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Posts Tagged ‘winter on the farm’

Turbo in trees on road

I’m not sure where January went, but it went quick.  Now we’re halfway through February and it’s going a little slower, but it’s been snowy and cold and a lot of work.  I think my muse got buried beneath the 16″ of snow that fell during the first storm and decided to stay in hiding until the ground reappeared for longer than a week.  Which means she’s still missing, but dagnabit I wanted to post regular so let’s get an update out here and get back to the storyline, shall we?

Like I mentioned, we’ve had quite a bit of snow here, which is not normal.  The old-timers say this is how winters were when they were growing up, back in the day.  Still, they’re surprised to see it come around again and shake their heads, cluck their tongues and confess to being thankful for being old and not having to be out in it.

I am no stranger to outdoor work in every season, I have all the clothes and boots and gloves and hats I need to stay warm and dry, and I enjoy being with my animals and being out in the woods and pastures, this is the life I had imagined.  I’m in good strength and health and have established routines that work well, don’t wear me out, get the necessary caretaking done in a timely fashion and keep me safe.   It’s a little lonely without another person to interact with but the dogs and horses are great companions, I am not alone by any means, I talk a mile a minute to all of them, they know the sound of my voice very well.

So we’re hunkered down for what may become the normal winter storm season, and I see comments online about starting seeds and getting ready for Spring, and the truth is that’s all just around the corner, I really need to stay forward-looking and not get too comfortable in my hunkered position.  Hunkering is good for a time but it can turn into torpor all too easily.  I don’t want to get run over by the freight train of activity that’ll commence in a few short weeks – it’ll probably run over me anyway but I’d like to at least see it coming and get a running start before I have to jump out of the way and let it barrel past.

A post about hay is in the works, don’t let me forget.  Might be more than one, it’s an important subject around here.  My four big Suffolk work horses eat a bale a day – each –  and the herd of Devon cattle go through 3 – 4 large rolls a week.  Hay is front and center on the menu half the year for the cows and the horses eat it year-round.  Why and what and how and is it any good and can you afford that are all great questions, I don’t have all the answers, at this point I’m just seeing what works and what doesn’t, there’s plenty of time to change course as we go.  But for now I’m hooked on it and don’t feel bad because it’s adding fertility and tilth to the pastures, which need it.

Lots more posts in that subject, let me tell you.

Speaking of hay, it’s time to go serve some more, get ’em all munching and crunching.  I’ll try to get back on a regular weekly schedule here, the pace is picking up fast and I’d like the blog to keep up.

Later, friends.

 

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Scotty's back

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

It definitely takes a bull to make calves.  Whether you use his services on the hoof or from a straw, there’s no getting around the requirement to manage the breeding back of cows, or any livestock for that matter.

Raising Devon beef cattle to sell as gourmet grass-fed beef, I wanted a Devon bull, at least to begin with.   Cross-bred beeves would be just fine, there are many advantages and I may go that route in the future, but in the interests of laying the groundwork for producing a consistent product I felt it best to stick with the Devon genetics to reduce variability.  There’s enough variability within a breed and amongst a group of animals, I don’t need any more just yet.

But there aren’t any Devon cattle in my area – this is Angus, Hereford and Charolais country.  No one’s even heard of Devon cattle here, so finding a bull nearby wasn’t an option and I knew it wouldn’t be from the beginning.  I used AI for the herd’s first breeding back in Fall 2013, a lot of work and fuss and effort for not much return, which I also knew it would be, so I kept a bull calf out of the first crop, from my most feminine cow, to use as a home-grown bull.

As a long yearling left in with the herd, Scotty did a great job cleaning up all the open cows left from the AI experiment, although I left him in far too long – over the winter – and so their conception dates were as far-flung as the stars above on a clear night.  The results:  this past season we had two calves in July, five in September/October, and one finally showed up on December 11.  All over the place.  Not ideal for raising grass-fed beeves and finishing them right at 30 months.  They’re all beautiful calves though, born without any help, I only had to tag them and retrieve a couple wanderers the first few days, they tend to head for the long grass or woods to hide as newborns and the cows can’t follow them out of the paddock.

