Thursday, September 28

Hay Bunk

I'm getting much better at being handy with the tools. Last weekend Jennifer and I were cleaning and straightening around the farm when she asked me if I thought I could build a hay bunk. I thought about and decided we could probably get it done in a day. She said, "how about today?" and away we went. I didn't have to Google to look at other hay bunks and I didn't even sketch it out on paper or in 3-d software. "I'd just eye-ball it" our farmer neighbor told me once, so that's what we did.

We had previously sectioned-off part of the hay barn so the horses can use some of it for shelter. This section is also where we feed the two Percheron horses. There's a large feed bucket tied to each corner. One problem that we've been seeing is the older of the two, Des, pushes the younger filly, Eve, out of the way and generally shoves her around. During the last rain storm Eve stood out in the rain because Des wouldn't let her in the barn.

So we decided the hay bunk could help solve this problem. I built the bunk to span between two posts in the barn (including the new post I recently installed) which created two stalls separated by a self-feeding hay bunk. Now Eve can eat and take shelter without Des running her off and we have the added benefit of less wasted hay. Before we were simply tossing flakes of hay over the fence (grain was in the feed buckets).

I built it using wood just lying around. I sandwiched two 2x8 boards the length of the span between the two barn posts to use as a beam. I mounted this to each post a couple feet off the ground. I somehow managed to get it unlevel despite my use of a line-level. By the time I noticed I had already built most of the structure and decided the horses won't care plus the slight fall will drain any water that collects in the trough area (see how nicely I rationalized my mistake).

I mounted a 2x10 flat on top of the beam and added 2x8's to each side to make the trough. Up another 3 feet or so along each post I placed a horizontal 2x8 about 3 feet long on each post to form a "T" shape with the post. The ends of the "T" on each posts I connected with 2x8's the entire length of the stall. Along this span I put several short 2x8's connecting the ends of the "T" to the 2x10 attached to the beam. I left 8 inches or so between each rib of the now "V" shaped structure for the horses to pull hay through.

The following day the horses made short work of my proud hay bunk, knocking loose several of the ribs. While the nail gun made building the structure extremely quick nails were probably not the correct fastener to use in this case. I went back later and firmed the structured up with 3" screws. I've learned that any time the horse can put outward pressure on a fastener I better use screws.

I'll probably come back and edit this post with a picture as soon as I take one.

[picture added on 10/3/2006]

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Thursday, September 21

Poultry Housing

our poulty housing from the southwest corner facing north
The days are growing shorter and I'm finding it difficult to find enough time (and light) to use the camera. I felt I owed my (loyal) readership an update on the poultry housing I talked about building of so long ago.

Back in mid-July, with the help of my Dad and one of my Uncles, we completed the hen house. It was supposed to only house the guineas we had purchased. The plan was to let the guineas free range and close them up in the house at night. Of course the plan of action changed when Jennifer purchased and brought home a whole flock of chickens. Now I needed a fence for the chickens. We did decide to let a few of the bigger chickens free range. the Old English Game birds seem to be able to fend for themselves. But the rest of the younger chickens were to remain in the coop.

That was then, and I've since completed the fence. I used 2x8's for the top and bottom rails and mounted them to wooden posts I cemented in the ground. That was the easy part. Unrolling and dealing with the chicken wire proved to be a time consuming task. But with my wife's help we got it all stretched up and mounted. In the picture you can see multiple feeders and waterers (inside the coop and out). The spans between the posts are a bit long (15' for one section) and I need to reinforce the top rail. I'll do that before too long.

After taking this picture I was embarrassed by the unkept appearance of area, I'll have to work on that this weekend if it's not storming. I didn't want to wait to clean up the area before making this post, however.

The two trash cans contain chicken feed and scratch. We also store the vitamins and medication in trash cans as well. The water hose is lazily draped over the fence in order to make filling the multiple waters easier.

On a farm there never seems to be enough buckets, and at our farm it's apparently because they're all at the chicken coop. I see one in this image and I cropped out another one slight off to the left. We end up using the buckets to carry vegetable garden scraps or left over watermelon rinds to the chickens, which they happily eat up.

Each morning I wake up to let the chickens out of the house. I swing the screen door open and fasten it to the fence so it stays open then it's a mad dash to the gate on the fence with "the girls" in fast pursuit. They've become accustomed to us bringing them something good to eat and are generally very friendly. Jennifer has decided to let them all free range on occasion so I think they associate me opening the fence gate as a time to leave the pen.

The chickens faithfully return to the house to roost every night. Occasionally the guineas will decide to rest in the house for the night, but usually they're high up in the Oak and Walnut trees. Just after dark each night one of us will go close the door to the house, keeping them safe from the night-time predators. We added a screen door to help with the ventilation during the day time (when they were confined to the house awaiting the completion of the fencing). I've got a solid wood core door attached as the primary protection for that opening. The door already has a pet-door attached, so it'll be convenient in the winter for them to go in and out of.

