Friday, December 30, 2016

December 30, 2016

Tralah, tralee, today's my birthday, lucky me.  I'll give my animals a treat, for each what he likes best to eat. . .(From The Jolly Barnyard , children's book.)

So today for my birthday we got to work on a project I wanted to work on, and that is refurbishing the greenhouse.  One, I sometimes have skin problems in the winter and can get sun in the greenhouse, and two, I want to get so much better at starting our plants from seeds.  I would really like a rocket mass heater in the greenhouse, but we shall see. . .In the meantime, the plastic on the ends of the greenhouse had deteriorated to the point of not being there, so today we replaced it with UV resistant plastic (like has lasted on the body of the greenhouse.)

We had an appointment to take one of our steer to be processed.  However, we couldn't get either of them into the trailer to go.  We had bought a two horse trailer (since it will be rare that we are transporting more than one full grown steer at a time).  We had parked it in the pasture to let them get familiar with it.  We thought they would follow us onto it when we were holding a bucket, but that didn't happen.  We are now feeding them in it every night, so we will see if that helps get us to our next appointment on January 23rd.

For insurance, we bought some materials to put together to make a bud box.  While we put it together
ourselves (much cheaper than buying a sweep gate set), we seem to have so much money in cattle (with fencing, trailer, bud box, feed, etc.), we are hoping perhaps the 20th one will pay off?  Anyway, the cattle have certainly been entertaining.   They even figured out how to open the gate to the pasture.  So in the end, we were worried about the cattle letting our dogs out of the fence. . .lol

The front pasture was not looking too green this time of year, so we had to move the cattle to the back pasture where there was a lot more green from different forage (our growing area).  We were worried that they would not have enough pasture, so we expanded the fence by putting a large gate in the growing area and adding a line of solar electric fence off to one side.  It seems to work well.  We watched as the cattle received their "training", as we were worried the day before when we were building it and they ran right through it and tangled it up and broke a few of the step-in posts.

We also had to get another stock tank for the back area, as we got tired of emptying and moving just one.

As far as equipment for ourselves, our kids surprised us with some protective gear for our feet for Christmas.  They are steel toed Wolverine hiking boots.  What thoughtful presents!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December 10, 2016

Sad news.  One of our calves died.  This particular calf has been a little different since we got him.  Always slow, napping all the time, and apparently when we put him in the pasture, he couldn't function on his own, even though we were feeding him every night, and there was plenty of grass to forage on during the day.  We had no warning, as he came to dinner the night before, and when he didn't come to dinner the next night, we went looking and found him laying down in the pasture, not raising his head.  By the time the vet got here, he was dead.  So very sad.  Our neighbor helped by coming over with his skidloader and digging a hole for us.  A depressing week for my husband and I, as I had fed this calf three bottles a day for about ten weeks.  Of course, when life goes away, it is depressing no matter what you have done.  I hate it when learning comes in this form.

On the positive side, we have finished the calf barn and my husband has decided that it needed some lights, as it gets so very dark so early, and when my husband arrives home from work, it is already dark.  We usually go together to feed the cows.  So he wired up the barn with DC wiring as the barn is remote from the house.  We will run it from a battery that will be charged with a photovoltaic panel.  We made the decision to put a spring wound timer for the switch, so when we go out there, we can turn on the timer which gives us enough time to fill up the bunkers and give the calves some extra time so they can see to eat, without us having to go back to shut it off.

We used a lawn and garden tractor battery due to cost, and the small light requirement we think we will need.  We have not put up the photovoltaic panel yet, but we plan to mount that on the roof of the calf barn to charge the battery.   We know we can get one from our neighbor, so it is only a matter of going over and getting one.  My husband did such a good job, it works like a charm.  After he was done, he went back and banded the wires together with zip ties to increase the neatness of the look.

