The BIG Fall Push is Done!

Farming is fun, remember that romantic ideal, then start a farm and let reality sink in for a few months. Okay, it’s not all that bad. The summer was terrific on the farm and we settled in pretty well with all our new chores and responsibilities. Just when we were getting accustomed to routine, the goats and sheep started looking like they may just be pregnant. We slowly started making preparations, but the weather began to change. I realized we were way behind the curve from where we needed to be if the animals are indeed pregnant.

The girls needed their own pens instead of the communal arrangement and the boys needed to have their own separate living accommodations. Building the pens wasn’t all that difficult, but the idea of building a whole other barn for the boys with the time we had available seemed all but impossible.

Then we realized we already had the start of a small barn in a small pasture. It was a simple 4 post structure we put up in the summer to provide shade. It was only 8 feet by 8 feet so we were pretty certain it needed to be bigger. Simple math (my favorite) said to just double its length and that is what we did. It isn’t the prettiest barn in the world as we rummaged through the last of our left-over construction material to piece it together. We did end up having to buy a few things, but overall it was very affordable.

We moved the boys (and Ruth the donkey) into their new home. I wasn’t sure how well or quickly they would adapt, but apparently as long as they know food is in there, they don’t seem to mind leaving the ladies behind. The ladies on the other hand appeared rather upset the first couple of days. They’d sit by the fence that separated them and made quite a bit of noise. I guess they’ve already gotten used to it though as they don’t seem so concerned anymore.

Next project…the garden!

Donkey Tales – The Rain Monitor

Yes, I’m quite a bit behind in my posting as of late. Partly due to the fact that I planned my next post to be about the “ram shack” we are building in order to give the “boys” a place of their own. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been cooperating very well and the short winter days contribute to a loss of productivity on the farm. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a neat story about how our donkey, Ruth, continues to amaze us with her character and abilities.

We typically close the gate that leads to the barn, but on rainy days we leave it open so our animals can make it to shelter. Of course the goats rarely need any prodding to get out of the rain. They’ll usually head for the barn at the mere hint of wetter weather. The sheep though seem to prefer standing out in the rain. I really don’t mind when the days are warmer, but when it is cold and raining I get a little concerned for their health.

It was on just such a day when we were all huddled nice and warm in the house while it was cold. I noticed it had begun to rain and thought maybe I should go out and get everyone in the barn. I stepped into the garage and as I slipped on my boots I looked out on the field to see where the animals were.

No surprise, the goats were already in the barn, but I saw the sheep huddled together under the trees. But then I noticed Ruth. She was walking towards the sheep, but when she reached the sheep, she stopped and turned around. She began to nudge one of the sheep forward. They all began to walk, but turned towards the trees. Ruth headed them off and turned them towards the barn and didn’t let them stop. As soon as the sheep were in the barn, Ruth stood in the doorway to make sure they didn’t come back out. She seems to like the rain too and only popped into the barn a couple of times, but while the rain came down she didn’t wander very far from the door.

My work was over before it started all thanks to our smarter than expected donkey!

Ruth, the rain monitor

Ruth, the rain monitor

Truly a weekend to remember

Vacations are a rarity these days, especially with a toddler and a barn full of hungry animals. Thankfully, due to the grace and friendship of neighbors who agreed to take on our responsibilities we spent this past weekend on the wonderful island of South Padre. It wasn’t just a simple time alone however. We enjoyed the tremendous pleasure of a Weekend to Remember Getaway retreat by FamilyLife. It was not only a great respite from the daily grind of farm and work life, but it was indeed a weekend to remember spent with the one I love.

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Our love for each other has been a wonderful adventure these past 10 years, but in these three short days we learned more how to better apply the precepts of love, respect and honor.If you and your loved one have yet to take a weekend to remember, we highly suggest you find a way to do so. If you’d like more information about the weekend getaway, please feel free to ask us.

Or better yet, find a Weekend to Remember event near you!

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Our first open house was a great success

For the past month we’ve been preparing our farm to receive friends, both old and new. We have never prepared for such a big event and weren’t quite sure what kind of turnout to expect so we worked a little extra to prepare for a big event. Doing so was a good idea as it turned out that over the course of the day we had 49 people come through our gates.

Of course the animals were the hit of the show. The goats stood up well to the constant flow of people in and out of their pen. They even had a few small puppy visitors. I purposely kept the dogs, donkey and sheep isolated in a separate pen as you never really can tell how they are going to react.

I also spent some time in the week before the open house to cut a walking trail through our woods. This particular section of woods is one we haven’t explored much if at all because the area around it was so dense with briars and intertwined small trees. On a tip from a neighbor I bought a brush cutter attachment for my weed eater and was able to forge a very nice trail. It still needs a little work, but our visitors seemed to enjoy a walk in the woods very much.

The event seemed so well received that maybe we’ll plan to do this again next year!

 

A Weekend of Preparation – Hay for the Winter

In the recent past our friendly neighborhood farmer would cut our hay fields for us and he would reap the whole harvest as we had no need of it. Now that we have the animals it is going to be important to store up some hay for the winter. The problem was that we have no means of moving the large round bales. I mentioned this to him when he came to cut the grass this time and he said, “Not a problem. I have an old square baler that I haven’t used in years. I’ll just bale you up some of those.” And so he did! When he was done baling there were 20 large round bales and 56 small square bales on the ground.

