Monday, July 28, 2014

Rotational Grazing Update

One of our daughters really loves sheep. For the past two summers she's helped us out by moving the sheep to fresh pasture. But this summer she has been in New Zealand doing a college internship on a sheep farm. We sort of knew she was doing a lot of work here during the summers, but I am learning first-hand just HOW much work it is to move animals around. The Farmer helps out when he can, but many times it is me moving sheep, cattle or (college daughter's) horses to fresh pasture.

This has been a fabulous summer for pasture growth. Regular, plentiful rains and cooler temperatures have provided us with lush pastures. A couple of our pastures like the one in the photo below have loads of purple clover in them. 

The sheep know the drill. Every other day they willingly and eagerly pour through the small opening I make into the next pasture. I then spend time moving the waterer and the mineral feeder to the new pasture, take down the old fence and set it up for the pasture I will need next. The cattle are fairly compliant, too (same drill). The steers (naughty teenaged cattle), however, have been giving us all sorts of trouble, jumping over or going under their fence to live life on the lam. We are about ready to try putting them in with the sheep in hopes that the net fence will contain them better and cut down on the workload (moving four groups of animals is time consuming).

We try to graze cattle in the pastures that the sheep have finished with (after a period of regrowth). Intestinal parasites can be deadly to sheep, and regrazing sheep on pasture they've already been on infects many of them with the worms. We hope to break the worms' life cycle by grazing cattle after sheep.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catching Up Is Hopeless

But here is my best shot at it.

We planted beans.

No new varieties this year, unfortunately, and it looks like the Marrow and the Green Flageolet have have not sprouted well.

I visited Chicago with our two oldest daughters. Daughter #1 had a conference for work, and so the hotel (the biggest expense in Chicago) was covered.

We used the GO Card for Chicago to see several different attractions, like the River Architectural Cruise (above) and the view from the Hancock building (below).

While we were gone, The Farmer mowed and put up part of the first cutting of hay. He hasn't mowed any more hay, as we've had a veritable monsoon since this hay was put up. It's either feast or famine with the rain here lately.

We also celebrated the marriage of daughter #2, and son #1 moved back in to our home. Big changes; no pictures.

We kept moving the sheep and cattle around on their rotational grazing plan. We continued to work on the barn, by installing a new septic system (oh, joy!) and painting endlessly. Both sets of our parents have been invaluable with this whole project. We couldn't have done it (and no, it's not done yet!) without them. We continued to go to three different farmers markets: Holland, Sweetwater and Fulton Street.

There's more, I think, but perhaps I will save some details for future blog posts. There. All caught up.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nothing Is Ever As Easy As You Think It Will Be

A couple of weeks ago, we set up temporary fence to move the cattle to new pasture. It was a Saturday evening, and we'd finished a day of farmers markets and farm work by eating supper around a fire. Just one last thing to do, and we could clean up and fall into bed exhausted. Everyone else was gone, and so The Farmer and I slowly moved the cattle to new grass.

Here's where things went south. The parading ladies caught the attention of Mo, the bull, who is in solitary confinement while the calves are being born. As we were slowly walking behind the cows, I looked over and noticed Mo had his head between a gate post and a building. And he was pushing. I left The Farmer and ran over to him, waved him away from the gate, and rejoined the parade.

But he was not finished. He was NOT going to stay in solitary confinement any longer. And before we could say, "I'm tired and I dearly hope this doesn't go south!" he broke the gatepost and was free!

I have requested a few times that this area be beefed up (no pun intended). Mo is not the first to escape through this back gate. Sometimes the twine breaks. Sometimes the gate is left unlatched. But we've always been too busy to fix it up right.

We could see our shower-and-fall-into-bed plan evaporate before our eyes. And, while we were very happy that Mo was loose IN a pasture, the truth is, he was still loose. And wanting to be by the cows. Nothing separated them but seven strands of wire. My parents noticed the commotion and came to help. They and The Farmer quickly set up a few makeshift fences to help herd him in the right direction, and I ran to get a bucket of corn.

There are no pictures of this next part, because Mo was feeling footloose and fancy free. One does not want to be fumbling with a camera when working with a bull. Once as he was running at me, I remember trying to decide which direction to jump at the last minute. I realized later that he was running with his head up, interested in the corn, and still feeling frisky. Much better to have a bull running at you with his head up. You know what his intentions are if he has his head down...

Eventually we coaxed him back into solitary confinement. Animals know where they are supposed to go back to when they've escaped. That helps. A bucket of corn helps. Several people with makeshift fences help. And prayer helps.

The last task on our suddenly longer to-do list was to replace the gatepost. The Farmer found something bigger. (Old broken one on left. New one on right.)

And he added an electrified spring gate on the inside of the pasture. So anyone who wants to put his head between the building and the gatepost has to go through an electric fence first.

Just a little extra much-needed, long-overdue insurance.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Life and Death on the Farm

It seems like every year I do a post on dying. Life is easy to share with you. New lambs, new corn plants, spring--it's all good!

But you cannot have life without both ends--birth and death. And while I am usually pretty jazzed at the end of life of a corn field (harvest is a pretty exciting time), I am less excited about the death of an animal.

Yesterday we found one of our barn cats had been hit, but was still alive. While we made plans to put her out of her misery, she dragged herself off somewhere to die alone.

The past week I've been struggling with a lamb with a broken leg. He was too old to teach to drink from a bottle, even though I tried. For a while, we wondered if his mother was still caring for him. But we found his body yesterday when we moved the sheep to a new pasture.

This little lady's mother developed mastitis. It went septic, and by the time we realized the severity and decided to treat her with antibiotics (thereby making her no longer organic), it was too late.

The loss of any animal is sad. But the loss of a brood cow is also a financial blow. The calf is doing fine. We are bottle feeding her twice a day, and soon she will join the cow/calf herd (while we continue to bottle feed her).

She was pretty excited for her bottle this morning.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Barn Renovation--Stage Eleven--Drywall and Paint

Part of the reason for the barn renovation is to have housing for farm help. So, while you won't find drywall in most barns, you will in ours. The whole upper floor, as well as the ceilings of the lower level (as a fire break).

I always say that some things are worth hiring out. We've done a fair bit of drywall in our married life, but this is a seriously big project. This is worth hiring out.

See what I mean? We would still be carrying all those pieces of drywall up the stairs now if we tried to DIY!

The drywall guys were wonderfully skilled, quick, friendly workers. The only grumble I heard was the one running this truck. He muttered, "They would have to give me a different truck on this job." He did a great job, despite his nervousness.

Once the whole rack of drywall was suspended in midair, they put a plastic protector over the windowsill, and unloaded each piece through the window. So much faster than carrying them up the stairs!

Now that the drywall is finished, we've begun painting. This is a photo of the bean storage room, which we are really excited about. The lower level consists of the bean storage room, a wood shop, and room for a farm store.

And the stairs to the upper level.

Farm help apartment. It's only got a coat of primer on the walls and ceilings. Sparsely furnished at this point. =)

And a studio for weaving and spinning and dyeing. These are two of my looms--long neglected during this huge project. They lived in my garage last summer. I've woven perhaps 6 rugs in the last year. We are so close...

So, Mr. Assessor, I've given you a peek at what we're doing. How much are our taxes going to go up? =)

For more posts about the process of turning a one story former chicken coop into a two story multipurpose barn, enter "building project" (without the quotes) in the search field near the top of the left sidebar.

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