Monday, December 5, 2016

December 5, 2016

It seems like I haven't written in a while (which is true).  We have been so busy doing things for our daughter's wedding here at the farm.  However, that included finishing up projects here at the farm, so the farm could look good, as well as retain functionality.  For example, we finally have a two car parking pad so we don't have to drag in mud, which in turn releases us from doing that kind of clean up work and allows us more time on the farm.  At the same time, we put in a turn out which has been quite helpful for turning around the truck and tractor.  We also finished up the handrail on the back deck which was a safety issue, as well as finished the calf barn and put on the doors.  Additionally, we had to stop and get a feed bunk for the large steer, as their dancing around us while we were holding the small buckets was putting our feet in danger of getting stepped on.  Another small project was when my husband took an existing barrel and cut it in two to make a feed bunk for the smaller calves.

We ended up having to build a dance floor (which did not get used due to the cold temperature on the wedding day.  However, we put it together in such a way to leave most of the materials a full 8 foot dimension so we can use the lumber elsewhere (such as the flooring on the apartment that will eventually house farm help.)  The tables and benches were put together with two by twelves and two by tens, which we are already planning another outbuilding for the growing area to house tools where we need them.  Nothing will go to waste if we can help it.  It made more economic sense to us to buy the equipment and/or lumber for about the same price as the rental, and have something we could sell or use at the end.

The Black Angus steer and the Brown Swiss calves have sure grown.  We have an appointment for one of our steer to go to the packing plant on December 26th.  Prior to that, we have got to find a trailer. . .

Don't forget to flip over to the wedding tab "One Wedding to Rule Them All," scroll to the bottom of the page and hit the link (the word here), to get to the wedding pictures.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

November 6, 2016

So busy finishing up the calf barn and getting ready for my daughter's wedding.  We are moving right along on the calf barn in what spare time we can muster.  My husband specially made a support piece for the door.

We made the door down in the basement, and we put it up today. We transported it out to the pasture on the forks of the tractor (my husband is a genius.)  It looks so nice on the barn!  Now we just have to finish that other side and the door that goes with it!  Hopefully next weekend will see this project done for now.

We took a day off and went to see my husband's parents.  While we were there, they wanted me to look at their computer that wasn't working so well.  It turned out that their computer monitor died.  We jumped in the car and went to Salvation Army where we bought a replacement monitor for $3.19.  It worked like a charm.

We have been working on lots of little projects for the wedding.  We poured a face for Treebeard and painted the eyes (we are going to be putting it on a tree near the reception.)  We have been working on Azog the Defiler's costume.  Managed to get it done out of a brown suede leather jacket that I found for $4 at a thrift shop.  I also made a handfasting cord for the ceremony from some blue velvet that I cut off of the hem of my daughter's dress.  Only 20 days left until this Lord of  the Rings wedding.

Friday, October 28, 2016

October 28, 2016

Today is a very good day.  I am finally starting to feel better from this 3 week illness I have had.  One thing about being on a farm and having an illness, the animals still need to be fed.  Today I was running a little late and one of my border collies, Phoenix, came and stared in the window and cocked his head as if he were saying, "Hey, mom!  Did you forget to feed these noisy calves?  You're late!"  I have to laugh.  Such a sweet and gentle reminder.

Yesterday was the first day that the older group of calves did not get a single bottle.  It was also the first day the youngest calf got into the weaning program, losing one of his three bottles.  The calves were not happy and any time they saw me, they all came to the fence and bawled.  It has been quite a task to try to get the youngest one out of the fence for feeding and keep the others in.  Thank goodness he is the skinniest one so when I open the gate for him (if I can keep it steady), he is the only one that will fit through.  I have trouble putting him back in without the others getting out, as I have to lure him in with a bottle (it's empty), and if the others see it, they all want it.

We also had Lauren and Themis from the NRCS back out yesterday so they could see what winter forage was coming up and advise me where to place the cow waterer in the pasture.  They are full of good knowledge and advice.  I would highly recommend that if you are a new farmer and don't know what plants are in your pasture or need some advice in designing where everything in the pasture should go, that you call your local NRCS.   While they were here, one of our black angus steer got quite friendly.  Cattle are so curious.  Ours reminds me of an old neighbor, Willie, who used to come over every time someone drove up in our driveway to see what was going on.  Best security we've  ever had, even if it did get a little annoying sometimes.

