Three Dollar Shop Improvement

Every man should make a work space. It will be a place where he goes to work. First with his mind to design, then with his hands to build, then with his heart to judge a project complete. Here he will bind what is broken and mend what is mangled. If he is wise he will do maintenance on his machines before they need repair. He will also teach others the skills he sharpens in this place. There is a reason that every good Role Playing Game has a good work area. The aspirational hero will forge new weapons and craft protective armor, it connects to the soul of man.

If he is really blessed, it will grow into a workshop. A workspace is a place you sit, a workshop is a place you can walk. He will have workstations in the shop, designated storage, and focused lighting. Invariably he will be at one workstation and say “aaaigh, I need that tool be ready right here”. It could be a measurement tool, a screwdriver, maybe a change of blades. He will consider his situation and be sad he did not have a way to easily and conveniently put task relevant tools in reach.

There’s a cheap solution. Let me show you with some real life pictures:

Sawzall blades have a easy swap spot, Allen wrench at the end tightens a specific clamp.

The good news? For $3 at Harbor Freight, he can make a massive upgrade to his work space and workshop.

Cut off bolts, change of utility blades at the vise station.

Magnetic bars. 18 inches of working space.  Screw holes on the ends. Easy install. You will notice these are placed near the corners of the workspace to be easily accessible from both sides of the corner.

Layout tools by the table saw. Putty knife at glue work space. Random wrench for…I don’t remember., no affiliate link.

Handy for securing steel chests without permanent installation requirements.
When the work is over it’s good for recreational applications

Give it a try or give these as a gift. They punch way above their weight class in terms of permanent utility per dollar spent.

When Winter Comes

North Texas has a long and hot summer followed by a random autumn. Highs from the 40’s to the 80’s, lows from the 20’s to the 70’s. Then spasms of winter compete with autumn and spring from Thanksgiving until Easter. Highs in the 20’s to the 70’s, lows in the 10’s to the 60’s. It’s beautiful and erratic and helps you feel alive.

Here are some tips for running temporary electrical infrastructure on a homestead with active animals.


1. Keep all electrical pixies where they belong

2. Manage stock water to be always safely accessible. (Let the deicers do the work.)

3. Zero damage to water infrastructure.(Drain yer hoses.)

Everyone wants to avoid this

Here’s my work process:

Residential panel boxes are safe to open

First, open your panel box and understand the amp rating on your circuit breaker. This will tell you how much you can run off the plug in the wall, as a safe system has all components rated equal or greater than the circuit breaker capacity.

These are 20amp, they are commonly 15 in household boxes

Now take the watts rating of your deicer. Convert them to amps at 120 volts. Designate type as alternating current (AC) in this calculator:

Use outlets with Ground Fault Current Interrupt capabilities. If it’s the first outlet in the circuit it covers all outlets downsteam. This will immediately disable the branch in the event of a grounding issue. Examples are water ingress or broken components.

Now you know the amps of your deicer and the capacity of your circuit. Match extension cords to the application. Going big is always acceptable for electrical systems.

Outdoor rated, because they’ll be outside. Lighted plugs because that gives me information at a glance if the system is working.

12 gauge wire handles 15amp/1875 watts. On a 20amp circuit I can run a 1500w de-icer and a 250w de-icer safely and continuously.

When you use a splitter, verify the amp rating is at least as high as your extension cord. In this case it is 15amps splitter on a 12amp cable set.
Physically inspect your cable’s insulation (colored plastic) for physical damage. Vermin chew on them. Cover securely with quality electrical tape like Scotch 33+. This is not suitable for industry or contract work but it works in my residential setting. Beats exposed wire.

Now that you have your components figured out, it’s time to put it together.

As much as possible run on top of fence lines. If the cable is on the ground it will be tripped on. Whej stepped on it will damage the cable. Perfect your time and investment and run elevated.

Leave 5 to 10 feet of spare cable at each end, so as to have extra capacity when it is yanked on.

Work to secure the cable at multiple points along it’s travel path. I find an overhand knot, the first part of tying your shoes, to be the simple way.

These over hand knots are of particular importance where junctions occur

Finally, if a junction is on the ground and any source of water is available I like to secure it with a weather box. These are like $4 and last for years. Make sure it can accommodate your cable size, some do not handle 12 gauge he may duty cables. This also acts as a strain relief in the event a cable is yanked on.

