Monday, October 19, 2009

Busy Preparing for Winter

Will life ever slow down? Hollie and I ask ourselves this nearly every day. It seems like every time we get close to catching up on our projects a new one pops up that costs both time and money. Here is one of those extra projects we had last week.

We bought 12 tons of premium dairy grade alfalfa that is a staple ingredient of our All Natural, Humanely Treated, Pasture Raised Berkshire pigs’ diet. We purchased the alfalfa from our neighbor Scott or “Scooter” as us locals call him. Even though I learned how to judge alfalfa in college, I am sure that anybody could take one look at this alfalfa and recognize quality when they see it. Scooter, does many things well but he excels at putting up quality hay. Because he was so busy selling his hay this year, I arranged for another neighbor, Marlin or Vern as us locals call him to pick the bales up out of the field with his bale wagon. (Are you noticing a pattern here with nicknames? I don’t dare ask what they call me : ) ) A bale wagon is a nifty piece of equipment that picks up and stacks the hay 9 or 10 bales high. When Vern came to drop off the hay, I was prepared with a 16’ long steel section of pallet shelving to serve as a brace as his bale wagon slowly scooted the hay stack from the wagon to the ground. As I was bracing the hay, the 12’ high stack started to swagger and I dove out of the way as 4 tons of alfalfa came crashing down. Unfortunately, the next two loads didn’t go any better and when we were all done, I had a huge unstable mess with rain in the forecast. I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to restack this hay by myself before the rain came. So I called the biggest kid in town Melvin or Big Mel, and offered him a higher wage than he normally charges to come help me stack hay. Then I called Vern and asked him to come over with his tractor so that we could stack bales in the loader and lift them as we stacked higher and higher. For the next two nights we met after Vern and I got home from work and Melvin got home from baseball practice. My brother in law Stan and good friend and neighbor Rich were kind enough to stop by and help stack as well. We finally got the hay stacked and covered. When I woke up the next morning, it had rained all night and fortunately, the hay was dry.

Extra projects like our hay experience can quickly eat into our time and profits. We closely track our farm budget to help make sure we are staying profitable. However, when we forecast our budget it is difficult to anticipate these unforeseen expenses.

Once the hay was stacked, I was able to finish my watering station. This is my own invention consisting of a pressurized pipe with watering nipples lined with a heat cable and then heavily insulated. We will see if it keeps us from chopping ice all winter. Part of this project was pouring a concrete pad all around the watering station to prevent a mud hole. I decided to mix and pour my own concrete which ended up using 38 bags. It honestly was a little easier than I anticipated and I have some other projects I will attempt next spring using concrete. In order to power the heating cable, I needed to run electricity out to our pasture. So I bought lots of wire, conduit, fittings, and outlets and went to work. I decided to run the conduit on top of the ground along the fence lines. In this case the cost of the extra wire and conduit around the perimeter was cheaper and faster than trenching a line across the field. While I was at it, I ran a line up to the chicken coop so that we can heat the chicken waterer and provide extra light so we can have a few eggs through the winter. Once you have eaten fresh eggs, you just can’t go back to store bought eggs regardless of the bogus labels they put on their eggs.

In between these projects, we also decided to till up an acre and replant it with new pasture. It is coming up nicely and hopefully by spring it will really take off. Prior to tilling our field, I dug up and moved some fruit trees that we had planted a few years ago. They just haven’t done so well. When I dug them up, I saw why. The gophers have been eating the roots. On some trees the trunk was just a sharpened stick in the ground. So now it is World War III at our place. With the field plowed, it is easy to identify the new mounds that they dig. I have been digging their mounds until I find their tunnels and then set traps in the tunnels. With just one acre, I have already trapped 18 gophers; including one great big gopher that dug a huge mound right in the middle of our new lawn. It would be much easier and quicker to poison the gophers but we are committed to keeping our land free of chemicals and such. Besides, with chickens and pigs roaming the pasture, we don’t want to ever risk poisoning our animals and food.

As you can see, we have been busy, but we love (almost) every minute of it. : ) I hope we have made all the necessary preparations for winter.

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