Ideally, I would like my calves born after the cows have been grazing good late-Spring/early-Summer grass for a few weeks;  from late May through June would be optimum for this farm, it’s climate and pastures and that sort of thing.  That means I need them bred in August/September.  Ideally, I would separate the yearlings (so the heifers don’t get knocked up), borrow a neighbor’s nice bull for 6 weeks, put him into service the Big Gals, then send him home when he’s done.  Well, even if I were to use a neighbor’s Angus bull, no one around here manages theirs that way, they are not trained to load or haul to a visiting farm, you put your cows in with their bull and their herd or you get nothing.

So the plan with Scotty was, THE PLAN WAS, to find a home for him off-farm, someone with cows they needed to keep bred, and use him just the 6 weeks of the year I needed him.  I had a plan in place that included the discounted sale of a couple Devon heifers in exchange for Scotty’s permanent room-and-board, but that plan did not work as expected.  Another story for another day; the point is, he had to come back for good after only being gone the summer, not just for a few week’s visit.  And I was not in any way, shape or form, set up for that.  And he came back late, because of the late Fall calving.

Better late than never though.  Gotta have calves.  They may not all finish at 30 months, or some may go over and be processed as boneless, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, down the road.

I’m still setting up what I hope will work as a winter paddock for Scotty the bull, down with the horses, along the woods edge at the bottom of their hillside paddock area.  His service period is nearly complete and as much as I had hoped to be able to treat-train him to hop back up in the livestock trailer, it appears the cows get in there before he does, so I’ll probably have to lane the whole herd back to the corral here in a week or so, separate him out, load him for the short drive to his new digs, then let the herd back out to where they left off with winter rotation.

Spring will bring another bridge to cross:  what to do with him during the summer grazing season.  For now, I’m just focusing on what needs done to get everyone settled before winter finally sets in.   And I’m thankful the cows will be bred.

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Moon over pond christmas eve

The story continued from where it left off here two years ago, of course; the storyteller just lost her muse, then her voice, and then too much time passed and she lost the writing habit.  It happens.  Facebook made it easy to post pictures and quick updates for friends and family, and the longer thoughts and observations suited for blog posts fell by the wayside.  Wow, two years.  That’s a long time not to write.

Getting back to the story gets harder the longer you go without writing anything, it’s tough to know where or how to start – do I just jump back in or play catch up?  I guess if I’d lapsed a couple of months, I could do a quick synopsis and move on.  But two years?  If I tried to capture even a quick screenshot of all that’s happened since December 2013 I’d never get past the edit screen, which is why it’s taken this long to return.  So we’ll just step back in the road and start walking, and I’ll backfill any big holes as necessary to keep moving forward.

Whew.  There it is, I’ve done it, I’m back.

Tomorrow is Boxing Day.  It is supposed to rain some more, with record-high temps here – 74 degrees.  The solitary bat hunting mosquitoes at sundown tonight got me thinking there might be some hungry fish in the pond, brought to the surface by the unseasonable warmth.  I missed a lot of good fishing days this Fall, I might take a break from chores and chill out for a few minutes with a pole and a bucket tomorrow, see what hits the hook.  My freezer needs some fish.

 

 

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Icy woods and road

This past Friday morning we woke to a world covered in a thin layer of ice, just as the guessers had predicted.  It made the roads treacherous, prompting school cancellations and late business starts throughout the area; even so, there were a lot of people that had to drive on it anyway, for whatever reason, and by all accounts it was a wicked slick morning on the roads and highways.  My driveway entrance looked like a little parking lot when I got back down from morning feeding, with a half-dozen cars waiting for the salt trucks to come by so they could make it up Wilson Hill.

I was thankful that the only driving I have to do for my job is in a 6×4 Gator up a dirt road to pitch hay to the cows and let the ducks out.  Even my little rough road was cloaked in a sheet of ice, so we slipped and slid a little, and I kept my speeds down with a foot on the brake, especially coming downhill.  I remembered to take my camera with me and tried to capture a little of the magic of the frozen moment.

Ice bud

The forest was beautiful, a palette of steel grays, dusky blues, muted mauves and ochres.  All the branches brushed with silver glistened and sparkled against the dark trunks.

Icy woods

The cedars and pines were tipped in white and drooping gracefully.

Icy cedar

Cows, heifers and steers had icicles dangling from their ears and ate their breakfast on ice-covered ground.

Icy breakfast

And the sunrise up on the pastures was breathtaking.

