The many updates for Spring 2017

I have long admired those busy homesteaders and farmers who are able to manage their time well enough to be able to blog often. There has been so much going on here that I have thought many times, “This would make a great blog post.” Unfortunately I don’t often take time away from the tasks at hand to take pictures or note the details of what is happening. By the time I get beck to the house it’s usually so late or I’m so tired I never make it to the computer. Well my homesteading friends, it now looks like I’ll have quite a bit of downtime for writing.

A Farming Accident

We are expecting a delivery of a dump truck full of sand this week and I decided that using the rear blade on the tractor would help move it around. As luck (or poor planning) would have it, the blade was behind the barn and we have built up fences and gates too small for my tractor, thus trapping it. The blade weighs a little under 200 pounds and I figured I could move it the 20 feet or so to get it through the gate. I made it about half way and the blade was in a rather precarious position just as our dogs decided to start wrestling next to me and bumped me. I lost my grip on the blade and tried to get out of the way, but it landed on the tip of my boot.

The pain was pretty bad, but I figured since I had my boots on that it would probably be a bad bruise. I tried to take a step and almost fell over in pain. I took off my boot and discovered my right big toe was severely severed, hanging on by just a portion of its former self. A visit to the emergency room revealed that the bone was completely broken as well. A few hours later my bone was reset and my toe sown back together. This happened from late Saturday night into early Sunday morning and I am still in a bit of pain, as would be expected. I’m now in “dry dock” until my wound heals enough for me to return to my normal duties.

The Garden

Our garden is flourishing after a few false starts. The spring has been considerably cooler than many I remember in the past and I believe that has been key in our success thus far. The squash plants are already outproducing our ability to consume, the corn is getting tassels, and there are blooms on some of the tomato plants. We’ve eaten one of the beets and are looking forward to the beans, celery, broccoli and other yummy goodies almost ready for harvest. The pocket gophers have left most of the garden alone, that is except for the potatoes. They’ve done quite a bit of damage to our potato crop and I’m not certain we’ll have much of a harvest.

 Tractor

Our Massey Ferguson 205 continued to give us problem after problem and we finally decided to take it to the shop. The resulting repair quote was way more than I paid for the tractor in the first place and more than it would cost to buy another similar, used tractor. Thus we are the proud new owners of a 1984 International Harvester 284 Diesel Tractor. It runs much smoother and quieter than the Massey ever did. There were a couple of times it has stalled out on us, but a quick check of the sediment bowl revealed some dirt and one time a spider. We’ve run it through this was a few times now and the sediment is almost completely gone. Hopefully we’ve reached the end of this issue.

Livestock Additions and Sheep Shearing

As you may have learned from previous posts we added two new male lambs and a male kid to our farm at the end of winter. To our surprise, our other female goat gave birth just a few weeks ago to a female kid. We’re now at 6 sheep, 5 goats, a donkey, two LGDs, and 5 chickens.

We were able to have the sheep sheared a few weeks ago and most of it has been picked over and cleaned. In fact, we sold our first full fleece last week! The wool is amazing stuff I can tell you that. My wife is the resident expert on wool in our household and she is certainly impressed. I may not know much about wool, but I know this, our wool is very soft and fluffy.

Wanda's First Lamb

Wanda’s First Lamb

Winter’s End and the Coming Spring of 2017

Dear readers, we’re very sorry to leave you hanging for so long since our last update, but rest assured, there’s been much going on around the farm.

Plus Three Minus One

We made it through our first lambing/kidding season with three new babies, two lambs and one kid, all boys! It has been entertaining to watch the youngsters bound around the open field and their mommas all have done a great job in raising them so far.

Unfortunately we did suffer the loss of one of our male goats a few weeks ago. We came home late one night and went to bring all the animals in, but Lewis didn’t come home. I got everyone else situated and went looking for him. I found him laying on his side in the pasture in convulsions and not really responsive at all. We put him in a quarantine pen for the night and tried to get him to eat or drink, but except for breathing and a heart beat it seemed there was no hope. The following morning poor Mr. Lewis died.

We assume he suffered from some sort of parasite or worms even though we had the animals on a worming program. His death set us into motion to step up a more aggressive worming plan with the other animals and so far everyone else is still healthy.

