Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barnyard Politics

I've read a lot of farming books, but some things just aren't covered. I've yet to see a chapter on barnyard politics, so everything I've learned there has been through my own trial and error (heavy on the latter).

First of all, there's a pecking order, both for each type of animal as well as the individuals of each type. Our order is as follows:
  1. Bruce (draft horse)
  2. Doc (draft horse)
  3. Josie (dairy cow)
  4. Buttercup (dairy cow)
  5. Thunder (the ram who thinks he's at #3)
  6. #57 (ewe)
  7. #56 (ewe)
First, let's start with the horses. Bruce is fat. There are a number of reasons for this: He came to us that way. I mistakenly thought that eliminating grain from his diet would cure the problem, but a summer on pasture has disproven that theory. He should be getting worked more, but such is the life of a weekend farmer's horse. Now that he's eating hay for the winter, I have a little more control over his diet, but not as much as I'd like. As the boss horse, he makes sure that he always gets his fair share of the hay, and he gets to define "fair".

My new theory is that if I feed the horses hay at two separate locations, Bruce will only be able to defend one at a time, giving Doc his fair share (as defined by me). It seems to be working, but Bruce is still fat. I did see a liposuction machine for sale on Craigslist last week -- only $1800...

It's important that the animals are fed in accordance with their pecking order, or trouble ensues. If I feed the cows before the horses, the horses nibble our barn as if it's a big gingerbread house. I doubt the barn tastes very good; it's really just the horses' form of blackmail. The chewing doesn't stop until the hay comes out.
When we first bought the sheep, Thunder was still quite young, and couldn't reach into the hay feeder I had built for the cows. He quickly learned to jump up into the feeder for easier access. He's now full grown, but still jumps up into the hay feeder to eat.

One evening I made the mistake of putting hay in the cow's outside feeder before stocking the milking station. It was dark outside, so I couldn't see very clearly. Josie had returned outside, and I chased after her to get her back into the barn. She was using her nose to shovel a bale out of the feeder and on to the ground. I didn't put a second bale in the feeder though. It took me a couple seconds to realize that it wasn't actually a bale she was working on. It was Thunder, now pinned against the slats. He didn't move at all or make a peep. I wasn't sure if he was in shock, or dead, or was still trying to hold his ground. Or maybe he couldn't feel a 900lb cow through his wool cocoon.

Now Josie gets her hay at the milking station immediately after the horses are fed, but before I open the door for the cows or put any hay outside. But all is not well in the barn.

In the interest of producing higher quality milk, reducing e-coli, and improving our cow's health, I've eliminated grain as a regular part of the cow's diet. She was just fine with that, and made the transition much better than I'd anticipated. In the absence of grain, however, she demands gourmet hay. It has to be better than pasture in the summer, and it has to be better than her "regular" hay in the winter, or she won't come in.

The loose hay we put up last summer was her favorite, so that's what I used until it ran out a week ago. Knowing that there would be hell to pay if I didn't have anything to keep her at her trough, we went to the hay auction and bought 50 bales of the softest, greenest hay I've ever seen, which at $8/bale had better satisfy Josie's picky palate.

The first night I served this to her, she sniffed it, reached deep into the trough, and shoveled it out onto the ground. I put it back in, and she shoved it back out again. Hmmmm....

She's since decided that the new hay is alright, but has developed an annoying habit. Legume hay has leaves, some of which typically shatter in the baler and spill out as the bale is opened up. That's the tastiest part of the hay.

Josie likes to fluff the hay up a bit so that the leaves fall out. Then she tosses it all out of the feeder and licks up the leaf bits that remain. When the leaf bits are all gone, she starts craning her neck to reach the hay she just threw out, dancing in her stanchion and giving me fits as I try to milk while protecting the bucket from her dancing hooves.

So now I've added yet another item to the endless list of farm tasks. Build a new Josie-proof feeder that will keep her from tossing out her hay. I'll get to it one of these days, probably after I'm freshly inspired to build it when she puts her hoof in the bucket.

Below is some footage of an intelligence test we recently administered to Henry and Bilbo, cleverly disguised as a game of keep-away.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

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The William Arbuckle company of Toledo, Ohio makes some fine stuff! Our "Tiffin" corn sheller is probably over 110 years old, and still works wonderfully. Their corn shellers are such a pleasure to use that 5 year olds who typically prefer to lounge around in their underwear will jump at the chance to operate one.

Armed with a bushel of field corn from our garden and my experimental plot, we set to work, and now have a couple gallons of shelled corn to make our own cheese puffs with.

One evening I decided to bring the camera down to the barn with me for milking time, where I snapped this photo of warm fall sunlight streaming in through the windows.

It's a very pleasant place to be, with the cows munching their hay to the sound of milk streaming into the pail. There's the occasional protest from one of the barncats being molested by Bilbo in the corner. I can hear the horses chewing on the barn, hoping they'll annoy me enough that I toss them some hay to make it stop.

Since I've taken that photo, things have changed. It's much colder now, and not quite as pleasant.

Michigan has four very distinct seasons, and winter just arrived this week. I like them all, but some a little more than others. Winter has a sort of austere beauty around here. The leaves are gone from the trees, and I can suddenly see through the woods that seemed so dense until now. The wind makes a whistling noise once the leaves are off. It reminds me of the wind in the sailboat rigging when we lived aboard our boat in Bellingham. It's often snowing, but so far it's been just a few scattered flakes, each a perfect star. They don't accumulate, but seem to disappear as they hit the ground.

Rachel did a fine job of announcing winter's arrival, saying "It's 22 degrees, and I'm going outside to use the outhouse!" I wonder if she'll make the same announcement when the temps go below zero again.

The barnyard, despite a load of wood chips, had grown very muddy over the last few weeks, especially after being churned up while I extended our water line to the horses' paddock. It's not a problem anymore though, as the mud has all frozen. It's nice that the wheels on our poo-cart no longer sink into the mud, but they don't roll over this frozen stuff too well either.

Our barn seems to produce its own barn-cats through spontaneous generation, as evidenced by the appearance of "Coon" the kitten late this summer. She's a true barn-cat, as I rarely see her outside the barn at all. She survives on a diet of second-hand chipmunks left by Meowie and Burrito, along with some milk donated by Josie.

A trip to the vet this week revealed that she's got pneumonia, so she gets to play house-cat for a week while she's on antibiotics. She now lives underneath the woodstove.


