Shortly after we got our steer calves I got to work making a hay feeder. For those of you who follow me, you know I like to work with what I have on hand. For this project it happened to be a cattle panel, some fencing staples, some two by fours, and some electric fence wire.
I knew I wanted to use the horizontal support that was next to the gate to attach the top of the feeder. I took another two by four and ran it between the two vertical posts nearest the gate.
I had already bent the section of cattle panel into a “v” so I attached one end to the aforementioned horizontal support using fencing staples. I then attached the bottom of the “v” to the newly installed horizontal support.
In order to hold the other side of the “v” from bending down I took two 2×4’s and screwed them into the top support. I then used fencing staples to attach the “v” to the 2×4.
It was at this point I thought I was done. “Not so fast” said the crafty calves. They quickly learned that they could pull hay out of the ends and onto the ground. In order to stop, or at least slow, this practice I zig-zagged electric fence wire across the ends. That worked well.
Using what I had on hand, I was able to make a very serviceable hay feeder. Once the steers come back in the fall, and are much larger, this feeder probably won’t hold enough feed. I am hoping to make a round bale feeder, but that will be another post.
This past weekend was a great mix of fun and work. Saturday morning found the family cheering on Homestead Boy #1 at his swim meet. He loves swimming, we can hardly keep him from practice, and he has become quite good at it.
After that I headed to Firesign Family Farm and joined in the chicken butchering process. I have taken classes with Ruth, milking and cheese making, but this was all business. She let me come over to help out and learn the art of butchering a chicken. If you are squeamish, you may want to skip to the next paragraph. They had been going for a couple hours by the time I got there, so I just tried to jump in where I could and learn the whole process. The different stages of butchering are catching the chickens to be butchered, then, putting them in the killing cone and slitting their throats and letting them bleed out. After that they go on to the hot water bath for about 30 seconds to loosen their feathers followed shortly after by the plucker. Here is where small operation would be at a disadvantage, if you only butcher a handful of birds a year, a plucker probably isn’t in the budget. But having seen how well it works, I can’t imagine hand plucking. After sufficient time in the plucker it is on to head and feet removal. Ruth saves the heads and feed as she has a customer base that buys them with which to make chicken broth. After that, entrail removal. Here is where I learned that the size of my hands is not ideal for butchering chickens. In order to remove all of the entrails and guts, you really need to get your hand into the body cavity. I always ended up stretching and ripping the skin farther than you would normally prefer. For my own birds, it won’t be a big deal, but if I were to start selling them it might be something I need to think about. Then the birds were rinsed and chilled in water in a walk in cooler.
I very much enjoyed learning the process and hopefully I didn’t slow them down too much. It definitely made me think about the process of butchering my quail and how I will manage that with the size of my hands.
After butchering was over, I tagged along to help/watch an electric fence being set up for a new pasture for Ruth’s beef steers. Another thing I have read about and watched a video on, but had never seen done in person.
Then we waited for the stock trailer to arrive for steer transport. We set up for loading and were ready to go. The steers, however, weren’t interested. A few of them jumped the electric fence and none of them wanted anything to do with the trailer. After making several attempts and gauging our options, the decision was made that there was enough grass on premises to keep the steers at home.
While this was going on my wife took our kids as well as her sister and kids and went to the library for a treasure hunt activity and then on to a splash pad for some summer fun. As they weren’t home when I got back, I started cutting the grass around the house and barn. Finishing as they arrived home we grilled steaks and hot dogs for ourselves, my sister in law and nephews, and my in laws.
After dinner it was time to work on the rabbit cage again. Friday night after walking on the treadmill I cut the divider pieces to separate the cages. I had decided to split it into three cages instead of four so there was room for a doe and kits. Before my nephews left I had them help me with the J clips, I believe they thought that was pretty cool. Then I cut the piece for the top and started using J clips to attach it. Not long after I got going on that, Homestead Boy #1 asked if he could help. After I showed him the process I left him to finish and took some kitchen scraps down to the compost. By the time I got back he had finished and we had a cage separated into three to which we couldn’t get in.
Sunday morning before Mass I cut the holes for the doors and cut doors to cover them. The door openings are 12″x12″ and the doors are 13″x13″. They hang from the top and the hinges are made out of J clips. The reason for hanging them from the inside and from the top is so that if I were to forget to latch them, they would still fall closed. The spring latches were the finishing touch and the cage was ready to be set up. But that would have to wait.
