Friday, May 27, 2011

Moooovin' Along: Portable Calf Shelter

I mentioned in an earlier post that Byron and I made a portable calf shelter for our two calves.  Since we're following the Polyface model of rotating animals onto fresh pasture every day or so, we wanted to devise something lightweight and stable that would offer them some protection from wind, rain, and sun.  I wish I had neat, drawn-out plans to post, but I unfortunately sketched it out on bright pink sticky notes, then shoved the sticky notes into my coupon pouch (I'm so organized).  So if there's anything cryptic or you want more information, please ask - I would love to help if you're thinking of building this or something like it!

(4) 8' landscape timbers (treated)
(8) 10" x 1/2" carriage bolts, washers, and nuts
(4) 8" lag bolts
(8) pieces of scrap lumber for shims, as necessary
(5) 10' x 1/2" sch. 40 PVC pipe (for outdoor use)
plastic ties (for outdoors)
One 6'x8' tarp
Decking screws
(2) eye hooks

Landscape timbers and PVC

Saw ends of two landscape timbers at an angle to make skids.  Pre-drill holes for carriage bolts in landscape timbers.  Four holes in each timber, 2' apart and centered on the timber.

Carriage bolts are not threaded all the way down, so we had to use scraps to shim.  Install them so the head of the bolt is at the bottom of the skid and so the rest of the bolt can protrude to accept the PVC.

Carriage bolt, washer, and nut through landscape timber and shim

After driving the bolts through the timbers/skids, Byron measures an approximate distance to place the skids.  I think we settled on 5'.

Charlie decided to create a little water system with the PVC.

But then the cow shelter looked like more fun.  Here, Byron tests out one of the PVC pipes by slipping each end over a bolt, and measures the height and width, which ended up being about 4" high by 5' wide.  Good for calves, but we may need to make something bigger next spring, when they will be full-blown steers (did I mention they're steers now, thanks to Mr. Woodward and the handy banding device he keeps in his truck???).

Fitting in all the piping for a test run...

...and then lag bolting in the horizontal supports, which will keep the arcs from splaying.  Notice that the horizontal support is a few inches back from the end of the skid, to account for the angle Byron cut.

These are about 5' wide.

The Lone Chicken checks out the base of the cow shelter.  She's getting bold, I tell you.  She follows us around like a dog.  And the other day I thought she was going to jump onto the arm of my chair as I ate dinner outside.  It was kinda freaking me out.  Anyway, that doesn't help you.  The footprint of the shelter is about 5' wide x 8' long.

Fitting the PVC pipe over the carriage bolts

The "skeleton" of the shelter

The fifth piece of PVC is added as a ridge line and fastened with plastic ties.

The tarp is secured with cord.  Let me note here that we just used the grommets that were in the tarp, but if you want to more thoroughly secure the edge of the tarp, you could buy a grommet kit and install more.
Eye hooks and cord are installed at the end of the skids for EASY transport. I should also mention that Byron slipped an old piece of hose over the cord to make it more comfortable to haul, and that the cord is removable.

The shelter in the electric cattle fencing.  We slid the tarp over to provide more protection from the west.

Baby calf checks out his new digs after he and his pal were carried across the yard.  I SO wish I had photos, but I was manning the fence!   When a lasso-like collar failed to produce the desired results, Byron had to put Farm Muscles to work and pick the calves up (one at a time, mind you) and carry them to their new yard.  So Byron got his workout for the week and the calves seem very happy on fresh grass.  We'll be moving them around every 2 days or so...but won't be picking them up anymore!
A couple notes, now that the cows have been enjoying their shelter for about a week...we're thinking of getting a tarp with a silver backing to reflect the sun.  The cows would lay down in it at first, but we've had some HOT days and they've preferred to lie down outside the shelter.  Byron thinks it may be getting a little warm under the blue tarp.  One calf has also been sucking on the edge of it (I guess he thinks it's Mommy), so we may need something a bit more heavy duty.  We're hoping, for the most part, that this offers some relief during rainstorms, but there is no rain in sight at the moment, so that assessment will have to wait.

And again, I'm open to any questions!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Family Visit!

We love having visitors at Green Acres, so last week when Byron's Aunt Dottie called us from the road and told us they were coming our way on Saturday, we were very excited! The reason this was so significant is that the house had been out of the family for about 20 years, so it's been at least that long since Aunt Dottie and Uncle Hank - and their son Heinrich and his wife Donna - have seen the place!  And this was the first time Heinrich and Donna's daughter, Anna, has seen the place her great-grandparents lived.

Also significant is that this was Aunt Dottie's birthplace; her mother had wanted to be close to her own mother when delivering her first baby...and Aunt Dottie was born right above where I sit, in what is now Charlie's room. Funny to think that home births are making a comeback, when just a few decades ago they were the norm! Anyway, here are some photos from the visit...

