Playmate Playdate
December 31, 2011, 1:41 am
Filed under: December 2011
3 little piggies playing in the snow

December 31, 2011

     It is so much fun to get together and have a playdate. Last night we had our family Christmas. Gifts were exchanged, food was eaten and laughter filled our house …and hearts 😮
     Now, the house is quiet. My grandchildren are probably still running crazy at home still high on sugar cookies. All of us are wishing we had stopped eating, perhaps one bite sooner, but it is a satisfied feeling just the same.
     My wife made roast beef, ham and mashed potatoes. The green beans were also from the farm as we celebrated the blessings of the harvest right along with the birthday of Jesus. Cookies were abundant and delicious and love filled the air.
     We visited with a friend before our family arrived for dinner. It was a nice time too. She had concerns and problems to share, as well as, a celebration or two. The visit also revealed a health concern. We will pray for her and hold her dear as she works through the issues at hand.
     Our day came to a close with the animals all fed and content. The children and grandchildren were all loved and fed and a friendship was cemented a little bit more. I will say this was a very good day … In fact I will call this a great day!

Winterland Frolic
December 30, 2011, 1:48 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Knight, Duke and Hoss play in the snow

December 30, 2011

     The horses enjoyed a little play time yesterday. There was just enough snow to make the cement have some traction. I let them jump around and play on the feedlot. They had a grand time. The pastures are too saturated and muddy for the horses to romp around. They will have to be content with work and this type of play until the ground freezes.
     The big creatures would destroy way too much pasture with their big feet stomping the tender grasses out of sight. All that would remain is the deep pock marks made by the running horses. These holes are ankle twisters to say the least.
     Once the corn fields are picked clean, then gleaned by the pigs, that field become a jump lot for the horses. They can poke holes, run, jump and roll on the sacrificial plot that will be plowed in the coming spring. They get to rip around bucking and kicking while not hurting a thing.
     Some folks will give me a hard time about soil compaction from the gentle giants, but I know better. The little impact that the horses make while working my farm or playing like rough housing boys has never been a problem. The deep ruts I see in some fields where the harvest went on no matter the soil conditions, will present a much bigger problem than three playful horses could ever do.
     I am not going to argue. I am just going to keep on working my horses, harvesting my crops and enjoying the freedom that  having “enough” ….can bring to a man.
     Frolic my friends, enjoy life and whatever you do, leave a little impact that can be smoothed over…not the deep complicated kind that lasts forever. Tread lightly on the hearts of men so that long after you are gone, your name will be spoken easily on their lips.  

Winter water for pigs
December 29, 2011, 5:20 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Playing and drinking outside

December 29, 2011

     There are several ways to water pigs in winter. I chose the lowest cost most effective method that I could. If a container is left in the pen with the pigs, they tip it over, as soon as, they are done drinking. In no time at all, their pen is a wet, stinky place. Nipple type waterers freeze in the winter, unless some expensive options are employed.
     My piggys are turned out two times a day to run and play no matter what the weather. They drink, race and chase, then drink some more. Their bedding stays warm and dry. They learn quickly to drink when they are let out to play. They seem to look forward to the playtime and drinking is just a benefit.
     I use a shallow rubber tub. The water will freeze in the tub. I  break it or even turn it upside down and stomp on it to break  the ice out. The tub lasts two or three years and is used daily. The ice is no match for the rubber tub.
     I turn my pigs out every day as I said. This routine starts, as soon as, the piglets are weaned. The learn quickly to go out and play. They enjoy running and chasing each other as if playing a game of tag. I hiss at the pigs when its time to go back to their pens. They soon know how it all works and run for the pen. All of this moving and interaction comes in real handy at trailer loading time. They know I will not hurt them. They are used to being out of their pen. So they run down the alley and jump in the trailer looking for what ever treat awaits them. No squealing, screaming or stress of any kind … for the pigs… or for the farmer 😮
     Our pigs are pasture raised most of the time. When field conditions are not ideal or like this year when the corn is still standing, the pig barn is utilized. The pig barn is a nice place. Manure is cleaned out regularly about every other day. New straw is added to the pens at that time. The pens stay dry. The pigs stay warm, clean and healthy.
     A bed of warm straw is a good place to snuggle on a cold winter night. The pigs grow quickly and the daily excercise builds muscle and keeps them fit. The pork is wonderful, tender and delicious. Proving that this method and the effort put forth is well worth it.

