Woe Tex!

Tex came out of the chute ready to work first thing this morning. We fed the sheep, which is easier now that they are all one herd again. Tex helped catch yesterday and I tagged and banded the last four babies we had departed from the herd and we merged those mommas with the main herd.

We got four strands of smooth wire on one side of the gate and three strands up on the other side. The discrepancy is because one section of the fence uses a taller woven wire than the other.

I went over and marked out the rock crib locations and Tex started building them while I made the chicken portal through the fence. Once the discrimination gate was in place I used the trusty mistress to tear up the hillside and smooth it all out. I also had to go across the spring and work the other side of the spring. This necessitates driving a four foot wide tractor over a four foot wide bridge. I made and installed the bridge a long time ago. I am sure its logged in the blog so within the last eight years. I have been using the bridge whenever I need a short cut. Annmarie refuses to drive the tractor across as a tire is usually partially hanging off the bridge during crossing. I drove over the bridge several times today without any issues.

We had to make a run to the fencing supply pile to load the pickup up with railroad ties and the last of my round wooden poles. I only have 6 ties left unused and I may need those in the new section of fencing I have been ignoring.

We are going to have to install wire in the rock cribs to prevent the rocks from falling out when we fill them. I am hoping we can do that on Saturday. Tex went to get gravel to set two posts while I dug the post holes and set the posts down in for final seating. After Tex finished the second post he asked if I wanted the extra gravel in the skinning pit. I know it will take me hours to move all the gravel for the pit so any little help is appreciated.

I had given strict instructions on the first day that any time he was moving around in the tractor that he had to wear his seatbelt. This is to prevent you from getting thrown clear of the vehicle if something were to happen.

I warned him that the bridge was narrow. He then proceeded to attempt a crossing. Woe Tex!!! I saw it happen in slow motion! Luckily, Tex had his seatbelt on so he didn’t get thrown clear of the tractor. I made him stay in place so I could get a picture as I am usually the one in the compromising position.

We still had a pickup bed full of railroad ties so I had Tex grab a chain and drive the pickup around the barn and into the back lot. He had a hard time making the corner with the pickup in four wheel drive. The four wheel drive was mandatory as the entire back area is one giant mud pit. He kept sliding towards the fence as that was the lowest spot on the hillside.

He managed to snag a taillight on the driver’s side with encouragement from me. It looks like we just need a new light fixture.

We hooked onto the hitch and pulled that rear tire down onto the ground. Once we had the rear tire on the ground I was able to drive it out with some pickup assistance. The hardest part was getting the pickup back there and getting seat-belted into the tractor before trying any thing.

As penance, Tex put in a railroad tie next to the bridge. It sits on two very large rocks and widens the bridge by 10″. This will be nice in case I ever miss. He is also going to find me a new light cover to order off of the internet.

He came through for me and for $23 I have a new light cover already on its way!

He was looking a little hangdog by the time he was done for the day. Tomorrow we fill the rock cribs and drill some holes!

Tractor is alive!

Being the “gentleman farmer” with 120 animals has taught me a lot over the years since we have moved back to the farm, but I realize just when I think I have it figured out something new pops up. I managed to get ahold of RDO, the tractor dealer yesterday to ask them to come pull the tractor out and take it in and fix the bucket. The helpful gentleman, Mr Shirt Tail Cousin, said the guys were out our way and he could send them my way. He called back to say they were already back at the shop but they wanted to know if I had triggered the lock out. What lock out? I asked Mr Shirt Tail Cousin if he knew where the lock out was, was it that tiny lever between my legs? He said it might be on the actual valve or at the base of the bucket control stick. I then mentioned that the stick felt stuck. He was convinced it was now a lock out issue and I said I would try the unlabeled tiny lever and call him back tomorrow for pickup if that was not it. Now I almost tried this lever a couple of days ago. I did mess with the knob right next to it that I don’t know what it does and that did nothing so I left the tiny lever alone. It was the tiny lever!

I was able to push myself out of the snow pile and get out of the path to the cows. I promptly went and put on the box blade. I had to drive around a bit as finding it in 16 inches of snow was not easy. The box blade weighs almost 500$ and hangs off the back of the tractor. It made all the difference in the back tires not sitting on top of the snow and spinning. I then proceeded to start clearing the driveway instead of feeding the cows. Annmarie caught me “playing in the snow” when she came home from work.