Anna encourages the calves to try out some grass.

Aunt Dottie meets Friskies, our first "farm animal."

Uncle Hank and Charlie, who apparently looks just like his Granddaddy (Aunt Dottie's brother and Byron's Dad)

Uncle Hank, Aunt Dottie, Charlie, and Akea

Aunt Dottie and Anna, her granddaughter

Two lovely ladies!

More lovely ladies - Anna with her mom, Donna

I'm not sure why they were checking out the old well???

Father and daughter - Heinrich and Anna

Byron and Uncle Hank

Uncle Hank, Aunt Dottie, and Byron

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Special Visit and I Actually Design Something: Green Acres Weekend Update

First, let me say that many of the happenings last week deserve their own posts, and as long as I find an extra hour or five this week, more details will come.  The best way for me to handle this will be chronologically, and in photos, of course.

One of the cool things about homeschooling is the opportunity to ditch The Three R's for the day and take a field trip.   Another mom in our church graciously organized a zoo trip for over 100 homeschoolers, which meant that I got to spend the day asking my daughter the specifics on various and sundry vertebrates, because I'm a fun mom like that.  But after a while I gave up (or ran out of questions - I'm not a biologist) and started taking photos for a lap book we'll make.

Crowned Crane

Is the giraffe a staple of every zoo?
Next up: I got to be a stage mom.  Akea's dance recital was this week, which kept us busy with two rehearsals and two performances.  I was uncertain as to how much she liked dance up until now, but I think the recital won her over.  Or maybe it was getting flowers.  At any rate, on Friday night she intermittently would stop dancing, shade her eyes, and peer out into the audience, looking for us.  Fortunately, she had everyone rolling!

I think the fun costumes were a hit, too.
Finally, back at Green Acres, we got a lot of rain...and then it cleared up on Saturday just in time for a visit from Aunt Dottie, Uncle Hank, Byron's cousin Heinrich, his wife Donna, and his daughter Anna.  It's been a couple decades since any of them had been here, and they recalled how the farm used to look as we walked back toward the barn and before the guys disappeared into the woods...where Heinrich found his initials carved into a tree!  Aunt Dottie also got to again see the room she was born in, which is Charlie's room.  And they left us with this:

Byron's Great-Granddaddy gave this milk container to Aunt Dottie, his granddaughter.  We feel so honored that she and Uncle Hank have passed it on to us! 

Here we are...and this visit deserves - and will get - its own post!
Right now I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I have that degree in architecture, right?  So I come up with all these cool design ideas for the house, right?  Um, not quite.  Since my brain has been rather preoccupied with children for the past almost seven years, Byron oftentimes comes up with and executes creative ideas in and out of the house.  Does this irk me to no end?  Sometimes.  But then every once in a while, my old muse remembers I exist and pays me a visit. 

First let me mention that with our animals, we are following the Polyface model of rotating birds (chickens) after herbivores (cows) in order to restore pasture, provide food in the form of larva for the chickens, and thus control said larva from hatching into flies.  Joel Salatin of Polyface explains this in great detail in his books, but he primarily follows patterns seen in nature and has been able to mitigate much disease and produce outstanding food.  Have you seen Food Inc.?  Cue it up on Netflix when you're done with this post and when you watch it, look for the part that features Salatin.  Even though we're on a MUCH smaller scale, we're following the Polyface model of using portable electric fencing to rotate our animals.

Since we have such young calves, we decided we needed a light, portable shade device that we could easily move from pasture to pasture.  After discussing various options, here's what I came up with:

Tarp over PVC anchored to bulky landscape ties = portable shade!
I'll share the design details in a post this week; it was very simple to construct!  I also worked a bit on those delinquent rain barrels.

And let's Barn Hop again at Homestead Revival!  Click the button below:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Feeding Baby Calves, or a Tutorial in Not Getting Goosed

When we got our baby calves last week, we decided we'd try bottle feeding them.  We figured that would be the most natural way, especially since we'd essentially be feeding them cow formula twice a day.  So off to the farm store I went, coming back with these:

Byron checks the temperature of the milk replacer.  They each drink four pints, twice per day.

A little backwards, but here Byron prepares the milk replacer.  The water has to be heated to 110 degrees, which is easy if you begin with hot tap water.  Then we take the water off the burner and mix in the powdered milk replacer a little at a time.  It only takes a few minutes, and by then, the milk is down to about 105 degrees...perfect for feeding.

Baby calves drinking from their cute.

Still pretty cute...then a bottle began to leak.

Notice Byron's position in relation to the fence.