After Mass we were able to spend some time visiting with good friends swimming and eating and watching the kids play. It was a lot of fun for both the kids and the adults. We always love spending time with our friends and this family has a very similar makeup to ours. They also have five children, have a very nice garden, and several chickens. I am trying to convince them they need a rabbit, but I’m not sure I’ve done it yet.
When we got home the boys wanted to help me set up the cage so we moved it to a temporary location that would work for now. Once we gift our original two rabbits away, I plan to make a rabbit shed with two tiers of cages in the location that some of the rabbit hutches are currently. We quickly set up some food bowls and I was able to get a multiple nipple watering system set up. I will need to get some more PVC fittings to make some more feeders. I also plan to get some sort of wire cover to keep all the sharp edges from cutting anyone. Suggestions for that would be greatly appreciated.
It was a productive weekend with the perfect mix of work, learning, family time, and fun. I never get as many projects crossed off the to-do list as I would like on the weekends but if you don’t take the time for family, friends, and fun what’s the point in doing all the other stuff?
One thing that I enjoy more than most things, is the building of community. It is something we are stressing at our Parish, and it applies in every day life as well. You can’t make it very far as a lone wolf. A group of like-minded individuals in any situation is important.
I have been lucky enough to have many people in my homestead community to help me learn. Many of those are you in the blogosphere who may not be close in proximity, but are teacher/mentor/community members nonetheless. I also have several people whom I know personally that I can call on when I have a question related to animals, gardening, compost, etc. My brother in law is my go-to with regards to animals. My friend Ruth at Firesign Family Farm is a jack of all trades and master of many.
Yesterday I met another person who I can add to my community. I was perusing Craigslist as I often do, and saw an add for organic raspberry plants. Since many of those that I obtained from Ruth got zapped by the late frost I thought that getting a few more plants would be a good idea. I set up a time to meet the gentleman and headed over.
I knew from talking to him on the phone he gardened organically, and that he used a large amount of worm castings from vermicomposting. As this is something I have been interested in starting, I was intrigued. Upon arriving he showed me his very healthy raspberry patch and started digging out several plants. I bought ten, he gave me about fourteen. He also showed me his vermicomposting hills as well as helped some of the kids pick raspberries and carrots. He is interested in chickens, which is something I do a little bit of, and I am interested in vermicompost so I plan on talking with him in the near future.
After dinner I was able to get all of the raspberries in the ground and watered. They didn’t need a whole lot of water since we had received almost .6″ of rain in the morning. Hopefully they are well established going into the fall and we get a good harvest next year.
Homestead Boy #2 is our animal trainer. He enjoys putting the dog on his leash and taking him for walks around the barn working on heeling. He has been asking about working with the steers and sheep and since the steers are over at my brother in law’s the sheep are more convenient. I was able to find our sheep lead rope and get it on our ram lamb, Boots. We worked with getting him used to the lead and rewarded him with sweet feed when he was accepting of it. I think he will be our 4-H kid.
They’ve moved on to greener pastures. It was inevitable really. It just wasn’t meant to last. Of course I mean that we have taken them to my brother in law’s house. It was the plan all along. He has more pasture fenced in than I do. So for most of the rest of the summer the cows will be at his house, fattening up on all the green grass they can eat. Meanwhile, with any luck, we will be able to stock up on hay here so that when Old Man Winter’s fridgid grasp takes hold we will have plenty to feed them here.
We also took my in laws’ two sheep to their house as well. He has a small sheep area that the two of them can eat down for awhile. That leaves us with our seven sheep here at the Homestead. Plenty to keep us entertained or to pet if you are so inclined to come over for a visit.
Since I have a lot to catch up on I’ll just keep moving back in time, sort of. About a week and a half ago our neighbor baled our field. She decided to give us this whole cutting and take the whole next one. Which brings us back to Independence Day. After spending the day with the family at a parade and then grilling I put the bale spear on the tractor for the first time. There was some discussion as to whether or not the tractor would be able to lift the bales, as they were fairly large. It ended up being moot as the tractor handled the bales without a problem.
When I had been finding time to trellis the garden, my method of choice was to cut off a length of twine the approximate length I thought I would need and take the jumbled mess down to the garden. This method was less than ideal so I had been brainstorming a different way. I came up with making a spool out of cardboard. It is a cheap and easy method that works well. I even cut a couple slots as keepers so that the spool doesn’t unwind when I don’t want it to. Early returns are good with this new method.