I should figure out what that knob does…

I need the tractor to go to the shop. It needs an oil change, it needs the hood beat out and repositioned, both lights are broken on the rollover bar, the safety switch under the seat keeps sticking and needs replaced, I need to install another waterproof canister on the roll bar that I can keep a few tools in, may install lights also that point forward and backwards so we can pickup hay in the dark or hay in the dark.

I got another coat of varethane on the spare bedroom floor and the stairs. There is gonna be some dog hair in the steps. I tried to keep them clean but its in the air! The room looks good. I want to recoat the steps one more time Thursday.

When I went down to eat dinner at mother-in-law’s I spotted a barn owl flying out of her big blue spruce tree. At dinner the night before she said she thought the raccoons had stolen her small bag of cat food. She stated that the bag fell out of the tree the next day, it could have been the owl! I have not seen the Great Horned Owl in a few months. Just when I think it has finally died I spot it. They were here when I dated Annmarie in high school.

Now that the tractor works I no longer worry how much snow gets dumped on us. I can clean up any amount! The tractor is lighter than the pickup also so it doesn’t sink as much.

After dinner I got a call stating that the elk have moved down out of the mountains and are in our upper bottom pasture. I just planted 14 acres of grass up there this fall. I am hoping the snow is deep enough that they will go up on top of the hill and eat the CRP. The CRP is 1-2 feet tall so the elk should have an easier go at eating it. The real question is how much fence have they torn up? They are rough on fence.

I found out we got the grant to build fence along the waterway. It should take about another month to get the final go ahead then I can start building it.

Lots of snow

It started this weekend, it was supposed to be nice and steady but it came in like a wrecking ball! I spent over 10 hours outside on Sunday trying to clear snow from our driveway. This was complicated by the fact that on Friday our tractor bucket just quit working. I could not move the bucket at all it was stuck on the ground. So I just drove it around and pushed snow with the bucket on the ground. Not ideal and took longer than normal but it worked. The only problem with this is Annmarie parked her car outside of her mother’s house and it got stuck. I went down to drive it out and got it stuck worse. So we just parked it and when the snow melts we will get it! Next year we put the stud tires on even if there is no snow. It just kept snowing, it was horrible. We used to live in the Rockies, but I sold our track driven 8 HP snow blower in Moscow because we just did not need it. If the tractor worked we would be fine.

On Monday I was trying to clear another 6 inches and got the tractor stuck down by the cow gate. Annmarie had already had to pull me out with the pickup once 30 minutes earlier. So I called her again and she tried to get me out to no avail. She almost got the pickup stuck and had to apply a judicious amount of gas pedal to get it to clear out of its predicament. I tried to call the Tractor dealer to get them to come pick it up for repair but the phone was busy all day. So now we have two vehicles stuck!So now that the tractor is stuck we are using the pickup to move hay to the cows. The problem with this is you have to carry the hay about 100 feet. We are just tossing it over the fence, I usually feed farther into the pasture but I am not walking and carrying hay that far. It takes about 12 trips to get two bales fed. We feed two bales in the morning and two at night when there is snow on the ground, no snow they get three bales.

Its supposed to snow more, if we get another foot we are so screwed. If only the tractor worked!

The poor ram is the largest sheep in the barn and he gets pushed around the most! When we toss out hay into the feeders the ewes just keep pushing until they have taken over all head space and he gets squeezed out. He has maintained his casualness. Annmarie even saw him acting as a hill for the lambs and they were jumping all over him.

I have a friend who wanted a few lambs but we are going to sell her the ewes that are pregnant and off cycle. She gets pregnant sheep and we get rid of the off cycle sheep. Its a win-win situation.

We have been feeding the quail one quart of bird food on our back hillside first thing in the morning. This snow makes getting to food hard for the birds. We now see them several times a day digging through the snow looking for seeds.

Phil was wrong

I heard that Phil the groundhog did not see his shadow therefore we would not have 6 more weeks of winter. Well we had snow over the last 24 hours and a winter weather advisory. Luckily for us, we did not get as much snow as was predicted and the storm went north of us. Whenever this happens to us late in winter I always start to have a mild panic attack. I am always fearful that we will run out of hay. What would we feed the animals? Yet, having too much leftover in the barn means you paid for too much hay. It would be one thing if we were producing our own hay then some carryover would not be near as big a deal. We could just sell the extra in the late spring to make room for our next crop. Us doing our own hay is going to be a game changer as far as expenses go for us. Paying out $6-7K annually for hay is not worth raising the animals, we need a source of hay that we don’t have to pay for annually.

