Friday, May 18, 2012

Five myths about country living

Oh look, this city boy's gonna tell us about country living already! Well go ahead, city boy!

Ahem. Well, even though I've lived in the city most of my life, my time in the country does offer a bit in the way of eye-opening misconceptions. I believe most city-folk (myself included) see the country as a peaceful place with untouched natural amenities and kind-hearted neighbors, but my experience varies from that a bit.

Don't get me wrong; I love this area and wouldn't trade it for the world, but I like to poke fun at some of the generalizations that I've always believed. So take this list with a grain of salt as my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek.

1. The country is quiet and peaceful.
Well, yeah, it is compared to the interstate highway I grew up next to, but it's not all songbirds and buzzing bees. Our neighbor has around 6 or 7 dogs, at last count, and they have this strange tendency to bark at every car that passes. At 3am. Gunshots are also a common sound, and I hear automatic gunfire at least once or twice a month.

2. The country is clean and pristine.
With hardly any trash dumping laws and very little enforcement, the sides of country roads are often littered with trash. I go out and pick up fast food containers at least once a week in our yard near the street, and there are several areas within a mile of us where you can't even see the ground because the trash is piled so high. This would probably happen even quicker in cities, but there are no clean-up crews out here.

3. The country is a safer place to live.
There was an unflattering episode of Intervention made about this area called Meth Mountain. Crystal Meth is not only a city problem, but it has become a HUGE rural problem as well. It's easier to hide meth labs in old barns and in our area, the county seat is about an hour away, so you can bet there aren't exactly a lot of patrolling squad cars up and down these roads. Plus, with drugs come lifelines to support those drug habits, such as theft and violence. We haven't experienced any of this first-hand yet, but we lock our doors at night.

4. The country air is fresh.
I grew up near the steel mills of northwest Indiana, so growing up, I thought people were joking when they said the sky was blue. But out here in the country, when you're taking a big long whiff of the clean country air, be prepared for a lung-full of burning plastic. With no burn regulations and a higher trash collection fee than the city, most of my neighbors have taken to burning their trash... plastic and all.

5. Country folks are kind and generous.
Again, it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, but right now my wife and I are dealing with some neighbors who let their dogs run into our yard after our chickens and drive their cars through our yard because, as they put it, we're "from another place." I'm not trying to perpetuate any stereotypes of ignorant backwoods people or anything (because I hate the irony of that stereotype as well), but it just holds true in some cases.

So there you have it. I don't aim to talk anyone out of country living, but I'm having a little fun with what we've experienced so far. Accepting your home and its surrounding areas comes with both good and bad, and to me, it's all about realizing that the good far outweighs the bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introducing: Cashew, the newest baby goat

I always feel like I'm jinxing something by naming a farm animal, but yesterday morning we were blessed with a newborn baby goat. Raisinet gave birth to little Cashew during the early morning of the 14th (just hours after Mother's Day!) and both mother and baby are doing fine.

5-hour-old Cashew
It's unusual for goats (especially Pygmies and Nigerian Dwarves) to give birth to only one kid, but we're glad to have her. Unfortunately, it seems that the geese scared Raisinet away from her first-time motherly duties as they cleaned Cashew off, so the mother seemed more scared of the baby than anything. We've taken to bottle-feeding the baby in the mean time, which is not exactly a bad thing because it means that the baby will get used to human contact and not be skittish around us, and it means we can milk Raisinet (if she'd let us go by her). Of course, we would have liked to let her feed from momma for the first week, but we're left with no choice now.

We've also had a new addition (or 8!) of baby bunnies at the beginning of the month. My tried-and-true female breeding rabbit had 9 (!!!) babies, but unfortunately, one of them didn't make it because a mother rabbit only has 8 teats. In that situation, it's usually better to see if they can pull through rather than trying to bottle feed it (because you already have 8, and how will you tell which one isn't getting milk from her mother?), but we're happy that this mother rabbit has consistently given us huge litters every time.

