Cleaning out the Hayloft

Last summer we put a new roof on the barn.  Next, we will be adding some reinforcements and making some hayloft floor repairs, but first, what to do with all of this old straw??

Piles of dusty old loose straw…  Excluding some fresh straw bales we have stored up there, there is anywhere from 1-5 feet of half rotted straw, half rotted, because before I put on the new roof, the straw sponged up all that rain water that the leaky roof couldn’t properly shed.

Pitchforks in hand, we started the dusty removal process.  Previous owners removed most of the beautiful old barn siding, so, getting the straw out of the barn wasn’t a big issue.

After a few hours of work, we cleared out about 1/6 of the hayloft.  This is going to take a while!

Now, the question is what to do with all of this straw….

The kids found a good short term use!

The chickens also enjoyed searching for their own buried treasures amongst the pile. You could say they had a “hay-day” (sorry, could resist!).

But that really doesn’t solve the problem.  What can we do with all of this straw?

We started moving the intact slabs out to use as part of our sheet mulch in the garden.  But, there is no doubt we will have more than enough to cover the entire garden.

As most of the straw is loose and half rotten, I don’t want to save it for our animals (we have plenty of solid bales to cover their bedding needs for years).

Another thought has been to manually spread it out across our pastures as fertilizer.  The pastures are within close proximity to the barn.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment to spread it out over our hay field just yet, so their goes that idea.

So, besides what I mentioned, can you think of any other good uses for piles of old straw?

-Jeremy

P.S.  You know who to contact if you get a hankering for some good old fashioned straw throwing fun!

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Venison in the Freezer (review of associated costs) and a Barn Window Installation

Right now, our house remodel is consuming much of our time.  With that said, many of our farm/automation projects are on hold.  Many, but not all.  As any fellow homesteader knows, there are always small side projects to tackle, projects that cannot be ignored.

With the deer hunt over, one of those tasks was processing some venison.

Many people bring in there deer to a local processor or locker plant.  Our local processor charges a flat fee of $70 to skin and quarter the deer.  That does not include cuts and packaging.   Worse yet, you never know if the meat you get back was yours or someone else’s (what were their animal handling practices).  Did they give me all of my meat back? With that in mind, and also knowing that we will in general have at least one steer a year to process,  I finally broke down and bought a meat grinder.

It arrived on Tuesday!  Our small group also meets every Tuesday evening, but I couldn’t wait until Wednesday to process it, now could I?  Not with that new grinder sitting there!

I had quartered the deer Monday evening after work.  Come Tuesday evening, after we got the kids tucked in bed, Shelly and I took to the garage.  We were able to piece out, grind up, and package the deer by 1AM.  I have a loving and patient wife!

We ended up with close to 50lb of meat.

So, I had to run some quick math:

Grinder = $360USD  ($75 of which I paid for with crypo through egifter.com)

Deer License = $31USD

Freezer Bags=$3USD

$360+$31+$3=$394USD

With 50 pounds of meat, that comes out to $7.88/lb for fresh, grass fed, organic meat.  Then, consider that the grinder will be used for all future deer and cattle we process here and the numbers start to look really nice!  Eventually, all things equal, the cost/pound should start approaching $0.70/LB

And, to boot, I can bring the hide in to a local scrapyard and they will exchange the hide for a set of new work gloves or a small amount of cash.  As a further bonus, the chickens and cats also enjoyed picking off the leftovers that we missed the following day.


Aside from processing venison, I also got an old window from our house moved to the south side of the barn.  My hope is that it will help capture some solar heat in the barn on the upcoming cold winter days.

I measured up and marked out the wall.  Then I used the reciprocating saw and cut myself a BIG hole!

Once cut out, I installed the outside frame and header.  The goats were good sports through the commotion.  Our bucky-buck however, made some tasks a challenge, as he had to smell, taste, and rub his head against everything new and out of place.  Including my ladder.  Easy fix?  Toss a hay bale outside.

Finally, I framed up the wall below the window.  Much better!  In a year or two we hope to gut this room out and get it spray-foamed.  At least this is a good start in the right direction!