It’s going to be real close on the hay and will require me to start bringing over alfalfa hay from the machine shed to finish feeding the sheep. It just dawned on me that we may even be able to put up a little straw for ourselves. This will require us to talk with the nice gentlemen growing wheat on the farm. We only use 2-4 ton of straw annually so not very much.

One of the new lambs decided that to get maximum access to the food it needed to crawl into the feeder and on top of the hay. I had to move the lamb out as I was afraid it would get stuck once its platform got eaten away. I never looked to see if it was a boy or girl but since I don’t see a tag in its right ear I am betting its a girl. A tag in the right ear means its a cull animal and all the boys are not keepers. I went out this morning to feed after a few hours of sleep and there was snow everywhere. The big bales are done so the cows are now eating normal 100# bales of alfalfa but these allow them to tip the feeders very easily. I wanted to feed some alfalfa and a little straw to the cows with the tractor. I started up the tractor even with the temperature under 20 F, no trouble. I let it warm up for a few minutes and put it in gear, the tractor died immediately. I did this 3-4 times all with the same results. I lifted the bucket up and down without any trouble. Stumped I decided that it just needed to warm up some more and I went and fed the sheep and horses. No babies this morning. The “wide as long” ewe was still in her pen and still not doing anything. The sheep are starting to mob me as I am giving them grain in the morning on top of their hay and at night I am tossing a half a bale of alfalfa onto the top of their hay.

When I was feeding the ram and his three ewes I noticed that our water was running again. We have a hand dug well on the property from the 1940’s and it has buried pipe that goes to the barn lot and under the creek over to behind the old chicken coop. The standpipe by the coop is broken and needs to be replaced. This will spontaneously start to flow when the ground water level gets high enough in the well. It will run for 3-4 months. Now we don’t have to bucket water to the ram. I just placed a drinking bucket under the running water and the sheep can just drink as much as they want. The pipes don’t freeze as it runs continuously.

I went back to the tractor and again tried to put it in gear and drive away, and the tractor tried to die. I was able to slip it back into neutral and it stayed running. This led me to think that it was the safety switch in the seat. It is there to make sure someone is sitting on the tractor when driving it or running the PTO. I stood up, beat on the seat a few times with my fist, sat up and down a few times and it worked! Problem solved! I fed the cows and went back inside after 2.5 hours outside doing chores.

This evening when I went out to do chores the “wide as long” ewe had finally had her babies!! She had a set of triplets and they were all sitting up and cleaned off. She paid attention to all three so we are going to let her try to raise them. We will leave them in the separate pen for a few more days to make sure they are all eating well and that mom and babies have bonded.

Wife rabbit punched me

I have been having horrible rib pain the last two weeks. Nothing I seem to do is making it better and it just persists. The odd part is it is all low rib and diaphragm region. It has been going on long enough that I had started accusing Annmarie of rabbit punching me in the ribs when I was asleep. I could not figure out what was causing the pain. Well I figured it out on Wednesday, it is my welding class. We are doing vertical SMAW welding (rod welding) and the way I am holding it in an attempt to get a passing bead is causing me to tense up my muscles. So for six hours a week I am tightening my diaphragm and rib muscles. They do not like nor appreciate the workout. I have quit blaming the wife.

The closet shelves look great and Annmarie has already started to put stuff on them so tomorrow I need to get some varnish on them. I am going to do it in the upstairs bathroom area so I can leave the vent fan on all night long. I got a little light headed when I put the stain on and don’t want a repeat of that with the varnish.

Earlier in the week I was lazy and with the weather being nice I fed the sheep out the side of the barn onto the ground. The sheep kept trying to sneak in through the door and get directly into the hay room. So every time I opened the door to toss out hay I had to be quick. As I was getting ready to head back inside I noticed one ewe picking the alfalfa leaves off of the back of our ram. He was almost green from standing under the door as I tossed out flakes of hay. She had figured out it was easier and more productive to just eat off of his back then dig through the hay on the ground.

