Getting ready for winter

Yesterday, I got up at 0408 and was out the door, after cooking myself breakfast by 0428. Now it was only a ham, egg and cheese hot sandwich but it was breakfast. I wanted to get out early while it was cool so I cold mow with the rental tractor and hopefully not have it overheat. It had headlights and I had already filled it with fuel the night before. It was only about 15 degrees cooler and I had to stop three times before it got light due to overheating. I even took an air tank down to blow out the radiator. This worked the first two times until I ran out of stored air.

Annmarie called me back up to the house to help her get dressed. She has had some horrible muscle spasms in her back. I did and she got a deep tissue massage and is on the mend now. She thinks she will now survive, yesterday she was not so sure.

After a few more hours I had to head to town to get money for the cow hay I was picking up today. I stopped at the bank, the bakery (a pastry of some kind was calling my name, it turned out to be a peach filled deliciousness), the coffee shop, the seed place (grain elevator) and then convenience store. The only place that did not bat an eye at my dust/soot covered countenance was the seed silo. He just wanted to know if I had an account, I don’t or had cash or check. I then mentioned that a pastry was going to save me as I had to get change to buy it and I needed $252 for the seed. I was saved by a pastry and a coffee!

While I was at the seed silo I enquired about winter beardless barley. Its what I really wanted to plant but they only had spring barley and I am not sure I can get into the mud pit this upcoming spring. I then asked about a grain based hay seed and the guy said “club wheat”. He said a lot of people are turning it into hay. It only cost $14/50#.
Annmarie and I had talked the night before and triticale had come up as we fed it one winter and all the animals liked it. So the triticale was only $18/50#. So I bought 800# of triticale seed for the upper 7 acre pasture. You are supposed to seed it at 80#/acre. Since there is no magical setting on the seeder and I have to guess and adjust on the fly I figured I better have a little extra.

I came home and planted 2 acres. The harrow had a hard time as the soil was hard, rock filled and there was a lot of plant matter. I had to adjust the seed rate several times and ended up planting the 2 acres and then opening up the seed grate and running over the entire two acres quickly with the harrow to get seed to drop out at the right rate.

Tex came first thing in the morning so we could tag and band the sheep before picking up the cow’s hay from a nearby seller. Tex used Daisy (his red heeler pup) to help move the sheep around. I had him keep her on a lead rope so she could not get away. At four months old she liked chasing the animals and was excited to work.

After we tagged and banded the left over sheep, I went to the post office to pick up our baby chicks! We ordered 25 pullets for $100 all inclusive cost. Since they have to be about 6 months old before they lay I like to start my chicks in the late fall so come spring time they are old enough to start laying and I feed them through the winter at their smallest. I usually brood them in the house for a couple of weeks but I just started them out in the coop this time. I had to send Tex to Pendleton as the rental tractor had a flat front tire. I took care of the chicks and setup while he got the tire fixed. Once he got back, I started driving the trailer back and forth to pick up our hay. Unfortunately, I can only carry 5 large bales at a time and I had to transport 36 bales, a total weight of 25 tons. In between trailer loads, Tex moved some old irrigation pipe, got the cow feeder panels into the bull Alcatraz and hooked up the seeder to my tractor.

My tractor came back from the shop today. Someone (had to be me, despite my lack of memory) put regular fuel into the diesel tractor. I didn’t really understand how bad this is. After the rental cost and tractor repair the wrong fuel mistake cost us around $1000, this was a very expensive lesson. I will now be buying a third yellow fuel can for diesel to prevent this in the future.

We got all the hay put away and ready. We were going to do cows today, but didn’t get done with hay until 1600. I was tired and did not want to go wrestle with cows so we will be doing cows on Monday!

My goal tomorrow is to disc the three acres I have mowed in the 7 acre field. I need to get the soil broken up and rocks picked so I can get in there with the power harrow and plant triticale. The goal is to get those three acres planted by tomorrow evening. That will leave me with two more acres still to mow and plant. The middle seven acre field needs burned and disced and mowed and some soil moved around. I am saving it for last.

