Busy on the Farm
A couple of weeks ago I promised I’d post an update on the farm. It’s hard to believe but it’s been over 2 years since my last big post on the farm. It’s been busy but I still love it. In fact, I’m just finishing up a “farmcation”. I needed to stockpile hay for the winter and I can’t grow enough so I had 148 rolls delivered yesterday and today – and did a whole bunch of stuff in between deliveries
We live on the farm now. In fact it will be 2 years this Christmas. In my pictures a few years ago, you could just see the beginnings of the house across the pond. Now, it looks like this. I still haven’t gotten around to any landscaping The farm uses up all my spare time.
I had just finished up planting my orchard and now it’s a couple of years old. It’s big enough that it’s hard to do it justice in one picture and the trees blend into the background a bit but I wanted to get the same angle for contrast.
I also introduced to you some of the farm’s inhabitants. Inky, our Bull, is still around doing his job.
And our donkey, Mary, is as lovable as ever. Mary has a daughter now, Esther, but she was at the other end of the farm protecting the younger calves and I didn’t take the time to walk all the way down there to get her picture. Mary has never really gotten used to cows (she didn’t grow up around them) but Ester has been around them since she was born and I think she believes she is a cow.
Mary has friends now – Sadata and PJ. Sadata is a 26 year old Arabian (that’s pretty old for a horse). And PJ is a 14 year old, very muscular Paint/Quarter Horse. We just bought PJ so my oldest son and I would have a horse we could ride (Sadata is too old, she’s good with my younger kids though).
Inky has new friends too. Our herd has gotten a lot larger than the original 10 cows we had. We had 22 calves this year and our herd is about 70. The herd is in 3 groups right now so I can’t get a picture of all of them but I’ve included a few representative ones. The calves are, of course, really cute.
We’ve also added some pigs. This is our second set of two pigs. They are big and fat. They were very timid when they were piglets but they’ve become almost like pet dogs. They always come over and sniff you and lick you when you go in their pen.
My equipment inventory has grown too. I’ve bought hay equipment. I was only able to bale about 100 rolls this year due to the very dry late summer that we had. I also bought a second, smaller, tractor (compared to the big orange one in the last post). The first picture is my round bale baler and my MoCo (Mower, Conditioner). I also have a rake and a tedder, but didn’t take pictures of those.
But the big story of the past couple of years really has been all the work that has gone into getting the farm “ready” for all we want to do. Everything from planting the orchard to hauling in over 100 dump truck loads of compost from my neighbor’s horse farm (that’s several year’s worth ). I’ve built a lot of stuff. I’ve put up miles of fences – and I don’t mean “a lot”, I mean miles – thousand and thousands of feet. I’ve still got one left to go and several old fences that need repair but I’m getting to the end of fence building and will transition into fence maintenance (there’s no such thing as being “done” with fences ).
Outside of fences, one of the first things I built was a duck house. It’s about 30’x12’ and houses about 50 ducks for the night. They spend their days in a 1 acre fenced in area with a pond. Did I mention I’ve built some fences?
My next “big project” was an irrigation system for the orchard. I had a professional give me a quote and it was about $20,000 for the labor. I thought “that’s ridiculous, it can’t be that hard – I’ll do it myself”. Um, wow, it was a big undertaking. It was weeks and weeks of work spread over almost a year. I finally got it all working this summer by completing the pump and pump house. If you want me to tell you horror stories, just ask me what has gone wrong with the irrigation system so far. Looks a little like the duck house, eh? Except the painting isn’t finished yet. Maybe it was built by the same guy?
My kids did 4-H projects with pigs last fall and they really liked it. My wife remarked that the pigs were so little effort that she wanted to raise a couple of her own once the 4-H projects were over. Well we kept the 4-H pigs in a stall in the barn and that was just not going to be sustainable. So I decided I needed to build a good sized pen that they could run around in and dig to their hearts delight. I built about a 1/4 acre area and put up welded wire and electric fencing to keep them in. It worked well. A while later my wife informed me that the pigs needed to be out of the dirt for their last month or they would taste like dirt. Oh jeez, what am I gonna do? I ended up extending the pig pen with a luxury apartment, complete with concrete floor where they could flush the dirt out of their system.