Icy pasture sunrise

Temps hovered right around freezing all day, so the ice lingered anywhere it wasn’t salted or walked on or shoveled.  I cleaned off my two porches and the walking bridge across the creek using a hoe to chop and shatter the thin sheet of ice into chunks that could be scraped and swept aside.  First time I’ve had to do something like that in a long, long time.

Tonight we have a high wind advisory and thunderstorm watch, wild weather riding in on the approaching cold front.  I’ve spent the day lashing down hay, equipment and firewood tarps, putting away loose objects, and generally buttoning the place up for heavy rain and 40-mile-an-hour gusts.

It’s currently 70 degrees outside, and the shop’s concrete slab floor is sweating.  Too warm for January.  We’ll welcome the return of the cold air.

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Culvert cleaning after rain

We are just over a month past Solstice and already I can tell the days are getting longer, allowing and encouraging more outside work, as weather permits.  Just a week ago I spent a couple of hours cleaning out the restored culvert inlets and ditches on the road up to the hill pastures, following a heavy rain event that washed bushels of fallen leaves downstream to clog anything that impeded the water’s progress.

During our working visit June of 2009 Bear spent days unearthing four neglected culverts along the road up the hill, buried under years of accumulated washout and filled with roots, rocks and impacted dirt.  Drainage ditches and culverts are critical elements of a sustainable dirt road in hilly rain country.  A good road has enough culverts to divert runoff every hundred feet or so, and is graded to angle into the slope so the water flows down a ditch into the culvert, instead of choosing its own course down a tire rut, unimpeded for long stretches, a destructive earth-moving force where you don’t need one.

There is still a day of road-grading to do, once the leaves are all scooped up, to restore the proper drainage path of rain water into the roadside ditch, rather than the road’s ruts, which is just starting to wash out the road.  Two years ago I spent several days on the tractor regrading the steep sections and encouraging the water to flow in the crease between road and hill, into the culverts and away from the road surface.  It is time to do that again.

Of course, I’ll need just the right temperatures and lack of precipitation, so that project may wait awhile for all the supporting elements to coincide.

For now, as I can, I am laying dense grade aggregate on the portions of permanent pasture lanes I’ve established that have begun to demonstrate muddiness from either traffic or low-lying topography.  It is a slow task, one that may take me all winter.  Until you drive across sodded ground repetitively, you don’t know how it will hold up to vehicle traffic when rain events are factored in.  My little gator, with its balloon tires and relatively light weight, isn’t a rut-maker, but the tractor is.  So until I get an initial layer of roadbase laid on my driving lanes, the tractor only crosses fields in the mornings when the ground is frozen.

Road building past pond

Like this morning, when I moved two large round bales of hay from where they’d been stored to where I am forking hay out to feed.  I looked at the 10-day forecast and realized I only had one more below-freezing morning before rain will likely set in, followed by a warming trend.  That means mud.  That means, no driving the tractor up there.  So, I moved two bales of hay this morning.  All good.

My current pile of aggregate is frozen solid, so between rain and freezing temps the roadbuilding endeavor is much delayed.  I’m fine with that, as it’s slow, monotonous work, and it would drive me crazy to do it too many days in a row.  There’s always firewood to split, cows to feed, ducks to butcher, and a kitchen to paint.  Spring and house guests will be here before I know it.

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Warming feet in front of fire

It started with a slightly scratchy throat on Christmas Eve.

I drove up to see a good friend who lives north of Louisville that day, and warned her as I stepped in the door that I was coming down with something and was probably contagious.  She made me a cup of tea with honey, and that was the last I thought about being sick during our visit.

By Christmas night, the scratchy throat was joined by chest congestion, which is not the usual cold progression for me; normally a cold will start as sinus congestion first, then move down into my chest.  This time I started coughing long before the sneezing and nose-blowing stage, which hit me full-force on Wednesday.  It snowed that day, and I stayed close to the fire, crossing off all but the most necessary items from my daily to-do list, and bundling up well for pasture rounds.

By Thursday, my chest was aching and I could feel a deep congestion settling into my bronchial tubes, something I’ve not had in quite a long time.  As an ex-smoker, I expect residual damage and weakness in that area, but since quitting 18 months ago I haven’t had any serious chest colds.  This one would break that streak.  But I didn’t know that yet, so Thursday afternoon I bundled up and got a little exercise, cutting up a downed sassafrass tree at the edge of one of the pastures, to add to my firewood stash.