While bow-season didn't produce anything for me this year, firearm season went pretty well. The bucks, as I'd anticipated, grew careless. I had a 40 yard shot at a 6 point buck who was busy making a scrape. He ran away as the smoke cleared, just as healthy as ever. I guess there was a little too much brush between us.

Later in the evening of opening day, I spotted a nice buck running along one of the trails I've cleared with the tractor. This time the shot went where it was supposed to, and he was down within 50 yards.

Our local library hosted an astronomer a few weeks ago, and Henry was quite excited to go out and sleep under the stars after seeing his presentation. We loaded up the backpack with sleeping bags and found a nice cowpie-free spot out in the middle of the pasture.

Henry saw his first shooting star, and I was amazed by how many airplanes there are flying over our house at any given moment. We lasted until 1:00am, when Henry announced that he couldn't sleep any more, at which point he ran for the house and spooked the horses who thundered around the barnyard and terrified him.

There's an old play-house in our woods which I had promised to bring up to the house for Henry. I was going to do it with the tractor last summer, but never got around to it.

This year I finally had the time to bring it back, but was able to load it on to our stone-boat and drag it back with the horses. It's not in the best of shape, but should last at least until Henry loses interest in it. Inside is a "witch's kettle" made from the top of an old cream separator.

I managed to find an old Oliver 99 walking plow at the auction in Topeka, which is perfect for the smaller space of our garden. We harnessed up the horses and went to work. I worked the lines while Rachel steered the plow. The plowing went very well once I stopped staring at the plow and paid attention to where the horses were going.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Multi-purpose Outhouse

We had some wonderful fall color this year, with the house surrounded by the yellow glow of the big sugar maples that surround us. Then over the course of about 3 days, everything came down in a leafy blizzard and left the yard a few inches deep in leaves. The chickens are beside themselves with all the new scratching opportunities, and now spend hours kicking leaves around.

The outhouse, though not yet fully complete, is now operational. It's all sheeted, and two of the three windows are installed, but it still needs siding. Although it still gets some use, the sawdust toilet in the house isn't a whole lot of fun to empty, so we avoid it as much as possible.

The popularity of this new building is actually much greater than I'd anticipated. One of our new hens has decided that she likes laying her eggs in there (the door, which went on last weekend, doesn't yet have a latch to keep her out). Our barn cats quickly discovered that it's an excellent pick-up spot, great for mooching attention from the human-folk who are briefly immobilized there throughout the day.

I met some of our neighbors for the first time last week, a couple who seem very nice. About 15 minutes after letting the dogs out for a potty break, I received a phone call from them. They live through the woods and across the state highway down a long driveway. Bilbo likes to roam, apparently. We initially thought that Memphis would help show Bilbo where the "home turf" was, but he's been doing his best to corrupt her instead, as she follows him around on his wild explorations.

So, last weekend, we bought an "invisible fence", which is a shock collar triggered by a signal wire you run around the perimeter of your yard. Bilbo made a few forays across the wire with a special spring in his step, but has since decided that staying in the yard is just fine.

I finally decided to open up our new pasture for the animals, even though the back end doesn't have a fence around it. I put up a polywire temporary-fence, which seems to be working alright so far.

Josie's production went up a little once she was back on pasture, and I like not having to shovel manure in the barnyard and haul hay around. This will give us a couple weeks of reprieve until everyone has to start eating hay again. If last year is any indication, we'll probably have some snow here then anyway.

My hunting endeavors haven't gone all that well this year. I saw lots of deer in the first couple weeks of the season, but no bucks that were close enough. I finally resolved to take a doe to get the freezer filled. I took one long shot that I missed, and haven't had an opportunity to take one since. I think they all know it's deer season now, and have become completely nocturnal. In a week or two the rut will start, and then the bucks will start to get careless, or so I hope.

Our horses have some chronic thrush (that's a bacterial infection on their hooves). It's not a big deal, but I need to clean them out and apply medicine daily. At first, Bruce would visibly transfer all of his weight to the foot I was trying to lift, but has since mellowed out and usually cooperates now. Doc would play "ring around the mulberry bush" with me when it was his turn. Now it usually takes a bit of sweet-talking before he'll grudgingly allow me to mess with his feet. Today he kicked loose and stomped on my foot. That felt *wonderful*. Last week the cows banged the metal roof on their hay feeder and spooked the horses while I was cleaning Doc's hoof. I thought I was about to be dismembered, but only got knocked over.


The turkeys are all happily nested in our freezer now, so we won't be running any more turkey-drives back from Stan's house. They were regularly visiting Stan and his wife, apparently feeling quite comfortable among their roving herd of guinea hens, geese, chickens, and peacocks while partaking of the abundant feed. One of the hens learned to tap on their back door looking for handouts. Although we initially planned to do our own butchering, the Amish farm where we've been buying chicken offered to butcher them for $5 apiece, which seemed like a good price. We've eaten one so far, and it was very good. Meat tastes better when images of the butchering process aren't lodged in your memory.

We've been watching the Star Wars series over the last few days, which Henry absolutely loves. Every stick has become a light saber. This evening while I was bottling our milk, he presented me with a light-saber performance outside the kitchen window. It's strange for me to think that I first went to see the new Star Wars movie with my own father when I was exactly his age.

Sci-Fi has always been about reading current trends and extrapolating them to the next step; a way for us to explore and contemplate what may be just around the corner. Back when I was 5, the wonders of space exploration were still very much on people's minds -- and Star Wars extrapolated that trend to a possible future of space-based civilization.

It's clear to me that our future can never be in space, which makes these movies feel quaint to me now. Humans are a product of our own planet, and as such are inseparable from it. The mix of bacteria which make our digestion (and thus our life) possible, is probably found only on this planet. We've developed immunity to untold numbers of pathogens, the mix of which is almost certainly unique to earth. The amount of gravity our skeletons are adapted to, the composition and pressure of the atmosphere we can breathe, and the temperatures we can tolerate are all unique to this planet. We -- and the planet we live on are as unique as a snowflake. Even if we could find and easily travel to other planets which are similar to our own, we could never expect to survive there.

As we've recently entered the era of increasing energy scarcity, the ability to build or fuel spacecraft looks like it will also be in terminal decline. But to me, it seems as if it was a silly dream to begin with. I think that our future -- if we manage to preserve it -- probably looks a lot more like our past.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Winding down


Summer is drawing to a definite close now. Today our weather reminded me of Bellingham (our old town in Washington), about 45 degrees, rainy and windy for much of the day. Our pasture isn't growing a whole lot at these temperatures, and I should probably be putting the animals on hay soon.