The biggest recent project was building a deck on the front of the house. It was big for a number of reasons. 1) We are supposed to have a landing at the doorway so this needed to be done. B) the last step up in our current stair setup was taller than the rest and less than safe. I still need to make new stringers but this is already a vast improvement. III) Having this allows our three year old daughter to get into the house by herself. Without the landing, her little arms couldn’t reach high enough so she had to have someone open the door for her. She can do it herself now. Most importantly my wife wanted this done. She puts up with so many of my ideas/projects that I had to move this project to the front of the line.
Luckily a doctor that my wife works with likes projects like this and he graciously offered to help. With his expert hand, and my brute force we were able to knock this 8’x8′ deck out in no time. About five hours from start to finish. Once I finish the stairs I will need to finish the railing as well, but that shouldn’t be difficult. We used composite for the decking material as it won’t splinter, key with th kids, and it is almost maintenance free. We are certainly blessed with amazing friends.
That is about as caught up as I can do for now. Until next time.
This evening after bringing Homestead Boy #1 home from swimming there were a couple hours that I could possibly get some work done in the garden, if the weather cooperated. I really didn’t have a choice. If I don’t keep working at it, the garden will get away from me. A storm had just passed by, so I listened to see if the thunder was far enough away to go pound T posts. Nothing like holding onto large metal rods in a thunderstorm to ruin your day.
I decided to cut grass for a few minutes. I have been taking bags of yard clippings and feeding them to the steers. I have read that it is ok to do that as long as you spread them out so they don’t mold. I haven’t been spreading them on the ground, but I have been putting them in the feeder I made so they get plenty of air circulation. Not to mention that with five hungry steers it doesn’t last long enough that it could mold.
I also used the mower to “weed” some of the garden. Where the space between the rows was big enough I used the mower to cut down the grass and weeds. It is only a temporary measure until I can get enough mulch to keep the weeds down. It isn’t great, but it’s what I had time to do.
After mowing I was able to get five T posts in the ground over the beans. I used twine and ran it around the posts to use as a trellis. The first line of Kentucky Wonder beans I planted had already started trying to use long grass and my blueberry bushes as trellises so this was long overdue. After getting the twine strung up, Homestead Boy #2 and I were able to string some of beans through them. It should work well.
I need to get the tomatoes trellised ASAP as well as getting anything that will produce food sprayed with an organic copper fungicide. With all this water, fungal problems are a likelihood.
While I was in the garden I noticed that they blueberries are starting to look blue, and I found a baby watermelon. Fun times.
I wrote this post last week, but in the process of waiting to get pictures uploaded and the busy-ness of life I forgot to actually post it. So here it is, late.
We got blasted yesterday afternoon and night with strong thunderstorms. The weather monitor showed that 3.2″ of rain dumped on us in less than 12 hours. The storms at night came complete with frequent, and close, lightning. It raised on the to-do list the need for a storm shelter here on the homestead.
With that much rain that quickly, the older chicks that are already outside got dumped on. They really aren’t the smartest of creatures. The pen they are in now has a roof panel on one end and has three sides on that end. It should be plenty weather proof and secure, but they always choose to sleep in the farthest corner away from the shelter. I even added a tarp over the corner they had been sleeping in, and they changed it up and slept in the other corner. It is frustrating, especially when it leads to losing birds, which happened last night.
Someone had asked if I use fertilizer, and I do. I have been using an organic fertilizer that I found at Costco. I started with a couple bags, and when it went on sale I bought about ten more bags.
The other day I got a call from the feed store we bought our chicks from. The call went something like this…
Feed Store: Yes, we are just calling to let you know that your turkeys are in.
Feed Store: You can pick them up anytime this afternoon.
Me: Oh, okay.
I ordered the turkeys when I picked up our chicks, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know I ordered them, but it also hadn’t been in the forefront of my mind with everything going on around here so I was a bit surprised by the call. Luckily the tupperware brooder was empty so we ran over to pick them up and quickly set up the brooder when we got home. They seem to be doing fine. The poults are doing fine and are more curious than most chicks I have had. One has been named Pecky by the kids because it likes to peck at things, including my phone.
The pumpkins have started coming up. We were late in getting them in, but hopefully they will be fine.