Prime entertainment for the kids, especially when Daddy got goosed several times when he was trying to tighten the nipple onto the bottle (I promised Byron not to post a photo of that)!

Notice Byron's position in relation to the fence now...

...and how the calves have also pushed his arms back.
After putting in many fence posts by hand, Byron has farm muscles a-plenty.  I have farm muscles a-puny and maybe a couple lingering from when I used to run (gotta get back into that).  Though we can get wire hangers for the bottles, we decided to go the Mr. Woodward/Laura Ingalls Wilder route and use buckets:

Ah, much better.  Now the only thing getting abused is the fence, and the fence can handle it!
The bucket method was almost too easy to teach the calves: dip your hand in a little milk, let them suck your fingers, and lead their head into the bucket.  Now the green buckets are Mommy, instead of Byron, and everyone is well-fed and happy.  Byron also used ziplocks to portion out five days' worth of servings for their feedings, so all we have to do is grab a bag when the water is heated.  We feed them at about 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., which isn't too time consuming, but mentally, it's an adjustment.  Though I imagine Melvin or Mr. Woodward would help us out in a pinch, we're pretty much tied to the land until they're off the milk replacer (3-4 months), and pretty soon we'll be rotating them to fresh pasture every day or two. 

Is this a downside to sustainable living?  What do you do when you need to be out of town?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Day the Cows Came Home: Green Acres Weekend Update

Last week I mentioned that we were preparing a nursery of sorts...for baby cows.  We moved a shelter to an area outside the garden and fenced off a small paddock for the new arrivals.  And on Friday, just as promised, our friend and long-time farmer Mr. Woodward came rolling down the driveway in a pickup rigged with gates for containing livestock.  Our livestock.  Was I ready for this?  Did it matter at this point?

I made dinner while Byron and Akea accompanied Mr. Woodward to a local dairy farm, where male Holstein calves are typically sold since they don't exactly have the equipment needed to keep said farm in operation.  Charlie and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I wasn't worried, though I wondered what was taking so long.  Later I found out that buying cows involves quite a bit of "truck leaning."  This is apparently a social activity amongst the farming community, in which you lean on another farmer's truck and make small talk for awhile before getting down to business.  Unfortunately for anyone who comes here, we don't have a truck...we have a minivan.  And "minivan-leaning" just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? 

I eventually went out to weed the garden.  Finally, I heard a beep on my cell phone and opened it to find a blurry photo of two baby cows in the back of Mr. Woodward's pickup.  Two seconds later I ran in to get my camera, which I found still hooked up to the computer from the previous day.  After declaring to myself that I was the Biggest Dork Ever, I slammed the battery into the charger and shoved my cell phone into my pocket.  Shaky phone camera would have to do.

Not long after, Charlie and I saw the truck slowly making its way down the driveway, then driving into the yard and narrowly missing Charlie's bike on the way to the cow nursery.  Two small baby calves were tied to the truck, looking somewhat distraught and thoroughly confused at having just been hauled down the road at 45 miles per hour.  Byron then proceeded to pick each one up (they're about the size of large dogs) and carry them out of the pickup and into the little paddock.  My phone's camera managed to capture these, um, precious moments in all their blurred glory.

Once the cows were settled, Mr. Woodward promised to come check on us (humans + bovines) next week, and off he went.  Since the cows had been fed that day, we didn't need to worry about that, and they quickly nosed around their new surroundings, sucking my boots and the kids' hands in the process and then kicking and bucking quite a bit before settling into their shelter.  I ran inside to see if my real camera's battery was at all usable.

Meet Cow 1...

...and Cow 2.

The kids dig this.
 Since we are raising these cows for meat, we're not supposed to name them, but several have been thrown around, such as "Heart Head" and "Half Moon."  I suspect raising these boys will be difficult on several levels, but we are going to try to climb this mountainous learning curve as gracefully as possible.

Anyway, be sure to check back to read about our feeding adventures with the calves!  (I'll just quickly mention that they think Byron is their Mommy.)

In the Green Acres gardening world, there is some success and some failure and lots of weeding.  My main concern and complaint are the tomato plants.  I started 13 Brandywine and 11 Rutgers from seed, and I think two Rutgers have survived and maybe four Bradywine.  I grudgingly had to shell out about $20 this weekend to buy tomato plants from people who actually know what they're doing, while I continue to wonder what went wrong with my tomatoes.  I watered them.  I fed them.  I put them outside for several days before planting.  I even talked to them, knowing my singing voice would surely kill them instantly.  But alas, they became compost.  However...

...the potatoes are happy.

And I'm hoping I get some sugar snap peas this year, although the plants I started from seed didn't do well and I directly sowed the remaining seeds a bit late.
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