When Buttercup the cow returned from her summer vacation of hanging out with some fine young bulls, she and Josie became the best of friends. And then one morning, they *really* became the best of friends, engaging in highly visible displays of passion right next to the road for all the passers by to see.

Having by then spent a few hundred dollars breeding Buttercup (both with multiple AI's and the bull visit), and with Josie being bred before we purchased her, I was a little disappointed. With Buttercup's track record, I was starting to think that she might have to make a permanent visit to Hamburgerland.

I called the AI lady, but she wasn't able to make it out until early the next day. That's a little late, but I figured it wasn't going to hurt anything but my wallet (and hey, who cares about that?). Nearly 5 weeks have passed since, and I haven't noticed any more signs of heat in either cow, so I've got my fingers crossed. If all goes well, we'll have two calves here in about 8 months.

While my mom was out for a visit, we had to hook up the horses for a ride around the farm on the forecart, but first I wanted to pull a white oak out of the woods for a new post in the barn, to be used in rebuilding the horse stall that Doc destroyed by pushing against it with his BIG butt.

I made a point of doing everything on this post the hard way -- no power tools, no chainsaw... everything done by hand or horse. I felled it with an axe, pulled it out of the woods with the horses, cut it to length with an old crosscut saw, and squared it with a broad axe. I'm proud of what I did, but it really made me appreciate that I don't have to do it that way all the time.

Yesterday we harvested our first honey, from our single hive which sits out near the garden. The hive has two "supers", which are the boxes that contain "extra" honey -- above and beyond what the bees will need to get them through the winter. That's the honey we get to keep.

Step one is to get the supers off of the hive, and the bees off of the frames. They get kind of angry when you pull their hive apart, but I let them have it with my smoker. The smoke makes them think that a forest fire is about to consume their hive, so they eat a bunch of honey and calm down. Or something like that. I forget what the bee book said exactly. One of the problems with running a farm is that I no longer have the time to read up on how I *should* be doing things.

Once I had the two supers removed, I set up my new honey extractor outside near the garage, thinking that a messy task like this might not be suitable for the kitchen. It took me about 10 seconds of running the honey extractor before an angry swarm of bees showed up (they can smell honey) and scared me back inside.

With Rachel and Henry's help, the honey frames were all eventually cleaned out -- netting us about 5 gallons of honey and a couple pounds of wax. At $30/gallon, this is probably one of our more profitable operations, so long as I don't factor in costs for the hive, extractor, bee suit, and my time (and mental anguish).

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While it's not exactly complete yet, we are making progress on the composting outhouse. It's all framed, the roof is on, and a little bit of sheeting has gone up thus far. If a tornado comes through, we're all going to the basement of the outhouse, as it's probably the best built structure on our property.

It's bow hunting season again. I haven't quite lived up to last year's experience (when I shot a nice buck in the first hour) but I have been seeing deer. Just this evening after dinner I was out for about 20 minutes, sneaking up to a bunch of does in our alfalfa field -- but no bucks. I've seen a couple bucks, but always just out of range (because they saw me first). Our neighbor Stan says he's seen some very nice bucks at the back of our field lately, so there's something to look forward to if they stick around.

Our turkeys are nearing the end of their brief lifespan, destined to become thanksgiving dinner, turkey sandwiches, and the like. For now, they're both entertaining and annoying. They love to strut around the yard when we're around, with all the toms puffed up and fanned out, dragging their wings along the ground. One disappeared, so we're down to nine now. Not sure if she ended up in someone else's freezer, or perhaps a coyote's stomach. Or, perhaps she left to join her wild brethren, as their territories have started to overlap as our turkeys wander increasingly further from the barnyard.

One day after giving the horses a good workout, Rachel decided that I should try riding one of them. I picked Bruce, because he seems a little more relaxed than Doc. Note the bike helmet I'm wearing -- a sign of supreme confidence in my fine steed (I would've also worn body armor if I had any). Despite my misgivings, Bruce performed well, and responded just as well to me working the lines as he would if I were walking behind him as usual. He's awfully big though; riding him feels about as secure as sitting on top of a tanker truck. I thanked him for not throwing me off and squishing me.

Rachel has been digging a mysterious hole in our basement, which she says is for "storing cabbages". If I disappear anytime soon, I would suggest that you look for me there. I think the forced use of a sawdust toilet (and upcoming outhouse) may be wearing on her.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A crappy weekend

Crap has been a subject of much focus lately, this weekend in particular. But a crappy day does not a bad day make (at least not necessarily).

A little while back, an unsuspecting bathroom-goer made a grim discovery. A mysterious someone had plugged the toilet yet again. Rachel rushed in to assist, plunger at the ready, yelling "Clear!" before attempting to restore circulation to the afflicted fixture. Pushing the plunger down produced a nice little geyser from outside the toilet, which hadn't happened before. Hmmmm...

I loosened the bolts to lift the toilet and discovered that they really didn't need to be loosened, because three of the four were completely rusted through. There was no wax sealing ring to replace, but rather a home-made rubber washer and globs of sealant. The pipe underneath was crumbling away - I think it had an asbestos flange. So it wasn't going to be a simple wax-ring replacement, but rather a plumbing repair as well. I don't really like toilets (except at certain times) anyway. They use electricity (via the pump in our well) which puts them on my black list.

So instead of sinking a little money into a simple repair/replacement project, I decided it was high time to sink more time and money into a much bigger project. It's time to build the outhouse!

This isn't just any outhouse, but a *composting* outhouse. That's the plan anyway, as the outhouse doesn't fully exist yet. A fancy-schmancy double-seater affair to allow complete composting of the "product" before removal is required. It would be almost as romantic as those dual-showerhead showers in fancy houses, except you're only supposed to use one side at a time, until the chamber beneath fills up.

Our neighbor Stan volunteered to teach me to lay cinder block this weekend, which is about 3/4 complete now. Next weekend should finish the foundation, and after that it's on to the rest of outhouse. I'm making it up as I go -- hopefully the inevitable design flaws won't be too daunting.

Some of you will be visiting us soon, and are probably wondering if the outhouse will be finished by then. Perhaps you're wondering if you'll have to stumble outside in the dark of night, searching in vain for the correct outbuilding. Maybe you'll get lost and end up as Buttercup's next love toy, discovered face down in the barnyard the next morning. Worry not! You won't be relegated to the bushes when nature calls, as we do have an interim solution.

