Tuesday, December 31, 2013

COLD! COLD! COLD!


This photo has nothing to do with the renovation, but it's really, really cute!

Today was below freezing, I had the southern door to the barn open to catch the sun. It kinda helped warm up the barn, as long as I was standing in the sun. The hens loved the fact they could scratch around in the straw and sunbathe in Chicken World.

The pallets are really hard to pull apart. It's takes at least a half-hour to get a board and maybe 1 minute to put it up, so I'm not making a whole lot of progress at any one time. However, it's steady progress, the interior looks a lot better.

I need more pallets.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Renovation Frustration



In case you, dear reader, didn't know - I'm a small woman. I claim to be 5' 5", but I'm pretty sure that's in heels.

It's really frustrating - because when it comes to raw strength - I don't have any. Everything I do has to be thought out, because where a grown man can muscle his way through a task, I have to finesse it.

When it comes to horses, a small woman needs to have leverage, and a pocket full of treats. I've learned to handle my big Quarter horses, because they trust me and for the most part go along with good humor. This is also why I don't mess around with other people's horses. I know from years of hard knocks that I'll get hurt.

My alpacas seem very, very small after a lifetime with horses. With Grumpy and Bashful, it's a matter of using the least possible pressure - they become more relaxed. Even Grumpy has started to grunt in protest instead of screaming, spitting or cussing at me. These days he's just - you know - grumpy.

I do what I can to spoil the little beasts. I only got them in November, but they've come along faster than expected. They might be smarter than I gave them credit for - I hope so, I didn't give them credit for much.

Anyways, back to the Renovation of Chicken World. Taking apart pallets requires raw strength AND leverage. I've got a bit of leverage, but I'm completely knackered out on strength. My wrists and forearms are swollen from yanking nails and banging around with with a 3 lb sledge.

When I built the first nest boxes, I used screws because I knew I was going to go back and change it all around. I just didn't know it would take me 8 years to get around to it.  The roosts got put in at an angle, which worked until I needed more space, and better access. Which is RIGHT NOW! lol I have to put up more roosting timbers which means I have to take down what's already up there.

What I find completely frustrating is that once I've started a project, it is assumed that I shall finish it - requiring no help from others. In fact, if I ask for help, I get turned down.

I think I shall stop here, so this doesn't turn into a nasty rant. The good thing about frustration is that it makes it much more fun to bang around with a hammer.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Renovating Chicken World

The last few weeks have been cold, and windy.

I've been unhappy with the fact that Chicken World is bare metal in the inside. It was supposed to have sheets of paneling against the walls to buffer against freezing wind and burning heat. But that didn't come to pass. So, I'm working on it - by cutting up used pallets and nailing the boards to the wall.

There are a lot of ways to reuse pallets. Google opened up a rabbit hole that sucked me inside for several hours.

I'm going to finish up Chicken World before I try to expand our shed using pallets. (hehehehehehehe!) Seriously, this is a very slow progressing project. The pallets have to be taken apart - not easy! Although, we did buy a crowbar/wrecking bar/nail puller and a rubber mallet, to make it a bit easier.

Still, it take raw muscle to pry the slats off the pallet. Then there are the nails - dozens of nails that can't be allowed to escape. I've got a huge plastic jar about 1/3 full of nails already.

Anyways - I'm putting new nest boxes up, and making more roosting space. Alot more roosting space. Then, if I can figure out a way to do it with a sprayer, I want to whitewash the walls.

What I've got done, so far, is a partial take down of the old nest area, and one half of one wall completed. It's been SO slow, I'm dismantling, because I want to re-use the wood and the screws. This will be the 3rd go-round for some of these materials. Nothing like recycling - saves me a buncha money.

The top third of the wall takes about 33" slats. I've got some that were already painted white, they look like siding. They are going by the window, to reflect the light. The thickest boards are going where I'm putting up nest boxes and roosts.

The center third and lower third will require 24" slats. These won't need to hold any weight, so they can be thin. I've got a few center boards in place. These slats seem to make the most difference in the temperature of the air. I think it might be because I use a deep litter - enough to heat up. Heat rises.

The window was on the outside - a couple of chickens banged into it, nearly knocking it down. It leaked air instead of keeping the wind out after that. I've tried a couple of times to put it right. Until I finally took it completely down and put it inside, I couldn't get it secure.

