I’m Tired
All tuckered out from playing with the tire swing!

All tuckered out from playing with the tire swing!

June 30, 2015

Today, as I waited for more rain to fall, I installed tire swings for my pigs playtime. “What?”, you ask. Yes, tire swings. The pigs love to play with them. They bite on them. They push them around with their noses. They even crawl through them and rub their bellies. It is funny as heck to watch them play. In the past I have also used old bowling balls to give them something to do. I will say though, they like the tires best 😮

Often our pigs are outside. The sow herd is currently enjoying a big pasture from which to graze, play and wallow in the mud. These smaller ones would cause a big fight if I was to put them in with the sows. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. It is much better for these fattening pigs to have recess on the feedlot and play on the tire swings for fun. They do get to go out and play in the mud in a little paddock next to the barn. I guess they just like being pigs, eating , playing and resting…and best of all growing, in a stress free environment.

We have been using sawdust for bedding this summer. We tried chips, but they weren’t absorbent enough. The sawdust gets damp and stays cool. We scoop out the poop and strip the stalls when needed. The pigs like the damp cool sawdust on hot days. They stay comfortable and clean. The pen smells like sawdust too, a much better odor than pig poop!

The horses got their feet trimmed today. Knight has soft hooves, so he keeps shoes on all year. Duke and Hoss have hard feet that just need trimmed usually. I do put steel shoes on when working on the road or heavy work where they could slip. Our jobs for the next few months are light. We will mostly work in the hay fields. Well, that is the hope anyway 😮

One of our gilts watches a bird

One of our gilts watches a bird

And they go with Ice Cream too!
June 28, 2015, 3:33 pm
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Raspberries ripening in the new bed

Raspberries ripening in the new bed

June 28, 2015

We have been enjoying this awesome fruit for a few days now. I like raspberries in yogurt, plain in my hand and on ice cream! My grandma Rice used to make homemade ice cream and just about the time it was done, she’d throw raspberries into the churning, freezing mixture that I love so very much. I have many fond memories of licking that red-ish purple treat. Sometimes, when I eat a raspberry, I can almost hear my grandma’s voice or feel her touch. Yes, there is magic in those berries!

I transplanted these plants early this spring. I was hoping they would survive in their new space. I never imagined that they would thrive! I am guessing the success is due in part to our rainy weather. The space between plants is helping to prevent plant problems like powdery mildew. This has been a great project and we are being rewarded with tasty, sweet fruit for our efforts.I even plan to dry a few leaves to be brewed for hot tea on a cold winter night 😮

June is fast coming to an end. It’s had to believe that one third of our summer is over. Our hay is still standing and many early summer projects are on hold. All is well, as long as, there are such wonderful things such as fresh raspberries and ice cream!

Great Year for a Raised Bed
June 27, 2015, 3:34 pm
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Garden beds starting to look good

Garden beds starting to look good

June 27, 2015

As I write this post, rain is hammering down outside. We have gotten over 2 inches since 5am this morning. We are still pretty wet from the last rains we got a few days ago. I am very glad to be gardening in raised beds this year. The plants, though well watered, are still doing great as their roots are above the flood zone 😮

It does take some getting used to. I usually have many more plants to weed and watch over. Our garden needs have become smaller as our family has too. Gardening like this is actually fun. It doesn’t take any time to weed or hoe a bed. The dirt is loose and easy to dig into. The best part is that even when it is wet, my shoes stay clean as I do my “dirt work” standing on the lawn!

The sugarhouse addition is coming along, but the rains have delayed that project a little too. No worries, I am sure it will wait for me! My biggest issue is waiting to make dry hay for the horses. That too will all work out, I along with everybody else in northeast Ohio, just needs to be patient.

Laying Hens
June 25, 2015, 7:40 am
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The Lil Red Hen takes a break!

The Lil Red Hen takes a break!

June 25, 2015

“Who wants to spend their life in a small cage, laying eggs?” … “not I”, said the Lil Red Hen

“Who wants to live in a crowded barn with 49,999 other hens?” …”Not I”, said the Lil Red Hen

“Who thinks overcrowding, antibiotics, and fecal matter so thick a hen can’t breathe is the way to raise chickens? … Certainly not I”, said the Lil Red Hen

It’s not funny! It is true. I can’t help but wonder about all the hype caused by the “avian flu”.  “They” say it came from China. Hmmm, now we are supposed to be glad that our egg prices won’t go up because we are going to import eggs…from China!