After dinner, Annmarie asked me to go get the sheep. They were visible from the kitchen window. I put on my shoes and Annmarie asked me if I wanted the dogs, my reply “the sheep like me I won’t need them”. I called the sheep onto the back hillside but they did not want to come into the ram pasture. I ended up on the back hillside with the sheep spread out every where and no dogs. I tried to call Annmarie as I could see her through the kitchen window. NOPE, I had left my cell phone on the kitchen table. I went old school and pulled out my white handkerchief and started waving it around. It only took her about 2 minutes to spot me through the window! When she came out the door I hollered for her to let the dogs out. Five minutes later the sheep were in the ram pasture. I was still on the hillside and had asked Mouse to guard the gate opening. Zeke and I were ambling down the hill when I looked up and spotted mouse chasing down two sheep that had broken from the herd. I started hollering and he reached up grabbed the ewe by the throat and tossed her to the ground. It took him about 1 second to roll her onto the ground. He didn’t hold onto her neck as she dropped to the ground and when she got back up she went right back to the herd. This is why Mouse loves to work the cows, he can be very aggressive. This is why Zeke loves to work the sheep, he just needs to run around them and stare them into submission. Unfortunately for them both, they have to learn to do both.

Vacation day 3

My staycation is not exactly going as planned. I had Tex on the agenda for three days in a row. He stood me up. His solution to not coming is to just ignore my text message. The nice part is he is self limiting on our checkbook and he works hard when he comes and we like having him, no one is perfect. There was so much rain that we were not going to get anything done outside. I hooked the tractor mower up and attempted to mow the next field (4 acres) then the upper prime pasture (7 acres) so I can use the power harrow/seeder on them. I had my rubber boots on, a pair of rubber bib overalls, a wool vest, and an old “waterproof” biking jacket and an oilskin cap. The biking jacket is NOT waterproof and the oilskin cap needs more oil. The rest of me stayed dry. So I will be looking online for a cheap waterproof jacket. I have been buying seconds and clearance from Sierra, I don’t get a color selection and my choices are limited but for 50-75% off of normal prices I can live with the inconvenience. I am only going to tear it up on the farm eventually. It may last 2-3 years if I am lucky.

I have decided that I need a speed knob for the steering wheel on the tractor. Going around in circles for hours on end it is a must accessory. I will try and pick one up in the next few days. My hands also got cold in the rain so I may try for some waterproof gloves also. There were a couple of acres of grass that look great! My hope is that by next year it all looks like this. We have had enough rain that the front upper spring is running almost the full length again. The upper prime pasture was starting to get some soft patches again. So I took the time to dig out one of the ditches where the surrounding ground was getting soft. I want the water to flow down into the middle channel and away from the field. When it dries out a little more I will spread out the dirt here and keep working on building this ground level up another 8 inches. If I got it elevated that much I don’t think this would be near the problem. It was so. Wet I could not dig the ditch any deeper, as there was no traction to push down into the dirt.

I have about 10 acres ready to be planted. I have another 15 acres that needs burned but it is just too wet to do any burning. Just tooling along I was not sinking into the ground but the minute you start to churn it up it is very muddy. There are approximately 80 sheep in this picture. I am always amazed at how empty the picture looks when we take the whole herd. “Oh yeah how are your 25 sheep?” “Well it’s really 80” and they are doing just fine.

I got so cold that I had to go inside and get in the shower to warm up in the early afternoon. I drove over to Hermiston to pickup our pig. We traded two sheep for a pig We pay for kill, cure, cut and wrap. Its a good deal for both parties. I also went to Home Depot to get some caps for the new fence but they did not have the kind I wanted to I ended up with a different kind. I will be installing them temporarily so we can see what they look like.

Mower still broken

Our mower is still broken and the lawn needs to be mowed again. This is a conundrum that can be solved but it does have a few drawbacks. Its messy, the sheep do not know how to limit droppings to only one part of the yard. This then makes golden tasting nuggets that the dogs love to eat which in turn makes them vomit randomly or get the runs themselves. Now the indigestion is sort of random but it is a chance you take with sheep mowers. Now on the plus side, you just have to open the gate and lawn gets mowed! I do have to clean off the walkway when they are done.

