Wagon Train Woes

We put off taking the cows in to be slaughtered for a week due to the snow and ice on the road.  I did not want to pull that horse trailer in that type of weather and the college was gracious enough to allow us to put it off.  I needed to be at the college between 1630-1700 on Thursday so they could kill on Friday.  There were to be no more delays, the wagon train must go on!  So we planned out the week, so that the cows would be moved to the corral on Wednesday and I would come home early on Thursday and load them and go to college, this seems fairly easy.

On Wednesday it started raining in the morning and proceeded to rain all day.  The barn lot is mostly dirt.  I came home a little early so I could work the cows in the daylight.  I decided that I would need some assistance which means letting the dogs help me.  I went into the Alcatraz area and managed to sort off the three steers I wanted in 10 minutes alone.  Once I got them out of the pen and the gates latched I needed help.  I brought the border collies over to help me.  This did not go as well as I wanted.  The steers kept going into the corner of the field nearest the Alcatraz fence and would not leave.  If I tried to get one dog to go in and root them out then I had to turn my back on the other dog.  This seemed to be a signal for the second dog to do whatever they wanted, which equated to balling the steers up into a corner and not letting them get out.  This meant that I started to holler and swear at the dogs.  It took 75 minutes for us to get the steers into the corral. 68 minutes was spent trying to get them past the first gate.  I was making the dogs lay down in the mud as they assumed that a crouching position meant they could move whenever they wanted.  I could hardly talk when I was done.  Luckily, for the dogs, it was 45 degrees outside.  I washed all the mud off of them in the outside faucet.  The pictures below are of the two of them just after we came inside.  They don’t look very contrite.  I could hardly talk the next day, everyone at work thought I was sick.   

I came home at 1500 on Thursday to load up the cows.  I felt so bad after getting the cows into the corral the night before that I did not hook up the horse trailer.  I had plans to do it but I was cold, wet and muddy and was not going to do it.  Why do it then when you can put it off until the next day?

Our housekeeper was just finishing up and offered to stay and help.  Things never go smoothly when you are on a deadline so I accepted.  I drove over and tried to hook up to the trailer and realized that I needed a smaller 2’ hitch ball.  I found a triple one in the machine shed but it had a straight stinger and this was going to cause the trailer to be canted to the rear pretty severely.  So I ran back to the old house to find a 2” ball already attached to a 2” drop stinger.  We got that installed and after the trailer was hitched Tisha asked me if I wanted the bad news.  I am on a deadline, there can be no bad news!  I had a flat tire on the rear right side.  Mind you a few months ago I had the other flat and the spare tire fixed!  So we pulled the trailer up onto a wooden block, elevating the flat tire so it could be changed.  I tried to put it on backwards in my rush, luckily Tisha caught it and told me so I could fix it.  Once the trailer was officially hooked up and ready to go I jumped onto the tractor and pushed the calf table out from in front of the chute.

Tisha backed the trailer right up to the chute opening and we have an sliding half gate so the openings lined up perfectly.  I just jumped in the corral, opened the chute gate and pushed them into the the chute.  Their horns kept hanging up on the walls so they had to concentrate on moving forward so they did not fight the transition at all.  Once they got into the trailer I chased them to the front half and closed our divider gate.  These are really handy as it keeps the cows in the front half so they cannot move around as much.

I was headed to town when I noticed the junk in the passenger floorboard and seat.  Annmarie was supposed to jump in and show me where to go when I got to the college.  She thinks the pickup should always be cleaned out.  I believe that it is a working vehicle and when stuff starts falling out when you open the doors then you need to clean it out.  A small difference of opinion.  As I was pulling up the college hill I messaged her.  She said she would meet me just outside her office building.  Well I had two cars behind me as I came even with her building so instead of just stopping in the road I kept going up and around the corner.  She called to ask where I was going and then we had a long discussion about being a farmer and how when you are hauling a trailer it is acceptable practice to just stop in the middle of the road.  She even argued that it was commonplace (hard to refute that) and I should have joined the club.  I made sure to take the extra time it took her to walk to my stopping location to move trash and stuff from the seat and floorboards so that nothing would fall out when she opened the passenger door.  Nothing  fell out but she was insistent that I needed to clean out the pickup.  We got the cows unloaded without incidence and went home.  Once they give us the hanging weight I will send bills out to the three buyers.

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Holiday slacking

It has been a not very productive December. I have actually done some things but not very exciting unless you are my wife. I spent a couple of weekends cleaning the inside of the house!