“They” say us backyard flocks are the problem. I say bullshit! I think this is one more way to scare city people into “buying what they are selling”. I think it’s one more way for our far reaching government to control us. I fear their efforts to “help me out”.

Thomas Jefferson said, “A government big enough to give us all we want, is big enough to take all we have.” I think these words have never been truer. “I love my country, but fear my government”….. what a sad thing to say…, said the Lil Red Blogger.

Man of Steel?
June 23, 2015, 8:50 pm
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Pig Barn contrast between wood and steel

Pig Barn contrast between wood and steel

June 23, 2015

After sixteen years, two of our buildings built on a shoe string from wood sawn from our woodlot, are getting a facelift. I built them and stained them in 1999. The stain has faded and it is time to spruce them up. My wife suggested covering them with steel siding. We are almost done with this project and it is very cost effective. No painting now for thirty years…that will not be my job!

We removed the batten strips that covered the cracks between boards. The steel we screwed onto the boards. What a facelift! The buildings look crisp and new. Yes, I will have to stain a few pieces of fascia, but big deal. The new look more than makes up for those places. Plus, if you stand out at the road and look at them, they even look better, smaller, but better 😮

My old farm hand, who is now a carpenter, has been installing the siding. He had not worked with steel siding before this job. I knew his work ethic and his attention to detail. I had no fear that he would do fine. I am very pleased with his work on this job and on many jobs before this one. He did enlist some help from a friend one day and his dad has been along for a couple days too. Justin went from learner to teacher in the scope of this job…I am not surprised… I always thought of him as a man of steel!

Throwing Stones
June 22, 2015, 9:01 pm
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Limestone added to get rid of the mud

Limestone added to get rid of the mud

June 22, 2015

Upon removing the old shelves that have held our storage tanks for the last four years, that whole area was soft and muddy. I threw limestone there to make for a much better walkway. Part of our floor is pea gravel that had been added when we built the sugarhouse. It has worked well, but is disappearing into the ground. This new layer of limestone, gives everything a fresh look. It also holds up a portly farmer with small feet 😮

Today was hot and muggy, but a good breeze blew for most of the day. I baled some “wet” bales for a neighbor. These “wet” bales will be wrapped in plastic and turned into silage. A sweet smelling, high protein feed for cattle and sheep, silage is a great crop, especially now when the hay drying days of summer are fleeting. This grass gets mowed one day and left to wilt down. The next day it is raked, baled and wrapped in plastic. Sealed up without the presence of oxygen, the bale ferments.

This process is old, but the balers and wrappers are fairly new. I am helping a neighbor in exchange for using this high priced equipment. I, however, have an idea. I read about silage being made in very poor countries by filling plastic bags with wet grass. The bags are sealed with a knot then tape. They are stored under the beds in mud huts until needed to feed the family cow or water buffalo. This low input method of making silage is right on my radar screen… more to follow 😮

I am sure that when I am out in my barnyard stuffing bales into large plastic bags, a farm neighbor will drive by and snicker at my attempts to make silage. I am sure it will work…so I will laugh all winter long while feeding this awesome forage to my livestock. My friendly “snickerers” should remember folks in glass houses should not throw stones!

Made in the Shade
June 21, 2015, 9:36 am
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The new addition on the Sugarhouse

The new addition on the Sugarhouse

June 21, 2015

Yesterday, in the shade of some sugar maples, we started on the sugarhouse addition. This add on will house a large tank. The tank will have two jobs. It will hold over 1200 gallons of sap waiting to be boiled and it will be the tank that feeds the evaporator. Boiling maple sap is a continuous process, so having the incoming sap readily available is very important. The big tank will replace the old tanks in the foreground of this photo.

The boards on the new addition, down low, are a temporary thing to keep the sheep from taking up residence under the building. I don’t mind them there, it’s the manure they would leave behind that I want to avoid! The building went up fast, thanks in part to all the help from my friend Marvin and his sons. We had a good time in the shade of those trees, while working together 😮

We had enough time for the young boys to fish for bass in the farm pond. We drank coffee and cold drinks, shared a meal and lots of conversation. Piece by piece the building took shape. The roof and siding are all that remains to finish. A pair of doors on the west side will be built. The door will allow for easy installation of the big tank. A set of stairs will be built inside the sugarhouse for easy entry to the new space, then this project will be complete.