Now, there are just little gaps around the window - can't put a finger between it and wall any more! Of course this means that the hole outside the wall needs to have some kind of framing. Don't know what yet, but I'm working on it.

The goal is to moderate the winter temperature - so cold snaps don't stop the eggs from hatching. We'll have to see how that works out. So far the window made the most difference. I'm looking forward to moving the roosts and the nest boxes. I think I can predict where the ducks will lay and where the hens will lay. The geese will lay on the ground...need to leave space for them!

Stay tuned!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Happenings

Though I didn't deck out my house this year, I did put seat to chair and spin up a mile of yarn. Including a 4 oz. braid of jewel-toned green and blue alpaca that I bought in summer, back before I could spin on a wheel. I finished that last night, it's a magnificent skein, 230 yards!

I also knitted and crocheted some lovely gifts. Hats, scarves, and a purple & white snood that was really lovely. That's counting the hat that grew wings and flew away. I'm going to need to replace it.

There are still a few more skeins to spin. Hubby and I carded three batts of fiber: white, chocolate and black, all enhanced with some firestar fiber.

In chicken world, I started a major project: Paneling the walls with wood salvaged from pallets, redoing the nest boxes and adding roost space. There's also the matter of the window that isn't flush against the outside wall. I want to move it inside so it lets in light, not the wind. (We'll see if I can pull that one off. Might be beyond my skill level.)

At present, all the nests are against a metal wall. The hens don't get any relief from the cold or the heat. It's mostly just a wind break. The warm spot is the roost across the way. But not all the chickens are welcome there.

I think this has a lot to do with my losses in the winter. The chickens who need the shelter from the cold can't get it. The eggs get chilled and will crack in the cold, which means I don't get many hatchings in the spring.

So, Chicken World gets a make-over, it might take a year to "get'er done." But it's a worthy project.

I'm not going to promise anything on the writing front, but I have been looking over my WIPs. Winter is always my best writing season. Now that I'm not at the Farmer's Market two days a week, I might just have time to finish up a story or two.

It's good to have goals.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Not Feeling the Holiday? Me, either.

I know, you expected a glowing post about the holiday - or a short story with a holiday theme. Not this year, I just don't have the energy to fake it.

I lost my faithful canine companion last week. I'm not feeling Christmas this week. There is always next week, or next year.



Instead, I'm going to write about the farm, our home.

As I've written previously, the horses aren't getting along with the alpacas. I'm a bit worried, though I know that I can smooth things over between the two species, in time. I think I'll give it a few more weeks before I push them together.

Tonka is getting a little more tolerant every day. He spits less and the tone of his grumbling is less strident. Sometimes, when I say 'touch' he will lean his neck in my direction, protesting vocally, but not physically.

The geese are fighting, yet again. It appears to be one of the yearling ganders and the gander hatched this spring. I'm getting tired of breaking them up, I started kicking the ensigator outside. My plan, as soon as I figure out which is which, is to bring the females into chicken world.

The ganders can stay outside.

The ducklings have suffered some major losses. I've got 4 little bitty ones and 2 young yellow ones in the tack room. The light bulb in the brooder burned out last night, they survived by huddling together.

There were eight or nine older ducklings, getting their feathers, but I've lost all but four. One is very bold, came right up to me and sat on my foot this morning. It didn't like being scooped up, but I didn't want the horses to step on it. They wanted OUT this morning.

The chickens are finally laying eggs in tune with the season. I got three eggs yesterday and two today. They lay just enough to fill my orders and still have enough eggs for us. I'm fine with that for a couple more weeks. As soon as the days start getting longer, production will pick up.

Which brings me to the horses. The old gelding is looking very sleek these days. I've already bought 2 round bales. The horses demolish the bales as soon as they are off the trailer. I think the bales last 2 weeks, but I'm not sure. This is really good hay, so I'm pleased to be able to get it.

The old mare is having foot trouble. She's got some nasty cracks in her front feet and a big chunk taken out of one back foot. The weather hasn't helped, the stalls are damp from outside water wicking in. It doesn't seem to matter that I've got 8 inches of gravel under those stalls and 5 inches of shavings on top. The wet ground doesn't stop at the barn walls.

I've got the hens inside the barn all day. They fluff the horse bedding and generally scratch around in the stalls. It's good for the hens and the horses. I keep throwing more shavings on top, hoping to get above the wet, without any luck.

