Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

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What’s been happening at the farm, you ask? Oh, you don’t? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. No, we don’t have our alpacas here yet. And soon you’ll understand why. There were just a few little details we needed to take care of before the place would be ‘paca-ready. Such as… MANURE REMOVAL: The 16’x10’ horse shelter/barn floor was completely covered in 3’ of compacted horse manure. That’s 480 cubic feet of rock solid manure. None of the barn doors could be opened or closed, they were completely encased. I mucked it out with a pitchfork, one small chunk at a time. This task alone probably took over six hours. I broke it up over a couple of weeks to save wear on my back, but still managed to strain a muscle which hurt for three weeks.

Have pitchfork, will muck! After that experience I decided we needed to hire a Bobcat to come and move the manure away from the barn. Where I chucked it out the north door, there now stands a heap about 4’ high. And in the front pen where the horses were fed and corralled close to the barn, the entire paddock is built up about 2’ with hay and manure. The Bobcat is coming this week. I can’t wait! Big Pile O' MOUSE REMOVAL: In the very last corner I mucked out of the barn, where the manure wasn’t so solid and was mixed with old hay, just as the sun was setting and I was losing all light in the barn, I discovered a nest of mice. They were itty bitty things, I could barely feel them when I picked them up (with leather gloves on). I grabbed one in each hand and marched them down the driveway, across the busy highway, and tossed them into the cornfield. I went back two more times, finding four total. I doubt they were big enough to survive. But I just couldn’t bring myself to squash them. Minnie? I found this full-sized mouse hanging out in the tack room of the barn a few days earlier. It wasn’t the least bit concerned about my presence, even posing while I snapped several photos. I brought Zoey & Kali out to the tack room but the mouse escaped before they could catch it. I suspect it was related to the clutch I found in the barn. TACK ROOM CLEANOUT: Like most things around the property, the tack room needed work. I hauled out the horse trough, wooden pallets, rotting bales of hay and all of the gear that was left behind, then took a shovel and scooped out the sand and dirt that had piled in on top of the cement floor. Within that 2” mixture of dirt and sand on the floor I found: • Two screwdrivers • A rusty hammer • A tool for cleaning horse hooves • Numerous rusty horseshoe nails • Numerous rusty horseshoes • Dozens upon dozens of hay bale twine strands • Nails from the plastic insulator clips for the electric fence • Two blue tarps almost completely covered in dirt • Pieces of broken window It is now ready to be used for hay storage and tack again. HORSE TROUGH: There was a full-sized horse trough near the barn with about 2-4” of slimy green water in the bottom of it. The drain plug was rusted shut, I don’t think it had been drained all summer. Or maybe, ever. The trough was too heavy to push over to drain, so I got out my shovel and dug a trench along the front, moving the manure away from the front edge, then went around to the other side and using my shovel again, levered it up enough that I could then push it over and dump out the remaining water, which pooled around in divots of horse manure making a wonderfully slimy mess for me to walk around while yanking the now empty trough out of the paddock.

hay trough? summer bathtub?

It now rests beside the barn, on its side, and when I rinsed it out today, I saw at least a couple of tiny holes in its rusty bottom. Therefore, I might use it as a hay feeder instead. There is a much smaller horse trough and heated water bucket that I should be able to put to use for water that will be much easier to move around and clean. WEED REMOVAL/PASTURE REFURBISH: I have pulled a lot of weeds in my life. I love to garden actually. But I have never seen so many weeds. Ever. Anywhere. In my life. I decided I could pull the majority of the big ones along the electric ribbon fence line (see the white electric ribbon below? Oh, you don’t? That’s because the weeds are SIX FEET TALL), but for the brushy areas of the northwest corner, we’re going to have to rent a brush mower. Or some goats.