Speaking of winter, it's already started cooling down to the 40's at night in our part of the Ozarks. We recently purchased a heat lamp and thermostat that I'll be placing in the bird house to keep them warm during the winter. Extension cords will have to suffice until I get ambitious enough to wire up the out-buildings properly. In the meantime I've closed the openings on each end to keep the draft down.

I think you can see the chickens cracking a little smile of content in the picture below, they're pretty well treated birds! We've gotten quite a bit of entertainment out of having them, but we've experienced some tragedies as well. We've lost a few to mysterious natural deaths as well as some not so mysterious predators. One confirmed kill was by Gelleon of all dogs. That chicken didn't die in vain, as all the dogs were taught a lesson. "NO CHICKEN" is the command to halt the dogs in their tracks. I've run off another neighbor's dog one morning when we heard some cacklin' so I think that dog might be the cause for the rest of the flock depletion.

Sometimes I think some of the remaining chickens are taunting our dogs. During one free-range excursion chickens were passing between Haley's legs and one jumped on Suey's back! We could see the look of extreme restraint in the dogs when something like this happens; they don't even want to make eye contact with the birds!

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Tuesday, September 19

Time travel

Amish Hauling Hay
Originally uploaded by chasealpha1.
I recently took a trip back in time with my wife. Jennifer needed some tack and harnesses repaired for the farm she works for. We made the trek to the Seymour, MO area which hosts a vibrant Amish community.

I'm familiar with this area, having graduated from high school in Mansfield, just 11 miles to the east, but I never really knew any Amish folks. I worked at the town's grocery store which was equiped with a horse barn. Many of the businesses in the town have hitching posts including the local McDonalds [click for an interesting juxtaposition].

The photos pictured here and that I linked to are not my own, but belong to a local resident of Webster County with a good photographic eye. I hope he doesn't mind me using the image to help tell my story. You can view the rest of his Amish set here.

Having an Amish community means having the goods and services necessary to keep the Amish choice of transportation clip clopping along. The proxmity of such establishments comes in handy when you've got draft horses (such as the farm where Jennifer works) that pull carts for entertainment using the same tack that the Amish use for working their horses. We needed to make two stops, one at the Schwartz Buggy and Farrier Shop north of Seymour on Highway C the other at Triple S Harness.

Our visit with the shop keeper at Schwartz Buggy and Farrier shop was a pleasant one. I don't know why, but I was quite surprised by how friendly he was, especially considering my wife was obviously the authority of our house on such things as horseshoe nails and buggy whips, and I knew nothing. I thought he might not think it's "woman's work."

The older gentleman who helped us made small talk about how long they had been in business and was generally a great help. Despite that, I didn't feel like I could ask him if I could take some pictures, even though there were postcards for sale picturing the business and some of their custom-built buggies.

I would have loved to snapped my own pictures. The inside of this shop was like peering back to a simpler time. Horseshoes of every size and shape lined the tightly spaced shelves. All sorts of interesting specialized tools and implements where stacked neatly in the room light only by natural light coming through the windows.

After we got what we needed from the buggy shop we went south back to the intersection of C and V and took Highway V East to 1.5 miles into Wright County. There we made our final stop at Triple S Harness shop. A young lady was working the shop for her father, who was traveling at the time. She wasn't able to answer many questions but her two younger brothers were able to find some of the things Jennifer was looking for.

I took a business card from Triple S, which made me laugh a little. No phone number of course, certainly not an e-mail address or a URL to visit. Simply "Triple S Harness" and a physical address.

It was an educational experience and the prices were quite reasonable. I'm sure that's not going to be our last trip to the Seymour area.

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Sunday, September 17


Our neighbors named their rooster, Rojo, after a song they remember from a while back. I was able to find the lyrics, but alas, no MP3 for the song has turned up:

(author unknown)

Fowler's the name, Stew Fowler! I'm a rooster. Fightin's my racket. Cock fightin'.

I came all the way from Texas across the burnin' sand
To wet my feathers in the Rio Grande.
I've hobbled for miles through Mexico,
I've come to kill a big rooster called Rojo.
(doin' it all for chicken feed)

For a country red, Rojo's wild.
His fame is spread for many a mile.
The hens all cackle when Rojo's around,
But Stew Fowler's here to put Big Red down.
(I'll give them chickens somethin' to cackle about!)

It's mid afternoon as I stand in the street
Of this Spanish town called Los Leghorn's Retreat.
At the end of the row a canteena stands
(ain't nothin' but a chicken coop)
It's plainly the haunt of an outlaw band.