Not only do we get to capture some natural heat now, but also some natural light!  There is nothing like a well lit barn!

Next outdoor project… Firewood collection.

-Jeremy

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Old Man Winter has made his first appearance.. Now to deal with meat processing and frozen water lines!

I don’t know why, but it seems that winter caught me by surprise again this year.  It is not like I didn’t know it was coming.  Living in the northern half of Minnesota, winter always comes!  It is just that there are still so many tasks to complete around the house and farm before the hard winter freeze sets in.  I just kept hoping for more time.  This week we hit temperatures close to 0 deg F (3 deg F this morning).  We also received a little snow.   Cold is one thing to deal with, then there is the unneeded and unwelcome time change.  It is completely dark out by 5:15PM and getting earlier by the day.  Cold and darkness makes many of the outdoor projects a bit more difficult or impossible to complete.

So the mad rush begins.  The first signs of winter’s approach were felt in the barn.  As the temperatures started to drop, the water lines in the barn began to freeze.  I had to dedicate a little time to winterize the water lines in the barn.  Our rabbit and cow water lines were the first to start freezing.  I closed the valves that supplied fresh water to those two systems and drained the water from them as best I could.  I plugged in the water line heat tape on our main barn water line.  We will now be manually filling animal waters until Spring arrives in March (optimistic, I know… probably more realistically in May) from a single barn spigot, assuming it remains thawed.  Chore time just got a bit longer.   With water troughs starting to freeze over, I also had to get all the water heaters plugged in 🙁

Last year we constantly fought freezing water in our rabbit hutches.  This year, we bought heated bottles.  To ease the power bill and to make them a bit more efficient, after installing on the hutches, I took a can of sprayfoam to them and completely covered the outsides with insulation.  Not pretty, but pretty functional.

This last weekend, I took some tools with me to the barn and enlarged the hole in the south wall that gave us access to the cow pasture.  I then installed the one remaining old door from our house in that opening in another attempt to help seal up the drafty barn for winter.  This door is used to access the cow/yak pasture to feed and water them.  This door, along with the one I installed a few weeks ago on the north side were both welcome additions to the barn.

With fall canning and garden harvest complete, I prepared the garden for spring (Note to self: the garlic still needs to get planted!!).   Besides the “no-till sheet-multched” areas of the garden, the rest is tilled and ready for spring planting.  The canning shelves are full.  The produce freezer is full!  Now, butcher time begins.  This last weekend I processed 8 meat rabbits.  Shelly made up a delicious Teriyaki rabbit/ rice meal with one of them.  The rest went to the meat freezer.  In a couple of weeks, I will have about 11 more ready for processing, then we will be wrapped up with rabbits until early Spring, with the exception of maintaining our breeders.

Don’t like the idea of eating rabbit?  How about fresh farm raised beef?  We sent our first cow off for processing and have now been enjoying some delicious beef!  After losing his mate, our steer was a bit lonely.  He spent much of his time after Daisy was butchered mooing and staring out where the butcher gutted and quartered the heifer.  It was kind of sad…  So, it was time to give him a companion again.  Cows do not like to be alone, especially our big baby steer.  I was able to cut an opening in the fence (some day I will own some proper gates) and coax our yak out of the goat pasture (which the goats are happy to have back) and into the cow pasture.  After a little head butting between the cow and yak, the yak claimed dominance.  They now seem to be best friends.  They graze together and play together quite frequently.  Yes, cows play together.  It is quite comical and fun to watch!

Besides beef and rabbit, we will also be putting away some venison, which is currently aging in the garage as I type this up.  We will be processing the deer ourselves.  In fact, I ordered a meat grinder (partially payed for with Bitcoin!) which will help us grind up a lot of the scraps as burger and will also come in handy when our next cow is ready to be processed next fall.

Besides harvesting firewood and completing the daily chores, most of the outdoor projects will be shelved until the Spring thaw.  This will help me dedicate more time to interior house remodeling projects!  The sooner the house is complete, the sooner we can get our home-study done for adoption!  Winter is definitely not all bad.  It should give us more time as a family to have a family game night.  Or, as took place this last week, plenty of evenings in the living room with me learning basic guitar chords, Stephen or Shelly playing the piano, and the rest of the family sitting around reading or playing.