Like a Pig on Ice
December 28, 2011, 4:00 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Noah and Piggy Sue

December 28, 2011

     The old timers used to say that it was as slick driving as a “pig on ice”. It’s true, pigs don’t get much traction on ice. Last night,  we got a mini ice storm. My truck was much like the pigs as we slid and spun our way home. It is the first of the season, so driving a bit slower was the order of the day… but some folks just don’t get it. I saw them off the road looking forlorn, late and ticked off. I tried to brighten their day by smiling and waving as I drove by 😮  after making sure no body was hurt of course!
     My pigs are staying part of this winter in my pig barn. They still get access to a play area, but winter grazing will have to wait until the corn is picked. They don’t seem to mind. Their pens are bedded with deep fresh straw and the daily excercise keeps them from getting bored. Piggy Sue and Noah share a pen. They keep each other warm, provide company for each other and hopefully… piglets for the farmer in March.
     The horses are enjoying a romp in the snow as well as the pigs. I think the snow brings out the child in all of us. I feel better. My dog is playing and rolling in the snow. The sheep are out grazing and I swear the cats were trying to make snow angels in the stuff.
     It is probably the first of some snowy days to come. The animals and I are taking it pretty well. Later in the week, they are once again calling for warm weather as our unseasonable winter continues … It’s not up to us. I will just take it as it comes and be glad for not having to shovel … yet!

Window to my World
December 27, 2011, 4:27 pm
Filed under: December 2011
The mystery knothole

December 27, 2011

     The other day when our visitors came, they fed the lazy goats carrots and celery through this knothole in the barn siding. The goats, usually very friendly, just wouldn’t come out and play. They waited for our guests to put the treats through the hole. They grabbed them and ate with delight. Our guests were reduced to just watch the goats through the tiny window.
     This BLOG offers a glimpse of my life. It is a window into my world. I get to share things that happen in my life and on our farm. The light shines both ways. People comment and share their memories and life with me as well. I never thought this portal would be such a sheer pleasure for me.
     Today a cold rain falls on the farm. The mud is already deep, the ponds are full and the ground is saturated. I still can’t believe that it is this late in December and we are having warm temperature and rain instead of cold, ice and snow. I am sure one day soon, winter will come with a vengeance!
     The warm weather means that lake Erie isn’t frozen. We will get lake effect snowfall for the rest of out winter …well at least I think so 😮  The ice and cold will roll across the lake on the north wind. The clouds will pick up warm moist air, turn the crystals to snow flakes and dump them here in the snow belt of northeast Ohio.
     It would be a wonderful thing if we would have a week of cold weather to freeze the ground first, but a bunch of snow dumped on top of all this mud will make field travel difficult for most guys. I have the horses. They don’t get stuck. They start when it’s cold and have all the power I need. On the worst days, I can just sit inside and take pride that I worked on other days hard enough so that I don’t have to go out when it’s bad. Feeding and caring for the animals is done inside the warm barns…as all of us thumb our noses at the bad weather.
     I guess I will just hunker down, watch from my window and share memories made on better days. All though I will say, I have made some whopper memories when the mud and snow were deep. One that comes to mind was made while I was working in a woodlot skidding timber with my horses.
     The log cutters were starting in a new area. We teamsters were caught up and were standing around talking while our horses rested. I was standing on the side of the skidway listening to a couple old timers talk. All of the sudden, I started to fall forward??  I just lost my balance somehow. My feet were crossed as I was standing and got tangled up in the mud and sticks. I fell headlong into the quagmire that was our skidway. I put my arms out, as if to do a push up, to catch myself. That plan would have worked fairly well if the mud had not been so deep. I did a face plant in the gooey, wet mud. I could hear the men all laughing, just slightly muffled, by the mud in my ears. I had to laugh myself, because that must have been a sight to watch 😮
     Hang around, share my stories and my life. Enjoy the view from the window to my world.

Merry Christmas 2011
December 25, 2011, 8:34 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Duke, Knight and Hoss eating apples