Don’t be this guy
Winter without deicers, ice holds a cow on top
Until it doesn’t. Just run the deicer safely and avoid the impromptu swimming party opportunity

Oh, one more thing:

Redeeming the Roosters

Chickens are remarkable animals. We use them for eggs and pest control and fertility. The hens can do all of these things gently. After 3 years, they become stew hens.

The roosters though. They don’t lay eggs. They fight for dominance. They can occasionally get uppity with humans and their children. They tell you about the sun before it ever shows up. They don’t taste good when you cook them. (Different texture in the meat once they get big enough to bother cleaning out. Stringy.) Roosters exist in the same category of livestock as Emus: Borderline useless and nearly always a hassle.

In previous years we would incubate eggs, keep the hens and cull the cocks and move on. Then we had pigs and I could feed the cull birds to the pigs and everyone who was around to be happy, was happy. Then we ate the pigs and had a batch for 11 chicks with 9 roosters with no where to go. We have enough issues with predatory canines that I can’t feed them roosters now. 😞.

Sometimes they get bumblefoot

David the Good writes incredible garden-action-adventure novels, funny gardening books and runs a productive YouTube channel. He mentioned using chickens to prepare garden beds, and that got us thinking.

What if we could redeem these truculent juvenile roosters to be productive members of the farm society?

Welcome to the jungle

What if they could help reclaim the garden? We lost track of it with a newborn baby in the fall and it became a jungle.

I took the electric net from the pasture. It surprisingly fit perfect to cover the bottom, and then loop back to cover the top. The birds get food and water. They scratch up the grass and the weeds and the old growth. They smash down the tomato and okra carcasses. They fertilize everywhere for the coming spring. Fun for them, saves me from having to do more work. Where I throw their kibbles, they scuffle and prepare for spring.

That’s the plan. How did it work?

Results after 2 months

It’s gone alright, a solid C grade. 2 roosters continued to escape to try and hang with the ladies through a fence. The remaining roosters have done good work but the density is low. I have two other roosters preparing a different bed they haven’t escaped from after they left the jungle. Hard to deal with winter weather issues in there though, no shelter. You can see the irrigation lines running across the beds. The birds don’t mess them up like a tiller or cultivator would. This will take some tweaking for next fall. The proof of concept is good. We now have a way to redeem the roosters.

Incremental Improvement Saturdays

On the homestead we are accustomed to being in good health and working on projects together. The transition from summer to autumn did not feature that this year.

We expanded the family with a newborn girl in September. Momma has been dedicated to making the most of this special time, and it’s awesome. The driving choice behind the Raising Wood homestead is making space for children to grow in a space to develop character. More children means more opportunities, within the farm context and within the family. Jesus is good.

We had a wonderful thunderstorm roll through and drench the land with rain. It featured 42mph winds and took out tree branches all over the property. In the process of clearing branches I thoroughly messed up my shoulder and elbow. Turns out a cordless sawzall can out work my body.

As a result there’s been a great deal of inside the house, lightweight work. I finished building and installing some cabinets, painted some doors, ect. Then some small projects outside with easy objectives. Here are some of them over various Saturdays:

This is a new goat feeder. PremierOne has some designs for sale, I bought the design and modified it for our space. It is higher thank our existing feeder and has a larger tray under the hay to capture more pull through material. Also has wood down low to stop goats from scampering underneath.

A different weekend was replacing the roof on the chicken tractor. Out with soggy wood and shingles, in with sheet steel. Stronger, lighter and more durable. Tiger Lilly the Lady Kitty insisted on having input. I think the eclipse was bothering her so she needed people time. Working outside for the duration of the eclipse was a neat family experience. We also started getting wheels together for a push cart for the kids, everyone got a lesson in using pilers and the power of PB Blaster to break some shafts free.

Next weekend was chipping away at the past 3 winters of build up off the barn floor. A 4×4 and trailer helped make quick work of transportation. We scattered the rich fertilizer material in dead spaces in pastures. The combo was also handy for moving the feeder.

We placed the feeder in one spot. Then reconsidered . Then moved it. Then again. Then we set up a partition wall. This will separate different herd matriarchs from one another and lower herd stress for feeding.