-Jeremy

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Re-roofing our Barn

It has officially been one year since I finished re-roofing our century old barn.  Before I started the project, I had a hard time finding information on re-roofing a large barn roof.  So, with that in mind, I decided I would lay out the process I went through.  This is by no means a full authoritative post on re-roofing a barn roof, but rather a journal of sorts, covering the process I took to re-roof our barn.

WHY

So, onto the why?  Here are just a few reasons I decided to re-roof the barn myself:

  1. Hiring someone else to re-roof our barn was cost prohibitive.  Doing it myself could save me $15-20,000.
  2. Finding someone willing to re-roof our barn was a challenge in and of itself.  Most contractors did not want to touch it let alone even come out and look at it.
  3. Re-roofing was a skill set I lacked.  This project could resolve that.
  4. If I didn’t get a roof on the barn soon, it would share the same fate that most turn-of-the-century barns are succumbing to, that inevitable and inescapable collapse due to neglect.
  5. In Minnesota, a proper shelter for animals to escape the harsh winter weather is a must.

Before taking on this project, I had never taken part in re-roofing anything.  Growing up, I had watched my father roof and re-roof buildings, but being just a child, my attention normally shifted to projects of my own, like building that fort in the woods.

Not only had I not re-roofed a building before, but I was uncomfortable with heights if being at height also included standing on an unsure surface.

RESEARCH PHASE

Alright, the decision to re-roof the barn was made.  Time to move onto the planning/research phase.  Lets start with some dimensions.  With dimensions, a material list can be formed.  With a material list in hand, the material can be ordered and the project can move to the implementation phase.

For dimensions, I utilized the free 2D CAD software Draftsight.  I have since discovered SketchUp, which would now be my preferred software of choice for building layout and design.

I drew up the roof in Draftsight, laid out flat, so I could determine the amount of steel roofing I needed to order.  Each rectangle illustrates a single sheet of steel roofing.  The white portions of the drawing represent the existing metal roofing installed on all of the additions on the barn.  The red portion represents the portion of the roof that was in need of replacement.

As you can see, I needed 62 sheets of steel metal roofing.  It came out to:

(15) 8′ Sheets

(32) 10′ Sheets

(15) 12′ Sheets

I used off-the-shelf lengths (2′ even increments) as they were easier to obtain.  As the barn was no longer square, each piece would need to be trimmed anyway, so there was no need ordering custom lengths.

In addition to the steel roofing, I would need screws and trim.

So, some basics on metal roofing.  The peak or top most point of the roof requires “ridge cap”.  This sheds water to either side of the roof at the top most point of the roof.  I ordered 50′ of this.  They came in 10′ sections.

The “hip” part of the roof, the part of the roof where the slope changes, required flashing.  You can buy preformed roof flashing or flashing rolled up in bulk rolls (cheaper).  I opted for the preformed flashing, as I didn’t know about the rolls of flashing at that time.

Along the front and rear of the barn, along the edge of the roof, I purchased “rake trim”.  This trim provides a clean transition along the edge of the roof line.  It also serves as another protective measure to keep water from gaining access to the buildings wooden frame underneath the steel roofing.

Finally, I installed metal fascia over the wooden trim along the edges of the roof.

The wildcard in materials list for me was the lumber requirements.  Before installing a metal roof, you need to run “purlins” every 2′, horizontally.  Typically, one will use a 2×4 for this “purlin”.  This is the board that the metal roofing gets fastened to.

In my case, as you will see later on, the roof had been exposed to the elements for several years and had begun to sag significantly.  My plan was to use lumber of various sizes as spacers, to give the finished roof a mostly square appearance.

 

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

With materials on-site, a tarp on the ground, and a pitchfork in hand, I was able to fairly easily remove the shingles from the roof, a section at a time.  The roof had the original wooden shake shingles installed, with two layers of asphalt shingles installed over them.  Obviously, some places just plain had no shingles left at all!

