October 20, 2018

Project Next

The barn is done, so what is Dan going to tackle next? He wants to fix the leak in the pantry roof. You may recall that we discovered it last spring ("Leaky Roof") and tarped it until a better time to fix it. Now is that better time.

The tarped leaky side of the pantry roof.

Our pantry, utility room, and second bathroom were added onto the house long before we bought the place. That part of the house was not reroofed when we first moved in, so it needs it. We decided to replace the shingles with the same metal we used on the barn.

Photo taken from the hay loft.

And two from the ladder.


Dan has decided that while he's at it, he might as well put new siding on that gable end of the house. We bought enough siding awhile ago to finish the house, so we have it. We also already have the metal panels for the roof. From the above photo you can see that the whole thing will take some fancy finagling because of how the pantry was added on.

Hopefully the project will be straightforward and without unexpected surprises, but you know how that goes.

Project Next © October 2018 by Leigh

October 16, 2018

Barn! Done!

I think some days Dan thought we'd never get to this point. But it finally did, and the barn is done!


Before I give you the tour, however, I'd like to show you a photo of the original building that stood in that spot.

Photo from January 2010. Original goat shed behind on left.

You can see that the new barn pretty much fills the same footprint, with the carport slab becoming the floor for the milking and feed storage room.

Now, on to the tour. Hyperlinks will take you to other blog posts with more information. This is the milking room side.


Several of you asked me to report how the rainwater catchment tanks worked. As you can see, very well! The problem is that we're not happy with the experimental filtering system Dan tried. It catches the debris, but the water isn't as clear as we like. It will have to be changed but that's a topic for another blog post. As a side note, the tanks are a favorite shady napping spot for our best rat catcher.

Meowy

Moving around the corner toward the back we're greeted by the girls.


The overhang gives them a nice loafing area. It's also a place to feed the little girls so their mothers can eat in peace.


I slip a hog panel behind the barn doors until everyone is finished eating.

Here's a view of the entire back of the barn.


This area is completely fenced in to make a t-shaped corral. Gates on the other end make pasture rotation easier.


Continuing around to the other side...


Note the long windows at the top. Those are for the hay loft.

Inside.


The timber posts and beams were home-milled. The hay feeder is directly under a hay chute in the hay loft.

Hay loft ladder

Hay loft with hay chute. Windows in the earlier photo are on the right.

The does are fed along the milking room wall.

Feeders

From the milking room...

Every doe knows her spot & comes willingly when it's time to eat. Each
is kept from helping herself to her neighbor's feed by a clip to her collar.

This set-up makes it easy to bring the milking does to the stanchion for milking, and then back again.

Daisy on the milking stand.

The white cabinet in the background was originally in our kitchen before we remodeled. (If you're interested in kitchen remodels, I have before and after shots of ours here.) I'm glad we saved the cabinet because it's perfect for storing my goat supplies. Also for filling feeders.

Trash cans hold feed, minerals, etc.

To the left of the cabinet is a rack for holding the bucks' feeding pans.

The calendar helps me keep track of pasture rotation.

On the right is a handy shelf for supplies I want to keep at the ready.


One of my favorite features in the skylight.


This wasn't a part of the original plan, but came about because we had purchased metal roofing panels for a new carport roof. When the carport proved to need extensive repair, we decided to use the panels for the milking room roof instead. However! The panels were 16 feet long and we needed 18 feet. We filled in the difference with translucent poly-panels.

When it's dark out, a solar shed light works very well.


On the opposite wall is my workbench and shelves for pasture seed.


The last wall holds a flashlight by the front door, broom, whisk broom, dust pan and step ladder.


The shelves contain extra feeders and various odds and ends that don't have a home yet. 

In the center of the room next to the milking stand is my drying rack.


I lined the shelves with layers of fiberglass window screening. Between the layers I dry chopped greens and herbs for the goats. They get a handful or so on their morning feed ration for extra vitamins and minerals.

 
My home grown vitamin and mineral mix. Details here.

This is stored in one of the trash cans near the cabinet with the other feeds.

And last but not least, the finishing touch, hung just yesterday.

A barn warming gift from my good friend
Goatldi, who blogs at New Life on the Farm.


It graces the corner of the milking room.

This is definitely the biggest project we've ever done. A barn has been under discussion for years, and I can't even remember how many plans we drew up and how many ideas we tossed around. I lived with a lot of make-do arrangements, and it was from those that many of the ideas came for this one. It's a wonderful feeling to finally check this project off the to-do list.

Thank you so much for taking my tour! I hope you enjoyed it!