As work on the calf barn continues slowly, we have had to make a few temporary adjustments.  We bought a gate to stand up at one end and used a board on the other side as sort of a creeper barrier (thanks Linda for the idea) to allow the calves in and keep the older ones out so they don't push the younger calves off of their feed buckets.  As you can see by the picture on the right, one of the calves graciously agreed to model how it works.  So far, so good.

As we are planning for the finished calf barn to have three stalls, a kitchen area and hay storage, I have been watching out for a sink with big drainboards to put in the barn.  Thankfully our neighbors (thanks John and Karen!) were pulling one out from one of their buildings, so that worked out well.  Currently it is just sitting in the barn until we get the opportunity to run water out there.  We are trying to figure out what we are going to use in that area to level it and provide a better flooring, and are considering sand and stepping stones.  Stay tuned.

Monday, October 17, 2016

October 17, 2016

Days 3 and 4 of merging the calves/weaning the older ones went without incident, and today is day 5.  However, watching the smallest calf be lonely on this side of the fence made me worry.  I also was worried the he was not learning as much from the older calves as he needed to.  So today, I decided to get brave and add him in with the rest in the pasture.

Sure enough, shortly after I added him in, he went to join two other calves at the mineral bucket.

Another sight while I was out there surprised me a bit.  One of our older steer, Meatloaf, who hasn't shown himself to be the most nurturing in the past, was actually grooming the calves.  They seemed to be really liking it and/or were extremely comfortable.  While this was happening, the youngest calf was going closer and closer to the group.  As I had seen the cattle sniffing each other in the past, I was afraid that the older steer would recognize the baby as a newcomer right away and come to see what was going on.  That did not happen.  Of course, unlike other animals, the steer do not seem to mind pooping in their sleeping area.  As they all sleep in it (one can only clean it out so much), I guess they should all have smelled pretty similar.

On the calf barn, we are slowly progressing.  It seems that lately we have either been sick or not had the right materials (no matter how often we go to Lowes.)  This weekend we got the last outside post put up, then started with the back wall.  This time, we ran out of wood screws and had to stop.  I love the way my husband took a small amount out of the 4 x 4s and wedged in the header for the door.  Of course, we also toe-nailed that in.

As far as wedding progress, we got the dirt pile flattened out so we can grow grass there, as well as put down a new coat of rocks for the driveway.

Harvest news:  We harvested and put in the freezer 9 1/2 gallons of bell peppers, as well as 5 1/2 bushels of sweet potatoes.  Some of those sweet potatoes were huge.

Friday, October 14, 2016

October 14, 2016

Day Two of merging the herd/Day One of weaning.

Yesterday, I left the calves in the fence with the older steer until it was time for their next bottle which was about 6:00.  At that time, my husband got home and we made bottles and took them to the fence.  We had no trouble whatsoever of getting the calves to come to the gate and out to get their bottles.  We took them to the pen (their usual feeding place) where their bottle holder is and fed them all their bottles.  The calves were left in for the rest of the night, partially because we felt bad for the poor young calf that followed them back and forth along the fence all day.  I ended up putting a bucket of water alongside the fence where the water tank was so the youngest calf could go drink when his friends were.

This morning I decided it would be day one of weaning.  Prior to this time I had been giving all the calves two bottles in the morning, and one in the evening.  This week I planned to give them one bottle in the morning and one in the evening, except for the youngest who will continue to get all of his.  My husband has to leave for work, therefore the morning feeding is on me.  So I fixed all the bottles, which I carry in a square 5 gallon bucket, and took them all to the pen.  The feeding frenzy was on.  After they finished the bottles, I gathered the empties in a hurry while they were still in frenzy mode, and led them all to the pasture.  I let all the calves in the pasture except for the youngest.  I then went inside to observe through the window how the Black Angus were going to handle today.  One thing I learned is that cows seems to sniff each others behinds just like dogs do.  At first, the Black Angus were anxious again, though not as much as yesterday.  There were a few scary moments like when one of the steer rared up like he was going to land on a calf, but the calf quickly got out of the way.  It was so interesting to watch as one of our border collies (Phoenix), seemed to run over to the fence and give the Black Angus a talking to every time they did some scary move toward the calves.  The big Black Angus appeared to pay attention.  Then Phoenix would trot back about 20 feet away and sit on his haunches like he was watching television.  Our other border collie (his brother) Hercules, just kind of laid back and observed the whole thing.  He was definitely not in the alert status that Phoenix was.