As I would clear a section, I would then affix my purlins onto the cleared off roof at 2′ intervals.  These purlins acted as a ladder of sorts to allow me to increase my reach and access to further portions of the roof.  I worked my way horizontally across the roof. Working horizontally allowed me to have access to the portion of the roof directly above the portion I just cleared.  This became important as I reached very, lets say, “un-square” portions of the roof.

NEVER SQUARE

As I cleared portions of the roof in the ever more sagging regions of the roof, it became necessary to run a string line from one side of the roof to the other.  This allowed me to shim up the purlins so the roof would come out looking square.

The further towards the middle of the roof I got, the worse it got.  As you can see here, I literally had to build a short knee wall on the roof to compensate for the sag in the roof.   Additional reinforcement and support on the interior will be completed at a later date.

FINALLY!  METAL!

Once the purlins were in place, I started to measure, trim, and install the metal roofing, sheet by sheet.

After the metal was on the roof, I used scaffolding to traverse the perimeter of the barn to install fascia and rack trim.

In my opinion, the overall roof turned out well.  No where near perfect, but it has breathed new life into a barn that would have otherwise continued to rot and decay.

Some pointers worth noting that I either discovered during the project or received from others along the way.

  1. Do not skip the purlins.  Do not install metal directly over asphalt shingles.  Asphalt shingles and metal roofing contract and expand at different rates during temperature fluctuations.  This will cause the shingles to rub against the metal like sandpaper, eventually leading to a rusted out roof.
  2. Invest in a safety harness.  I have wife and children and couldn’t imagine having left them husband/fatherless because of my own ignorance and preference of avoiding the use of an in-expensive safety harness.  $100 for the harness + a little inconvenience of dealing with the rope every time I wanted to move was a small price to pay to avoid a life changing fall.
  3. Buy twice the amount of screw you expect to use.
  4. Take a minute or two while you are up there to just enjoy the view of your homestead/farmstead.  Besides our silo, the barn roof is the highest point on our property.  It won’t be that often that I will get to take in a view like that.
  5. After a few weekends and many evenings on the barn roof, my fear of heights is nearly non-existent now.
  6. Use shoes with a good amount of traction.  Don’t expect those shoes to look great when the project is complete.  I wore holes on the outside of both shoes from their constant contact with the roof and constantly relying on them to hold me in place while in many tight spots up there.

Hopefully that gives you a fairly full glimpse into re-roofing that old barn.  Are you thinking of taking on a barn roof?  I am still by no means a roofing expert, but I would love to try to point you in the right direction if you have any questions!

 

-Jeremy

Sick of Facebook?  Join the SteemIt revolution!  Follow us on SteemIt: https://steemit.com/@mnhomesteader

 

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Dandelions, Once an Enemy

It is hard to believe we actually received measurable snowfall two weeks ago!  Now, the leaves are appearing on the trees, our garden is planted, the apple trees and lilacs are flowering, and the dandelions have blossomed.  With just a quick drive down our county road, you will quickly see plenty of those little yellow flowers, radiating like a field of mustard.  They are a childhood favorite but commonly despised by the average adult landowner.

Looking back on my child, teenage, and early adult years, I am not sure what drove me to that same and familiar destination as an adult, strolling down the lawn and garden section, reading the labels of various lawn chemical treatments.  The mission was to find the right treatment that would kill off those despised yellow terrors and get the perfectly manicured lawn every neighbor envies..  Or so, that used to be the case.  Once we moved to our farm, I knew from the start that things would be different, that we would think differently.  These yellow flowers would be no exception!

What turned these little yellow flowers from enemy to friend?  The first seems obvious considering our latest entry into the world of beekeeping, the second however will take a more open mind than many in these parts are willing to allow.

Before we took bees onto our farm, I had been given a warning, of sorts, through a podcast.  The guest speaker (a beekeeper) had said that once you get bees, you will soon develop a new lens of which you will see the world through.  Yes, lenses, those pesky little things that allow the unseen to be seen, or shift the focus onto something you may have been missing or hadn’t know was just sitting there, right in front of you.  This lens initiates the individual to observe flowers of all types in nature, noting when they blossom, all to gage the pollen availability for your little busy friends.  Dandelions are part of that pollen source for our bees..  I want honey, a productive garden, and happy, healthy bees more than I want that suburban golf course perfect lawn.