The sign in the front reads,
La Grande de Nesto,
And it's there I know
I'll find my foe, the fabled Rojo.

I can hear fowl language
Comin' out of that honky tonk.
I've strut down the street, the cock of the walk.
I crow for Big Red to come out and talk.

Through the swingin' doors
Of the Grande de Nesto,
His head erect
And his tail feathers low, steps Rojo!
(I can tell he's a really bad egg)

His spurs are long and his eyes are green,
An uglier cock I've never seen.
He learned to be tough while he's in the pen,
But I know his weakness... hens and gin.

Then out of that honky tonk and up to Rojo's side
Steps the prettiest little dance hall cackler in the West, Bluestie Nuster,
The southern fried feather duster.
(Gosh she's pretty. I'd like to run my hands through that red comb of hers)

Rojo comes at me in a long lanky run.
Some people gathers round to watch the fun.
(You know, people are the strangest chickens)

Bird to bird and beak to beak
I face Rojo, and my heart gets weak.
I crow and strut and I jump about,
And then I take off and I run, cause I done chickened out.


I do not know who the author is, but Archie Campbell sang it and may have written it as well
via Traditional Music.

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Rural Sporting Events

No I'm not referring to NASCAR. I knew our shiny new mailbox that I previosly posted about would be a tempting target and it didn't take long for the local holligans to pick it out. Mailbox bashing is a popular passtime of rednecks and angst-filled teenagers. I've got half a mind to rig up some sort of wireless web camera system and lure them back but the quarter-mile to the end of the driveway presents some logistical challenges.

Jennifer of course has all kinds of ideas for vengence. Most of her ideas on the subject seem to come from the same ACME catalog that the Coyote is shopping from (think Anvils and long ropes).

But the realist in me is just going to keep the semi-bashed mailbox in place and hope that's all they've got.

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Saturday, September 16

Farm Addictions

My wife has an ailment, a sickness, a condition if you will. She has an addiction to be more precise. An addiction that causes her to obsessively collect new living things for us to feed, build shelter, and complete care for.

Jennifer found a stuffed monkey toy near the barn and wondered where it came from. Our neighbor, Coy Dan, had brought his granddaughter to see our horses (to which she said "whoa, their big!"). I rationalized that perhaps the toy had fallen out of Coy Dan's truck and that it might belong to his granddaughter. We planned on asking the neighbors about it the next time we talked to them.

In the meantime we had acquired a new resident, Cali, a pregnant calico cat. Jennifer has a bleeding heart and the sickness I mentioned. She found out about Cali through someone she works with. The cat was abandoned when a family moved out of an apartment (I just hate people like that). Cali, pregnant and very obviously near term, was left with a bowl of food near a dumpster.

Jennifer rationalized a reason to bring the poor cat home (we were apparently taking applications for a barn cat) and just like that, we're plus another mouth to feed (not to mention the kitties on the way). I joke, but it's ok by me. I had cats around growing up.

Jennifer and I had a cat previously when we lived in town. Actually, to be more correct, Dobie had a cat. Our 90+ lb Doberman had found a kitten behind our place in Springfield. The two of them would wrestle and play and the big bad Doberman was always the one to whimper and run off, never hurting the kitty.

We did decide that this cat would remain a barn cat. It will be fun to have a cat out in the barn that can be useful, assuming she can catch mice. We'll give away as many of the kittens as we can and get Cali fixed as soon as it's safe.

Jennifer had called down to the neighbors to tell them about the cat (the barn borders their property) and ask about the stuffed monkey. Glenda was happy to hear about the cat and offered to take one of the kittens to make a barn cat for themselves. We had also learned the origin of the mysterious monkey. Glenda had given it to their dog Fizwad to play with. Gelleon had probably dragged it home for Jennifer to find.

Glenda told Jennifer that she tell her husband, Coy Dan, about the cat and causally mention we had a monkey too, just to see what he would say. When Coy Dan came home Glenda gave him the news, that "Jennifer's got a barn cat and a monkey" to which Coy Dan, not at all surprised by that statement replied, "what kind of monkey?"

I asked him later what he thought when Glenda told him that. He told me that he easily imagined a monkey among the dogs, the cat, the chickens, the guineas, and the horses. He said his first thought was "I wonder what the dogs think of the monkey."

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Monday, September 11

Raising to prevent razing

At some point in the last dozen years or so our beloved neighbor hooked a tractor axle on one of the 6x6 posts and broke it off at the ground. As the years have passed, the bottom of that post has begun rotting away. Gravity has been relentlessly at work this entire time and the roofline is begining to sag as you can see in the picture above.