Sheep mowing our yard again! I need to do this for several evenings until the sheep have gotten it short enough. They do have a tendency to eat my fledgling trumpet vines. I think I am going to have to put up a temporary fence next year to get the vines some growth.

They also tear up my temporary fence gate. The post is broken off at the ground and i have four boards and some temporary scrap metal holding the dogs in. It cannot take 80 sheep trying to go through a small opening all at the same time. Annmarie tells me this is a sign that I need to get this 100 feet of fence rebuilt. It’s on the list for this year.

While I was putting tools away from the pickup I noticed that my old chicken coop fence was still up. I need to start getting the gravel moved over for the skinning post and the fence is in the way. I have been meaning to rip it out all summer long and have not gotten to it. So I took 15 minutes and ripped it out of the ground and away. I need to move gravel over here in the next two weeks. I am looking forward to not standing in mud while we are washing and skinning animals. I may even attach a sink to the end of my stainless steel table and set up a faucet that I can hook a water hose into! There are two old cast iron and porcelain sinks over by the old house that I have been saving for just this purpose. It looks al lot better with it gone. When I was driving the tractor through the barn lot I noticed that our front stream is starting to wind down. It is still running but in a week or so I expect it to stop. Our spring on the other hand shows no signs of slowing down but it won’t be fed with surface water from above soon.

I did order new blades to shear the alpaca and I ordered a spacer so that I will be leaving them about 3/4 inch of fur. This should stop the cuts and its going to get cold soon. This will be happening in the next 1-2 weeks.

On the bad news side, the raccoons look like they are now coming up to our house. I had a chicken die of old age and I had placed her body outside the coop on the roof of dust box enclosure about 3 feet off the ground. It disappeared! I will be moving the live trap up to our house this weekend and setting it with marshmallows.

Supposed to get something done

It was a holiday weekend so I had an extra day off. I had all these plans on accomplishing tons of things, this did not happen. I did get some stuff done but not as much as I envisioned. I also ended up with a couple of surprises. Sometimes the surprises are not pleasant and this weekend was no exception to that rule. I spent Thursday and Friday finishing digging out the barn. Hoss went to play in the mountains for the holiday so I finished digging out the barn the first day and then spent the next day moving piles of straw and sheep manure onto our compost pile. We have two piles and the old pile is almost ready to be distributed as soil. It takes 2-3 years to break down the straw and manure into a usable substance.

Meathead came out and sheared the dogs. Annmarie asked her to use a longer blade and she did not want to shear their tails. She is opposed to them having rat tales. It is easier to keep the cheat grass out of their hides with a shorter coat.

We went out and covered one of the plum trees on Saturday. It is loaded and the bats are out at night and Annmarie is hoping this will keep the bird and bats away from the fruit. We looked at the other trees but they do not have very much fruit on them. I will need to shape the trees this winter and we are going to shorten the tree skirting. We are talking about putting the two bully alpacas out with the three sold eating cows. This way we only have to skirt the trees for the sheep and not alpacas or horses.

We have a lot of thistles in the orchard so I am going to push the entire sheep herd into the orchard for a few days to eat the entire field down, then I will work on killing thistles again.

I got the post hole auger installed on the tractor Saturday and had plans to dig all the post holes on Sunday. Unfortunately I decided that I needed to weed eat the front driveway as the cheat grass and weeds were getting out of control. I moved the pickup back out of the driveway as it was covering weeds. I left my car in place and Annmarie was at church. On one of my trips to the pickup for weed eater fuel I noticed that my car window was busted out! Now mind you I had goggles and hearing protection on but the rocks getting kicked up from the weed eater were pelting me and they hurt. It did not occur to me that I would blow out a window on my car while trying to make the driveway neater. This sucks and now I have to get it replaced.