Putting the bees aside now, did you know that the dandelion is chalk full of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin K?  Yes, that is right, they are edible and extremely good for you!  The leaves have a slightly bitter taste, but don’t let that scare you away, it grows on you.  They make a great addition to any salad greens you may already have or all on their own.  We typically pick the leaves and add them to mixed greens.  I won’t spout off all the amazing health benefits they bring with them, but I will share several links that do:

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-eating-dandelion-greens-4433.html

http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/dandelion

Give them a try in your next salad (that is if you have not sprayed your lawn with any chemicals).   You may find out that you have an excellent and free source of healthy greens in your own backyard.  Maybe, just maybe, if you open your mind a little bit, you will also decide that these little yellow flowers aren’t so bad after all.

Now, off to cut some inexpensive shiplap

-Jeremy

 

 

 

 

 

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Sprained ankle, snowmen, bees, and windows, scratch that… A window!

After a few weekends interrupted by work, we have returned to a bit of normalcy, and progress at home!

Last weekend we had some friends over.  He brought his chainsaw (thank you for your help!)!!  Time to cut some more wood.  Somehow I still find it enjoyable, even thought every inch of my body hurts after I am done.  We took down a few large dead trees, including a very sizable maple that was hung up in a pine and oak tree.  I’d say that was about the toughest tree I have ever had to take down.  It took us a while, but we got it, only one sprained ankle later.  Thankfully, it must have been a minor enough sprain that I was back to walking normal after a few days.  

We finally put up our second goat paddock (you can also see a bit of our firewood in the background).  This will be a welcome addition to our farm.  We would like to get another up next year, allowing us to rotate our goats around three paddocks and help naturally manage parasite issues.

Winter made a surprise comeback last Monday on our farm with a couple inches of snow.  Thankfully it melted that evening!  That didn’t stop the kids from enjoying it while it lasted!

This last weekend, we started out with a run to pick up our house windows.  Unfortunately, after waiting this long, they were the wrong size!!  We ordered 5 feet, 2 inch tall windows by 2 feet 6 inches wide.  What we got, well, 52 inches by 26 inches.  See the problem?  Yeah, sort of a depressing start to the weekend to say the least.  Thankfully our kitchen window was sized correctly, so we framed accordingly and installed the window above the sink.

As you can tell, the new kitchen window is a significant upgrade compared to the old and tiny window pictured above.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a finished picture of the new window just yet, so you’ll just have to wait to see it until the next post 🙂

Saturday morning, Stephen and I took off to Mann Lake, located in Hackensack, MN to pick up our bees!  We are fortunate enough to have one of the countries premier bee suppliers located only a little over an hours drive from our farm.

This is one of two bee packages we picked up.  Driving with several thousand bees in the back seat was a little intimidating at first, but I guess I just took each turn slowly, cautious not to let them tip over.  All it would take is that can on the top to slip out of the box and there would be bees everywhere.  You may think you are not allergic to bees, but it is a common fact that 500-1000 bee stings will kill any person, regardless of whether you think you are allergic or not.

I am sure that will be a road trip Stephen will never forget!

I put together a stand to get our hives above the grass and then introduced the bees and their respective queens to the new hive boxes.  It was amazing how calm the bees were for me once I gave them a few good sprays of sugar water.  They seem to have taken to their new homes.  I will need to check on them in a week to see how the hive building is going and to make sure the queen has started laying eggs.  For the most part, I will just get to let them do their thing now.  I should only need to check in on them every 10-14 days or so and make sure they haven’t outgrown their new space.  We also started putting together two bee traps, more on that later.

What else have we been up to?

Yes, I know, I jump all over the place.  With so many fun projects to tackle, how could I not!  I couldn’t resist!!  I had to put steel up on at least one barn wall.  We decided on the north chicken coop wall.

While I still need to install windows, re-roof this lean-to, and add additional length to the eaves, it at least gives us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to seeing out of our house windows.

Bonus!  Stephen has hit the project ready age!  While Shelly and I set the kitchen window, he was busy pulling apart this old deck on the side of the house!