We also have a "sawdust" toilet in the bathroom for the time being. It's a fancy frame and toilet seat that fits over a 5-gallon bucket, which uses sawdust to accomodate your offerings. Don't remind me that sawdust *also* requires energy to produce (perhaps using more energy than the toilet it replaces). I can't be burdened with petty details.

Our neighbors accross the street keep horses, and like most horse owners have an abundance of horse crap. Being as I am the proud new owner of an ancient manure spreader, I offered to relieve them of this awful burden, which they were happy to unload today.

When Bruce mentioned that he would be cleaning out their horse barn, my first thought was to hook the spreader up to the tractor. But that would involve 1) pumping up the leaky tire, 2) detaching the brush-hog, 3) fueling up, and 4) setting up the tow-bar before I could hook up the spreader. After a few minutes of deep thought, I realized that this would take just as much time as harnessing the horses, which made it an easy decision.

Bruce and Doc seem to know what's coming, and didn't want to turn into Bruce and Kelly's driveway at first (yes, our neighbor has the misfortune of living next to a horse with whom he shares a name), but eventually they relented and resigned themselves to their crappy fate. A strong magnetic force seemed to pull them back towards our barn each time we passed, but they managed to resist it with my assistance on the lines.

The spreader worked beautifully, spewing a fountain of poo in graceful arcs accross the pasture. The weeds which overpowered my grass seed have never had it so good!

Rachel has been dutifully harvesting the bounty of our garden. We'll have enough potatoes to feed half of Ireland this winter. She's also made kim-chee, sauerkraut, relish, and too many types of pickled items for me to remember. We also canned tomatoes for the first time -- one batch of tomato sauce, and another of ketchup. Several hours of prep, cleaning, and cooking down a four-gallon pot of tomatoes rewarded us with 6 and 1/2 pints of ketchup. Like most food items we produce, it's really best not to compare our time and energy spent with the alternative of just buying it at the store. I think the lowest wage in Bangladesh would compare favorably with our wage if we figured out what we "earned".

With Ron's help (that's my father-in-law), the woodshed I started nearly a year ago is now standing. It was immediately recommissioned as an equipment shed, however, so our firewood is still living under leaky tarps. We put it together using timber-frame construction, which is both a lot of fun and much more work than conventional construction. At least all of the beams were free. The turkeys like it quite a bit. One of them flew up to inspect my work while I was putting the last few sheets of roofing on.

One evening after dinner, Henry decided that it was high time for a salamander hunt in our basement. This is one of the fringe benefits of living in an ancient house of questionable structural integrity. The basement didn't disappoint, and boy did we eat well the next day!

Buttercup has a new companion now, Josie the cow. Josie is a 3/4 Jersey 1/4 Holstein cross from a nearby dairy. She's very friendly, and had no transition problems moving to the farm. She's been producing over 5 gallons a day ever since she arrived at the end of July. Twice a day, after I release her from the milking stanchion, she uses my butt as a scratching post.

As Josie arrived a month ago, Buttercup was just leaving in the same trailer, off to her vacation at Camp Studly Bull. Buttercup just returned from her vacation, and seemed happy to have a new companion. They're inseperable, and both come into the barn for milking time, although Buttercup won't be milked for another 9.5 months.

With Josie's arrival, we've started up our cow-share operation,and are officially open for business. We even have a customer already. Drinking 5 gallons of milk a day was getting really tiresome, so I'm happy to be able to share it now.

We're still cutting firewood for this coming winter -- 5 cords cut and stacked now, with another 1.5 cords to go. I wish this was all done last spring, but... we've been kind of busy. At least we're ahead of where we were at this time last year. I've been hauling whole logs out of the woods with the horses, rather than cutting them up in place. That takes the truck out of the loop and reduces fuel use. In the interest of eliminating fossil fuel use, I should be getting rid of the chainsaw too, of course. Maybe next year. Yeah, next year.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Trial and Error

When you buy a tractor, chances are that you can put some gasoline in it, turn the key, and start working without too much trouble. Mowing with horses, however, is different. For one, each owner may use a slightly different set of voice commands. The previous owners would whistle to get the horses to move quickly. I can't whistle loudly to save my life. Usually they'll respond well to a "Step Up" command, but sometimes they seem to forget.

My first attempt was to mow a very thick stand of white clover and grass that I'd planted as pasture. We don't have enough animals on the pasture yet, so I thought I'd section it off and maybe get some bonus hay. While I did manage to mow a few hundred yards, the sickle bar kept plugging up and locking the wheels (which are what drive the mower blade). At the time I was sure my problem was due to a lack of fine tuning on the mower, but I later learned that white clover is the bane of all mowers because it grows so thickly. The tractor mower actually did worse, and even my neighbor's haybine had trouble with it.

But before I learned that the clover might be my problem, I started rebuilding the mower bar. Here was a good chance to use the expensive parts left over from an aborted attempt to fix up an old Ford mower (which I earlier purchased for use with the tractor). After a day of frustration, I thought I'd got things together well enough to use. However, after a few seconds behind the horses, the friction on the blade was too much and broke the wooden pittman stick, which is the strange sound that starts partway into this video.
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So I couldn't use the Ford mower parts on my International horse drawn mower, even though they were nearly identical. There's a lesson learned for a few hundred bucks. On the bright side though, I've discovered that the Amish stock new parts for the horse drawn mowers. And best of all, their prices are a small fraction of what I paid for the Ford parts at the dealership.


Finding the Amish farm supply store was a dream come true. At previous times in my life I sought out climbing shops, then marine stores during my sailing phase, and now it's horse drawn equipment stores. Shipshewana Farm Supply is my new favorite store. Not only do they stock a multitude of horse drawn implements and supplies, but they're cheap!

With my new parts from the Amish farm store, I set to work last weekend and managed to successfully rebuild the mower bar. I also put a new tongue on a forecart I found on Craigslist (that's what Henry is sitting on here) This evening after work, I harnessed up the team and mowed about an acre. Steering the horses isn't quite as precise as steering the tractor, but we did all right. They kept improving as did I.

My revelation for the evening: It's really hard to steer when your view is constantly blocked by two humongous horse fannies.

We've got a new cow in the works, a Jersey from a local dairy farm that's selling off a few cows. We're waiting for results on a Johnes test before we take delivery of her, which will probably be in a week or two. She's got bigger teets than Buttercup, so I'm interested to see how much easier she will be to milk.