WhirldWorks Hay Field

WhirldWorks Hay Field

First thing Saturday morning we borrowed our neighbor’s flatbed trailer and I began loading the bales. Our youngest son saw what I was doing and he was not about to be left out of the action. He climbed aboard the trailer and as I threw each bale on he would pull it into place. That was until it got to the second level and he couldn’t pull it anymore. From that point on he gave me direction in the proper placement of each bale in order to create a huge nest. Indeed we did! The bales ended up stacked three high, but at the center was an opening for the nest.

Once fully loaded, we backed the trailer to the barn, but unfortunately there isn’t a gate in the fence wide enough for a truck and/or trailer so I had to park it about 15 feet away from where it was going to be stacked. Little man tried hard as he may to carry, drag or push the bales along the ground, but despite his best determination he couldn’t help with this part. One by one I offloaded the trailer and stacked the bales under the barn overhang. They didn’t seem quite so heavy at the beginning but by about the 20th bale they began to get heavier and heavier. By the last bale I hardly had the strength to throw them to the top of the pile, but made it through and ended up with a winter’s worth of stored hay!

WhirldWorks 2016 Hay Storage

 

Highs and Lows of the 2016 Summer on the Farm

Keeping this blog up to date has been a real challenge with the combination of busy days and having no internet access on the farm as of yet. I’d love to report that we’ve accomplished a ton of monumental successes on the farm this summer, but all I can really say is that we’ve been (almost) keeping up with things.

Since our “petting zoo” has increased and our need to keep back the fast-growing grass we tried to let the animals out of their fenced pastures and graze our backyard. We met with a mixed result in that they did help keep the grass down, but their curious nature caused some damage to some of our household things on the front and back porch. We’ve decided that until we can fence off “our” space, the animals will just have to stay in their pastures.

What this means is a little more work on our part to keep the grass around the house mowed. This wouldn’t be so much of a stretch, but unfortunately within the past month both our riding lawn mower and our tractor have decided it is time for them to take a break. I’m pretty sure we can get the lawn mower back in commission soon, but the tractor is another issue entirely.

I haven’t had time to tear down the engine, but I’m pretty sure it is a substantial failure. As I was cutting grass the other day, the tractor just shut off with no indication of trouble. When I tried to restart it a steady stream of black, oily water poured out from the drain hole at the base of the exhaust pipe. I replaced the head gasket back a few months ago to fix water entering the engine, but I think from the volume of water now that there’s a far worse failure internally. Time will tell. If you’re good at working on tractors and want to give me a hand, I’d certainly welcome the help as the old diesel in our Massey isn’t familiar to me at all. There isn’t much to the simple 20HP engine, but I’m simply learning on-the-go. Of course donations for a new tractor would be even better hahahaha!

Aside from the hardships, some things have been going well. Our 4 chickens now seem to be in full gear providing us with 4 fresh, tasty eggs each and every day with few exceptions. We also had a great visit from an experienced shepherd who showed us how to catch, halter and take care of our sheep. Before I saw her grab and subdue one of our ewes I wasn’t sure it was possible because they are so strong and wild. Now that I have seen what to do I have so far been able to catch and halter one of the ewes as well as our ram. That is really going to help us take even better care of our little flock.

The goats are much friendlier and are relatively easy to manage and, according to our experienced shepherd, one of the does appears to be pregnant. Sooo…it is time to add a few more small pens to the barn in order to have space to start welcoming our zoo babies!

Here are a few pictures of our summer adventures (which can also be seen on our FaceBook page at: https://www.facebook.com/whirldworksfarm/.

My summer as a free mason

No, no, no…not a Freemason; just a free mason. After the anonymous destruction of our nearly new “indestructible” mailbox it was determined that we were not going to fork over another $500 to have it rebuilt. Instead I went to Home Depot and then came home with about $20 in mortar. Thankfully I already had some basic masonry tools from some repairs to our last house.

I had never done more than a little repair work on cracked mortar before and was a little apprehensive about tackling this project. However, I’m not often afraid of new challenges on the farm so I took this one up without flinching.

Right off the bat I realized this was going to be more challenging than I initially thought. It seemed to me that it would be as simple as putting a puzzle back together. Just take the fallen pieces and put them back where they had been. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Most of the mailbox was so completely shattered that I couldn’t figure out where the pieces had been. Because of this I couldn’t fit together the pieces that were still intact so I had to resort to a hammer and chisel in order to separate every block as well as remove all of the existing mortar. I was left with a pile of rocks that had to find their new home.

The challenge of finding pieces that fit together “just right” was hard enough, but add to that the searing Texas summer sun and I began to rethink my decision. I stuck with it though and layer by layer it began to “rise from the ashes.” I had hoped to build it up as high as I could, make it level and put the cap piece on that was still intact. Unfortunately I would have needed a small crane to pick up the top piece, so it too had to be disassembled and cleaned of old mortar.

The mailbox is back in business now although I think it looks a little more like a Fred Flintstone model rather than the tight, square beauty it once was, but the mail is being delivered again and after all, that was the end goal.

(I’ll add a picture of the finished product)