Barn! Done! © October 2018 by Leigh  

October 13, 2018

Fall is Finally Here

I'm not one who thinks much of what the calendar says when it comes to seasons. Every year we have the calendar proclaiming the first day of autumn to be around the 20th to 22nd of September, but if we're still in the 90s (low 30s) and I'm in a t-shirt getting all sticky and sweaty from working outside, then I don't if the calendar says it's October 9th. It's still summer! Autumn to me is when it's time to pull out my barn sweater and put an afghan on the bed. It's crisp mornings and crunchy leaves under my feet when I go out first thing to do the chores. It's color in the trees as the leaves turn. Until then it's still summer.

Finally, Hurricane Michael pushed summer out of the way this week and let autumn in.

Love this rain gauge 'cuz I can read it from the window!
It was a gift to Dan & me from Mike at Living Prepared.


Rainfall day two.

What a difference! All the critters feel it. Time to make that end-of-summer check list and start getting things ready for winter.

How is it in your neck of the woods? Do you feel the change of season? Are you ready for the next one?

Fall is Finally Here © October 2018 by

October 10, 2018

What Dan Found Inside the Old Oak Tree

A goodly portion of our firewood this year is coming from an old oak tree which used to grace our backyard. About a year ago it stopped producing leaves, so Dan took it down. We knew at least part of it was rotted, but hoped we could get quite a bit of good firewood out of it. That's been Dan's priority project this month.

48 inches in diameter and over 100 rings.

It has not been your straightforward firewood job. The base of the tree is four feet across, and he has a 20-inch chainsaw. After pricing larger chainsaws and one- or two-man crosscut saws, he decided to buy a 24-inch bar and chain for his saw. By cutting from all directions he's been able to cut it into sections.

The surprise came when he hit something inside the tree, something that sent sparks flying. At first he thought it might be a piece of metal, perhaps an old nail? It was all the more puzzling when he hit it again farther down the trunk.

Several ruined chains later, he managed to chip away enough of the trunk to discover this



Not easy to tell in the photos, but what you're looking at is either concrete or a rock about 70 years or so into the tree. Was someone trying to fill the hole, or did the hole form as a result? We'll never know.

Trying to drill it out. No joy.

It's an odd shape and it's impossible to tell how far it extends toward the base of the tree. Very curious.

Higher up, this section measures 33" by 38". It has two ring
circles indicating a double trunk which eventually grew together.


These sections are quite heavy.


Once they are cut into wedges they're ready for the log splitter.


Then it's stacked.

The old carport is making a nice firewood storage area.

Considering that our temps are supposed to drop quite a bit this weekend, I'm very glad to be well on our way to a good winter's supply.

Yesterday Dan finally managed to free the mystery rock from the tree.


He wanted to get it out whole, but ended up having to cut it into pieces. Here's a close-up.


Any ideas?

October 6, 2018

Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 2

In "Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 1," I shared what I've learned about pasture rotation. Each method has a different focus--forage health, animal health, or soil health--but similar strategies. All limit grazing time according to the condition of the forage and allow for a period of rest. The challenge is trying to figure out how to adapt the particulars to our property.

The simplest rotation strategy is to leave stock out in the field and just move them (and their water) to the adjacent paddock. That's how it's done with beef cattle, but dairy animals must be brought back to the barn for milking. For that, the best plan would be a centrally located barn with grazing paddocks extending from it like spokes on a wheel. The other option is to use lanes or corridors.

We've just begun a specific plan to improve the soil in our pastures and the forage along with it. As that improves, we should be able to have a number of smaller paddocks, all with good grazing. Since we aren't there yet, larger but simple seemed like the best way to start.

First step toward better grazing rotation.

We subdivided our pastures with electric fencing.

Three strands, the top exactly nose height for adult Kinder goats.

Some people say goats can't be contained with electric fence, and I'm sure for some goats that's true. Especially those inclined to jump. They do have to be trained to it, and we had a couple of break-throughs initially. After a zap or two on the nose they steer clear of those wires.

As forage improves we plan to break it down to smaller paddocks. My goal is to give them about four days in each. That would allow for a minimum three-week rest for the forage, more if possible.

Proposed, but subject to change.

This plan uses corridors for the doe rotations (in blue in the diagram above). That will require gates that can be hot wired to maintain a complete electrical circuit from a centrally located solar charger. For the bucks (red lines), it made more sense to relocate their shelter to a more central position. That's another building project, but makes for a less complicated set-up for the fences. Plus, having them closer to the house also makes it easier to bring them water, feed, and hay.

None of this is written in stone, but with a plan we have something to take steps toward. If we run into obstacles or it doesn't work out as we hoped, we re-evaluate and adjust. 

