Tuesday, March 30

End of the Daily Shuffle

The plants survived the daily shuffle.  I was up to the point of three different "shifts" of plants under the lights, plus I had some tomato plants that grew so big that they could no longer fit under my lights.  The greenhouse is painfully close to completion (crossing my fingers for this weekend) but the weather has warmed up enough the plants can all stay outside (at least for the next few days).  Jennifer placed them all on the deck and put up the shade cloth to protect them from the full sun until they've hardened off.

I've had visitors to the blog announce themselves, welcome to everyone!  I'm glad to know people are either learning from or at least being entertained from my toiling around on the farm and this blog.  Other bloggers know that the interactivity with other folks is what makes this fun, the more the merrier as the saying goes.  

And just for fun, here's a random goat video.  Etsu (one of our bottle baby goats) is playing on a bale of hay my cousin Aaron is unrolling.  Aiko, the other bottle baby, unsuccessfully tries to join her.

Barn Construction Update

Progress!  I love progress.  I'm hopeful that I can see some metal on this bad boy tomorrow.  Then I can begin customizing the interior for our needs.  We have a loose plan that involves some stalls, some hay storage, a feed room, and an area for milking.  Our long term plans include having hot and cold water (it will have cold water to start) so we can do our bottle mixing for the calves and our milking dishes in the barn.  Then maybe we can have our kitchen back for people food!

We've never built, or rather, had anything built on this scale before.  The construction business is a stressful one.  We've had several people comment that this barn is being built right, which is a good thing to hear.  The retired civil engineer from down the road commented that it is very well built, with 6x6 posts set at the right distance and more trusses than the typical pole barn package.  He said he's seen many packages erected to find out they don't meet code.  We happen to live in a county that has no building codes but he said this one meets or exceeds all the codes he knows of.

Thursday, March 25

Green greenhouse - clean goats

We've got the first coat of paint on the greenhouse now...  So it'll be a green greenhouse when all is said and done.  The weather is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow as I sit at my desk (or more likely a conference table) for several hours.  The weather folks are predicting rain this weekend so that means I'll have to find something other than the greenhouse to work on.  It'll be the perfect time to finish up the three new calf stalls.  We have converted the last of the hay storage area in the old barn to bedding area for the goats.  Part of that area will house three new calf or kidding stalls similar to the ones I built before.  We've got the other six stalls occupied with a couple Jersey calves and some other calves that belong to a neighbor.  Jennifer has gotten quite the reputation for working with animals in this area.  Because of that we've worked out a trade of sorts for her to raise four Holstein calves for them.  We've got them all bucket trained now so it's not as much work as bottle feeding them.  

Several people have commented to us "bottle calves are too much work" or that there is "not enough money in them."  We've found that it's not really all that much work and that we actually made decent money on the last round.  I guess when you consider what most people do after their day job hours it might be quite a bit of work, but such is farm life, and it's considerably more rewarding for us to see a good job done versus keeping up with a TV series (for example).

In other news the rain and snow of the past 60 to 90 days is taking a toll on the usual stomping grounds of the goats.  One thing I've learned that I don't think most people realize is goats prefer not to get dirty if at all possible.  The area where we feed the goats has become a muddy mess, so for our sake and the goat's sake I laid down some 2x8's to walk on.  I shot this video of me calling the goats through the muddy area.  Watch as they carefully walk the planks to avoid the worst part of the mud.  Oh, and please excuse the volume, pitch, and general annoying noise that I make.  It's the call our goats are used to hearing but it always sounds much better when my wife does it!

Lately my analytics show a steady increasing stream of traffic.  Who are all you folks, be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think, what you'd like to see more of (or less of), and if you've got a blog I should have on my list!

Wednesday, March 24

Greenhouse update

Yay for progress.  I took 2 days off from work this week expecting to have 4 full days to devote to the greenhouse project.  Instead we got 3 to 4 inches of snow and a covering of ice on Saturday and Sunday.  We actually lost power for a few hours on Sunday due to the weather.  Once again mother nature did not cooperate with my plans for completing the greenhouse.  However, mother nature did come through on Monday and Tuesday with some beautiful springtime weather in the Ozarks.

Pictured above is the greenhouse with the solid west wall up, the clear plastic east wall and the kick wall on each long side.  The wood walls have their coat of primer in preparation for the green paint that will match the metal of the new barn.  I was able to get the wiggle wire track installed as well.  Now all that's left is:
  • move the water hydrant that was installed outside to inside (ugh, don't get me started on how that happened)
  • run power from the new barn (which has it's posts set and several rafters up)
  • install the "skin" of plastic
  • install the doors
  • install the fans
  • install the louvers
  • install the thermostat for the fans and louvers
  • install the heater and new propane tank
  • level off the dirt work
The list seems like a lot but it was much longer before this week.  The fans will be installed on the far (east) end and will pull air through the louvers.  The louvers are also thermostatically controlled and (if I wire it right) should open up when the fans kick on.  This takes advantage of the prevailing winds on our place which blow mostly out of the west.

I'm excited to learn more about efficiently operating a greenhouse.  I've already started looking at software packages to help manage the operation.  There's a neat open source package that utilizes an experiment board to track several variables (temperature, humidity, etc) called Grow Manager that I will probably check out.  I'm worried I won't quite have the hang of managing the temperature in the greenhouse and we'll loose plants because of it, so I plan on doing quite a bit of measuring before we begin depending upon it.  I understand in our area of the country our biggest challenge will be keeping it from overheating in the spring and especially the summer time.