I did finally get on the tractor and go out and start trying to drill holes in the ground. The first five holes I only managed to get about 2-4 inches down. I did not have a bucket but will bring one up and start filling the holes with water. I will need to do that for a few days to soften up the dirt. Once I got down into the bottom fields the soil was actually muddy once I got six inches below the surface. This would explain the weed jungle that I have in the upper field. It is so bad I cannot even mow it. I have the tractor bucket fully raised at 8 feet and the weeds are still taller. The plan is to get the fence up around this field and to push the sheep up in the morning and bring them in at night. Our hope is the sheep can tear it up and thin it out so I can get the mower through it. There is still a muddy area in the middle of the field that I cannot drive the tractor through. Our hope is the sheep will knock it down enough I can get the tractor in to see the wet areas and dig a few ditches to let it drain better. I got 9 holes completed and five started, only 12 more to go.

On the way back to the house I noticed our three feeder cows out of their fence. The gate had not been latched correctly and they got out. I had to move gates around and get them pushed back into their pasture. The gate is latched correctly now.

My hope is that Hoss and I can get some fencing done this week, time will tell.

It’s so confusing

Being born must be really confusing. This morning, I was all dressed for work and headed down the driveway. I habitually look over the animals on my way out, and this morning I found something that made me stomp on the brakes. We had a new lamb in the orchard. We were kind of expecting this, since at least one of the little ewes we had put into isolation with the ram turned out to be old enough for him to be interested. But, we were about a week off in our timing. This normally wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the lamb was not snuggling up next to momma. No, the lamb was attempting to snuggle up next the the (male) alpaca.

Momma kept calling and trying to get the lamb to come to her, but the alpaca was unhelpfully friendly and attentive. I called Steve and told him he needed to come home and help me isolate the pair. Then I backed the car up so I could go change out of town clothes and into work clothes.

Now the sheep are in the orchard with the two trouble-maker alpaca, and all our gates, panels, and sheep isolation paraphernalia is in the barn. So out to the barn I go. On the way out, I devise a plan that involves the two brown gates we had purchased this winter placed in a corner of the orchard to make a pen. We would have to arrange for water, but the ewe would have plenty of feed, and we could choose a corner with a tree for shelter.

Once I got into the bar, it became clear that my plan has a flaw. Unbeknownst to me, Steve had used one of the brown gates in the new fence, so only one of those was available. I wrestled that one out of Steve’s storage place under the stairs, and packed it over to the orchard anyway. I figured Steve would be home soon, and he’d want to “discuss” my plan anyway, so we could figure out how to improvise the missing gate.

As I was wrestling the gate into the orchard, I realize I was quiet. I noticed the alpaca had moved off away from the sheep, and the little black ewe appeared to be laying down. I went out to the road so as not to disturb anyone, and walked down to Mom’s so I could get a better look. Sure enough. I found the ewe laying down, and could just make out the lamb’s head on the far side of her. Apparently the alpaca had lost interest, and momma was able to convince baby that she/he was a sheep. Steve arrived just in time for me to tell him that all was well.

Little things

I took the time this week to do a couple of little projects before we left for the weekend. There was an old 4×4 post that used to be bolted to a post that had old ceramic insulators installed at the top. The barn and old lamb shed used to have knob and tube power. I pulled the old copper wire out of the spring a few years ago. I had taken down the post as it had rotted away and saved this 4×4. I was going to mount a bat house to it at one point but while cleaning out the machine shed I found an old decorative windmill. I washed it all down with some water and applied some fresh grease. I had the metal sleeve also so I was able to drill a hole in the end of the wood, which turned out to be a solid piece of cedar!!! This would explain why it did so well laying on the ground for the last four years. I greased up the metal sleeve and after installing the windmill it just sat there and didn’t move. A couple of hours later the wind picked up enough to break everything loose and the windmill started to spin and it pivoted on its wood post. I was able to use some of the old lag bolts I picked up all over the farm. I found a railroad tie that was level and had not been pulled over during fence construction. I love it. Once Annmarie spotted it moving around she was surprised at how well it fit. Another fine example of a repurposed item. I finished it just before a rainstorm hit.

