Got the Blues

Part of the beauty of our farm property is a building that was a milking parlor for a dairy operation. We’ve converted it into a feed storage, workshop and child development facility.

Last year our livestock really wanted the feed inside. They broke the door from this building into the pole barn pasture. The quick and dirty farm fix was : board it up with Craigslist pallets. Then I walked away until more time was available.

This past week time was available. We’re always looking to improve it process, and waste time is often walking the long way around because this door doesn’t work.

New door becomes blue door

A friend of mine was unhappily required to run an estate sale for a family member. I was happy to find a new home for this door. The color choice is driven by the best outdoor grade paint on the ‘Oops’ rack at Lowe’s. I spray the first coat with the sprayer and walk away.

Rock the goat would not let this process go without protest. He left his marks all over the door. So the second coat needed some prep work.

The curiosity may kill the cat, but here, it gloms to the goat.

“Snake Season is Here!”

“Snake season is here! No really, look at all these posts on Facebook about snakes this week!” So Jenny shares a comment stream about monster snakes coming out in our county. It is spring after all.

She does have cause for concern. Last year I eliminated 3 cottonmouths from the property. We put cats into the workshop to deter them. If the cats eat the rodents, the snakes don’t have food. They also don’t like snakes and will kill small ones.

One of last year’s rake cruisers

I scoff. “Snakes won’t be around. The cats will keep them away, haven’t seen anything since August anyways.” Within 24 hours I was required to recant.

Let me stop in the shop for a

Mr(s) Rat Snake was perched in my shop window. “Where are these crafty kittens? How can the cats let an invasion happen? Why hasn’t this snake moved in the time I took these pictures?”

Wasp on the case, but totally really not looking at Mr(s). Rat Snake

I go into the shop and find perfect stillness. Not a tongue flicks out, not a glance at the snake. Oh sure, the cat Wasp was moving all about licking herself and looking all around this serpent, but never at the serpent. The stalemate is real. Snake can’t go forward, and backing up exposes the neck. The cat Wasp can’t make a move because the distance is to far. So no one moves to the fight.

I’ve introduced the boys to Kipling’s The Jungle Books. There’s a recurring theme in the loosely fitting narratives. The eyes of the snake contain paralysis and death. Don’t look at the snake! It’s in Mowgli stories and Ricki Ticki Tavi, the mongoose who kills malevolent cobras. I thought it was a mythological apparatus Kipling incorporated, but maybe it’s more then that. He was a keen observer of the wild.

After 5 minutes of watching and having Jenny come see, I pulled the snake out on a rake and threw it over the fence.

What? Keep the snake?? Yes. It is shy and non venomous. It fills a predatory niche in this ecosystem. If the rat snake supplants the aggressive and poisonous cottonmouths, it is a real win. Maybe awareness of the new cat sheriffs in town will percolate throughout the meadows and forests warning all pests to leave the shop alone! Kipling would be proud.

Don’t look at me, I don’t sharpen my claws on these haunches.

Captive Rainwater

Collecting rainwater from the rooftop has been a goal and this past week marked a significant step forward.

Cotton candy sunsets out here

The front quarter of the rooftop is now guttered. It collects water to flow to the tank.

Utility trailer earning it’s keep

Used tank on craigslist required some cleaning out, fortunately there are helping hands around here.

One it was cleaned, time to run pipes. The vertical pipe is a first flow diverter, the dust off the roof runs off first and is diverted into a drain so the sediment doesn’t get into the tank.

First flow diverter is also a support for the pipe
Screen to block insect intruders

I’m not accustomed to pipe projects being a race against the weather. This day was a race against the thunderstorms, and p it the last pieces together as the rain started. What’s the end result?

Captured rainwater with good pressure from the tank

Training Chickens

Chicks don’t stay chicks. They get bigger. As they get bigger they become more cold tolerant and more aggressive in their hunting and eating capabilities. Here are some adjustments we’ve made.

Rise and shine

It’s time to start moving them outside in increments. Every morning with good weather we put them in the top deck of the mobile chicken home. They are sheltered in here until they are comfortable heading downstairs, and they are also learning that the stairs are actually there.

2020 was the year of the RV, and the chickens are no exception

Once they come down the ramp they have access to water, feed, and most exciting: fresh turf.

You can see the rope on the front and this allows us to easily move the chicken RV to a new patch of grass every day.

What does moving the chicken RV do? First it keeps the birds from hammering down and destroying the grass. Second, while they are on a patch of turf it is being heavily fertilized and aerated. Third, chickens like to scratch and peck and hunt, and every hunter loves new territory to hunt. Fourth, chickens eat plants. The chlorophyll is great for their bodies and new grass is tasty grass.

There’s an unseen secret in here

For now they come back inside at night, that will change next week. Ready to live outside fully when the weather is fully warm.

This week I found a 8in snake dead in the yard. I brought it inside and tossed it to the chickens. After watching the birds lightly peck the serpent for a while I got bored and went away. Then they found their taste for the snake because when I came back it was completely gone, which is where this picture came from. Good work chickens!

Chicken training so far: going down a ramp, drinking water, and eating snake.

Birds yet to Feather

You know those weeknights where you know get some goods at the farm store, you have your kids with you and the chicks are half price after Easter?