I got sick one weekend and it has rained hard twice so I did not feel the urge to go outside in the rain voluntarily. Annmarie reminded me this morning that it has been a while since I posted a blog page. I thought it had only been 2 weeks, turns out it has been exactly three weeks since I wrote the last one. I was told that my reading audience was craving a new post and to keep the readers satisfied I need to write. So I decided to summarize the last three weeks and set up the next year. I really need to work in my 2019 financials before the end of the year. I failed to post this after we completed our taxes in April. I will get those out before the end of the year. I publish them so that people can understand what it costs to get into farming/ranching. I would encourage everyone with a desire to do it, but you need to be realistic about who long it takes and what it costs and all the setbacks possible. This is a labor of love for us. It has taken us almost ten years to get to this point and once I get the hay equipment figured out in 2020 we will be self sufficient. I think this is the true key to success.

Sarah and I worked on the new yard fence yesterday. I remeasured and cut posts so they all are the same height from the top rail. I had a low one so I had to go back and recut them to get them matched. We installed eyebolts but ran out. I thought I had enough but I was 6 short. Not too bad considering I really needed 51 eyelets to complete the new fence. We got the one side installed, there are three wires stretched piano tight on top of the fence below. Zeke cannot jump over it now. He also cannot crawl under it. He has been getting out of the yard nonstop and it is making me crazy. So I watched him a couple of weeks ago. He went up to the front fence by the cars, he jumped up touched the top rail and landed back in his starting spot. He then jumped up and grabbed the top of the wooden rail with his front feet. He then hung there briefly and then scrambled up the fence with his back feet and ducked under the two wires on the front fence. There is a 6″ gap between the board and first wire. It took him 10 seconds and he was out of the yard. We added a third wire 3″ off the board yesterday. He should not be able to repeat that trick. This leads us to getting the new fence Zeke proofed. He is savvy enough to test any stretch that is a perceived barrier. He is proof that any weakness can be exploited given enough time and motivation.

Annmarie and I have had a lively discussion about my fence building next year. I know this is crazy but I like building fence. I also like the ability to segregate and move the animals around which cannot be done without lots of fencing. Due to the new hay endeavor I am told that I can only fix one fence, the one behind our house that keeps the animals down by the creek. It needs a new corner post and smaller gate and restretched. This is so we can run the cows from the schoolhouse up to the orchard and into the barn lot without going out by the cars and houses. This will be the first time we can do this as I just cut in the gate into the orchard this year. I negotiated for a second small section of fence in the orchard so we can create a funnel and fence off the area we want to plant Lavender in. We are looking at around 50 plants. I just remembered I did not finish that new gate. I have 70 feet of fence to finish down by the front ditch. So three small, tiny, insignificant stretches of fence to repair next year. Each section can be done in a single day. I will need the tractor for each section though. I have been trying to create new starts from my African Violets. I have had leaves in water for a few weeks. They had just started to put on roots so yesterday I planted them in mud hoping they can get a grip in their new home. I have five new plants started and I still have 5 more empty African Violet pots. They do so much better if you have the special pots. My plan is to remove the books from the book shelf and get only African Violets growing. We have some bulbs in a flat bucket that starts to grow every Christmas. This year I moved them to the second shelf so that the shoots can grow up through the mesh above and not fall over! I am constantly having to try and prop them up.

The hallway is now painted and I just need to order in some more wooden trim for the floor. This is a cash flow issue and currently I want to get the upstairs bathroom completed. I have all the floor tile and next weekend will go buy all the hardiboard and the paint on red colored waterproof sealant. I also need some mastic but since I am only doing 80 square feet I am just going to buy a premixed 3 gallon bucket. This project will get off the ground by the new year.

I got a Christmas package from my pen pal, Lady Evale this week. She sent fresh from her yard Matsuma tangerines and Myers Lemons. I got this amazing bottled ginger ale pop made with all real ingredients called Swamp Pop. It was amazing. I tried to buy it on the internet, and yes it is possible but ouch the shipping was twice the cost of the product. So I am going to pass. I have her package almost ready to go, I have been on the lookout for items since this summer. I need the right size box now. It is always a pleasant surprise to receive something out of the blue. The Christmas lemon meringue pie is coming from her lemons!

I have 26 baby chicks left out of 36 and only 8 laying hens. Since it is winter I am back down to my 25% production rate. Not very many people are getting eggs from us now. I think we sell 2-3 dozen a month now. I am hoping that changes in the spring time. It is supposed to and we will have quite the color variety on eggs when it does.

