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.
video
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

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