Speaking of Buttercup, I think we're going to have to try something different. She's now been visited by the AI lady three times to no avail. Next try will be to have the vet artificially get her to cycle before being inseminated so that we're sure our timing is right. If that doesn't work, we've gotta find a bull for her to go and visit. Maybe she's just holding out for the third option.
Last week's weather finally stayed in our favor, and we managed to get our hayfield's second cutting in the barn without a hitch, with our neighbors Stan and Sharon helping out with a haybine and baler. We managed to get about 8,000lbs of hay from 2.5 acres, which isn't bad. Our old barn isn't the sturdiest of structures, and putting in the new hay did make me a little nervous. The night we put it up, I had dreams about our barn tipping over and caving in from all the new weight.

Our turkeys are now about the size of small chickens. Their new home is in the basement of the barn, where they roost in the evenings. For about the last 5 days, we've been letting them roam the yard, but they seem to have trouble finding their way back into the correct door of the barn. I've had to herd them back in each evening, with today being the first day they found the way themselves. They don't strike me as the brightest minds of the avian world.

We've been contemplating a doggie successor for Memphis, but hadn't quite decided on a breed. Pheasant hunting in Michigan isn't quite what I'd hoped for, so I'm a little less interested in a hunting dog than I once was. We thought about a Great Pyrenees "livestock guardian dog" for a while. Getting the sheep made me think that we might want a border collie, but Rachel wasn't so sure about a hyper breed like that.

At the Amish harness shop (one of several nearby) a week ago, we stopped in for some horse collar pads and a minor repair. They happened to have a "puppies for sale" sign out front, with a momma chocolate lab and her one male pup roaming around the yard. Henry was beside himself playing with the pup while we waited for the repair, and after sleeping on the idea, we returned to bring him home.
"Bilbo" is quite energetic - and became even more so once we got rid of his tapeworms and fleas. At first it seemed as if he were already house-trained, but he's since decided that going in the house is a-okay just so long as nobody sees you in the act. Rachel just discovered a nice little Bilbo nugget on the tile by our woodstove, which has my name on it when I'm done updating the blog. He likes shoes, straw hats, earphones, Henry's stuffed animals, and "Chipmummy" the mumified chipmunk which the cats left for him. He was even nice enough to leave that last item inside one of my shoes yesterday.

Henry thinks it's fun when Bilbo tries to "make puppies" with him, which he encourages by crawling around on the carpet with his fanny in the air. I tried to explain why that's not a good idea, but there seems to be a bit of a comprehension gap. I remember having a similar discussion with my own father about a puppy I had when I was young. I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about either.

The garden is going well this year. It's big, and the weeds were starting to win there for a while, but seem to have abated now. With our many rows of potatoes, I wasn't so sure I could keep up the squishing remedy I used for the potato beetles last year. So I relented and tried out an organically approved pesticide called Spinosad. It's made from a soil fungus if I remember correctly, and it worked wonderfully. It supposedly excites the bug's nervous system to the point that they go into seizures and die. I'm not convinced that a chemical capable of that is good no matter how it's made, but this one does appear to be benign. The label had almost no cautions whatsoever. Just like DDT when it was first introduced.

Our tallest corn is now over 8'. Sugar snap peas are all done, and we have small watermelons and cantaloupe on the way. We've been eating carrots, beans, summer squash, lettuce, etc. Rachel has also been doing some pickling. I think our first corn is only a couple weeks away now. But I can rest assured that the local racoon population knows that as well. Maybe Henry needs another 'coonskin cap?

One day while using the brush-hog along the road in front of our house, I noticed an odd shape in the middle of the road a few hundred yards away. I stopped and stared for a bit, and realized that it was moving, albeit very slowly. I ran over to investigate, and discovered this attractive creature, who was a little less than enthusiastic to meet me. video

Monday, June 1, 2009

Horses and Turkeys and Sheep -- OH MY!

On a fateful morning last week, I set out to retrieve Buttercup from the pasture for the morning milking. As I passed by her new $150 mineral feeder with the swiveling rain guard, something looked askew. The entire feeder (which she's never actually used like she's supposed to) was flattened. Hoping that it was still usable, I did my best to bend it back into shape and continued on to go find our cow.

Buttercup was clearly hot and bothered, and expressed a strong interest in meeting me up close and personal, like the cow in this video. I made sure not to let her fall behind me, but as we passed the mineral feeder, she broke away. She then proceeded to show me how she had flattened it before. Apparently the curved rain guard looks like the back of another (very sexy) cow.

Later that day the AI lady paid Buttercup another visit. So, hopefully, in 9 1/2 months, she'll have a calf. If the mineral feeder is flattened again in 22 days, that means we need to bring the AI lady out again.

In addition to our cow excitement, we've cut our first hay. The weather is always a nemesis when you have hay out drying in the field, so I decided to hop to it and get the hay cut when the forecast showed 7 days of no rain.


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After a few days of drying, it was time to rake the hay into windrows. Despite the forecast, some rain started to sprinkle halfway through this job, but it didn't amount to much. Not enough to damage the hay anyway. A day after that, we had a mystery rain storm come to attack us at 1:30am. I checked the forecast while it was pouring rain outside, and there was zero mention of rain. A check of the radar showed a single storm forming out on lake Michigan, and heading straight towards us like a missle, and dissipating shortly thereafter. This rain was enough to damage the hay, but not too bad.

Rain was finally in the forecast for the evening of Memorial day, but the hay wasn't 100% dry yet. If we baled it, it would become moldy and useless. If we left it in the field, the additional rain would make it worthless. That left us with one option not normally considered by sane people, which was to put it up loose, as was done before the invention of balers. Loose hay, so long as it's not stacked too high, can still dry out without molding. We didn't have enough room in the barn to put it all in without stacking, but we did get a few pickup loads put away, and it's now dry and looking good.

I thought that forking all of the hay by hand would be a terrible chore, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. At least it was fun until about the 6th truck load. Tossing 5lbs of hay on the end of your pitchfork is much more pleasant than hefting 50lb bales around anyway.

In order to get as much hay as possible in each truckload, we had to squish it down. Our certified professional hay squisher was invaluable for this.

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We soon ran out of space to spread the hay out in the barn, so decided that it might be a good time to learn how to make a haystack. It might get moldy, but at least it wouldn't burn our barn down if it started to heat up. At best, it might allow us to keep more of the hay from this cutting.