-Jeremy

 

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Re-adjusting the Duck Coop

There is no denying it, ducks are entertaining and cute little buggers.  What they leave behind…. not so much!  Earlier this year, we added a flock of ducks to our farm.  They are known for their excellent egg production and silly duck antics.  Going into ducks, I assumed their handling would be fairly similar to that of a chicken.  Well, as it turns out, that was sort of correct, sort of.

There are several differences and I won’t get into them all now, but the big one is that they make a big mess in their coop.  Sure, chickens make a mess, but ducks redefine the term “mess”.  Since they are technically waterfowl, well, they love water.   They need water.  Water is good for them.  The problem, they take and splash water everywhere, making their coop into one large sloppy wet pile of nastiness.  Their poo is wetter than a chicken’s, which adds to the problems.  Their coop quickly turned into an uncontrollable sloppy wet mess.  If this was allowed to continue, come winter, I would have a nightmare on my hands!!

There are several common solutions to keeping ducks, but many of them require grated flooring with a sloping sub-floor.  That would be cost prohibitive at our scale.  Back to the drawing board…

Oh, and did I mention that ducks have terrible table manners?  Sometimes it seems they waste more food than they actually eat.  For example, refer to, Exhibit A:

Figure 1: Exhibit A.

As you can see, that is a lot of feed getting wasted there.  Feed equals money.  Solution?  Well, I can thank some duck farmer from India on Youtube for this excellent idea, with my own little improvisation.

The idea, put a larger dish around the feeder and waterer to collect the wasted water and feed.  Every so often, empty out the water dish.   Take the collected feed and refill the feeder with it so it doesn’t go to waste.  Give both of the dishes a good spray-down and place them back under the waterer and feeder.  Simple!  Brilliant! Ddhanyavaad Indian duck farmer!!

Now to the next problem, finding something large enough that would hold the feeder and water can.  Also, it would need to be short enough so the ducks can still access the food and water.  After searching around our place, I came up empty handed.  I stopped at a fleet store to pick up pasture fencing (for another project) and could not find anything there that would just work.  Sure, they had larger rubber feed dishes, but the larger ones were sized in an oval shape, I need symmetry!  They were also $30-40 each.  Hmm…

After loading up the fencing, I went to our not-so-local big-box home improvement store to pick up some barn steel and other misc items.  While there I looked over the plastic storage container section.  No luck..  Everything was too tall.  All of the shallow ones looked either cheap or were too big or too small.  Starting to feel like Goldilocks!  I moved on to the garden center, maybe a small pond liner or something would stick out.  Ahh, there it was, the barrel planter.  The what?  Yeah, I guess they make a planter that fits into a large wooden barrel.   Think 1600’s ship travel, 1800’s wagon travel, or prohibition crackdown type old school food/liquid storage wooden barrels.  This thing was made to fit in the top of one of those so you can plant your flowers and such in your barrel, at least that is what the label advertised its use for.  I had no idea there was a market for such a thing.  Anyways, it felt solid, was made to hold water, short enough for a duck to get in and out of, and would fit the feeders perfectly.  They were only $9/each.  Perfect, I’ll take two please!

Here’s what they look like with the feeders contained inside.  This should fit the bill!

After cleaning out the coop and laying down fresh straw, I moved the feeders back in.  The ducks took to them instantly (my ducks are a bit camera shy).  After checking in on them after a day or two, I think I found the solution to the worst of the duck coop problems I was having!  Poo/dirty stray will still need to be removed manually, but so far the straw is staying fresher for more than a week at a time now (compared to several hours or a day maximum)!

Do you have ducks?  What solutions have you come up with for your messy little friends?

-Jeremy

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6 Early Spring Homesteader Activities (and some 1st year lessons learned)

Spring has no shortage of tasks for the homesteader.  Here are six homesteader activities we have been up to lately.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it hits on our big ones.

Barn Cleaning

Yeah, this ranked as my least favorite task this Spring and my most favorite to see completed!  It was a bit easier than last year, but still an effort.  Last year, we had to clear out the manure and straw with a wheelbarrow.   This year we had a lawn tractor and trailer to assist us.  This made life much easier, but still no cakewalk.