We have three calves to tag and band. I had to order more ear tags last week. We have had the same bull this entire time and he has thrown 2 boys for every girl without fail for the last 8 years. This is not normal. Our sheep female to male ratio is leaning towards more males but only by 8 and that is after 370 lambs have been born. We started ear tags with #1 and just keep going.

We have only had 3 lambs in the last 6 weeks. It is making me crazy. The ewes are very fat and I thought for sure December was our month but it is looking like January may be the month everyone explodes. We have three cows to be slaughtered in January so they have been eating as much as we can feed them. Still its only grass or alfalfa, we don’t finish them with grain so they are pretty lean.

This morning it was beautiful. Some days this is what makes it great. I do realize its a lot of work, but what else would I do with my time? I need two more used weathervanes. One for the old chicken coop and one for the old lamb shed, both pictured here. I may need one for the machine shed also. I think every old barn building should have a weathervane on it.

Lamb in hand

We have had the ram isolated and in with the steers for the last two weeks since we had a lamb born on the 9th. We figured it was the tip of the iceburg and the babies would start popping out everywhere. It has been two weeks and no more babies. The sheep come into estrus every 3 weeks so she must have been the only one in heat. So babies should start up in 1-2 weeks.

I had to kick the baby chickens out of the coop today. I just went out there and chased or threw them out one at a time. Only about 10 managed to get out on their own. I went out just before dark and after the automatic chicken door had closed and had to chase 24 back into the coop. Only six had made it inside before the auto door closed.

Annmarie and I had a discussion about what to call the side by side UTV. She did not like the name “side by side”. She did not really care for UTV either. So she opted for “buggy”. I tried to explain that a buggy in recreational vehicle terminology is something you use on the sand. We are calling the side by side a “buggy”.

I did go down and feed the cows another bale of hay and spotted a new calf! It looks good. How can it come out ready for winter?

I have started to wire the machine shed. It is going to be a slow process but hoping to have it down before the new year.

We killed two lambs today, it was our part of the trade two sheep for a pig deal we have been doing the last couple of years. It seems to be working out for both of us. Again we were able to salvage an amazing amount of items courtesy of an Indian friend. He took both heads, all 8 forelegs, lungs, kidneys, hearts, livers and some diaphragm meat and some scraps from the hide. I started a fire in the fire pit and burned off the hair for him. But I am not taking the blame if I overdid it. He said last year when I started the bonfire it was so hot he ended up over cooking the heads and legs. He blamed it on the heat, and his wife blamed him! So I did it at a lower heat and smaller fire. Hopefully, it will meet wife approval standards.

Annmarie is violating the Christmas rule by hanging out a Christmas decoration before Thanksgiving! I went out to let the dogs back in a mere few hours and discovered that the Christmas decoration had fallen apart. It would appear that the powers that be also agree with me on the Christmas rule.

Annmarie used the upstairs bathroom to stain some wood for the laser cutter. Its a great space as we can shut the door and turn on the ventilation fan. It may become a permanent craft location for this reason.

Grass is greener on the other side

Last weekend I spent three days trying to plant the last of the grass hay pasture in the upper fields. I had to drag the field with the harrow to knock down the weeds and smooth out the ground. One advantage of all the rain is that it softened up the dirt clods I had inadvertently created this summer. I managed to get the ground pretty smooth.

Friday was a gorgeous day! The temperature was pleasant and I was able to work most of the day on the tractor. I was able to finish the day and tell Annmarie that I was gonna get it done this weekend! I even managed to plant and cover almost 1.5 acres.

Saturday the plan had to be altered. I had been putting off killing the sheep for the last two months and managed to put it off until the last weekend of October! There was no more month to procrastinate in so Saturday was kill sheep day. We had three sheep to slaughter. Annmarie and I put them into the barn with the help of the dogs then when the two buyers showed up we sorted off the three whethers. Two of them were around 60# and the third was around 90#, he was the oldest. I usually do the killing when we are not having them professionally killed. I bleed them out using an old Basque method. We lift the animals and set them onto the barn window ledge with their head hanging out the window. I hold their head and right where their chin is I pinch the trachea slightly to find out where it located in vicinity to the spine then slide a fillet knife behind the trachea without cutting it. This allows you to sever both carotids and a hole on each side of the neck. The sharp side of the knife is pointed toward the spine so you don’t knick the trachea. You then just turn the knife sideways and apply pressure towards the spine, creating a wider hole for the blood to drain out. As long as the trachea is not cut the animals will just lay there and bleed out. It can be messy for the person holding the knife if the artery sprays blood out the top hole instead of following the laws of gravity. They just drain out and you end up with a very clean carcass. I am getting better at it. No mistakes or inadvertent knicks this time. Its important to understand that we treat the animals well and provide for them so that they can provide for us. Its not cruel, it is their purpose. We are all a part of the food chain and being at the top is always better than the alternative.

