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.

Grass Circles

Because of the drought this summer, we fed hay out in the pasture. It is a tradeoff because it is more work to move the hay out into the pasture compared to barn feeding.

We hoped this would convert a localized area into improved pasture. Make the cows busy stomping dropped hay and manure into the soil. That would build up the organic matter and fertility in the top soil and take a scrub piece of pasture into a prime piece of pasture. Maybe.

We didn’t see results over the summer, no rain to make anything change. We did start to see results in the deep fall after some rain.

It was different then we expected. The hay bales we placed in the summer that had summer grass, called second cutting, had some stray germination in the summer then nothing in the fall. The bales which were spring cutting, first cut, germinated like a dream.

Multiple locations of first cut hay turned into good pasture patches. The winter grass seed seems to have carried through into an ideal planting environment. I am hoping this has a cascade of fertility in these locations and begins a seed bank and water retention year after year.

In the final review, moving the bales out to the pasture is a good fertility improver and we’ll do it as much as we can over the winter.

The Grass Can Always Be Greener

We keep the chickens in a mobile coop. We move it everyday. It means new grass for chickens, protection from predators, and eggs always where they belong. Also, they fertilize the grass.

This past year we ran an experiment where the chicken tractors spent most of their time in the yard. The hypothesis is that more fertilizer on the lawn encourages grass growth. Grass growing blocks the stickers from ruining all barefoot activities.

Year 1 was a partial success. There was at least a 50% reduction in time of stickers wrecking the place. The peak season was still just a numerous, but the duration was shortened by weeks on the front and the back ends.

Sometimes you just look at a historical path of chickens in tractors and say wow. This stretch of green patches in the pasture is one of these. The closest patch in the foreground was where the chickens spent a day about 3 weeks ago, and each patch moving away is one subsequent day less, with a u turn at the end. You can see the start of the green shading in front of Jenny coming back to the right.

Next year we’re going to try and run meat chickens in larger numbers in a pasture, and I’m interested to see what grass acceleration we can get from them that the cows can harvest with stronger grass growth on a marginal area.

A Pepper, A Blue, Them Chicken Gardeners

New puppy. Kitten is now a cat. Chickens prepare a garden bed. Conflict around the house.

If you can say Pepper with German inflection, let me know

Pepper the puppy has joined the household. She’s west German working line and comes from friends who raise dogs with effective even hands. I’ve been around many dogs and raised my own. This little pepper girl is incredibly intelligent and managed potty training before 4 months old. She has a bright future here with the family.

Some friends did some minimizing in life and eliminated their chicken setup. We were happy to make a win win deal and bring it home. Now it is set up for winter. The plan is to add high carbon materials like grass clippings, hay and wood chips to the ground. The chickens will poop on it and then use their feet to claw and turn the chips.

Carbon+nitrogen+biome= soil. Come spring, we’ll take this down and plant seeds for a garden in the prepared bed. That’s the theory, anyways.

…I see skies with Blue…

Blue the kitten has grown to Blue the cat. He has worked out how to climb the coop and hunt the chickens inside. He’s very pleased with his little lion king self. I’ll have to add a roof segment or netting.

Little lions love observation

Pepper and Blue have not come to terms yet. Hissing and barking abound in my shop when I forget to shut the door. But I’m optimistic they will become friendly, the other cats and dogs all get along just fine.