Garden

We managed to fence in a 50×30 area for a garden and began planting some over-winter plants. Now that the weather is warming we have begun the process of Spring planting. We’ve planted many different varieties of plants in order to determine what works best in our location. Our current planting list includes:

Artichoke Beans (bush and pole)
Beets Bell Peppers
Blackberry Blueberry
Carrots Cauliflower
Corn Grape
Jalapeno Peppers Kale
Potatoes Raspberry
Squash

We’ve also planted several varieties of flowers to help with pollination, pest control, and ground conditioning. One thing is pretty evident in this experience and that is making this garden work is going to take quite some effort. The ground we’ve been preparing was covered in weeds, Bermuda grass, and other grasses. These ground covers have been so persistent that whether trying to cover the ground with cardboard (in some areas) or completely tilling other areas, the grass comes back almost overnight.

We bought a wood chipper to make use of the vast amount of fallen trees and limbs in our woods. Hopefully soon we’ll have enough mulch to begin to fight the grass into submission throughout our garden.

Equipment

As mentioned, we added a chipper/shredder to our equipment inventory and look forward to the opportunities it represents. Our tractor has died again and we’re considering taking it in to a real mechanic as my engine skills have reached their limit with whatever problem this MF205 might have. We are considering the possibility of even selling this tractor off for scrap, depending upon the cost of repair, and purchasing a better and more reliable workhorse. Either option represents a considerable expense we have been hoping to avoid, but such is the farming life.

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!

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

 

Playing Catch-Up

Our little farm family has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks since we moved in. First a donkey, then a couple goats, some more goats, a couple of dogs and now 4 chickens and a rooster. The arrival of each additional animal on the farm has required some mighty fancy footwork to keep them housed properly with a care and maintenance plan in place for each one. Throw in an almost solid week of rain into the mix and we have certainly been playing catch-up! I do believe we are finally settling in with the proper arrangements, but we know there are a few more arrivals not too far around the bend. We should be able to take a short few breaths before we bring in the sheep, but it has definitely been interesting getting to this point.

The chicken tractor itself was much more of a challenge that I had imagined. We were up late Friday night trying to finish it up because we knew our chickens would arrive sometime Saturday. The sun came up and we had already been in the garage putting the final touches on it when the pastor of our prospective new church arrived at our gate with his feathery donation to our cause. To be honest, although he did tell me the breeds I cannot currently remember, but I do know there are 1 hens and one rooster. They went into the chicken tractor as soon as I got it into place and for the next day had to check to see if they were actually still there. Each time I checked, two to four of the hens were all congregated together in one or two nest boxes and the rooster was either in one by himself or hanging out on one of the roosts. They eventually did come down though and are now enjoying the green grass of home as well as all the insects they could want.

As for the goats, they’ve been somewhat of a challenge. We confiscated their living quarters to house the two new Anatolian Shepherd puppies we picked up on Friday and made a temporary pen for the goats. We knew that wouldn’t work long so we got straight to work on a proper pen that we were able to finish this weekend as well. They really seem to like their new abode and I’ve even had to shew the donkey out of it a few times since she seems to now think she is a goat too. Which brings me to the only dilemma of late. It seems that Amelia the goat and Ruth the donkey have become quite the pair and are nearly inseparable. I bring a tray of feed in the evening to get the goats to all come in the barn together, but Amelia has gotten wise to my scheme. She will not go into that barn and will hide right underneath her donkey protector. It has taken quite some coaxing the past few nights to be able to safely separate them and get Amelia into the pen with the rest of her family.

The Goat's New Pen

The Goat’s New Pen

That’s about all for now, and I think it’s quite enough for one weekend! 🙂 Sorry I don’t yet have any pictures of the puppies, but it won’t be long.

Two Weeks on the Farm

Let me ask you, have you ever lived in such a way that more than half of your belongings sat stored away in boxes and then finally had the opportunity to open those boxes again? If you have you can imagine the wonderful joy we’ve been having now that we are finally able to unpack our lives and settle in to our own home once again. We’ve found things we forgot we had, experienced the relief of finding favorite dishes, pictures and other items to still be in once piece instead of broken or shattered from being shifted around for years. It has been a sweet time of memories too as we have retrieved items that remind us of the great times we had with all of our older kids when they were still at home with us.

We’re still getting things situated, but I was finally able to make enough space in our garage to park our car inside. That has been something we have missed for a very long time, even since before selling our city house. Challenges still remain though as we are now at a point where we have to jostle boxes and loose items around to make space for things that actually belong there. The garage probably poses the biggest challenge as everything that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else has piled up in there. Much of it will likely make it into the attic, but there will likely be yet another purge of things to give to Goodwill.

