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.

My wife loves fence

I was off work yesterday and thought about getting some work done. I even made a list during breakfast on a scrap piece of paper. I didn’t want to overwhelm myself so I only had four items on the list. Instead a Netflix binge of the second season of one of my shows occurred. I managed to hang Annmarie’s stained glass window in our downstairs window after Netflix went down! So Annmarie can think some glitch in the netflix server for her window. I found some hand made hooks and some painted chain to hang it with on Etsy. We have had this stained glass window at least 15 years. I had it custom made for her from a wonderful lady.

Annmarie has been wanting me to go outside and put up the temporary woven electric fence in the ram pasture so the sheep can get out onto some grass. I really don’t want to do this. We had talked about running a fence from the corner of the chicken coop to the far fence so we could keep the sheep away from the back creek. We don’t want the lambs to be able to get to the running water in case it comes up. Now this was fenced off when we moved here. The fence ran from the corner of the old house to near our end fence. They had no water for the rams as no section of fence touched water when we moved here.

So since it was 50 F today I opted to go outside and create said fence. I did clean out the last of the junk from the craft room so Annmarie can now finish organizing it and start sewing. I have a request in for repair of two of my favorite pants and two new vests with more room in the chest and shoulders.

I have learned over the years how to build fence. I actually drug it fairly smooth with the box blade on the tractor as I had several high spots. I then string up a marker and using ground paint and a tape measure I mark out the fence. This makes construction much easier. I make the H braces 8 feet apart and I makes paint strip (long sided T) for T-posts and then I paint a dot for the wooden stays. I put the T-posts every eight feet and the wooden stays at four feet between them. This makes for a very tight fence and not one that any creature can squeeze through.

I had some trouble using the tractor auger as I hit clay and it would not go through. There was so much heat down in the hole that the dirt was smoking! I ended up having to use the manual post hole diggers and dig out a central hole that allowed the center part of the tractor auger to drop farther. The chisel tip of the tractor auger was riding on top of the clay. Odd part was it was not hard to dig manually but the tractor could not get through.

I managed to get all seven posts sitting in their respective holes. I pounded in 15 T-posts and laid out all 17 wooden stays. I will need to set the wooden posts in gravel tomorrow then cut and form the three H braces. I have two four foot gates to be installed in one location so we can get through the fence later. I am unsure where the woven wire is going to come from on the farm. I don’t think I have any left on my fence pile. I will have to look. I may have a roll up on the back hillside down by the school house. I am hopeful that I have two small rolls still on my fence pile. I have several hundred T-posts in the pile as I keep buying them from the scrap yard for $2/each.

When feeding tonight I lectured the “long as wide” ewe about the need for her to have her babies soon. She is a little more happy now that she has a gate and can see the other sheep. We are afraid to let her into “general population” as she may end up stuck on her back if jostled. The cat has managed to make her way back into the enclosure. We are definitely going to use up all our hay this year. I will be pulling over alfalfa from the machine shed by the end of February.

Water runneth

The back creek started to run this week. Its pure runoff from the mountains and runs about six months out of the year. On Monday night I spotted some standing water in the creek, on Tuesday when I came home I heard it running and it kept me awake all night. I again thought that I should go out and lift the fences from over the creek. I did not do this and Wednesday when I came home the creek was a torrent! I ended up spending an hour in the dark in my wader boots trying to get the fence out of the creek and the weed dams to broken up. Every year I end up out in the dark surrounding by raging water trying to lift the fence. I tell myself that every year I should go out on the very first day I notice the standing water. I never do, I always wait until the last minute.

The upper fields are improving but the one is solid green while the other is just having the green start to poke through. I keep hoping the second field will take off. Today I had to start feeding the cows alfalfa. At the rate we are going through feed I am sure we will end up with some left over. The cats are going to be disappointed when it goes away as they keep tunneling down into it to stay warm.

I spent an hour with the new calf table cleaning it up and trying to get it to work. I managed to get all the pieces moving but I can only get the table to lean back 45 degrees. Annmarie tells me for $50 I had to expect to work on it more than one hour, but hopes springs eternal in my mind and I was hoping for instant success.

I thought I had misplaced the box blade but managed to find it after a couple of hours. This is super good as I do not have to admit to the wife that I misplaced it. See it was sitting right where it was supposed to be.

Our current numbers are as follows:

1 death

4 bummers

13 singles

15 twins

3 triplets

29 ewes birthed

7 pregnant ewes pending birth

46 lambs dosed, tagged and banded

3 babies dosed only

It will only take 20 minutes

Three days before Christmas and the ground is green and the soil is moist, this is not a normal December for our location. I keep hoping we will get a brutal two week cold spell down to single digits. I am afraid of what will happen with the bugs this upcoming summer. I think they will be horrible.

We had decided that we were going to finally have lambs soon. Since we were making the Christmas dinner the feeling was we would get inundated that morning. So on Saturday Annmarie and I went out to the barn for 20 minutes to move the ram over into the bull enclosure. I went to get panels from the large hay bale pile and Annmarie set up panels in the momma enclosure. I used the tractor to haul 7 panels over into the barn lot and then we hooked the panels together creating an alley way to the bull enclosure. I was one panel short so we pulled over a 16 foot cow panel that was stored over against the barn fence.

We sorted sheep using the chute in the barn and got the ram and three young females off the main herd. None of the females are pregnant and can hang out with him in the separate enclosure. We have learned not to put the animals by themselves as they just don’t do very well, always anxious and trying to get through the fence.

The ram with his three females. They were super happy as no animal had been inside the enclosure for over two months allowing the grass to grow undisturbed. We spent 2.5 hours moving and sorting animals!

I needed to clean out both cars as they both have engine lights on but Annmarie’s car seems to have an electronic ghost. Mine just has an engine light. I got a recall notice last week saying it can be a fuel tank indicator that can cause this and the part won’t be available until the spring of 2019.

I had a friend give me some old Toyota truck snow tires and I used the tractor to lift my trailer and change out the tires. I was pleasantly surprised when the tires fit the trailer. We are back in business and I loaded the trailer up with alfalfa from the machine shed. I will store it under cover in the lamb shed. I can feed the ram out of it and it will be available when I need to start feeding the cows small bales. I have 6 large bales left to feed the cows then I will be using the trailer to feed them small bales of alfalfa. The nice thing is I can pull the trailer with my tractor and get another three bales of hay in the front bucket.

Once I got the trailer into the lamb shed I used the 3 point quick hitch to lift it off of the ball. I hooked the safety chains into the hooks and then just lifted it off. This was very slick, now if only it will be that easy when I go to hook it back up.

I had to go feed and take care of my chickens. I had to carry another 100# of feed out to them. I noticed that the enclosure door was broken. One of the sheep got stuck in the enclosure and she just kept ramming her body against the fence in several places. She broke off one of the 4×4 posts. I ended up installing eyehooks and then using chain and a self tightener to pull the broken post into place. The only real issue is you have to pick your feet up when crossing the door threshold. I happened to spot all these hand grinders on the old house back porch. This doesn’t include the three sets we have inside the house.

I am going to have to install a couple of new posts in the chicken fence and rip out about 50% of it. I no longer need it all around the entire coop. The chickens are free range anyways.

I was supposed to take Annmarie out for her birthday dinner and had managed to keep an outside fire burning for three days. I was burning scrap wood, cardboard and branches that the wind had blown out of the trees. We had no wind for that entire time and when we went to go out to dinner the wind had picked up and was throwing hot coals 20-30 feet.

Annmarie made me put it out before we left for dinner. I actually managed to get the entire thing out and cooled so the wind did not restart it while we were gone.

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.

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.