There was more disturbance when I came out with the youngest calf's second bottle, when all the other calves complained loudly and went over to the gate (smart little things).  When I finished and went inside, things calmed down again.  It was so funny how one of the calves went over and pushed on the gate, then mooed to the Black Angus steer, got out of the way, and the two Black Angus came over and pushed on the gate.  I am sure if they wanted to push the gate open, it would have been no trouble to break through that chain.  Thankfully, they lost interest after a few minutes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

October 13, 2016

OH MY GOODNESS!!!!  I was one scared cow mama today.  You see I have two Black Angus steer that are about 13 months old.  AND I have five Brown Swiss bottle calves that range in age from 8 weeks to 5 weeks.  I could not find anything online that speaks to this situation of turning the calves out (with all males), so I decided I was just going to have to go with my gut.  In order to wean some calves and not the others, I knew I would need to separate them somehow, so I decided to get them used to the  big pasture (instead of our front yard).  For the last two weeks, I have been feeding the calves some grain in buckets right next to the fence between the yard and the pasture, and feeding the Black Angus just on the other side of the fence at the same time.  I figured they could start getting used to each other this way.  Then last night, after feeding them all from their buckets, my husband and I opened the gate and invited the small calves (except for the youngest) into the pasture with the big steer to see how they would do.  With my husband and I out there, there was just a lot of sniffing, but the calves got scared and mooed at the gate to get out of there, so we took them out.

This morning, I fed the Brown Swiss calves their two bottles and decided to try them in the fence
again (except for the little one who gets run away from his bottle and needed feeding).  So I got them all in the pasture.  The Black Angus came up and did their sniffing and things calmed down.  I then led the calves down the fence and introduced them to the water tank, so they would know where to get water.  Figuring they needed some time without me to get acquainted, I went inside and watched anxiously from the window.  It was so funny how the two Black Angus seemed to spend a little anxious time around the calves then came back together and I swear they looked like they were whispering in each other's ears.  Then, they took a run at the little calves and one of them jumped up in the air and bucked.  I WAS SO SCARED FOR THE CALVES THAT I WAS READY TO GO RESCUE THEM!!  However, after a few minutes of this "territorial threat display" (any Avatar fans out there?) they seemed to calm down and just start eating grass.  Then the calves calmed down and started eating grass also.  I'm sure it was only minutes, but it seemed like it was going in slow motion to me.

Now that I have that situation solved for now, I have one calf inside the fence that seems to not know what to do with himself with all his buddies on the other side of the fence.  To be fair though, this calf spent a lot of time by himself even when the calves were in the front yard with him, mostly because he still naps a lot and the other calves go out to forage.  I will watch him and just keep going with my gut.  I will invite the other calves back in for feeding tonight, so stay tuned.  I usually don't have any problems getting them to come when I yell, "C'mon calves" and hold up a bottle.  Stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 12, 2016

We are continuing to work on the calf barn, but have not progressed a lot due to illnesses and a hurricane (working only on weekends).  However, we are making progress.  The next part of the progress was to put in the posts necessary to finishing both ends of the calf barn, as well as where we want to put in stall walls.  The overall plan for the calf barn is to have three stalls, one kitchen/storage area, and a larger area for storing hay.  We took about 4 hours to put in some posts this past weekend (our viruses are making us get tired out pretty easily), and a short time the previous weekend putting in cement to dry.  I felt that I needed to show details on this step, as it doesn't seem to be in the progress pictures of the Mulligan's Run barn that this is patterned after.  I did get a helpful email from the owner, however, to give me a direction to go in.  We used the 12" auger on our tractor to dig some holes that are 12" deep.  We then mixed concrete and poured it into the holes (seven holes in all).  Despite having it blocked off, the Black Angus steer that we have in that pasture managed to get into it as it was getting close to being cured and put their hooves in.  As we were keeping a check on it, we managed to step in with our muck boots on and re-flatten it while it was still malleable.  They did not mess them up again, thank goodness.