October 3, 2018

Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 1

In my "Soil Building Experiment #2: Pastures" blog post I mentioned our five subgoals for pasture improvement. Subdividing them for a better grazing rotation is one of those goals.

Until now, our pasture rotation system has been a simple one; two paddocks each for the does and the bucks, so sometimes I put then in one, sometimes in the other. The problem with this system is that it hasn't helped the condition of our pastures. That needs to change.

I learned a lot about pasture rotation while I was researching for Prepper's Livestock Handbook. Over this past summer I've been working on how to apply what I learned to our own homestead. I started by analyzing the goals and methods of the books and articles I read. It seems to me that the rationale for rotating grazing can be divided into one of three focuses.
  1. Health of the forage
  2. Health of the animals
  3. Health of the soil

Health of the forage

One of our big mistakes when we first moved to our homestead was treating our pastures like lawn. We mowed them like they were lawn and Dan was concerned about things like de-thatching. What we didn't understand, is that different kinds of grasses have been developed for different applications. Lawn and turf grasses were developed to grow thick and short, which means they require certain management techniques. Pasture and hay grasses grow tall, and require different management techniques. Unfortunately, scalping them like lawn is not one of them.

It's not just a mower that can scalp pastures, so can livestock if left in an area for too long. This is why a rotation plan is important to keep forage healthy.

The focus with this goal is the height of the forage. There are charts that list the different pasture grasses and the heights to begin grazing and when to quit. I suppose one can be scrupulously technical about this, but a generalized summary for this method is:
  • Don't graze forage down below four inches
  • Allow 20 to 30 day for forage recovery
  • Allow grazing again when forage is 8 to 10 inches tall

For more details, On Pasture Magazine has a good introductory article on the subject, "Grazing Height Determines the Health of Your Forages."

Health of the animals

The particular concern here is internal parasites, especially worms. Pasture rotation is part of "integrated parasite management" (IPM). IPM includes use of wormers based on test results (fecal or FAMACHA i.e. level of anemia) rather than a schedule, developing the animals' immune system through culling and breeding for resistance, good sanitation practices, forage that promotes parasite resistance, and pasture rotation. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? It has become complicated because livestock parasites develop resistance to chemical wormers. Some wormers no longer work in some parts of the country.

For this blog post, I'm just going to focus on the IPM guidelines for pasture rotation. Recommendations seem to vary depending on the source, but here's what I've pulled together:
  • Don't graze forage below a couple of inches
  • Multispecies graze to "vacuum" the fields (because cattle aren't susceptible to the same parasites goats and sheep are)
  • Don't graze any paddock more than three to five days
  • Don't graze when forage is wet (parasite larvae need moisture to climb plants so they can be ingested)
  • Don't overstock paddocks
  • Allow pasture to rest. Recommendations vary between 21 to 65 days, depending on the particular parasite problem.
  • Some sources are now recommending mowing down to about an inch or two in height to allow sun and air circulation to dry the soil and kill larvae. (Personally, I think this is a very bad idea, but it's out there.)

You can learn more about IPM at
And you can find some encouraging personal testimonies on the effectiveness of pasture rotation in controlling internal parasites at the following:

Health of the soil

This one is used for soil building, and ties in with everything I've been learning about soil and carbon. The technique here might be called intensive rotational grazing, although it has other names. It was pioneered by Allan Savory in Zimbabwe and popularized by Joel Salatin as "mob grazing." Here's a summary:
  • high stock density (250 - 500 cows per acre)
  • rotate stock once or more per day (rule of thumb - graze 50%, leave 50%)
  • long forage rest (5 to 6 months)

Some people have trouble with this one, because the high stocking density pretty much goes against everything we've been taught about livestock and grazing. But when managed properly, the results are phenomenal, as reported by everyone who practices it. Allan Savory, for example, is using this method to turn desert back into grassland. Missouri cattle rancher Greg Judy has been able to stop buying pasture seed, fertilizer, and hay, eliminate the use of machinery, yet has doubled beef production and increased forage quality and diversity.

Why does it work? Because when livestock are concentrated in small areas, they will either eat it or trample it. However, they are moved before they overgraze (graze 50%, leave 50%). The trampled forage begins to decay which in turn feeds soil organisms, helps retain soil moisture, sequesters carbon, and builds the soil. The long rest period allows forage to recover fully before being grazed again.
  • The key is monitoring forage and knowing when to move them. 
  • The challenge is that rotation and rest cycles are highly variable, depending on the season, weather, and condition of the forage.

For further reading I highly recommend:

If you're like me, I'm sure you see the similarities amongst these three management methods. So I see no reason why I can't accomplish all three goals. That's what I'm working on now, so stay tuned for "Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 2."