I also gave the cows another panels worth of grass. They had been getting pretty muddy with all the rain. Soon enough they will go to my brother in law’s and eat down one of his overgrown pastures while I get some more fence up here.
When we decided to get the calves I knew I needed to make some sort of shelter for them so they could get out of the rain and late afternoon sun. I didn’t want to break the bank to build it, so I started looking around at what I had to use. I had made the sheep shed out of pallets, so why reinvent the wheel? I set off to make a pallet shelter. This one was going to be temporary. At some point I plan to make a little more permanent, bigger, and maybe cement floored shelter, but not yet. The pallets would be held in place by T posts. So I found a few pallets the same size and some T posts.
In order to hold the pallets securely, I need to add a piece of scrap wood to each pallet, like this…
Once I had the pallets in place, I took a piece of cattle panel and bent it into an arc. I attached it to the pallets one side at a time using fencing staples.
Once both sides were attached I added the tarp.
I used exterior grade zip ties to fasten it into place. It is up against the fence, so the back side didn’t need any extra support.
It isn’t pretty to look at, and it won’t win any awards for engineering, but it works andit only took an hour to build. It was free to make, as I had all the supplies already on hand, and most of those supplies can be reused again if I am careful with them when I take it apart.
I think I posted on the Facebook page a while back something to the effect of, “Pallets and cattle panels are the duct tape of the Homestead.” Pretty accurate I think.
I feel as though I have been earning my sleep lately. Getting up at six to feed the cows before my wife heads to work, all the activities of each day, maybe some exercising after everyone’s in bed, and I get to bed around midnight every night. I am not sure my head even hits the pillow before I am out. Please forgive my if my editing is off.
The calf feedings have gotten much better. With the pivot-able cattle panel I am able to single out one calf for feeding without having all the others slobbering all over me or head butting me. Every once in awhile a second cow sneaks in and I have to stop everything and try to get them both on the other side of the panel. They aren’t stupid animals either, they know where they want to be and they don’t want to go back away from the food. Most days now, I just let them sneak their heads through the gap while they eat. This makes it much easier to back them out of the feeding area. We are starting to wean the largest calf this week. He is much larger than the rest and can easily be on hay/grass now. The next two biggest will start to be weaned next week, with the last two weaning the following week. They all are very interested in hay so they have access to that at all times. I made a hay feeder to keep the hay up off the ground so it doesn’t get wasted. I will post about how I built it in another post.
I have been working on the garden as often as possible as well. This week I have planted more beans, rainbow chard, and peas. I have also trimmed the frost damaged red raspberries in hopes that they will grow back. We have been enjoying a handful of strawberries about every other day. Tonight I cut some leaves of lettuce and had a salad. Nothing like eating freshly picked produce from your own garden.
Tractor Supply has been clearancing their plant materials. While I don’t need their $1 tomatoes, I did pick up another couple blueberry bushes, a few grape vines, and an apple tree to replace one of the mouse damaged ones that doesn’t look like it will make it. Nothing like clearance sales.
I have probably mentioned in the past that one of my favorite chicken breeds is the orpington, specifically the buff. One of my first chickens was a buff, and she was great. When we ordered chicks this spring, I made sure to get a couple buff orpington roosters and some hens. I also love the blue/black/splash color in orpingtons as well as the jubilee color. I recently found a gentleman on craigslist selling some jubilee chicks for a reasonable price. He is concerned about the bird flu and wanted to pare down his flock to a number he could keep isolated. Bonus for me. In order to make room for the 10 chicks I was getting from him, I sold the 6 eleven week old Rhode Island Red pullets that we had. The kids weren’t real happy with me, but I knew as soon as they saw the new chicks all would be forgiven, and it was. I should be able to make a decent profit on selling jubilee hatching eggs and chicks which will help the chickens pay for themselves in addition to regular egg sales. The jubilee are about half 2 week old and half 4 week old.
Just selling the RIR pullets wasn’t going to make enough room for the new chicks. The chicks that were ordered from our feed store are quickly outgrowing the brooder in the barn so I needed to make a transitional pen for them to be outside in. I got a really good start on that pen tonight. I decided to make an 8’x8’x2′ pen. This would eliminate almost all cutting except for the 2′ uprights. I am becoming an expert in building boxes so I was able to get this one put together in less than an hour. Then I added the roof panel and the sides. The sides are made out of cement board that I got for free on Craigslist. I was able to cut it with my 19.2 volt cordless mini circular saw. It is heavy board, so I will probably have to add wheels to the back of it in order to make it easily movable. I still need to add the chicken wire around the sides and a section of the top. In the middle of the top, I plan to make split lids so that most of the pen can be accessed from the middle. This design will also function as a meat bird pen when I get a batch of those.