Even better, there’s a secret hiding space for adventurous small goats under the feeder. The feeder which was designed to keep goats from getting under it. Such is the goat.

Small steps add up. Happy to be able to keep moving forward and optimizing work flow. The goal is to make the winter chores quick and easy every night.

Cabinet build and install nearly finished in this picture, it has been well received in its place and fully integrated into the kitchen.

Where for Art Thou Raineo?

It is the start of September and completed tasks making space and reorganizing the barn for hay storage. Early summer is a much better time to clear out the winter debris, but a baby on the way and so many other important tasks kept forcing different work upon us. Today we cleared the floor and ran six trailer loads of hay. One set of squares on the right, double rolls of rounds on the left, clean lane in the middle. Here’s what the results are:

Clean lanes and travel paths

The hay on hand will cover winter. It was more expensive today then in May, but much less than it will be in February. We are blessed by a local general store called Turkey Mountain maintaining competitively priced hay on hand, despite being hauled across several county lines.

Why is it coming from the east end of Texas? Because DFW is in a back-to-back historic drought year. Last year smashed the records for the longest period without measurable rainfall. 2022 was longest stretch was 84 days. The growing season became unproductive. Everyone everywhere on craigslist selling their grandpappys 13 year old bale behind the barn for respectable rates. Think $185 a round bale, not $65.

Throwback meme 2022

2023 is unfortunately the same song in a different verse. The spring rain was good and made a strong first cutting of hay. Then May came and the rain slowed. By mid July it quit completely. At this writing we are on day 49 without measurable precipitation, good for the 8th longest stretch in DFW records. By the end of next week, which is forecasted without rain, good for the 3rd longest streak without rain.

This post needs a laugh

This year, no one has grandpappys old bales anymore, all that was consumed last year. The marketplace is working though. Farmers today have the internet that didn’t exist in past decades. Last year hay distribution guys and hay balers had a handful of connections with old partners. They didn’t get ahead of the market, they caught up. They connected to new sources on the internet, over Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. This year those contacts were established already. People who are looking to get ahead for winter are able to do so.

This won’t be the last hay run we make. The winter stock is in the barn. It will need to be refilled as we’re feeding hay currently. But it sure makes tasty beef. The quality is undiminished and the cattle continue to put on weight and stay healthy. If we can make it though rough patches like this with heads above water, we’re learning valuable lessons for standard and bumper crop rainfall years to come.

The truth is out there

Hot Days, Dry Days, Hay Days

Texas in the summer. It’s hot. Has been my whole life and will continue to be hot. Last year was an extreme drought, this year is a regular drought. So grass is dormant and we’re back to hay.

Yum the steer, Leeli the new calf, both born here on greener grass

We finished up the hay from the winter buying and realized all of our delivery hay contacts were out of hay. So we’ve been hauling two at a time on our trailer. Ten bales now in the barn.

New to us heifer Amber with the cream color

We added a new heifer Amber to the herd this summer. She has high end Beefmaster genetics and has grown on range grass, perfectly in line with our development goals. The target has been to run two breeding cows, two growing cows and two finishing steers on a revolving basis. We are there now and will see how the plan works in reality.

We also added some kittens from a friend. One made it past the first two weeks, the other passed with some parasites we were unable to treat effectively. The laughs were fun though and we managed to keep both grown up cats in this new kitten process.

Nom nom

We had three hens die in the shade this week, which did not happen last August. We’ll be developing the breed to higher heat tolerance as this continues. Egg production is way down, 10 layers giving 2 to 3 eggs a day because of the stress. Fortunately we have been hatching and raising more as the summer progresses so the farm team pipeline is strong.

We did have a baby boy goat who struggled with parasites and weight gain. After a week of two or three time a day intensive care and treatment, he’s back on his feet and feeding on the range with the rest of this scrappy herd. They are delightful to watch prosper on scrappy drought land. They keep an antifragile edge to our meat on pasture production process.

The Lost World

I have a confession to make. Don’t tell everyone. I lost comprehensively to an opponent without a consciousness.