My standard response to cold symptoms these days does not usually involve masking symptoms with pharmaceuticals.  Mostly, I think, because I’m too cheap to spend the money on the stuff.  Unless I’m aching so bad I can’t sleep, I won’t take pain killers; I really don’t like the way antihistamines artificially dry out the sinuses, and cough syrup that either inhibits or promotes expectorant just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Granted, I don’t have to go to a workplace job and interact with other employees or the public, so the snottier aspects of being sick are just between me and my kerchief.

Other than common sense measures like keeping my head and feet warm, drinking lots of liquids, and slowing down to let my body fight the bug, the only additional support I employ is a high-dosage of vitamin C powder dissolved in water, taken throughout the day.  I have found this helps my body’s response efforts and shortens the duration of the cold.  I’ve never done a double-blind study to prove any beneficial effects, but it’s cheap and non-toxic and I figure it can’t hurt.

The major drawback to not masking symptoms with drugs, though, is you have to experience the symptoms.  But they don’t last forever, and my colds move through me much quicker now that I’m not inhaling smoke and toxins on a daily basis.  And usually I don’t find the “I’m sick” stuff – the sneezing, nose-blowing, coughing – to be overwhelmingly decapacitating, just annoying.  But the chest congestion that came with this cold, I swear it nearly killed me Thursday night.

I will spare you the phlegmy details, but suffice it to say, I didn’t sleep much and thought a couple of times I needed to be intubated just to keep breathing.  Heavy stuff.  Worst crap I’ve had in my bronchi in a long, long time.  Kind of scared me, actually, the not being able to breathe part.  So yesterday I took another sick day, and crossed the project of spreading gravel with the tractor up on the hill before it rained off my list, and stayed close to the woodstove all day.  It was crappy weather, mid-thirties, spitting rain:  I didn’t need to push myself any further toward the cliff edge.

So today, I feel much better, and the congestion is loosening and lightening, and my energy is back.  I’m recovering.  I warm my tootsies in front of the stove every time I come back in from pasture rounds, I wear a hat every time I step outside even if it’s just to take the dogs out for a pee break, and for one more day, I left the extra outside projects off my list.

They will get done in due time.  I’d rather be getting better and be behind on my winter projects, than the other way around.

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Snowy pastures on Boxing Day

I don’t watch TV news here at the farm, so my weather information comes from the internet or the national news on the local NPR station out of Bowling Green, KY.  Sounds and looks like today’s winter storm has clobbered some southern and midwestern states, wreaking havoc and even killing some unfortunate souls.  Road travel was especially hazardous in those areas today.

Luckily, the only road I had to deal with today was the muddy road from the house up to the pastures, and the muddy “roads” I’ve created up there.  My top speed today was 10 mph, and I crawled through the mud puddles, so the hazards were few.  It wasn’t even really all that cold.  Tonight, though, the temps should drop into the mid-twenties.

I took the day off to nurse this dratted chest cold that Santa brought me for Christmas, which means, after getting back down from morning rounds, I stripped down to long johns, stoked the fire, and snuggled into one of the reclining chairs under a blanket to watch documentaries on Netflix.  Very, very lazy behavior for me, I must say.  But even the legendary Thistledog needs to throttle back when under attack by the cold bug.  Hopefully, it’ll exit stage left in the next couple of days.

The rain turned to snow around noon.  Big, swirly fluffy flakes out the front window made me feel like I was in a just-shaken snow globe.  I pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders and let myself go back to sleep.  The house was warm, the animals fed, and my to-do list could just sit there and not be done, no harm, no foul.  I roused mid-afternoon to fill up the water tank on the gator, and made the afternoon rounds up on the hill.  Snow was sticking to the grass, momentarily, and blowing a little.  Cows and heifers and yearling steers all had full rumens and though wet, were fine.  So back down the hill I went, for a little more down time in front of the fire.

The dogs and I walked up at dusk to shut the ducks in for the night.  It was still snowing lightly, but the snow is melting quickly and everything underfoot is soggy.  We’re thankful the storm path went north of us, at least this time.  Grateful for our blessed location.

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