This situation is complicated further by the addition of two Percheron draft horses with a penchant for scratching their large posteriors against vertical structures. During one rear scratching event I could visibly see the roofline move up and down and hear the metal of the siding and roof pop and bend. Of course it's time for the geek farmer to come to the rescue.

I purchased two 16' tall treated 6x6 posts at my father's surplus lumber auction a couple weekends ago. At $20 bucks each, they were a steal. I only needed one for this project but they were sold as a pair and I'm sure another use will arrise.

I consulted with Coy Dan who offered to help since he damaged it years ago (I'm sure he would have helped even if he didn't cause the issue). We decided it would be sufficient to scab the new 6x6 against the old, securing it with several bolts and a new concrete footing.

This last weekend, with the help of my cousin Aaron, we began the task of reparing and raising the barn. We dug a deep hole to accomodate the new post and concrete. I hammered several nails partially into the end of the post so that a good inch was sticking out on each nail. We set that end into the concrete. Our logic here is that will help to tie the post to the concrete and prevent the weight of the barn from pushing the post through. I needed to keep the post fairly close to verticle during this time so I temporarily tacked it to the old post.

I had purchased several gates for on-going fencing projects and made a temporary barrier to keep the horses from scratching on my new post and wet concrete. I've been letting the concrete cure for a couple days now and hopefully I can finish the project this week.

The remaining tasks include using the high-lift jack and a metal pole to jack the roofline into position. At that point I'll drill holes in both posts for the bolts and tighten the bolts into place. Releasing the pressure from the jack should effectively transfer the weight of the roof down the old pole to the bolts then to the new 6x6 post and finally to the conrete on the ground.

Hopefully this re-raising of the barn will prevent my hay-burners from razing the barn.

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Friday, September 8

Hey, hey, hay!

I continue to learn new things about which I previously had no concept. Who knew there was so much to learn about a simple three letter word: hay.

I previously blogged about our first crop of hay back in early August. We're hoping to get another cutting of the Sudan grass mix before the season is over. In the mean time we've been scraping up what little cash is available and buying hay here and there. Part of the weekend activities will include "putting up" 110 bales of and orchard grass mix, as well as 40 or so bales of Alfalfa. The Alfalfa, a legume, is a much more nutrient rich hay when compared to a grass hay like orchard grass. Less of it can be fed relative to the grass hay for the same amount of nutrition. In addition to the sweet feed grain we feed our horses Jennifer estimates we'll need somewhere around 1000 square bales to make it through the winter. This presents challenges on many fronts.

The most obvious challenge is the amount of money required to keep our animals in good health. We've put the feelers of our extensive family network out and have managed to find a good deal here and there, but we're still not completely prepared for the winter. Considering the drought conditions the area has experienced, hay is becoming increasingly expensive. In some of the local markets Alfalfa is bringing close to $8.00 a bale! We have lucked into some bales of grass hay for as low as $2, but anything times a 1000 is expensive in my book.

Another challenge is the storage. Jennifer spent much of last week cleaning out some very old hay that was in the barn when we bought the place. Our neighbor estimated some of it had been in there approaching a decade. Jennifer discarded the bales that had mold on them into a large pile to compost down. There were still several bales of Alfalfa that appear to be good. My wife decided to keep those bales and let the horses pick through them.

Her barn cleaning efforts will give us space to store another 400 or so bales but that is clearly not enough to keep the 1000 or so we'll need. It appears the shop building may be utilized for some storage space and a lean-to might need to be constructed. Yet another project to add to the list. If it comes down to it I'm sure we'll be able to borrow some space from our neighbor, but that's not something I want to impose on him if at all possible. One of his hay barns is currently where our 16' flat bed trailer loaded with the 110 bales sits protected from the weather and waiting to be put up in our barn, which brings up the final challenge, time.

I'm looking forward to my next anniversary at work (next summer) when I'll get the coveted third week of vacation. That'll help get some of the projects that have stalled simply because I'm not at home enough. "Putting up" bales, the act of unloading and stacking the hay for storage takes time, and we've been using our neighbors generosity and his barn to store the trailered hay until I can find time to unload it all.

Some day we'll have to purchase our own tractor which will solve many of the aforementioned challenges. If we had a tractor we could handle round bales of hay, which are cheaper than the square bales (by cost per volume). Additionally, round bales are ok, for a period, in the weather. When round bales are rained on they tend to shed the water off the sides. Some of the bale deteriorates but a high percentage of it is usable. Square bales, on the other hand will get soaked straight through and will quickly mold. Not something you would want to feed to your animals. Additionally, handling bales of hay with a tractor is much easier on the back than loading, unloading, and stacking by hand!

Our neighbor just recently finished his hay-related activities for the year and I had a long and interesting conversation about the process of mowing, tetting, raking, then finally bailing hay. I'll have to save that for another post.

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