The best part of this whole project for me, will be the ability to stand next to the tank and clean it out easily. The drain will direct wash water outside. I have struggled for the last four years with my old system. I could get the job done, but man was it ever difficult! This new addition, built under the trees, by me and my friends will serve us well for the rest of my life.

"Buster" climbs the sidewall

“Buster” climbs the sidewall

Safe and Sound
June 20, 2015, 9:37 pm
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Our hens inside their portable shelter

Our hens inside their portable shelter

June 20, 2015

Our hens are really enjoying this portable shelter. It has very secure sides made from welded wire and conduit. It has a white canvas top to protect them from the sun and rain alike. It has wheels that lift it up when moving is desired and it looks good from all directions. The hens are safe from wildlife and the wayward neighbor dog intent on having a chicken dinner 😮

The white canvass top reflects the sunlight and makes a nice shady cool place for them to graze, rest and run about. They pick weeds and grass, deposit their manure and get fresh air all in the safety of this pen. I move it when the grass gets short or about every 3 days. We only have eight hens, so it takes them a while to glean the pen area.

I am liking this very much. I know the girls are safe and sound from every harmful thing. I can go about my routine without worrying about them. They were about to start into a molt, but the new grass and whatever else they want, seems to have helped them to pick up egg production again. Our birds usually free-range, but I have planted their three acre pasture to speltz. The foxes can sneak in very close in the high grain, so our girls are now incarcerated …but they are happy about it!

I Got You Covered
June 19, 2015, 10:41 pm
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Main road culvert finally in place

Main road culvert finally in place

June 19, 2015

I have crossed this small stream for over twenty years. In summer it’s no big deal, because the water level is usually very low. The rest of the time, this area is a mess that I avoid. I tried to place rocks in the streambed where the wheels would go. It was a very short term fix, that didn’t work. I mowed the grass to help the area dry out. This too helped some, but was not a real solution.

I next tried installing a culvert. I messed that job up too. I used a culvert that was too small for the job. I didn’t bury it deep enough. We got a very big rain. The culvert, along with all my hard work, was washed out in an instant. I was not happy, but I did realize that this was a bigger job than I gave it credit. I was in almost over my head, literally as I stood knee deep in mud waving bye to my culvert.

Finally, I enlisted the help of a man who installs culverts and other excavation work, for a living. He did, what took me an entire day, in the space of several minutes. He made it look easy. It is a much better job than I could ever do, but he did have an awesome “big boy” toy. I will put some stone in a place where the water seeps. I will cover the bare dirt with bark mulch and eventually grass, on top of mulch hay left from an old round bale.

I can’t believe how simple this solution really was in the end. It wasn’t expensive and it is doing a great job. The water runs through clean and clear. I can chalk this up as another great project in our quest to be good stewards of our farm and wetland. Seems almost funny that this solution was so simple, cost effective and easily done. I just had to ask the right guy, and like the culvert…he had me covered 😮

Destruction begets Construction
June 18, 2015, 9:41 pm
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The old tanks are out

The old tanks are out

June 18, 2015

The rain won’t stop, so just like when life gives you lemons and you make lemonade, I am working on projects where the rain won’t matter. My new tank will be manufactured by the first of October. I want the sugarhouse addition to be completed before the tank is ready. I want to bring it home and slide it right into place. The addition will accommodate the tank with just a little room for storage.

The addition will resemble a mezzanine. A small porch like structure, built up in the air, allowing gravity to feed maple sap to my evaporator. The new addition and tank will make it much easier for cleaning. In any part of the food industry, clean up is the most important job. Making this job easier is a wonderful thing!

The construction project will take a few days, but having it completed before haying season fills my schedule from daylight to dark, is pleasing. I have enlisted the help of my friend Marvin. He and I share work. We trade labor for labor. It is a good system that costs us nothing and cements a longtime friendship. His concerns become my concerns and visa-versa. We share work, wisdom and fellowship as we work out projects and problems.

It is bittersweet to rip part of my sugarhouse apart. I like this little building and it has served me well. I see this new addition as a very important part of our operation. We need the storage space as our maple syrup operation grows. The move to a one tank system will make my sap boiling job much easier and less stressful. Currently, I to have to keep an eye on tank levels and transfer when needed. That has to be done in-between loading the firebox, drawing off syrup and keeping a watchful eye on the boiling liquid….trust me when I say this new project will ease my burden significantly.