Although the hay did heat up a little, it hasn't molded yet, and may very well survive as good hay. In the good old days, such stacks were just left outside with no tarp; the hay on top acted as a thatched roof while the hay inside remained dry. The stack did shrink quite a bit though -- it's now about half of the height shown in the photo.

Our new horses seem to like the haystack, which is in their paddock. I hadn't really planned on getting a draft team this early, but was keeping my eyes open to make sure I had an idea of prices and availability so I could jump when a good opportunity arose.

As it turns out, that opportunity came up, so we've made the largest single addition (by weight) to the farm's animals. Doc and Bruce are a team of 8 year old Belgian geldings.

They spent their first hour galloping around the barnyard and exploring their new farm. Doc soon discovered that the many small trees in the barnyard make great scratching sticks for those intimate spots if you back over them and rock back and forth.

But wait, that's not all...

The weekend before we got Doc and Bruce, we made another addition of pasture-eating livestock.

Being financial wizards, we've decided to enter the highly lucrative wool business (shearing typically costs more than wool can be sold for). We've picked up three Romney sheep, a breed known for high quality wool. By next year at this time, we'll all be wearing our home-made wool underwear.

I would post a photo of the sheep, but they're not the most photogenic, as they're typically running away from us. We'll get one... eventually.

Finally, we now have 11 week-old Narranganset turkey chicks from a woman who hatches them in Kalamazoo. They'll be around until Thanksgiving when Rachel has volunteered to gut and pluck each one of them all by herself.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Woman Scorned

When we first bought Buttercup last November, she was overdue for breeding. I soon realized that I need to learn how to identify and keep tabs on our cow's heat cycles. After a vet determined that she was in fact in heat, we brought out the AI lady and had her inseminated, but she didn't take.

So ever since, then, I've been paying close attention to Buttercup's behavior, as we're planning to have her bred in May now. She seems a little more spunky when she's in heat. Or is she just being spunky for no reason? I make frequent fanny inspections, but it's still hard to tell when she's in heat.

A couple weeks ago, I ventured out to the barnyard after work, for our customary friendship building session, which involves me feeding her some carrots and petting her while she licks my clothes. She immediately noticed me, and ran right up for our encounter. Usually she's a little more shy about it, but hey -- maybe these friendship building sessions are really working?

Next thing I know she's reared up on her hinds and is coming at me, ready to bring our friendship to the "next level". I made sure not to turn my back as I made a hasty exit. So now I have a very positive ID of one of Buttercup's heat cycles. In a few days now she'll come back into heat. I'm not sure yet if I should venture into her pen for another positive ID.

This morning before work, I was walking through our new orchard where I found a cow-pie with a pile of dirt on top. To the untrained eye, this would just be a... uh... cowpie with dirt on top. But to me it was something much more exciting.

Lifting up the cow-pie, I discovered some burrows underneath. Henry and I went to go get a shovel and inspect the burrows. As soon as I lifted up the soil, out popped a big dung beetle, complete with a ball of manure that she had buried.

Why is this exciting? First of all, dung beetles are extremely beneficial, because they dismantle the cowpies which would otherwise be hosting all sorts of nasty parasitic flies. Of the three main types, "tunnelers" which hollow out the cowpie from the inside are the most beneficial, and that's what we'd just found. I had assumed that they don't make it this far north, and none of the farmers I'd asked around here even knew what they were. Chances are that most farmers haven't seen them, because conventional wormers kill them.

I haven't figured out what kind of beetle we have yet, but will be searching dilligently. They're all black, and have one large and two smaller horns on their head.

As I alluded to a while back, we've been very busy this spring. The last couple months have been spent putting up 800 feet of woven wire field fencing around our garden, 2,000 feet of electric fence around our pastures, planting the garden, planting the new orchard, plowing/disking/dragging and seeding about 4 acres of new pasture, and working with the Amish crew we brought back to re-roof the barn. This weekend I'm hoping to finish off the electric pasture fencing so that Buttercup can be set free and stop eating hay. We've been planting some more in the garden, and I also have a horse-drawn corn planter (converted for tractor use -- but I'll switch it back to it's rightful state soon enough) that I'm planning to use on a corner of the newly tilled pasture.

Plowing a field is definitely destructive, but it's something we have to do at least once to get our pastures seeded in as we want them. Turning up soil is actually one of the biggest sources of CO2 in the atmosphere as well -- because all of the carbon in the soil becomes oxidized when it's brought up to the high-oxygen environment at the surface. Some sources say this actually exceeds the amount of carbon we've released through the burning of fossil fuels.

In addition to harming the soil, plowing isn't particularly nice to wildlife. Even if you're vegan, I can assure you that your eating habits kill animals. I've found plenty of minced snakes, dismembered salamanders, mice, and turtle eggs, not to mention the thousands of beneficial earthworms and insects. However, I did manage to find one plowing victim who appeared to be unscathed -- a baby painted turtle.

Speaking of pasture, ours is growing very well now, or at least the stuff we planted last fall is. Our hayfield is up about 7" tall already, and the adjacent clover/grass pasture is nearly that tall as well. Now that it's all grown up, I can't see all the rocks which cover our fields. That makes me happy, but my mood might change when I start hitting the rocks with the sickle mower in a few weeks.

As I inspected our newly planted pasture this morning, I was heartened to see some tiny sprouts starting up. I then moved over to inspect the bare ground that I'll be planting to field corn this weekend, where I found the same sort of sprouts all over. Hmmm...

Back to the new roof on our barn...

While they had the planks off of the roof peak, I took the opportunity to inspect our hay trolley and track, which runs along the entire ridge of the barn. These were used for stacking loose hay, before tractors made hay balers an option. Everything looks to be intact, and I think it will all be usable for the upcoming hay season. I'll probably get our neighbor to bale most of it, but definitely want to try putting some of it up loose, as I plan to eventually put all of our hay up that way.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Emptiness


Today was a beautiful day. Sunny and in the 50's with a brisk wind. A windy day is always a good day for me. Wind makes the world come alive.

As I walked back across the pastures towards the house though, the goat's half of the barnyard was empty. Ashley and Mary Kate weren't out sunning themselves, or running up to the fence to greet me. Ashley wasn't looking out her favorite window. Though I had just buried both of them, I still half expected to see them there in the barn.

Yesterday, in the mail, we received the results for some blood tests we'd had taken on our goats and cow. Both of the goats tested positive for Johne's disease. It's a chronic degenerative disease, for which there is no cure. It affects only ruminants, and most are only susceptible to contracting it in the first three months of life. Our goats were born within a couple weeks of each other on the same farm, and were probably both infected then.