Aside from the challenges of packing and setting up house, here are a few of the highlights from the past two weeks:

No Television

tvYes, I know. In this modern age there are probably few people who would actually count not having television as a great thing, but we’re not missing it AT ALL. Of course we have never really been big on watching TV, but it wasn’t unusual to find us winding down the day with streaming a 30-40 minute re-run of one of our favorite shows. Now though, without the internet or even being able to receive over-the-air broadcasts, it has been great rediscovering the art of conversation as well as being able to dig back into our collection of books that were stored away for far too long. Speaking of which, I’ve been spending a few minutes each night reading through Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Kidnapped, first published in 1886. What a wonderful story and hard to put down each night.

Let’s not forget the entertainment value of our animals. Right now we only have our dog, two little goats and a donkey, but they already provide us with ample entertainment. In fact, one evening we just took our dinner outside and ate it while watching the goats play together on top of their hutch.

This quiet darkness

milkyway

Have you ever lived in a home that is so quiet at night that you can hear a wristwatch ticking in the next room? That is how quiet our house is. No sirens, no traffic, no buzz of a dozen neighboring AC compressors. Just crickets and the ticking of a wristwatch. In addition, the darkness in the country is almost spooky at times. There have already been a couple of times at night when our dog has run off into the truly black darkness and I couldn’t see him even with the aid of a flashlight when he was more than 20 feet away. The blessing of such darkness is the amazing field of stars we can see in the night sky. In fact, for the past several mornings I have stood in awe of being able to see the Milky Way in the sky. I haven’t seen that many stars in years and years!

Friends and neighbors

While living in suburbia we were surrounded by hundreds of homes, but I knew very few of our neighbors and saw even fewer. I would see their cars drive down the street and then disappear behind the closing garage doors, but the neighborhood might have well as been a ghost town other than that.

On our farm we already know most of the people on our street. The other day I called a farmer friend and asked him if he had any hay I could use for the doeling’s hutch. When I got home from work there were two bales of hay inside my shed! We’ve had help from the pastor of a local church when we moved in and one day while the electrician was pulling the wire from the road to the house, another neighbor hopped the fence and just helped him out. People wave (mostly) when driving by and it’s simply a safer, friendlier feeling I get, even out in the middle of almost nowhere.

That pretty much wraps it up for this week. We’ll be getting another two goats next week so stay tuned!

The farm is finally our home

We have dreamed, stressed, planned, prayed and hoped for this for so long now that it almost seemed as if it may never arrive. During the week prior to Easter we took several trips with our belongings to the new house and on Holy Saturday we enlisted the help of several great friends and moved the remainder of our belongings. There was so much activity that when we woke up Sunday morning in preparation for Easter we realized we had indeed arrived. The farm is now our home!

The following week was spent moving boxes to and from each and every room. Because much of our belongings had been in storage for more than 2 years it was almost like Christmas morning with the opening of each box. We each found things we had either forgotten about or thought were lost. The week flew by with little sleep, but there still remains quite a bit to do. Thankfully the furniture is in place and most of our clothes are where they belong.

We didn’t stop there though as on Friday we welcomed our first two animals to the farm. They’re two young Nigerian Dwarf doelings named Amelia and Harriett. The week had been quote a bit busier than we had anticipated and the goat shed wasn’t even half completed when the goats arrived. We worked fast and furious on the shed in order to provide the goats some security at night and by midnight they were tucked in safely way.

Saturday was spent with more unpacking and a few finishing touches on the goat shed. We took some time to slow down and have a nice dinner of grilled pork chops and a warm campfire under the stars. It was fun to look at our fire pit and realize that it had been the first thing we had “built” when we first bought the land. We spent many a night around its warmth and now it is behind our house!

On Sunday we took a “Sunday Drive” to find some bluebonnets and took some great pictures of our youngest son among the beautiful backdrop of Spring flowers. Soon after church I drove to a new friends farm and picked up a donkey. Ruth, as we later named her, seemed happy in her new home. She was pretty wild and had little contact with people before coming to our farm, but I was able to get within 5 feet of her by the end of the day. I hope it won’t take too long for her to warm up to us enough to be able to brush her down and check her out better.

That is all for now, as if it isn’t enough for one week! 🙂