If I can get a couple of dry days I can improve things. But there's no sense in getting the lawn mower and the manure spreader stuck in the mud until either the ground freezes or dries. It's a typical winter problem.

I can get around it by driving out the front door and spreading the soiled bedding in the lower front pasture. That's what I did today. Got the old mare's stall raked smooth, which was all it really needed. Then did some major clean up in the young mare's stall.

If tomorrow is as bright as today, I'll get some more work done in the barn.

Wednesday, the girls are coming over to bake cookies. This is the fourth year that I've invited others to come so we can have a cookie swap. I've got to pick up a bit more sugar and flour.

Still not going to put up a Christmas tree, but the house looks nice anyways.




Friday, December 13, 2013

Critter Update - Horses vs Alpacas

Update on the alpacas - my first attempt to integrate them with the horses was stunning. Mind you, they weren't harmed! In fact, they didn't appear to be excessively frightened, it was the horses who got emotional.

The old black gelding followed me in to the pen, sniffed around a bit, no big deal. He stuck by me and got lots of 'good boy' scratches. The young mare watched him, snorting, but morecurious than anything. The alpacas wandered out of the pen, towards the big round bale.

The old mare went nuts. I've never seen her move in such a controlled, furious fashion. She was so collected I could hear her knees crack as she flexed them all the way to her chin. She was floating (in mud) towards them giving a rolling snort that sounded more like a growling tiger than a horse.

I shooed her away. She gave me the 'stink eye.' I followed the alpacas around, to intervene if things got out of hand. I got in front of her a few times and shouted NO!

After several minutes of snorting, blowing, hoof stamping and assorted tantrums, I thought it was over. The alpacas went to the high ground to look around. The horses swept between me and the alpacas at a trot. The alpacas cantered away, ahead of the horses by about 3 horse lengths.

This is where I got my mind blown - the old mare let the alpacas run in front of her, switched to their left side, kept behind them and PUT THEM BACK IN TO THE ROUND PEN. Then swept around the pen, back to the bale of hay, in another of these knee snapping displays.

It was a perfect example of a horse with a lot of 'cow sense' in one respect. However, I watched the whole thing. She came up than hill with a PLAN. She put that plan into action - and put the alpacas 'back where they belong!'

The other two horses were with her, but at a respectful distance behind her.

I have always known that horses 'display' their strength and power with slow-motion, graceful movements that include high-stepping gaits, arched necks, flying mane, upright tails and lots of snorting.

The old mare seems too kicked back and lazy for such displays, except when she and I play a bit of 'tag' on warm spring days.

I got the feeling she was outraged at the intrusion and wanted the alpacas to know who was in charge and to literally 'put them in their place.' Until now, she's acted as if she was terrified of the alpacas. I know better, now.

I love that old mare! She's such a character! I base all my fictional horses on her.

Now, on the alpaca side - it was Tonka (Grumpy) who set her off. He barged over to 'her' bale of hay, and actually pinned his ears at her, first. He was very arrogant, not at all tentative as he approached her. Which he did, several times.

Once he was so close that she swatted him with her tail.

There wasn't any trouble getting the alpacas into the barn that night, they didn't act fearful. I opened the door and they took their sweet time going in. I checked them as well as I could for any sign of contact between them. There was dirt on Tonka's shoulder when she hit him with her tail. (It trails on the ground, so it gets muddy.)

Tonight I put the horses in first, before I let the alpacas free. They didn't hesitate walking passed the old mare, but - in an ironic twist - it was her who snorted at TONKA as he checked her out.

I feel as if I have been given an education in equine behavior. I'm not sure if I want to repeat this experience for several months. LOL

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What's that? Critters' Stand Off!

The horses are eating the new bale of hay. There was a lot of snorting and circling before I could coax them close enough to see what I had.

Today, the old gelding walked up to the fence near Tonka, sniffing curiously.

Tonka walked away. I'm glad he didn't spit. Poor old horse is so sweet natured, it would have shocked him.

The mares were split, the young mare is by the bale, hiding behind it, in fact. The old mare is eating a small pile of hay I used to bait her closer.

Catching the alpacas still requires a catch pen. However, I was able to get them to eat grain from the bucket. So there is hope that I'll be able to walk up to them and put a lead rope on them. Once I can do that in the pen, I can turn them loose in the pasture.

I'm not holding my breath, mind you.