Once the concrete dried (we waited until the next weekend), We then worked on the posts to be fitted to the top by first putting the 4 x 4 up on the outside of the carport with it's base on the outside of the concrete, leveling it in one direction, and drawing a line at the carport roofline.  Since our roof is corrugated, we then made a second line 1/2" down, and cut on that line.  Once that was done, we put the post up where it was to go, leveled it, and drew a line where we wanted to notch it out about 2" so it would fit snugly on the metal carport supports.  My husband used a circular saw, cut the line, and then cut a line about every 1/8" so he could then hit it with a hammer and get the rest out with a chisel.  Once we got that fitted and leveled, we drew a line straight down in the middle of the metal support and the middle of the 4 x 4 post, as well as drew around the bottom of the 4 x 4 onto the concrete (so we could line them up again), and took down the post.  We then position the post base in the square we had drawn, and using a spike, tapped it where the of the post base was to mark it.

We removed the base and used a hammer drill to make the 1/2" hole for the redhead sleeve in the concrete.  We used a piece of tube and our air compressor to blow the extra dust out of the hole so we would get a good fit. We put down the post base and hammered in the redhead, then tightened it with a socket and driver to secure it in the concrete.  We then put the post in and drilled two holes through the top and into the metal carport supports so we could use a carriage bolt to secure the two pieces together.  We put the post bases so that the sides went to the sides and not towards the front of the barn where we would be putting wood.  We also secured them to the posts with joist hangers.  Then we repeated this procedure with the other outside posts.

In addition to working on the calf barn, the hurricane came in and took out a day with rain, while giving us needed rest, and filling our pond so nicely with water just in time for our daughter's wedding.  The water rushing through the spillway did manage to kill some of our young fish, however.

For the wedding progress, we have sent out invitations, we have added a web page for her Lord of the Rings wedding (see tabs), we have made progress on costumes, planted flowers, secured a sound system (we are using the Ion Tailgater PA system - I think our neighbors will all hear the wedding.)  Life is good, but busy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

September 26, 2016

Well, we have finally begun our little calf barn from the metal carport.  Does anyone else have to add things small steps at a time?  Between our full time jobs, the now five bottle calves, getting ready for our daughter's wedding, etc., we have to add things in with small steps of progress to keep our sanity.  Our calf barn project for this weekend was to get the sides done.  We decided we wanted natural light in our barn, so we added clear corrugated roofing for windows on the sides.  The area between the metal posts is about 20 feet, so we bought 5 panels, using two that are whole and one that is cut down the middle (I used ordinary scissors to cut it.)  In order to have support for the windows, we put a row of wood at top, and added two side supports in the middle by kreg jigging holes to the top and bottom of the boards and fastening on the inside of the barn with pocket screws.  We used 1" self -tapping roofing screws to put in the windows, due to the washers they have on them.  We had bought self-tapping 1 1/2" screws to attach the 10' boards to the metal carport supports, which we counter-sunk to make the heads even with the boards (or close to it).  It really didn't take that much time with two people working on it (my husband and me).  It's funny that we started working about 9 am and decided we needed better tools, so we left to go buy new drill bits and a generator so we could power regular drills (it was draining the batteries of our cordless drills quickly to drill into those metal supports.)  We had wanted a generator anyway with our off grid system and the upcoming wedding reception being so far from the house, so the timing was right.  We didn't really get back to work until about 2:00 in the afternoon, so the work done on the sides was accomplished in about 6 hours, with two of us working.  The boards in 10' lengths were about perfect.  There are only a couple we will have to trim at the corners.  We let them hang over about an inch so they will meet the front and back boards.  Next weekend, we are planning to drill the holes for the interior posts, put cement in to set, and then put up the posts.  As we have guests coming next weekend, that is about as much as we can do.