It's difficult to test for as well, since symptoms rarely show before the animal reaches two years of age, and tests often return false negatives. Apparently about 70% of all dairy farms have some infected animals, so it's not uncommon.

I suspect that it's not unlike tuberculosis in that many animals may carry the disease without expressing any symptoms, unless their immune system becomes compromised. Even so -- even if we could keep the goats in good health -- the risk of infecting their kids or Buttercup's future calves is unacceptable. So I had to put them both down today. I think it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done.

Some of my best memories as of late are of sitting in the barnyard in the evening after work, with Rachel and Henry. Buttercup would come up close to see what we were up to. Mary Kate would nibble at my jacket in an attempt to get a head-scratching out of me. The chickens seemed to always show up and start scratching through the leaves, and the barn cats would come out looking for attention. Being surrounded by all these creatures really creates a sense of well being. I just have to remember that all life is temporary.

When you get livestock, you know that someday you'll likely be butchering them. I figure that making sure they live the best life possible is the important part. I didn't have much of a problem butchering chickens, probably because I knew from the beginning that they would end up as food. Chickens aren't particularly endearing, but the goats, however, were just as affectionate and playful as dogs.

I like dairy animals in part because they're not all butchered after a year or two. I guess I allowed myself to grow attached to these two because I didn't expect that they'd have to be butchered or put down for quite a few years. Such is life, eh?

Henry says we should put up a good head stone for the goats to remember them by. I think it's a good idea.

Now on to other, less depressing subjects...

Last week Rachel and Henry held down the fort while I had my first direct experience with draft horses in a four day class at Tillers International. Along with three other students and a handful of Tiller's interns, we worked with four Belgians, learning how to harness, drive, plow, disk, harrow, seed, and log with the draft teams. Tillers even has a freshly restored road grader that we hooked up and used for a bit.

Though I've seen them before, what really struck me is how *enormous* these horses are. It wouldn't take much for them to squash me like a mosquito, but they're exceptionally gentle.

One of the cool things about draft horses is that they tend to know where you want to go. That's a good thing when a hapless student messes up his gee and haw commands. Or so I'm told...

The down side of that is that they don't always think you want them to go where you really do want them to go. When we switched from plowing to disking, I could tell that they were still trying to walk in the furrow while I was trying to get them on a different path.

Tillers is a really neat organization. Aside from teaching a number of classes in everything from training oxen to timber framing or blacksmithing, they work to promote the use of draft animals (primarily oxen) in many parts of the world where they make a big difference in people's lives. They have an amazing collection of old farm implements. Many of the older implements are easily copied by craftsmen in these countries, as they often use much more wood than metal.

A couple weeks ago we started planting peas in the garden, and came to the realization that our chickens would soon find the sprouts to be irresistible (as our old chickens did in Bellingham). So -- we've started fencing it in. As luck would have it, Rachel found an ad in Craigslist for black locust fenceposts, which are exactly what we wanted (they're never available in stores), so we've now got a nice big stack which should see us through our fencing endeavors over the next couple years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fetch

A few years ago when we moved aboard our sailboat, Rachel discovered that I have a penchant for becoming singularly focused. The boat needed work, and that's just about all I could think about for the first year we lived aboard (or, arguably, for the 5 years we owned it). While my focus was probably good for getting the boat whipped into shape, it wasn't exactly a recipe for marital bliss.

Before we moved to Michigan, I was warned that there would be trouble if my obsessive-compuslive nature returned. I'm doing my best, but this time of year is particularly difficult. Our pasture is starting to grow again, and I need to get it fenced in so our animals can use it. The barn still needs some work. The garden needs to be prepared, and I need to prep a couple acres for my field corn. I need to get our 7 cords of firewood cut so that it has time to dry before we need it again next winter. We need to cut fenceposts for putting up our perimeter fence. After purchasing two loads of hay that our animals refuse to eat, the pressure is on to find some that they *will* eat. The hay mower needs to be rebuilt, and the trim in our house needs to be finished, the basement needs to be cleaned up, insulation needs to be finished, I should really rewire the basement lighting, and fix the cellar doors, and...

Earlier today, Rachel and Henry were playing with a big ball of his. Buttercup ran up to the fence and bellowed at the ball. So, Rachel threw it into her pen to see what she would do. Buttercup clearly enjoyed herself, but I can't say the same for the ball.

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Our barn has an old pigeon coop built up above the hay loft. It's been vacant since we moved in, but we had some visitors today. I think I even heard some pigeon hanky-panky going on, so perhaps there will be more soon.

Ashley the goat is still kicking. No more runs, but she's very weak right now. The worms and coccidosis appear to be gone, but we don't know if she has another ailment or if she will slowly recover. At least she can lounge in the sun these days rather than shivering in her stall like she was a couple weeks ago.

Spring is definitely here now, at least for the time being. Our ponds are about halfway melted out, and I hear frogs in the evening now. Sandhill cranes are prancing around in the field again, and the mourning doves have returned. The fun we've really been waiting for -- mosquitoes -- are starting to annoy once again. I'm hoping tomorrow evening's forecast of 21 degrees takes care of them for the time being.

The deer are out in our pasture nearly every morning and evening. At first I thought it was pretty neat to see, but now I'm starting to wonder if I really like that, and have started chasing them off. I'm trying to grow these pastures while they're trying to eat them, and there are quite a few out there. Hmmmm....

Friday, March 6, 2009

Winter Waning

Spring is teasing us a little more this week. 70 degrees today made the memory of last weekend's single digits grow dim and fuzzy. But -- since this is Michigan, we know the warmth is only temporary. Rachel did notice the first robin of the season though, and the cardinals have started singing their "spring" songs.

We got out for a little ice skating earlier in the week; perhaps the last of the season. Today we walked out to the same pond after dinner, and the ice was already melted several feet from the shore in places.


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Our goat Ashley is turning out to be the veterinarian's best friend. Or worst nightmare, depending on how you look at it. About a month after we got the goats, she had a serious bout with worms that lowered her milk production enough that we decided to dry her off. Worms are a common problem with goats -- most goats get wormed at least 3 times annually, but usually just during the warmer months. We had been using an herbal wormer, but it apparently doesn't handle heavy worm load very well. Ever since then, she's been getting wormed again and again, with ever increasing frequency. Her partner in crime -- Mary Kate -- seems to be a model of vibrant health.