I've finally developed a system for breeding the rabbits. I alternate between two mothers each month, breeding them on the first of the month, then preparing the nest box on the 27th or so. It seems to work out well and it assures that we have a new litter every month. Now to buy more cages...

The pigs seem to finally understand that barbed wire hurts and they haven't tried to escape since last week. They're also tearing up their small paddock are quite well, although I doubt that the two of them will be able to do the whole 1/16th of an acre by the fall. They're concentrating on one corner for now.

And finally, if you haven't seen this movie yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. It's called "Fresh" and it's probably the best movie I've seen to date that describes the reasoning behind why I do this. One of the main people in the documentary talks about marrying helpful modern technology and old-fashioned natural methods of farming, and that's exactly what I believe in. Definitely check this movie out if you're interested in this blog.

But before I go, I leave you with a short video featuring the geese. They fascinate me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chasing pigs is good exercise

So I decided to move the pigs from their 10x10 dog kennel to the pasture, finally. While the moving process itself wasn't too bad, the next few hours were quite an adventure.

I had always planned to keep them in the dog kennel only temporarily so they could tear up the ground for my asparagus planting. I set up a large area for them to graze afterwards, secured by electric fencing and featuring a hog house made of pallets.

Loose, fertilized soil ready for planting
Well, the thing is, I could never really get that electric fence to work. I tried everything, too. I strung up wires according to directions, laid in a ground pole, hooked the energizer to the wires and.... nothing. So then I added two more 6' ground poles. Nothing. I hooked the positive wires to two of the fence lines instead of one. Well, now I'm getting a tiny bit of juice, but not nearly enough to provide a shock, and I felt nothing a mere 20 feet away. I even tried the different methods they suggested for a shock that occurs when two lines are touched (for larger animals) verses setting it up for just one line. Nothing.

I read through the directions about 10 more times, following everything to the letter, and still nothing. I did see a nice warning (that should have been on the outside of the freaking box) saying that dry or sandy soil will not work with an electric fence. I imagine that's the problem (I live on Sand Mountain, afterall), so it looks like I'll be taking back the energizer box and whatever else I can. I may end up selling it on Craigslist if the store won't take it back.

The pigs are already getting to work in the new pen
I knew the electric fence wasn't going to work so I went out and bought a spool of barbed wire for about 1/5th the price of that electric fence. I've heard of people securing pigs with barbed wire, although it was a stretch. (get it? Oooh farm humor)

I set up two lines all the way along the fence line: one at ground level and one about 6 inches higher. Sarah and I transported the pigs in a dog carrier (carried in a wheelbarrow) and got the pigs across the wire fence quite easily. Piece of cake, right?

Well, yes, until the pig just darted right over the 6" line of barbed wire and directly into our garden.

So I figured we'd scare it back and run another line of barbed wire a bit higher. Not a huge issue, unless you consider the fact that I'm supposed to be working (and work backs up quite easily if I take any time away from the computer) and Sarah needs to leave to take the baby to the doctor in 30 minutes. We chased those pigs all over that yard getting them back into their pen four or five times before realizing that we just couldn't keep doing that.

Finished fence (for now)
Trooper that my wonderful wife is, she strung up another line of wire on one side while I watched the baby and caught up on work demands, then she left for the appointment. When I had a bit of a break in my work day, I went out and finished it up. Now the pigs have been on their side of the fence for over a day without escaping, so I sure hope this works for good. I'll probably run another line or two a few inches higher before they get bigger, but for now, it's working. Fingers crossed!

This experience has taught me a few things. One, electric fencing is expensive crap. Two, barbed wire is the duct tape of fencing; It's cheap and does the job if you throw enough of it at a problem.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Living hog wild

I think I can say that we now have all of the different types of animals we wanted to get on this farm. Wait, no, we still want to get turkeys at some point. But for now, we're pretty content with what we have and I'm recognizing the fact that I should probably slow down on the animals. Maybe! One day.

Last month we bought two new pigs that we hope to just raise and slaughter in the fall. I'd eventually like to get a mating pair, but that involves mandatory castration for the males (so the meat doesn't get tainted) and we didn't want to mess with all of that until we figure out if this is something we want to do for sure.