I like to make a hearty breakfast when I am going to be working outside during the day. This lets me skip lunch and not starve to death, I had ham, potatoes and onions this morning then poured some green salsa over the top and it was wonderful. Our pig turned out very nice this year and the ham is very good.

I need to go pickup my 1×8 x8′ boards we purchased at the fundraiser but I need the flatbed trailer. I still had 20 railroad ties on it so today I hauled them off with the tractor. The only bad part is I have to manually lift all 20 ties onto the the tractor bucket one at a time. So I now have about 30 large wooden fence posts to use next year. I want to put several in the barn lot to finish stiffening the outer fence and cross fencing the inside.

I got a call this week from the water conservation district about our grant application to fence off the creek in a couple of places. This helps limit and control access to the water mostly for the cows. I can still use the sheep to go in and clean out the weeds alongside the waterway. This will also allow us to kill areas and then replant them which will cut down on the weeds. We should know by January whether we get the grant or not. We supply half the cost of the fence, which equates to all the labor to install it and have to purchase all the supplies in advance and don’t get reimbursed until the fence is installed.

I ended up moving scrap metal around to our metal pile behind the grain bins. I still have a pile over by the old house that needs to get moved. I will be seeing if I can put on an old tire onto my Toyota pickup bed trailer I got from the scrap yard. I can haul it around with my tractor and get it filled with all the metal from the old house. I also need to drag all the scrap metal and fencing in the ram pasture to the pile. If it doesn’t rain tonight and tomorrow I can do that in the late afternoon. This will get the ram pasture all cleaned up.

The chickens are not doing their part. We were down to two eggs a day and now that I have replaced the light bulb we are getting 4-5 eggs/day. I really need to off the slackers.

Fresh beef coming

I have been busy and am having a hard time working on the blog daily. I have gone to the weekends as I can carve out the time. It allows me to think about the work that has been done and see how we are moving forward. I still like the daily blogs but after dragging myself in and cleaning up, I am tired and it is proven that I don’t write very well when I am tired. Annmarie says it is possible to read my emotions when reading the blog. Sometimes I am short and factual but other times I see it. I am still not convinced but I have come to enjoy writing about something I love. It’s not always glamorous, its not always humorous but it is honest. It’s the real trials and tribulations that happen on a farm. We have worked hard to learn about what went on and why things were done by the families that lived on this farm before us. A diary of the farm would have been a treasure trove of information. I guess in a way this is my dairy and contribution to future generations of the Gilliland Century Farm. This is our part of the story and I want those families to love it as much as we do. We work every day to make this place our own, we work every day to repair and build onto the work done over the last 114 years. It is a daunting thought to think that it really has been that long and we are continuing the tradition. Every year we try to become a little closer to self sustaining. I think we will make it in the next three years. I am going to boldly proclaim this goal!! Because, honestly, its just words for now, the real work will be documented here in this blog.

The butcher is coming to the farm soon and we needed to sort cows. We had kept the four boys off of the main herd of cows but Donna had spotted a new calf. Annmarie and I spotted it when we came home from our coast visitation/vacation/restacation. This means we need to run in the cows, and deal with the new calf. On the last calf we waited too long and the nephew and I could hardly hold him down while we tag and banded him. We now have large banding pliers with oversized bands that will fit a calf up to 250#. I personally do not want to wrestle with a 250# calf in an open pen with no rope and only two men.

We do have a real roping rope and we have a real short chunk of rope to tie the legs. We watched a YouTube video on how to tie up a goat and I have forgotten about 80% of what we learned. I find that to really cement a YouTube lesson one must watch it, then go out the same day or next and practice it for real then go back and watch it again. I did not do that. I figure that if I can learn to shear, trim feet and teeth on an alpaca from YouTube I can lean almost any animal husbandry from it. I do realize that YouTube is not an expert but if you are careful you can find good information. Trial and error is the best teacher.

We had to run the four boy cows into the corral first then sorted off the 8 month old to leave in the corral. He gets to rejoin the main herd and the other three got pushed into the upper prime field. They get to have a butcher visitation next week. We have already sold all three live animals.