Monday, March 15

Rural Overcrowding

It never fails that my plans will need adjusting no matter how well intentioned.  This hastily shot camera-phone photo shows some of the tomatoes in their 4" pots.  Jennifer and a friend of hers transplanted several dozen into the large pots to allow them continued growth.  By now I expected to have the greenhouse done and thus have a place for all the plants as they were potted up.  I'm oh-so close to wrapping the greenhouse in it's plastic but I can't seem to string enough days off, good weather, and help together.  In the meantime I'm doing the tomato plant shuffle twice a day.  You see under each pair of shop lights I can light 288 seedlings when they're in the little 6-pack cells.  In the same space I can only fit 75 4" pots so that means one group is getting light while the other isn't.  I guess that's ok from the plant growth perspective, I'm sort of simulating day and night, but it sure is a bunch of work moving 1000 plants around twice a day!

Thursday, March 11

New Security Guard

We had a vacancy in the security guard spot on the farm.  Bert and Ernie, the llamas, were fired because they kept chasing the goats.  We had debated on our options for some time: try more llamas, a donkey, or a livestock guard dog (LGD) to patrol the pastures.  Coyotes are always yipping and howling around our place and without any sort of protection for the herd it was keeping Jennifer up at night worrying.  We have 48" tall 2" by 4" woven wire fence around the entire perimeter of the farm, so I felt some comfort that predators would be kept at bay.

One morning while feeding we encountered a coyote right in the front yard, so much for the fence keeping them at bay!  The house dogs chased him as he jumped our fences and ran straight through the barn lot where our youngest baby goats were.  We had already posted an ad on craigslist for and LGD and gotten several responses but we hadn't acted on any of them other than to ask questions.  After the coyote encounter though we made a quick decision.  I planned on picking up Jack after work and bring him home to his new job.

Jack is pictured above the first night we brought him home.  He's a Geat Pyrenees, a breed that has natural guarding tendencies. He is an absolute sweetheart.  He was pretty sheepish the first night but has really taken to both of us as well as the herd.  Jack's previous home sold off their goat herd so they were looking for a good home that could put him to use.  We kept him in the shop the first night and showed him his new territory the next morning.  He immediately went on patrol.  Jack lets the coyotes know he's there with a low bark that says "I'm gigantic, don't come here."  When he rests he strategically locates himself on high ground where he can see it all.  When it rains and the goats are in the barn he plants himself in the barn door.

We're both sleeping better knowing Jack's on duty.

Tuesday, March 9

Dazey Churn

Dazey Churn
Originally uploaded by duanekeys
I recently received an email requesting permission to publish this image in a book, in exchange I would get a copy of the book. I agreed.

The book is Homemade Living: Home Dairy, the third book in a series about local, sustainable foods. According to the author, the book will
"teach people how to make butter, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and more at home using local, organic ingredients."

I'm looking forward to getting my copy.

Monday, March 8

Organic fertilizer

For the last several months we've slowly been building a giant pile of composting goat barn bedding and manure.  A couple weekends ago we hired a local farmer with a skid steer and a grapple bucket for a morning.  My grand plan was for him to take a scoop, travel to the pasture we wanted to spread the pile and load it in our manure spreader.  While he traveled back to the pile to get another load we would pull the spreader around and spread the organic goodness on the field.  The video below shows the spreader in action.  The view is from the bed of the truck as we go round the field.

I had it all worked out in my mind, except for the part where we would stop every round so I could get underneath it and fix it.  The skid steer operator got way ahead of us, and rather than have the loader sit idle I just had him make a pile.  In the end we gave up on using the manure spreader of ours, it needed more TLC than the skid steer operator had time to wait on.  So what we accomplished really was moving the pile from one field to another...  At least it was in the right field.

Then come some neighbors to the rescue.  They brought their spreader (which is PTO-driven) and their tractor and flung composted poop and straw all over the field, just the way we wanted it!

We only had enough of a pile to spread it nicely on half of the field, I'm interested to see how well that side does compared to the other. I'll post results as they become apparent.

Wednesday, March 3


The tomatoes (aka maters) are doing quite well so far as you can see in the above pictures.  Actually all the plants are doing well, the peppers, the cabbages, the leeks, the broccoli, and we've even got some of our herbs to germinate that we had trouble with last year starting indoors.  It's about time to repot them into 3" pots and start hardening them off.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but if the weather holds up we could have our barn project done very soon.  Part of that project involves trenching power to the greenhouse from the new barn. I have framed both end walls of the greenhouse over the last couple of weekends so all that will be left is the covering and wiring up the fans and heater.  If we can get the greenhouse completed soon I won't need to spend time and materials building cold frames, everything can go into the greenhouse.

In the meantime we toil away in our basement each night watering the seedlings and adjusting the lights up.  I shot a video a few days ago showing our set up for this.

We fertilize the seedlings with fish emulsion.  Yes, it smells as disgusting as it sounds.  The stench reminds me of the area of the dock at the lake where everyone cleans their catches for the day, but it is great fertilizer.

This year we plan on doing all of our planting in raised beds.  I built a few previously with 2x8's but this year I found an excellent source pre-made raised beds and for free.  A buddy of mine works for a local window and siding company where they get all of their materials on 12' long pallets. The pallets come with siding material and each end is boxed in with a 4' by 4' box of rough sawn oak.  The pallets themselves I have mentioned before (in fact the shelves in the video are built entirely from the pallet material).  I plan on using the 4' by 4' boxes as raised beds and filling them with compost and soil.  Our ground is so rocky and the soil has been depleted by years and years over use by the previous owners that raised beds seem like our best option.