The two smaller animals we traded for a pig and the larger one we sold to an amazing gentleman from India. We all three cleaned, skinned and cut them up. We were able to use up almost every part of each animal. Americans don’t really understand how much of an animal we don’t consume. We saved the lungs, heart, kidneys, livers, heads, and all lower legs/hooves from every animal for the Indian gentleman. We asked him how he processed the head and lower legs and he said in India they burn off the hair then scrape the hide and then cook with them. I had a burn pile ready to go so I lit it for him and pulled all the boxes and paper I had saved this summer from the old house. He took 30 minutes and did exactly that before packaging up his portion. We also had jointed out his lamb and cut rib strips and entire spine into three sections so he could cut it up further at home. He was very happy and we learned something new, Oxen are not revered like the cow. Those that rever the cow can still consume oxen. I totally did not know that! I am going to have to fix the skinning area and install a gravel drain bed. When we wash off the carcasses it can get a little muddy. I want to dig down about 8-10 inches and fill it up with 2 inch gravel then the top 2 inches 3/4 minus gravel so the water just drains away immediately. My father always taught me the importance of keeping all your meat clean and up front prep is the key to doing this. I had bleached down the stainless steel table prior to us starting. It needs a little reinforcement, after five years it is starting to get a little wobbly. I can fix that, although the table will just get that much heavier after I reinforce it.

I was able to get my burn pile taken care of, I dumped off the few leftovers and hide up on the bone pile. Our neighbors had come over and gotten their cows that had showed up on Thursday on our back hillside. I thought it was the neighbor up the creek but it turned out to be our, over the hill, neighbor. He had a hole in the fence which is highly unusual as he is a great neighbor. I have learned though that all cows will get out eventually. Mine get out at least twice a year and have done that since we have had them. Even when I think there is no way possible for them to get out they do. We now have a note on the fridge with all the surrounding cow people’s phone numbers on it for just such an emergency. We usually get a few stragglers coming down out of the mountains after it starts to snow and will need to call everyone once again. Once you start calling around it works like a calling tree and pretty soon you are getting calls. Its times like that I really appreciate living in a place that people still look out for each other and it is the normal behavior.

Annmarie was not happy with the pile of wire and large cut up tree branches still hanging out in the ram pasture from my fence redo this summer. I brought the tractor in at dark and pushed all the tree parts into the fire to clean it up. I need to get the scrap fence pieces onto the scrap metal pile. The sheep kept going around the pile then did not want to go through the gate into the barn lot.

It rained all night Saturday and I was afraid I would not be able to plant on Sunday. Determination is a wonderful thing. I put on my thin cotton pants, two pair of socks and my chest waders with built in boots, a yellow rain slicker over my jacket with a waterproof hat and went outside. I bagged up the grass seed into large heavy plastic bags and tossed them and seed spreader into the bucket of my tractor and drove up to the upper field. I was able to trudge through the field feeling like an organ grinder with the seeder on my chest, my right arm turning the throwing wheel and my left hand thumb holding the reservoir gate open to allow the seed to fall into the spinning wheel. After three hours of this my right arm and legs were killing me. Mud on your boots makes it a lot harder to keep marching. I just kept listening to my book on tape and telling myself to just move my foot one more step. I kept that up for another five hours. Its amazing that if you take it one step at a time you can just keep going. Now there is a consequence for abusing your body like that, I did not sleep well. I kept tossing and turning and moaning in my sleep. I also will put my arms over my head in my sleep which causes me to jab Annmarie in the head with my elbows. Neither one of us slept very well and she made sure to spell out the reasons for it first thing Monday morning. I love it when she puts on her grumpy face!!

So I am officially done with planting grass this fall. I got it all in the ground and only ended up with an extra 50#. Annmarie has convinced me that I need to purchase a seeder for our small tractor. I am getting old and I want to plant alfalfa and I want to plant a field of Sainfoin which has to be planted 3/4 of an inch deep. So our plan is to put up more fencing and create some smaller pastures with gates around and through them. This will allow me to block off a few acres, till it and then replant it. I can keep the animals off of it for a few months until it is established. Doing this will increase our nutrition base for the cows and sheep. Mind you the three lambs we slaughtered looked amazing! They had a lot of belly fat inside their abdominal cavities, fat on their backs and the chests were covered with a thick layer. They had been getting plenty to eat and have lots of padding going into winter.