After the Bobcat comes to move the manure and spread some of it around the front pasture, we plan on renting a harrow to break up the compacted mud/dirt/manure and then reseeding, but perhaps not until spring, since it's late to be reseeding. We'll "seed" how it goes. Along with the weeds, several errant tree saplings had been left to grow in very undesirable places. Like next to the house. In various garden beds. In the dog kennel. Another back-breaking chore, getting those things out. They don’t just pull out nicely like the weeds in the pasture. It takes a shovel and a lot of jumping up and down. I have not yet finished weeding her garden beds on the west side of the house, which, for all intents and purposes looks like a field of grass. But that won’t deter the alpacas, so we let it be for now. FENCE REPAIR: The fence was in various stages of disrepair like most of the rest of the property. I secured a quantity of used 1”x6” boards that we repurposed for fixing fence rails that were broken or missing altogether. In some spots the owner had tied twine across the gaps, I guess to trick the horses into thinking the fence still existed. In many areas the boards had warped and pulled out of their posts completely. After repairing what was loose or missing, I was able to get the front of the fence (facing Highway 7) primed and painted in a nice new coat of white. What a difference that made! white split rail fence Now whenever I am driving home I smile as I am greeted by a complete fence (no gaps!) all in a nice shiny white. There are many many strings of white Christmas lights wrapping the front and driveway side of the fence. I had to remove them to paint, and we tested the strings and replaced the bad bulbs and are putting them all back up again so we can light up the fence for special occasions (like our upcoming Fall Festival/Open House Bonfire on Sat. Oct. 23). insulators and polywire In addition to fixing the rails of the fence, we also felt we needed to add electric fencing below the lowest rail, which at some parts was a good 24” above ground level - high enough for a curious alpaca seeking greener grass to crawl right under.

We spent a couple of weekends visiting area farm supply stores pricing out the various types of insulators and electric fencing supplies, finally settling on lightweight polywire. We hammered in over 200 plastic insulator clips in 2 lines below the lowest rail, and ran two lines of polywire around the entire perimeter. We are going to add another line of polywire between the bottom and second rail also. It’s not dog-proof, that’s for sure, but hopefully it will convince a critter there are easier targets elsewhere. I have spoken to several farmers in the area that raise sheep and alpacas – none have ever had a coyote in their pasture. But there is always a chance. We have a bright light on the garage all night long, and will consider getting a dog &/or llama if circumstances require it. I may also have to learn how to shoot with Pappa Bear’s 22. PANELS: In addition to fixing up the rail fence, we decided to purchase a quantity of 5’x9’ light livestock corral panels. These come in handy in so many ways. We can use them to build pens inside the barn, we can use them as “catch pens” to funnel animals into when we need to work with them, we can make a large corral along the fenceline to keep 'pacas in when we have farm visitors, and we can build temporary corrals to graze the animals around the yard… no gasoline or electric cord required! (Plus, extra fertilizer for the lawn!). lightweight corral panels We don’t yet have a pickup truck here in MN (PB’s 1962 Int’l 3/4 ton pickup is still in WY) so we did what any inventive soul would do – used what we had available to move the panels home. That’s 6 panels and a 16’ hog panel tied onto the roof racks of my ’95 Geo Prizm. I would call it my “redneck pickup” but my sister reminded me most rednecks drive real pickup trucks so I guess it’s my ghetto pickup. Or pseudo pickup? I still like redneck pickup personally. '95 Prizm Pickup Like anyone who owns property (even though we don’t), the list of little (and big) jobs is a long one. So yes, we’ve been staying busy these days, although it might be hard to notice the progress we’ve made so far. And yes, I miss my girls, and Monet, desperately. We may not move the girls here this fall, but our hopes are to move Monet here for sure, along with some more fiber boys as buddies. I dream of one day very soon, looking out the windows in the morning as the sun is rising over the pastures, and seeing, rather than weeds and manure piles, grass growing and my boys grazing happily. Until then, I pull weeds, repair fences, price out feed and supplies, and count my many blessings. Cheers –

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