Wednesday I killed a couple of hours prepping for more fence. We are having so much trouble keeping the animals in when we cross the stream that I have started to look at ways to just avoid the crossings. We have a five acre spot on the hillside that has not been fenced off yet. Last year we redid the upper fence and started trying to drive posts down the hillside. The hillside is pretty much solid rock so it was not easy. I am hoping that we can get another 6 T posts on the hill. I took the tractor and using the box blade cleared a place for the rest of the downhill side. We will need about 12 more railroad ties to get this fence completed. We have more than enough T posts after picking up another 200 from the scrap yard. The scrap yard has 4 huge rolls of woven wire set aside for me so. I will be picking those up this week. It is enough wire to complete this new fence. This addition will help us with the sheep. They will be able to use the water from the barn lot.

Prior to us leaving this weekend we moved all the sheep into the orchard. There are 100+ sheep in the barn lot now. You cannot really tell that looking at the picture below. This way Tex doesn’t have to put them in and out of the barn lot while we are gone. He is watching and feeding the animals while we are gone.

The best part is he is also cleaning up the spring area and working on the short section of new fencing we started three weeks ago. It should almost be done by the time we get home. It’s the best way to fence.

Winter is leaving

Mother Winter is finally giving up her grip on the weather and spring is trying to come out. For the fifth day in a row we have had above freezing temperatures during the day. This is allowing the snow to melt off at a slow rate. A slow rate is the rate we want. I have been out in the machine shed counting bales of hay to see if we are going to make it. We are going to make it for the cows just barely! We have been feeding the cows twice a day with all this snow on the ground. This morning when I went out and fed there was still hay from last night on the ground. The cows had not cleaned it up. We will go back to feeding the cows in the late evening. This forces them to forage during the day and ensures they have full bellies during the night when it gets cold. It is still freezing every night and dipping down into the low 20’s. I had to go over to Feedeville and buy another ton of pellets for the sheep. This time I picked up alfalfa pellets and more Kountry Buffet, an all purpose general feed. I would have gotten more Kountry Buffet but they ran out. There has been quite the rush on feed with this sudden extended snow storm deposits. It is incredibly expensive to feed this way but we are now getting enough calories into the mothers that they are starting to put weight back on. They don’t usually do that until the grass comes up and they get an all you can eat buffet.

I was sick all day yesterday and slept most of it. I blame my fellow coworkers for spreading the plague. I did manage to move 2400 pounds of food bags from the back of the pickup into the barn and chicken coop. I picked up 300# of chicken food for $12.75/50# bag, this is a good price but unless I buy a ton at a time (40 bags) and save another $1/bag its not really worth the drive. I like having the ton on hand but I hate the mice problems and despite $30 worth of poison traps for the mice they go right for the chicken food and avoid the traps. If I could find flat sheets of sheet metal to mount to the inside walls and floors of the chicken supply room I would feel better but that won’t be an easy task.

I will keep my open when I go to the scrap metal yard next time. I am due to go back and pick up some metal soon. If this 45-50 degree weather keeps up it will be time to start fixing fence soon. One of the barn cats has figured out she stays warm if she sleeps under the round feeders. After the sheep feed they settle down around the feeder and give off heat. The hay is dry and comfortable under the feeder and no one can step on her. It is a recent development and one that she keeps repeating. Our large orange barn cat is starting to mellow out. He stayed in the barn, sitting on a ledge, today the entire time I was working. He used to run immediately to the hole under the barn as soon as he saw us. I guess he likes being fed, I have not seen a single mouse in the barn this winter. Having the cats has made a huge difference. We found another dead cat on the place and have been seeing a raccoon again. I had a single chicken die this week but we think it was due to old age. Very soon we will be getting baby pullets. I just need to place the order.

We are currently trying to fill out paperwork to get a loan for the haying equipment. This is proving to take several hours of our time. Will see how it goes.

We need to start tracking our tractor usage by run hours. At start of March we had 730 hours.