Heat Lamp Row

Of course we come home with a dozen chicks. They are full of down and fluff and rapidly transitioning to feathers. I’m excited to get them in the pasture behind the cattle to harvest the fly proteins!

What’s the biggest threat to the birds right now? A curious and energetic toddler that wants to pick them up. So they get a lid and a heat lamp in the laundry room.

Got that One Wrong

Sometimes you take a leap and it works out. Other times you miss the ledge and go tumbling down…like this time.

Craigslist ad has a 5ft rotary cutter for a good price. Looks good , runs great, has ac, ect.

Go pick it up and it’s too wide for my 5.5ft trailer. The good ol boy with the monster tractor tells me it’s called a 5ft cutter because it cuts 5ft, not because the deck is foot.

Nodding agreeably I give him the cash and strap it on the trailer, a bit janky but chipper about the deal and confident it’ll work.

She ain’t going nowhere

Turns out, she’s too big and too heavy by far. It took the wife and I 30 minutes to even unload it from the trailer.

The tractor hydraulics won’t lift her. I asked a friend helped me troubleshoot. “these two spark plugs wires are severed!” So we fix those and it doesn’t help. Check the dipstick “you need more fluid!” So we add more fluid…and no go. Check for hydraulic leaks and there are none.

Ladies and gentlemen, I messed up and bought a heavy piece of equipment. Now I can’t load on anyone else’s trailer. It’s on Craigslist now waiting for someone looking for a deal who can bring their own tractor to pick it up.

Need a Lift?

Tractors use tools that pin in place to 3 points on the back, called a 3 point hitch. Remarkably, the ancient 9n uses the same mounts and drives as category 1 tractors today. This means nearly a century of tractor tools all work together.

Meanwhile, I look at my laptop and recognize 5 different computer ports. 1 of these have been replaced with newer versions of the same port since I bought it two years ago. Engineering has changed(!)

Pulled on a trailer to be pulled on a tractor

There was a promising ad on craigslist. It had a difficult to find implement, the dirt scoop. It’s a big dumping bucket that pulls behind the tractor to scrape up earth and move it elsewhere. $150

He was recently retired and thinning out his stuff, no more horses because 30 years was enough. His wife is a decade younger and has more work to do, but he told her she could work until he was able to sell most of their things. Then they’ll switch to travel in RV all across America before settling down somewhere. It was a good conversation.

The gentleman had a high quality 6ft blade to level and grade surfaces behind the tractor, eg, can level a gravel driveway. $400.

He loaded these on the trailer with his tractor, then asked how I was going to get them off. Being new and flush with the Dunning-Kruger high, I said I would get a furniture dolly or something under it. Can’t be that heavy, right? He laughed, said hang on and drove the tractor away.

Boom lift doing yard curls

He came back with a boom lift. It is an arm that mounts to the hydraulic lift on the (back) 3pt hitch of the tractor. It makes a kind of crane out of the hydraulics.

I asked how much, he said no. I said no really, he said no it’s a gift, go use it and teach the boys how to be safe around it.

People can be a real blessing, and so I said thank you to him and then to God that night when we prayed.

…now I was confident I can get anything off this trailer, so more to come

Stone Age Tractor

Over the past year we have celebrated using goats and cattle to manage brush and grass. It’s a running joke that we could either spend 10k on a depreciating asset (tractor) and do extra work or half that on an appreciating asset (livestock) and let them celebrate doing the work.

Over the winter, we noticed the pastures cut for hay did better at growing new grass to stockpile for winter. Our property is small and doesn’t come out very economically to pay a profitable rate to hay balers. How could we cut down old growth to make room for fall growth when the livestock can’t keep up with summer growth? For sure, the push mower was off the table.

Then I get a note from my Dad:

Now the cost benefit starts to look better: it won’t loose any value, maintenance costs are low because parts are widely available, and the hard work of restoration has already been done by a trusted party.

Life lesson: it is worth listening to other people’s experience. If you asked me to consider something older then many museum exhibits last year, I would have laughed. I like history but I don’t work history. But a friend talked about restoring an Old Ford 8n (similar tractor) and getting a lot of utility from it on his land in Georgia in a passing conversation. I didn’t do anything with that data except mentally file it away. That planted a seed that these really could be a viable option. (Thanks Dave!)

So I put a new battery in and learned how to drive it.

Next up, every good tractor needs some implements, and this needs some maintenance checking when the manual comes in the mail. Updates to come!

You Do Lose Some

A good friend in the mini farming trade gave my wife and I some good council. “Sometimes you fight to save these animals, and you do. Sometimes you try and you do lose some. Sometimes they just die and you never know why.

Symptomatic Position

We pulled this lady goat out of the herd. Her FMCHA scores indicated a storm of parasites running riot in her system. After some treatments, we found her unable to stand and consistently holding her head backwards. This was new and needed more research.

Jenny drilled down and discovered Listeriosis. It’s a bacteria in a goat system that takes advantage when the body is weak, and it attacks the brain stem. You can try to treat this condition with penicillin injections, and we tried that every six hours for the next 3 days and nights, along with hand feeding and watering. It didn’t work.

Sometimes you do lose some.

Piles of dirt from new holes, that’s what playgrounds are made of.