The calves are getting along well.  I do have to say, though, that I am looking forward to getting the calf barn together and being able to separate them for feeding.  The bottle holder is working well, but some calves are faster at drinking than the others, so as soon as they finish their bottles, they try to knock the other calves off of the ones they are drinking so they can finish theirs as well.  I often have to take the smallest one out of the lineup to hand feed so I can be sure he is getting enough.  The calves are doing a good job at grazing and have started eating grain and drinking water, so that's good.  I am hoping to get all the calves off of bottles before my daughter's wedding here.  I have one bottle that the weep hole is not reamed out as much, which makes the bottle slower.  I have marked that one and make sure the boss calf gets that every time to slow him down a bit so he isn't stealing the other bottles quite so fast.  It has worked well!

Continuing projects include finishing the stairs to the barn loft.  We have yet to do the hand rails, but as there is really nothing to go to up there (and it is extremely hot currently), I am sure we will be more interested in working on that after the wedding, the weaning of the bottle calves, and the cool weather sets in.

Also, in preparation for our daughter's wedding, we straightened up the arbor (that my husband built for our first daughter's wedding), pressure washed it, and gave it a fresh coat of paint in places that there were not plants growing on it.  It appears that a bittersweet vine has volunteered there, which will be fabulous for a November wedding.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 1, 2016

So much going on at the farm!!  It's only been a few days since I posted, but too much has happened to wait!  Knowing that we will be getting 6 new calves, we decided to plan a calf  barn.  We are putting it in the middle of the pasture for multiple uses.  Our initial plan is three stalls, one large area to store hay, and one kitchen area with sink to clean and store equipment.  Our plan is to use the idea from Mulligan's Run here.  So we have purchased a metal 18 x 21 carport.  This was installed by Twin Carports.  They arrived at 7:45 am, had the right equipment to install without electrical, helped me orient the carport properly and were finished shortly after 9 a.m.  They did a great job, and had a great sense of humor as seen in the above photo of my carport and the crew.

We picked up two additional calves last night, adjusted the size of our temporary pen that we made under the tractor shed with hay, and built a bottle holder rack for six bottles, as we know we will end up with six calves, which would make feeding them a zoo by myself.   We got the idea from this youtube video.   Honestly, as a new farm/homestead, I don't know what we would do without youtube!  Feeding the calves this morning (with two new calves) was a frenzy though.  Our first two calves picked up earlier did beautifully.  However, the two new calves were another story.  One took to the bottle as long as I held it, then he ended up coming out of the pen between hay bales.  The last new calf would not take a bottle.  I ended up letting all the other calves out, but him.  He still wouldn't take the bottle.  I went back to the house and left the bottle in the holder for a while  (about 20 minutes while watching out the window) to see if he would drink by himself. Nothing.  I had been told that they were using bottle holders at the dairy farm where I got him.  After a while I came back out to try feeding him while holding the bottle.  I expressed some milk into my hand for him to suck on then led him to the nipple and put my free hand under his mouth.  Finally he started drinking and finished the bottle.

Then I left him in the pen and came to make another bottle (kind of as a reward and to continue training).  I went back out to feed him and he seemed to have the handheld down pat, so I started working with him on the bottle holder.  He ended up getting it, but I had to keep expressing milk into my hand and leading him back to the nipple before he caught on. Whew.  I think I had milk from head to toe after the morning feeding with all the calves.   Usually after they finish their bottles, I leave them in the pen for about a 20 minute calming period, then I let them out to roam around our yard.  Otherwise, they keep headbutting me to, I don't know, let my milk down?  The two new calves wound up in my flower bed.

The other addition to our farm recently is a Mighty Mule gate opener.  I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to get out of the car, open the gate, then move the car, and close the gate.  We found that we could stand on the front porch (probably about 100 feet away) and hit the remote to open and close it when company comes.  Life's little luxuries. . .