The two female feeder pigs (2-3-month old pigs raised just for slaughter) we bought are Yorkshires, which is probably the most popular type of pig you'll see for meat (and movies! *ahem*). I put them in our old dog kennel (which has served as a chicken coop in the past) and they're tearing up the ground nicely so I can plant some asparagus there. The chickens ate the grass and provided some manure and the pigs are plowing and providing more manure. It should be a great spot for those asparagus plants considering they will spend the next 20-30 years in that one spot.

I finally have a nice schedule going for our meat rabbits, as well. Since it only takes them about 28-30 days to produce a litter, I'm alternating does to breed every month, providing us with about 5-7 new rabbits each month. These, combined with the meat chickens I bought in February means we probably won't need to buy any supermarket meat for a long time, if ever again. That's a goal I'm really happy to have achieved already.

As a side note, Blogger/Blogspot has greatly improved their blogging platform, so I'm able to add pictures and captions much more easily. That means more pics in my blog posts! I've included a bunch at the bottom of this one catching you up on some of the new additions to the farm.
The new chicken coop inside the barn

Inside the chicken coop

Nest boxes built so we can grab eggs without going into the coop

The goats love the old chicken coop
Roy relaxing on the milking stand

Smokey is getting bigger! And muddier!

Raisinet is pregnant! Cinnamon is still too young.

The geese are getting huge. And they poop a lot. No, seriously, it's everywhere

Finally! No more carrying water to the barn!

Since we got this house (about 6 months ago) we've been carrying four gallons of water at a time to the barn from the pump house so the animals can have water. Now, it's not really a long walk (probably 200 feet) but doing that three or four times a day really gets to be a pain. I know I can use the exercise, but I'm all about saving time these days.

So I've been looking at water tanks on Craigslist for a few months now, and they all seemed pretty shady. "We're not sure what was in this tank, but I wouldn't use it for water." We thought about buying new, but that's just way out of our price range. I tried putting together some old plastic trash cans in a way that I thought would work, but the bottom of the cans ended up being too flimsy to hold 50 gallons of water and a pipe coming out of a hole in the plastic. The weight of the water would always eventually warp the bottom (even after I built a reinforcement) and it was more of a headache than anything.

I found some 250-gallon water tanks at my local feed store. They call these "water totes" if you look them up online, but they're basically used to ship liquids, so they have a protective cage around the outside and a plastic pallet on the bottom for transporting with a forklift. The feed store guys told me that these were used to ship dish soap and they rinsed them out 3 times before they sell them. I checked inside for any residue, ran some water through it and there was not even a sud. So I bought one (for only $60!!) and brought it home. Of course, I still rinsed it out thoroughly and tested it in the water bottle of a rabbit before giving it to the rest of the animals.

250-gallon water tank
I bought a 4-way hose splitter and a few adapters from Lowe's, but not much else. I have one hose going out to a faucet I built in the chicken coop area of the barn and another hose running to an automatic waterer in the main stall for the goats, dog, and geese to use. The room with the tank is about two feet higher than the other rooms, so it works well to help gravity-feed the hoses that run out of the room.

Everything seems to be working fine so far with only one very minor leak in the main tank valve where it connects to my hose adapter, but I'll fix that as soon as I use up the water in there now. I only filled it up halfway to see how everything is working before filling it up to the full 250-gallon capacity. By the way, 250 gallons weighs 2,085 lbs not including the tank itself, so if you do this, make sure you have a solid foundation underneath!

4-way hose adapter
Hose going to faucet assembly in other room
Faucet in chicken room
Auto waterer connected to tank in other room
So in total, I spent probably $160 on the tank, adapters, piping for the faucet and the automatic waterer. If you count the two 100' hoses I bought to connect to the pump house, you could say I spent $225. Not too bad considering a new tank of that size alone goes for about $400-500.

I'm so happy to have this project finished so I can move on to the long list of others I have waiting for me. I figure with the way we go through water for the animals in the summer, I should only have to refill that tank about once a month. Let's hope this works!