December 25, 2011

     Merry Christmas everyone!  My horses got some early Christmas gifts when our farm’s visitors brought apples and carrots. The petting was unending as well. My spoiled pals were treated like royalty. They munched and slobbered all over our guests, but everyone seemed to have a good time.
     Last night I struggled with a cold, that hangs on yet today. It is one of those snuffy nose, achy body feel like crap kind. I managed to get through work today, but am not on my game or anywhere near it.
     I laid down on the couch last evening and tried to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. It is a favorite of mine. It speaks to my heart every time I watch it. I guess I identify with the leading man and character George Bailey. I usually think of myself more as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or even Charles Bronson… the tough hero types that folks look up to…. but every year at this time I am moved by George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart)
     I too have stayed in this little town, choosing to live not far from my birth place. I too have done a few things I didn’t really want to do. I have stayed at jobs only because it was the right thing to do when many other things sounded so much better. Like George, I have a wonderful family and friends who love me very much. I am a man blessed and I know it…. thank you God.
     I hope the time never comes when I am so far down in the dumps that I cannot see out. I hope not to have to ever call on my family, friends and acquaintances for goods or money …. BUT I know in my heart that if I were ever in despair like George Bailey … people would come out of the wood work to help me with advice, money or anything else that I would need. The thought of that happening humbles me to tears ..every year.
     I only hope to continue to look for the best in people, help where I can and teach anything that I can. I will share with others what I know about farming, animals, soil and life. I do this to glorify God for the gifts he has given me and most importantly the greatest gift of all .. His Son Jesus Christ.
     Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you got everything you wanted, spent time with family and friends and I hope you keep Christ in Christmas. As I shut the barn door tonight, I knew once again why a stable was chosen for baby Jesus birthplace..the peace and contentment found there, is like no where else on Earth.

What you looking at?
December 23, 2011, 8:16 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Watching you, watching me

December 23, 2011

     Today we had some visitors to our farm. They are extended family, but visitors just the same. They took in all the sights around the farm, petted the animals and gave out treats to all of them. King was the farm’s ambassador who took his job very serious.
     Snow barely covered the ground, but it did hide a lot of mud. It gave everything a fresh appearance and the look of cleanness…right until you stepped in the mud. Oh well a nice visit was had by all. The treats and praise went very well during this time of magic that is Christmas 😮
     I am still revelling in the fact that the maple syrup arch is all ready for the upcoming syrup season. Sure, there is still plenty to do…. but what a wonderful feeling to have that brick work all done, to say nothing about getting the whole thing set and leveled!
     The cows, horses and other animals were glad to have the visitors. They watched them come and watched them go. The people had fun watching the animals … me… I went out one more time to watch mortar dry… and every one of us had a great day!

First Day of Winter?
December 22, 2011, 11:31 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Maple Syrup Arch

December 22, 2011

     Today is the first day of winter. The temperature was in the mid 40’s F. Yesterday the temperature got to 60 degrees. Thanks to good weather, good luck and good friends, my maple syrup arch is re-tinned, re-bricked and ready for the syrup season.
     The syrup arch is the firebox that the syrup pans set on. The fire is built, in the big area in the foreground. The heat travels the length of the arch and then out the smoke stack. The long syrup pans boil steadily as the sweet sap is reduced to maple syrup.
     Just a few days ago, this arch looked like a rectanglar piece of metal scrap. Today it was restored to a functional piece of equipment. I hope to wire brush the outside and even paint it before the real cold weather sets in. I have waited for this day for over a year.
     The chimney, or smoke stack is being fabricated and will be installed next month. It is twenty-two feet high so as to be able to have enough draft to pull the heat along the bottom of the syrup pan. Our maple syrup outfit measures four by fourteen feet. It will be able to handle 2500 taps… as long as the farmer and his family holds up 😮
     There is still plenty to do to be ready by syrup season, but today’s work will make the 2012 season a reachable goal. It has been a long pull and switching outfits in the middle of building the sugarhouse did not help matters. I know it was a good decision, but it has made the journey longer.
     This spring we added a woodshed to the sugarhouse. Later in summer, we were able to concrete a big portion of the sugarhouse and woodshed. The wood for next year is mostly piled. Much of it needs split, but it is mostly gathered. Our rain-soaked year has delayed this job a bit too.
     It rained quite a bit yesterday and today. There is no way that I could have used the days to pick corn, so the sugarhouse work was a blessing. I could not have done it without the help and guidance of my friend and his boy…. Thank you Marvin and Roy.
     We will start off this spring with 500 taps. That will give us a fair start and the time to work out any kinks with our system. Gathering 500 buckets of sap is a small job … depending upon who you talk to 😮     If everything goes well we will double the amount in 2013.
     Usually by this time of year we are zipping around the farm on a sled “dashing through the snow”. I always think of my grandparents when I do that. Today, I thought about my grandparents and parents as well. I am sure they would be very proud of my progress… The next big day will be when the sugarhouse , pans and all of our hard work, yields the first of our sweet success. I look forward to that day and the sweet reward that touches my heart, as well as, my tongue.

