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

A Sunday Afternoon Surprise, Our First Lamb

Not much was getting done around the farm while the temperatures dipped below 20 degrees. On Sunday the thermometer finally pushed upwards and when it hit about 45 I decided it was time to get to work on the garden. With tiller in hand I set to work preparing the bed. Sometime later I heard Ruth the Donkey making a ruckus so I looked in her direction and didn’t see anything spectacular (boy did I miss it!). I figured they may just be low on water and I’d be down there soon to take care of it anyway so I kept on digging.

When I was done I packed up the tiller, filled up the animal dishes and headed for the barn. We went through our usual routine, with one exception. One of the sheep didn’t come running to the barn at feeding time. Strange, but I’d take care of it after everyone was safe and sound.

The time came and I approached said stubborn sheep. Then I noticed something I didn’t quite recognize at first. Suddenly my brain told me what my eyes saw…4 itty bitty legs behind the sheep…she had a lamb!

I turned to our 4 year old and told him to run and get mommy, quick! He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “What?” Okay, so he comes from my bloodline and isn’t very quick to act ūüôā¬† I went to get her and together we gently got momma and baby into a lambing pen and watched.

It looked like momma had done a great job of cleaning up her baby and the lamb seemed in good shape. It was trying to get milk while momma stood there patiently, but couldn’t latch on. I caught momma up in my arms, leaned her back and my wife trimmed some overgrown wool, cleaned everything up and then checked the milk flow. Nothing was coming out, but she tried a few more times and the blockage cleared, nearly spraying me¬†with a nice flow of milk.

We guided the lamb to momma and it took a nice long drink then let momma up again. This time baby lamb was able to latch on and began drinking.

Since then we’ve watched carefully and everything seems to be going well. I administered the CD&T vaccine (not my favorite chore) and we’re keeping momma well fed and watered. An exciting day on the farm welcoming our very first lamb!

Wanda's First Lamb

Wanda’s First Lamb

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

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/.

They (don’t) call me the donkey whisperer

They (don’t) call me the donkey whisperer

Shortly after we moved onto our farm a new farmer friend donated a donkey to us. This was a “surplus” donkey they had no use for and had in all sense been running wild on his property for about two years. We really didn’t know what to expect from the donkey we named Ruth when she first arrived.

Over the past couple of months she has proven herself to be a valuable member of our farm family. She has bonded extremely well with the goats and is already showing sign of doing the same thing with the sheep. If a large donkey hanging around our other animals would help keep them safe that would be enough for the free gift. Thankfully though she has gone above and beyond mere livestock protection.

Ruth does a great job of keeping the animals together and has even served to herd them towards the barn in the evening. It is an amazing thing to watch her plod along behind the others encouraging them forward.

The one thing we had not been able to accomplish with Ruth was a level of trust between herself and humans. She has been in need of a good brushing and there are a few areas that we would like to get close to and see better in order to make sure she is healthy. Unfortunately she is so wild that she won’t allow people to get closer than about 5 feet. That was until last night and it all happened by accident.

She is so closely bonded with one of our goats that in the evening they can be difficult to separate. Two nights ago was just such a night. It was getting late and all the animals were in the barn, but I could not get little Amelia (the goat) into her pen and she kept hiding under Ruth as been her practice if she doesn’t want to do something. I had to get them apart and the only thing within my reach was a small toy rake. I picked it up and gently touched Ruth’s back to let her know I was there and wanted her to stay there. At first she didn’t seem to happy about it, but she let me keep the rake on her.

Once I got Amelia into the pen I decided to try the rake again. I put it gently on her back and began to scratch her back. She remained nervous, but obviously enjoyed the sensation. We did this for about ten minutes and I let her be. The next night I tried it again and she was much more relaxed and really enjoyed it. I decided to be a little braver and got within a foot of her side and reached out my hand. Her muscles twitched the second I touched her, but she didn’t move. I put the rake away and approached her again and she let me put my hand on her again. It felt great to be able to finally make that connection with her!

This morning, just to see if it had been a fluke, I tried it again and she let me rub her back. I’m not sure if she will let me do so outside the confines of the barn, but it is a huge step forward for her and for us.