A few weeks ago, it got to the point where (shortly after being wormed yet again) she had developed bad diarrhea. I quickly learned not to stand within 15 feet of her fanny when she sneezed, because she was firing out both ends. The vet's new diagnosis was coccidosis (a microbial infection normally affecting only young goats). We treated her for that, and she started to firm up a bit, and then quickly reverted to her former state.

We've been supplementing her copper intake, as that's a common deficiency with goats that can lead to these sorts of problems. She gets more coccidosis medication, enterotoxemia treatment, pepto-bismol, pro-biotics, vitamin B injections... but her rocket-rump still persists. It's clear that her immune system is not up to the task, but there doesn't seem to be a good way to tell what the reason is. All we can do is remedy the common causes (such as copper deficiency) and hope that we get it right before she keels over.

On a "real" farm, where each animal is viewed with an eye towards cost/benefit, she would've been disposed of long ago. She seems relatively happy for now, but there's a good chance that she'll have to be put down if her problems persist despite various treatments. If it comes to that, I'll be the one to do it, and I'm not really looking forward to it. I guess that's one of the not-so-fun parts of playing farmer.

We picked up a horse drawn hay mower last weekend - a McCormick Deering #9, which I'm very excited to try out. I'm thinking that horses won't be coming for another year yet, but maybe this fall if our pasture looks good and our hay stores are healthy. I'll be taking a 4-day course in draft horses later this month, which I'm really looking forward to as well.

Buttercup the cow is growing ever more sociable. She moos back to me when I talk to her now, and occasionally turns around in her stanchion at milking time to give me a big goobery kiss. Whenever I have some work to do in the barnyard, she wanders over to see what's up. She's also pretty responsive. If she comes into the barn when she's not supposed to (such as when I'm out forking her manure into the compost heap), all I have to do is tell her "no" in a stern voice and she skedaddles back outside. She clearly knows when she's being bad.

Buttercup has also developed a fondness for the barn cats. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, she reaches down to "groom" them with her monstrous tongue while they cringe in disgust. Even if I don't catch her in action, I know when she's been playing barncat hairstylist, because the cat looks like she was attacked with a can of hair mousse.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rancho Relaxo

When daytime highs are in the single digits and there's a foot of snow outside, playing in the yard isn't particularly enticing. Rachel and I like to sit down and relax with a book by the wood stove in the evenings. Henry does his part to enhance the tranquility.
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Things finally warmed up a bit last week. We went from below zero to 65 degrees in a few days, and the snow disappeared. All of the formerly frozen doggie-mines deposited in our yard over the last few months are thawed, laying in wait to hitch a final ride on my unsuspecting boot. I'm also reminded of the fact that our yard is still a mud-pit as a result of the water line installation last fall.

With the snow gone, its fun to play outside again. But all is not well at the Hayman Road Farm.


Lurking in the bushes is Fergus, the Evil Rooster of Death. After a couple flap-and-scratch attacks (Fergus thinks Henry is moving in on his ladies) sent our brave young farmer running back inside, we decided that it was time to fight back.

Armed with a beekeeper's helmet and a big stick, Henry was ready to show Fergus who was boss. We weren't entirely successful, however. A rooster flapping in your face (even while wearing a bee-veil) is still scary enough to force a hasty retreat.

Rachel has mentioned that Fergus may "need to go into the stewpot" -- an idea which Henry is in full support of. I'm hoping we can work out a more amicable solution.

We're apparently not the only people with this problem -- I noticed another rooster has been offered on our local Craigslist because "our son is scared of him".

Despite Fergus's obvious shortcomings, he does seem to serve a good purpose (aside from the obvious one of keeping all his ladies satisfied). He's exceptionally good at keeping the flock together. Whenever a hen has to run back to the coop to drop off an egg, Fergus is there to guide her back to the flock with a good cock-a-doodle-do. When one of the hens turns up a pile of tasty worms, Fergus is always there to announce the find as the other hens come running. I'm not sure what other predators (besides Henry) he may be fending off, but it seems as if he could do some good there as well.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mission Accomplished

With a twinkle in his eye and a smug look of accomplishment, Curious the goat returned to his farm today. His stink level declined quite a bit once our ladies were no longer in heat. I was thankful for that when it came time to heft him into the back of the pickup for the ride home. Henry also has a smug look of accomplishment, but I think it's for a different reason.

The snow has been deep for a few weeks now, settling down to about a foot. It was quite cold for a while -- down to -9 degrees, which I discovered is our threshold for freezing pipes. A little propane torch action on the bathtub drain solved that problem though. Some day I'll insulate our pipes, but most probably need to be replaced first.

Our neighbor Stan has taken it upon himself to plow our driveway (which we greatly appreciate), as his four-wheel drive tractor with a front end loader is much better than our old Ferguson in the snow. Upon learning that Henry was using the snow pile made by his tractor for a sledding-launch, he decided to make it even bigger and more worthy of a sled launch. Henry felt that Meowy the cat might also enjoy a sled ride.
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I've thus far been pleasantly surprised that our rodent problems don't seem to be all that bad. I keep a few traps out, mostly in our basement and garage, just to be safe though. About once a month, I catch a few. They seem to come as a family, as I rarely catch just one.

Until last week, I hadn't considered the bounty of indoor hunting opportunities offered in Michigan. When Rachel heard some scratching in the laundy room, I came downstairs to investigate. My cheap Chinese pellet rifle, despite it's horrible accuracy, appears to be effective at indoor ranges.

Considering where our economy is headed, I feel that indoor hunting skills like this may come in handy in the future. They could really help to stretch that grocery budget, and food can't possibly get any more local.

You know how realtors like to describe a "fixer" house with a witty statement like "Bring your paint brush" when "Bring your bulldozer" would be a more accurate description? Since our rennovation money ran thin, we've decided that there's a lot of wisdom in those ads.

Since the "polish a turd" policy started in our living room seemed to work pretty well, we decided to continue the policy and paint the dining room as well. So long as you're in the next room and have poor eyesight, it looks pretty nice now.

As we were setting up the room for painting, we set out some light plastic drop-cloths to protect the floors. I'm not sure they're really worth protecting, but it seemed like a good idea. Anyway, the dropcloth wouldn't stay put. It kept billowing up like a parachute as the wood stove is sucking air through the myriad cracks and gaps in our floor. I've since attacked all the gaps from the basement with a can of spray-foam, and also added some fiberglass insulation. I haven't tested the new airflow rates with a dropcloth though. I'm not sure I really want to know what the results would be.