This summer we started slaughtering our first cattle. By we, I mean, we haul them to the slaughter house and come back 2 weeks later to get shrink wrapped beef . I have to tell a bit of a longer story here because it’s been another great learning experience. We took 3 steer the first time. Once we dropped them off, we started thinking, hmm, how are we going to get the beef home? I don’t have a refrigerator truck and the slaughter house is an hour away. We purchased a couple of BIG chest freezer on Craig’s List and loaded them into the back of my pickup truck. We headed off to the slaughter house on pickup day, not quite sure what to expect. We backed up to the building and told them we were there. They proceeded to while out cart after cart of boxes containing frozen beef. Then they informed us they needed the boxes back immediately. My wife and I spent over an hour loading beef into the chest freezers only to realize each cow takes the better part of a freezer and 2 freezers just wasn’t enough. Off we went for an emergency Walmart run to buy several REALLY BIG coolers. We were able to stuff the rest of the beef in and head home. Then, how do you get two freezers with about 750lbs of meat each out of the back of the truck? Well, you don’t really. We had to unload the meat, one package at a time and inventory it and move it into other freezers. The whole ordeal lasted from about 8:00am until 4:00pm and when I was done, I swore I’d never do that again.
So we started asking around to see how other people do it. The best idea I heard was to get a trailer you can tow behind the truck. Load it with chest freezers. Then you can just pull the trailer to the slaughter house and when you get home you just park the trailer and plug it in. Cool deal. No more moving the meat 2 or 3 times. No more loading freezers in and out of the truck.
Problem 1: Where do I get a trailer? Well it turns out my brother had a really big trailer from his motorcycle racing days and he wasn’t using it anymore – instant trailer.
Problem 2: Where am I going to park the trailer? I don’t just want to park it in the woods. Something doesn’t feel right about that. And I don’t have enough barn space to reserve for a trailer this size. Solution – build a new barn. I’ve just finished building the barn (about 50’ x 25’). For scale perspective, the tractor in the barn is about 8’ tall. If you look hard, you’ll see a huge commercial, stainless steel sink (like 10’ long) on the right end of the barn – yes the barn has water too. That’s going to be for washing vegetables from the garden.
I’ve told a few people that I just built a barn and they have all looked at me like “Oh, that’s interesting”. And then they ask, “Did you design it?” Yes. “Did you supervise the construction?” No, I built it. “Yeah, but who did you hire to actually put it together?” No one, I built it – I hauled in 7 dump truck loads of dirt to level the ground; I bored holes for the 14’ posts; I set and leveled the poles; I built the headers on the poles; I put on the trusses; I screwed down the tin roof. I had some people help me – some of this stuff takes more than two hands (especially the trusses – that took 3 people: one to ride up on the fork lift with the truss and hold it in place and one on each end to line it up. But, in short, I built it. The only thing I REALLY didn’t do myself was pour the concrete floor.
Problem 3: 3-5 large chest freezers takes a lot of power don’t they? Unhuh. How am I going to power them? My dad comes to the rescue. He has been an electrical contractor his whole life and he spent all day out here yesterday wiring up the barn and the trailer so that I have mobile chest freezers that stay cold.
So with the long story behind us, here’s the barn and the inside of my 50 amp trailer.
And now I’ll end this ridiculously long post with one last story. I mentioned the primary reason I took off the last couple of days was so that I could take delivery of hay for the winter. I go through a lot of hay. 70 cows, averaging probably 20-25lbs per cow per day. That’s almost 2,000lbs per day and I need to plan for 4 months of hay. Yeah, that’s a lot of hay. Want to see what it looks like? I’m not sure these pictures do it justice and I’m still short about 50 rolls but I’m getting close. You are looking at about 150,000lbs of hay. Kind of a different way of thinking about hay isn’t it.
I’ve got lots of projects left to go but hopefully this gives you a bit of a flavor of my life outside my day job I promise not to post about the farm too often but having been over 2 years now, it seemed like it was worth the time. Thanks for listening! Back to your regularly scheduled programming.