Let me explain. This year, the spring was full of promise. Rain in abundance, year 3 with a garden bed prepared, pregnancy for the humans, and a rain water system ready to go. I assembled a low pressure drip irrigation system. We shaped the rows and prepared seed beds.

Green beans

Several days later, everything is looking good! We had the drip nozzles tuned, the timer worked. Water flowed from the rain tank. Mulch from our own trees run made with the chipper on the tractor. Goat manure as fertilizer. Seeds in the ground.

Drip nozzle in the toro blue line
Shut off valve on each branch of line
Overall view, note the dark strips where water is precisely placed
Inline water filter, timer, pressure regulator at the head of the water lines
Rain water for garden and cow water

Then the real work began.

The real work is when it’s hot out and the kids need dinner and there’s morning sickness in the house and the goats are swimming in worms and you want to get kitchen cabinets done before a baby arrives and the car needs repair and the electric fence is down again and the riding mower needs a repair and the gate needs a new battery and there’s actually a career job that needs attention and ect.

Then also battle back the Bermuda and monkey grass and to train the tomatoes.

This year, the jungle won. The tyranny of the urgent conquered the important. The beautiful garden space was full of hope and seeds and clever engineering solutions. Now it’s a lost world. I think I saw a Parasaurolophus giggling to herself with the okra. With our baby on the way, she can have the fall garden too. I’ll get back to this place with my machete next spring.

Garden on the left, happy cow pasture on the right, when things were rainy and green

Mountains, Gandalf!

It’s the time of year where baby goats become full tilt adolescent goat kids. They want all the humans remember they are descendants of the mountain folk. “Mountains, Gandalf, I want to see Mountains!” is the spirit. These hoofs are perfectly suitable for climbing on everything. These heads are great for pushing through fencing. 

Look maaa, no hands!

We set about weaning them at ninety days. That means the fencing between the nannies and the kids must be near water tight. This year that required repair and replacement. Old fencing doesn’t handle goat curiosity well and you notice it when they escape. The kids claim they want to help with the fence. I think they just want to play on it.

New fence to the left, running batches behind this scene to the right.

It’s been a curious spring for the flock guardian Sullivan. He had a wound show up on the top of his head, not clear what it’s from. No other marks of an altercation on his body. But he can’t keep the top of his head clean with his tongue and he was absolutely not going to let the other guardian Ashok touch it.

The wound is real

We brought him inside to manage the healing more directly. His preferred path of care was to scratch the scabs off and whimper about it. When we tried to apply some medication, it didn’t go well, very aggressive response. So, for the first time in my life, I bought a muzzle and put it on my dog. That made a pair of unpleasant treatment sessions. After the second go round, he realized we were helping and could proceed without the muzzle.

It was a problem with our equipment planning that we did not have a muzzle to work with. Nor did we have a cone to put on him. Now we have both and lesson learned.

He wears the cone!

This spring is different from last spring. A triple amount of rainfall means far more plant growth means more insects. There is a caterpillar here that is extremely painful to the touch. They are showing back up after an absence last year. I took a picture of his one, curiously enough, burrowing a hole in some Great Stuff foam in my shop wall.

A Stegosaurus Caterpillar?

Also, if you ever jam a two foot stick into a hose about 2 feet deep, you can get it out by drilling a pilot hole and running a screw into it. Lock the hose end into a vise and pull out with pliers.

Mission accomplished
The solution

That Wonderful Time of the Year

People all over these United States make a claim every year. They sing together that the Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year. I want to submit that at Raising Wood, a wet spring is the at least a tie with the Advent, even beyond the fruitful flame war of Christmas vs Easter. I’ll give some examples from this past month. As a bonus, there’s a picture at the very end that would be impossible to plan for.

Bird in the grass

Spring has new life. Birds hatch and escape their nests. I found this blue bird on the ground amidst tall stands of grass. It was such a lovely day, Blue the cat came through and made some paw swipes and moved on. Hours later the fledgling was flapping and scampering up past the house, with a whole life of predatory insect control ahead of him.

Speaking of grass grown tall, we have pastures that never grew above my ankles last year. With rain instead of drought, growth is past my knees. It is fun in person to watch the goat kids leap and bound through the grassy jungles as we move them into new pastures. You can see that the stand is up to the momma’s bellies, sometimes past their ears. The sward is thick and rich.