6 Months and still growing
December 19, 2011, 6:32 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Bath time for King

December 19, 2011

     King and I celebrated birthdays this month. I am now 53 years old and he is just 6 months old. He continues to grow. He is a very good dog. He weighs almost 90 pounds now and is as graceful as a fifteen year old boy 😮
     He has been getting an ever-increasing list of jobs around here. He watches over us no doubt and warns of anything different. He is always on guard even while playing. Recently, I have been training him to help move the pigs. So far it has been a hoot, but we are making progress.
     He is easy on the pigs. I am starting him on a group of piglets. They are becoming friends. He thinks he is playing with them, but the pigs are not so sure. When I am ready to put the pigs in their pens for the night, I make a hissing sound. The pigs run to the barn door, with King playfully in hot pursuit. Once the piglets are inside the barn, I praise my buddy and tell him what a good dog he is. I am sure that this breed is not intended to be a herding dog… so, don’t tell him. One thing for sure… Lucy would be proud. Putting the hogs where I wanted them was her job and she took it very seriously.
     As I write this blog, King lays by my feet. He is just close enough to touch me… his favorite spot and mine too. He has just had his bath. Pig chasing tends to require a shower afterwords. He takes it well, getting in and out of the bathtub when asked…. and no shaking afterwords!
     Warm weather and mud makes farming slow. The horses and I are managing to get some corn picked by hand . I have the mechanical picker ready to go for when conditions are right. I doubt that it will dry enough, but a freeze would work well. I want to try the horses on the powercart with the corn picker. I am one of the last to harvest my corn, but I was also one of the last to get it planted. So what? I will have enough to feed my animals through the winter and having enough is a good thing!
     Winter is looming, Christmas is coming and my off farm job has been demanding. I am hoping for things to slow down soon.. and they will. Work will return to my list of stuff that I want to do and all will be right in my world. The biggest job that I will have, is that of counting my blessings… what a wonderful thing!

Tie Stall Design for Drafts
December 16, 2011, 3:00 pm
Filed under: December 2011
Double tie stall for draft horses

December 16, 2011

     I was asked by a reader to please give a few more details about the kind of tie stalls that I use here on the farm for my draft horses. I will try to cover all the information and paint a picture of why I choose this type of stall. I do use a boxstall in conjunction with my tie stalls and my horses get daily excercise as well.
     The first consideration for using this double stall ( for 2 horses) is to insure that they know each other and do not fight. There is no partition in the center as you can see. I have used a swinging pole type partition if needed, but usually the horses will share the space provided without incident.
     The stall measures ten feet wide. A draft horse needs a five foot wide space. That five feet, will allow for easy access and enough room to harness the horse. It also  provides a large enough space for the horse to sleep, strectch and stand comfortable. Be careful not to go six feet wide because the horse is apt to try to roll in a stall that big. That event could spell disaster, even death, if it becomes entangled or cast in the stall. My stalls are seven feet from manger to the back of the stall. That gives enough room for the horse to lie down, but discourages him from manuring where he will sleep.
     I use our northeastern hardwoods for stall construction. The oak lumber is durable, tough and not easy to chew. The strength of the lumber is a good match for the strength and size of the horses. My mangers are three feet deep, three feet wide and ten feet long. I put a divider in at five feet to split the space and give strength to the manger.
     I tie up with a log chain about thirty inches long. The chain should be just long enough for the horse to lie down, as well as, reach his grain box. The grain box I locate in the outside corners of the manger, on the inside of that space. The horses turn their heads away from each other while they eat…again, eliminating the desire to fight 😮
     The log chain has a snap on one end and a heavy steel ring on the other. The steel ring hangs on the inside of the manger. I drill a two-inch hole, two and a half feet from the wall, at the center of each space. The chain passes through the hole and snaps to the horses halter. The large ring can’t get through the hole. The weight of the ring pulls the slack out of the chain as the horses moves forward in the stall. Gravity makes this all work and keeps any loop in the chain out of the equation.
     Tie stalls work very well for me. They make chores easier and faster. Feeding is a joy and mucking out the stalls is quick. The most important thing is, and I will say again, the horses must get excercise. That means working them every day or turning them out. They get bored easily and excercise helps this problem immensely.
     Dry, comfortable and clean stalls are a great wat to show how much you care about your horses. The tie stall also helps insure each horse gets its daily ration. They can be brought in and fed, then turned back out once all the feed is consumed. In winter, my horses spend the days outside working or on pasture. They spend their nights in the warm tie stalls.
      In summer, I do the opposite. The horses are in during the day away from the biting flies, unless we are working in the fields. At night, they have the run of the pasture in the cool darkness.
     I like the double stalls for my geldings. They know each other very well and are almost comforted by one another’s presence. I can harness easily in the wide stalls because the horses move for me. I know they are safe, well cared for and that gives me peace of mind.
     By clicking on the photo above, many of the details can be seen. I also use 3/4 inch rubber mats on the stall floor to provide an additional layer of comfort….. and on this farm… comfort is what it’s all about 😮