I will be posting more on the chicken pen build as well as some of the other projects I have built recently as time allows. Until then…
Today was a great day, though it started a little rough. I woke up to feed the cows this morning as usual. This feeding may have been the roughest. They all know what the bucket means and it is no holds barred, cow MMA to get to it. Everyone else was asleep so it was just me, no boys to even help distract some of the other calves. I pretty much used every part of my body to box out the four calves who weren’t feeding, minus the one arm I was using to hold the bucket. Not only do they try to go through you, but they slurp all over you looking for milk. Cow kisses may sound fun, but not so much. I know you’ve all heard of Crossfit, but I think a tougher workout could be called Cowfit.
Then we had our three oldest’ last day of baseball. The kids love playing baseball, and I love coaching them and the other kids, but I am ready to have my Saturday mornings back so I can get things done around here.
This afternoon we celebrated Homestead Boy #3’s birthday with family. Being our fifth child this shouldn’t surprise me, but his first year flew by.
This evening, before going out for the evening feeding I got a comment on the blog from my good friend Laura about making a smaller pen to feed each individual calf so as to not take a bath in cow slobber. I had been thinking about that myself but her comment pushed it to the front of my mind. The best and simplest way I could figure with my setup was to take a cattle panel and hang it on one of the existing T posts as a pivot. I could then swing it out and hang it on a newly placed T post. It gives me just enough room to feed one calf and keep the others out. The best part is it will swing out of the way while not in use so I don’t have to remove it. I still have to use the empty bucket to convince the just-finished-eating-calf to leave the feeding pen, but I didn’t feel like I needed a bath when feeding time was over.
With a little time left before needing to get the kids to sleep I headed for the garden to get the pepper starts planted. Homestead Boy #2 helped for a bit, and Homestead Girl #1 helped the entire time. In all we planted 42 pepper plants of 4 or 5 varieties.
Yesterday I happened to find time to get the cucumber and watermelon starts planted. I also found several ripe strawberries that the kids thought were the best ever, and they were pretty tasty. I also got three grape vines planted. Tractor Supply had them on clearance for $4.99 so I couldn’t help myself. The vineyard is up to ten living plants with one I think I am going to need to have replaced. Homestead Girl #2 “helped” plant the watermelon. Between yesterday and today I have planted all of the starter seeds.
Yesterday evening was mostly uneventful. The steers nibbled some hay and mostly ignored me every chance they could. And they didn’t say much. I set the alarm for 6:30 so I could feed them before the kids were awake. Nice plan, right.
Well the kids took turns getting up throughout the night, and the cows are used to their first feeding around 3, so that is when they started making noise.
Let’s take a quick break and talk about how loud cows can be. I knew in my head that cows can be loud. At the rodeo when we are camping the rodeo bulls can be extremely loud. Even here at the homestead we have a herd of beef cattle about a mile away. If we are standing outside on a calm day, we can hear them bellowing. That’s loud.
So this morning when the cows’ bellies told them it was time to eat they weren’t quiet about letting me know. Finally around 5:30 I headed to the barn with a bucket full of warm water. I mixed 5 quarts of milk replacer and added in 5 quarts of milk that we were given to help ease the steers’ transition off milk.
The first feeding was an interesting experience. I was expecting to be able to hold a bucket in each hand and feed two calves at a time. Not so much. I had to feed one at a time and use my off arm to fend off the rest of the calves. All the while getting slobbered on by the calves trying to get to the bucket. The only major hiccup was that calf #4 wanted nothing to do with me or the bucket. I ended up chasing him around the pen trying to get him interested in the bucket while fending off the rest of the calves. Then I figured if I put the lead rope on him and took him out maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about the other calves. Well that was a complete, total, and abysmal failure. He did not like the lead rope at all. After reentering the pen I finally cornered him and grabbed him around his belly with one arm while stuffing the bucket in his nose. That finally worked and he slurped down the milk.
It was amazing how quickly they drank down the bucket of milk. The two quarts of milk/replacer disappeared in about ten seconds.