creek but they would not cross the water. We finally gave up and Annmarie went and got the border collies. This was the first time this year they really got to work the sheep and there are babies! The babies are exciting and a huge distraction to the dogs. Mouse just would not settle down or listen. So basically he was a pain in the ass and pinned a lamb up against the fence. So now we will be taking a lead rope with us and when he fails to instantly comply he goes on the lead. He does not like the lead and we don’t like him playing an independent consultant.

The sheep did not appreciate the extent or amount of work put into placing and making bridges. Out of the 80+ sheep only about 6 used the new bridge and none used the first bridge I placed. The problem with them jumping the creek is they keep wearing down the bank where they scramble up it. I may have to add another bridge, but if I do it will have to be 16 feet long and it will have to be exactly where they are crossing and at the angle they jump across the creek. Otherwise our chances of compliance and usage will be abysmal.

Just one thing outside…

Annmarie and I had been talking about my to do list for Saturday and I stated that the sheep really need to start going on the back hillside but with all the little lambs we thought there should be a bridge. I reminded her that the old bridge from the momma baby area had floated down into the orchard pasture and I could get it and drag it around with the tractor. We knew both the mommas and baby’s would use it as they did in the other enclosure. All I had to do was drive the tractor over, pick it up and drive it around and toss it over the water. I ended up digging out a place for our new gate in the front fence. I just need to bring in some gravel for it now and then dig one post. Once the post is in place I will support it back to the rock crib with 2×6 boards. We need a way to get the cows/sheep from the orchard into the corral easily and through the front yard hillside is a straight shot. We have fence and gates everywhere and I keep putting more in but it is finally to the point where we can start separating fields and animals pretty easily. Since the bull still managed to impregnate one of our cows through the bull enclosure fence the two fence rule is essential if we don’t want someone to get pregnant.

I did load the bridge onto the tractor and went around the barn lot. I made a stop to try and mess with a piece of culvert to use as a down spout so the water will quit digging a channel but the culvert was too heavy to hold up and then try and rearrange rocks under it. I tried a few times and then just gave up, I am going to have to have help to fix that problem. When I got to the old spring culvert crossing I dumped the bridge off of the tractor bucket and went down into the spring to move some rocks. I want the banks of the spring to dry out so I need to stop all backed up water. I removed about 12 rocks out of the stream flow to let it flow easier. Since I was there I started to dig out the footings for the Rastra with the tractor. I did that on both side of the 16’ gate. The culvert is 20’ long so I am going to set the Rastra 18’ apart and it is about 8” wide so the culvert will stick out a few inches on both ends. I used the extra dirt to build up the berm alongside the fence. I need to get that berm up about two feet so the back spring runoff cannot flood the barn lot again. Once that was done I did go put the bridge in place but it is only eight feet long and there was only a couple of places that it could bridge the gap. I placed it and hoped for the best.

Before I could let the sheep onto the back hillside I needed to make the rounds of the fence. I walked the entire length of the outer fence. I had to fix about six spots that were guaranteed to let the sheep out. Now just because I have fixed those spots it does not mean the sheep are contained. Honestly, they always seem to find a way out eventually. A couple of hours later I did spot the sheep on the back hillside.

The bridge location was less than ideal so I told Annmarie I should build another bridge. I have a lot of scrap lumber I purchased last year as a lot, it was made up of old discarded, broken or twisted lumber. I got a great price and they delivered it! I took a fairly twisted pressure treated 6×6 that was 20’ long and cut it in half and cut two foot sections of 2×6 lumber as decking, moved it all over to the creek with the tractor and found a crossing near where they normally cross. I could not install it on the angle they like because I would need about another 5’ to bridge the gap on a diagonal. I figured it was close enough. Annmarie fed me the pieces and since I am out of 3” screws I just did it the old fashioned way with long nails. I like to fence with a shingle axe. This tends to make people nervous when I am hammering in stuff with an axe and Annmarie was no exception when she had to stand on the boards. I did not hit her or me. It only took about an hour from start to finish and the bridge is absolutely solid!! I think if I lift it another ten inches on each end the spring runoff wont even touch it. I may have to make a little ramp for the lambs to get onto it. That can wait until later in the summer. Annmarie and I both appreciate it, much easier than climbing down into the stream bed and back out the other side. My twenty minutes outside project took me about four hours total!