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.

Chicken Tractor Refurbished

We moved all the hens into the A-frame chicken tractor, and we have some chicks who need a new home out on the grass. While our original mobile chicken coop was empty, it is time to make some repairs.

Have grinder, will travel

It was a laundry list of small repairs. Rusted metal with holes that needed patching in the roosting box. Metal screens detached from the frame thanks to some grain hungry goats shoving their heads in. Wheel frames bent and making it difficult to pull around. Broken ramp to climb into the roost box. Roosting bars unattached and falling everywhere.

Ready for chicks

Wonderful fall weather made the entire process fun and enjoyable. Somehow we did the entire batch of repairs in perfect harmony, not a single disagreement on how or what to do. These are good days.

Warm and cozy

Fall Profits

This fall has been a good one for the homestead. Let me show you what’s been happening.

Mountains, Gandalf. I want to see Mountains!

The rain came and pastures grew back very quickly. Within days of we resumed rotational grazing for the goats and the cattle. In the middle of such a day, a little goat doe who was big time ready for her man broke into the boys pen. She spent several hours under the conflict-affection of the bucks. Once she was bred we went ahead and bred the other 10 ladies, looking at a February birth next year and hoping for 14 or 15.

The grass moustache is back, baby!

We also completed some transactions, selling 3 of the boys into the meat market to some repeat customers from last fall, courtesy of their strong family network and a traditional religious festival. We agreed in the spring to hold the boys for them and it worked out well for everyone. They also picked up some chickens, a pleasant surprise for us. We will plan to manage our birds for selling more next year.

A-frame tractor. Pronounced Eh-frame by some.

We built a new chicken tractor to consolidate all the birds into one place. This has a larger footprint with vastly more wing space to flutter and roosting footprint to sleep. It is light enough for one person to comfortably maneuver every day. It solved the feather plucking antagonisms from the older hens and gave the young hens a first taste of what flapping into a laying box is like. Which is good, because they are laying almost a month ahead of expectations. 6 eggs a day is our find sometimes.

Jenny and my father doing focused puzzle work to maximize pieces cut from a truck bed liner. You can see a piece installed in the peak behind Jenny and scraps between them.
A cut from the truck bed liner as roofing cap
Roosting perches run front to back, feeder hanging just out of reach of chicken bomber droppings

We also executed our first beef sales and deliveries. This was exciting for us as it is the first beef we have done nearly start to finish, and we were delighted to find more customers then we had beef to sell.

Local butcher in the hospital district of Weatherford

We loaded up and dropped them off at a local family run butcher. They run a clean shop. We brought more flies on the cows then existed in the entire shop. We left our cut instructions and a phone number and then updated our customers, 3-4 weeks to deliver. Next step was collecting coolers to make deliveries in. And waiting.

The waiting

Pick up day arrived. Load up that trailer! Pack up the kids! Coordinate delivery times! Pick up the beef! Ready, set, go!

Love the shade tree near the loading dock.

Red light! These boxes are not sorted into quarters like we agreed. Oh my. Some of these cuts are completely wrong. Oh, but this one is right… We’re going to have to sort this all out. Back home everybody, we have work to do.

Ready to go!

Start four hours of sorting, weighing, recording, and finding customers happy with different cuts. Then get the beef back into coolers and get to the deliveries. We learned a lot, among them how to better load the trailer.

Every one of our customers was extremely accommodating to our delivery windows. Some met us midway when it made sense. We only had one counting error and we are blessed the customer was satisfied with that error.

We left the farm grumpy and frustrated with unplanned disruptions. We left each of our customer homes with smiles on everyone’s faces. This is business at its best. The finest product made in a sustainable way and delivered face to face with customers eager and cheerful.

Cutting boards for customers to celebrate the year

After seven hours we came home exhausted but very much alive, praising a good God who let us learn new skills to be a blessing to families and his creation. Did we get rich in cash? No. Did we find this all deeply enriching to the soul? Without a doubt.

Now seriously, you gotta try some of this beef. It’s very good.

“What was that noise?”

Last night we learned some lessons while watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When you hear a pop sound from the laundry room, it is not always benign.

Sometimes it is an egg gone bad after 18 days in the incubator. Sometimes those carefully heated eggs go pop and explode all over the inside of the incubator.

In about 6 minutes, the smell will waft it’s way to the couch where your vigilant wife will notice a foul stench. Your dog will not even stir.

In that intervening six minutes, the husband manages to make a bowl of popcorn from the cabinet right next to the incubator. He will also pour a beer with his head 12 inches from the incubator on the shelf. He will not notice anything amiss, but he is inordinately proud of the head of foam he produced in the glass.

The wife will go and take the lid off the incubator. She will see the rotted gray green goo splattered all over the interior and will begin to wake up the neighborhood with her protests and gagging over the smell.

Soon thereafter, even the sleeping dog and the covid survivor husband will realize “oh man that is AWFUL”

For the next hour and a half, going right up to midnight, the husband and wife will be involved in sorting and cleaning the good eggs, and the entire incubator twice. You will be throwing out all the malicious looking egg grenades remaining from that one hen your farmer friend gave you to feed your pig because it laid funny looking eggs and you were like “ain’t nothing wrong with these eggs, let’s incubate them!”

You will take everything outside to chemically sterilize under a flashlight. Your bottle will run out of sanitizer. The husband will be helpful and go get the wrong sanitizer.

Then every cat you own on 10 acres will come up to you scrounging for the snacky snack they smelled from the far end of the property. The cows and goats will stir from their sleep and demand snacks, because they have seen the farmer and the farmer is kind. Then you go to bed knowing that is the cleanest the incubator has been since it came from the factory.

It was a good episode of Star Trek though.