Speaking of new life and mommas, we hatched chicken eggs. Mixed results. Batch 1: 21 eggs, 0 hatches. No reason why, they were silent in the exit interview process. Batch 2: 21 eggs, 9 hatches. They did well in the new halfway house and have transitioned to grass based chicken RV living very well. Curiously, we have seen a dramatic increase in the chickens grass eating capabilities and problem solving skills as we’re on the third generation. There’s chicken capabilities being unlocked that we didn’t get from the store chicks. It’s alsbeen fun seeing the chicks hatch from the brown eggs laid by Wellsummers show yellow feet. The Americana/East Eggers from the olive&blue retain their gray feet. They are for sale, as is the next batch. Email me.

We added two head of cattle to the mix in the winter. One was a bull calf that was already steered, the other was intact. We took the intact one to the vet for the castration. Somehow he dive-bombed my leg in the transport process. Turns out he had a diet very high in fresh grass. It left grass stains on my khakis through the manure. Sometimes you get the steer, sometimes the steer gets you, I guess.

Seeing fresh grass is wonderful. Believe me, they are more aware of the fresh grass on the other side of the fence then we are. Now we get to rotate the cows to fresh pasture as they finish up a pasture. A welcome change from the hay filled tedium of winter feeding. The pasture on the left is ready for grazing. They have spent 2-1/2 days in the pasture on the right and it will grow for 20-30 days before we rotate cows back on it.

Out on those rotation pastures, we’re trying a different method for chickens. The goal is to add grass and insect life to the chickens diet. The A frame is where the hens are roosting and laying eggs. The white net is a portable electric fence that we can use to give them a ‘yard’ around the A frame. This will fertilize the pasture, destroy more grasshoppers, and give the chickens more space to be fun and happy birds with less confinement housing. No manure build up means better sanitation for everyone. This picture is the third area we’ve set up. We’ll move them forward 40 feet in a week. The net connects to all the existing pasture fencing. It is a wonderful layering solution to our infrastructure.

Can I get all of the glory of the spring together into a single picture? No. But if I could make an attempt, this is the front runner.

Do you see it? The cattle in the foreground devouring a pasture that was heavily grazed by goats in the winter. They’re de-worming and eating and fertilizing and becoming delightful beef. The goats in the far back left, fresh pasture with tree branches and so many glorious leaves to nibble at warp speed. Midframe, a tree in full leaf putting shade over my children’s project house, fresh off a good hose washdown and brush scrubbing to ‘clean it up’. Then some pallet fencing protecting the garden. Finally, To the very far back right, where the rainbow terminates, beyond the garden and the pasture: Not pots of gold with red headed guardians, but the finest of does come to admire the view.

My friends, that’s most wonderful time of the year.

Baby Goats are Upon Us

This fall we bred a month earlier for February births. That makes bigger for sale goats in the fall. We modified the winter housing to have three feeding areas so there’s less competition for headspace.

Newborn twins 3 hours before

7 mommas gave birth, 1 with a single, 5 with twins and one with triplets. 2 more on standby for delivery.

Triplets taking a long nap

We made three small pens for delivery and early stages of nursing. They share a fence with the rest of the flock so they are not isolated, but the kids have their mothers in a close space to help with nursing.

Newborn 5 minutes before

Most of the mothers did very good and required no intervention. Two of the mothers rejected one of their twins. That required extra management throughout the day to help drive nursing activity. Few things are as frustrating to me as a mother who won’t nurse one of her kids, they will both be sold by summer.

Isolated and sad kid too left. Milking stall to lock mother up to right. Absurd mother in foreground. Well fed kid to mid left. Overall, picture of the kidding pen.

By the end of a week in this facility, the neglected kids wear the mothers down and they can all nurse effectively now. No bottle feeding required!

One of the triplets started small and can’t hang with the big ones. That one is taking a bottle with great reluctance. She’s also the most advanced at eating grass so far.

Note the dull grass in foreground, recently cattle territory

It is very fun to turn them loose on the spring growth in the yard. Lots of running and jumping for the little ones and lots of weeds consumed from my yard.

Net fencing trials

We are trying a portable electric net to focus their grazing on the pasture. Opening test run was successful and we’re looking forward to experimenting throughout the summer.