We took the dogs with us and I even remembered to grab the 30 foot lead rope in case a dog got super exuberant when we worked the cows. I set the lead down on the corral while working the first set and did not remember it until we were on the back hillside headed down to get the main herd. I never manage to actually bring the lead when needed. The cows were down by the school house, farthest distance from the house possible as usual. I took Zeke down and rounded the cows up while Annmarie stayed on the hillside with Mouse. Mouse did not like this arrangement and ran down to me. We really needed the lead rope. The calf was fairly young, probably only a few days old. We are guessing this because it was still very curious. We had a hard time herding it as it kept wanting to come see us or the dogs which caused the momma cow and the bull to get agitated. Eventually we ended up getting the cows into the barn lot. Annmarie and Zeke pushed the sheep out of the barn lot then we pushed the cow herd into the corral. This was not too bad, the green ear tag cow did not want to go, she never does. We have at least three more cows that are super pregnant and should have more calves in the next two months. The summer births are way better for the calves with this breed of cow. We got the cow and calf isolated to one pen and then got the momma into the chute so we could touch the calf without her being able to touch us. I asked Annmarie to film us but she was irritated as I did not have all the tools ready and had to make a barn run. It went very smoothly, I got two testicles and I used the right color of ear tag and I even remembered to tag the calf in the right ear as we will be selling it. Keepers get a tag in the left ear. We then put pour over fly medicine on the cows. The flies should be going away as soon as the weather turns.

We discovered that last year we missed a steer. I realized this seems near impossible, but it is easier than you think. So we sorted off another cow for the butcher. We will be stocking our freezer this year with beef it seems.

We managed to do all of this in under two hours. This is very good and the dogs made it all that much easier. Zeke had snuck off while we were in the corral the first time working the cows but as we headed down to the school house he appeared down by the pumping station. Mouse was a good boy and waited for us.

I have been trying to get the two upper pastures disced and knock down the weeds. I seem to be tracking in a small bucket of dust every time I get on the tractor. I am closing in and hope to be done this weekend. I spent about 14 hours at the beginning of the week going around in circles. I change it up occasionally by going in a rectangular pattern and if I am feeling adventurous or in an odd spot I will even go in a figure 8 pattern. Its not very riveting but I have found that a book on tape is the best thing for this kind of work. Its way better than music for keeping my brain engaged. The mistress is no worse for the wear. Not a single new dent or scratch from the tip over. I really need to take a few hours this month and give her a bath, repaint the hood as the horses took another bite out of her. I may even take a hammer and see if I cannot beat the dent out of the hood. The hood latch is very hard to work and I may need to do some adjusting but that probably won’t happen as long as I can make it work. The roll bar lights on the right side are missing and need to be replaced. I suspect I will need new tires in a year or two. I am pretty happy with my little John Deere tractor. It has made my life a lot easier and I would recommend a small tractor for any small farm. It is a must.

It was bound to happen sooner or later

It was merely a matter of time before the Mistress and I had a little spat. I had a little more time off and decided that I needed to get our upper fields disced up and weed free. I hooked the disc set up directly onto the 2.5 inch ball setup on the back of the mistress. I had been going around in circles for about an hour, when I decided I needed to get the ditch area. The right side of the ditch is elevated and I had the tractor bucket way up in the air with 300# of tractor weights in it. I started up the ditch then felt the tractor tipping to the left side. I knew it was going to go over onto its side and there was nothing I could do. I had enough time to consider bailing off of it but I had the seatbelt on and cinched down. I could have released it and attempted a dismount. I decided against it then started reaching for the dirt as it approached before realizing that I just needed to ride it out. I pulled my hands up and just held onto the steering wheel until the roll bar smacked into the ground. I was not hurt and now had to figure out how to get the tractor upright.

I hoofed it down to the house and grabbed the pickup. I had two chains with the Mistress and I was hoping the pickup could pull the tractor upright. I hooked onto a bar by the front tire and onto the roll bar with separate chains and then pulled them tight and hooked them to the stinger on the pickup. The pickup had no trouble uprighting the Mistress. I kept the tractor chained to the pickup and jockeyed the tractor back and forth using the chains to move forward in an arc and not tip back over until I got out of the ditch. I then spent another six hours knocking down weeds. The mistress and I no worse for the wear.

The baby chickens are going to lay green eggs, we had ten in the coop over the last four days. I need to get about 8 green ones a day to truly justify their expense. Let’s hope it actually happens.