Ah, those floors almost sparkle!  By the end of Saturday, we had everything but the duck coop clean.  Boy was I sore and tired come Sunday!!  That was a full-body workout for sure.  What a relief, now we can focus on the fun stuff!

1st year lesson learned:  Make the indoor goat pen smaller next winter!  We gave our goats way too much space (and grass bales) in the barn this winter which equated to over a foot of manure, straw, and uneaten grass on the floor to haul out for composting.  Not fun!

Gophers

Once the snow melted, our field looked like an inverted mine-field.  Instead of craters, it was littered with bumps.  Soft tripping hazards placed conveniently, everywhere!   Grr, those nasty little hill-billy buck-toothed rats are going to destroy our alfalfa.  What if they find the vineyard?  They all have to die!!  Okay, a bit over-dramatic, but you get the idea, the gophers have invaded!

Gophers are considered a nuisance animal in the state of Minnesota (and probably many other states).  They dig tunnels, kick out dirt into large above ground piles, and eat the roots off of your cherished vegetation.  They cause so much damage, that most townships in the area pay $2-4 per gopher.

Thankfully, armed with a shovel, some flag markers, death-clutch gopher traps, and metal rods, we can take them on and save our plants from destruction!

After some mentoring and encouragement from myself and a friend last summer, Stephen has officially removed this chore off of my to-do list.  Last week, he caught his first gopher, with no help from me!  He dug the hole, set the trap, and staked it out.  He even cuts the feet off (you need to provide the feet as proof of catch to the township to collect payment) and puts them in a jar in the freezer.  Sweet!

1st year lesson learned: We found this was a great way to teach Stephen about investments and renting.  Since I bought the traps, we split the earnings 50/50 (rent).  He has discovered that if he invests some if his earnings into purchasing new traps of his own, he will collect 100% of the earnings from his own traps.  It was an easy way to show him that the money he makes can be used to make more money, a simple wealth building concept.

Fencing

En garde!  Time to defend the garden, pines, shrubs, and saplings from the mischievous goats.

Spring is a great time to put in new paddocks while the bugs are tolerable and the grass is not overgrown.  We increased our garden space and extended the fence around the newly broken ground to keep out our ducks, chickens, and the wild rabbits.

In addition to the garden fence, we are also in the processes of adding a new goat paddock so we can start rotational grazing with our goats.  Rotational grazing will allow the vegetation in the unused paddock to recover and should also curb parasite problems.

1st year lesson learned: Wait for the frost to fully give out, it makes driving posts in the ground immensely easier!

Garden Preparation (and even some planting!)

The plants are doing well under our grow lights.  The strawberry plants are greening up and the chive is ready for harvest.

We have been adding compost to the garden and are now ready to start some early planting.  Note that many plants can be planted before the last frost, some examples include kale, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, and spinach.

Lesson learned: We always wait until the last frost and plant everything at once.  This year we will be staggering our planting, starting with cold weather crops over the next few days, and the rest after the last frost.

Tree Planting

Now is an excellent time to plant trees.  The sooner, the better.  The rule of thumb I have always went by was to get them in the ground before Mother’s day.  However, the best time is once the soil is workable. If you wait too long, prepare to put out much more work into nurturing and watering them.

We put two more apple trees in last weekend and planted 150 pines and deciduous trees on Wednesday.  Last weekend we marked out the trees we planted last year and added a thick 3-4 inches of cold compost (rabbit and goat manure + straw) around each tree to build up soil nutrients, maintain soil moisture, and help the trees access sunlight.

Lesson learned: Mark out the smaller trees and shrubs with flag markers until they get a little more visible to prevent them from getting mowed over, stepped on, or baled up.

Prepare the Hives

This is a new one for us, but I am extremely excited about it.  It is time to assemble and prepare the new bee hives for the bees we pick up in early May.

We put in our bee order with Mann Lake this week.  Two packages of bees, each with a queen, for two new hives!  I was hoping to build some more bee hives and honey supers, but I opted to order what I need right now as there is no way I will have time to put anything together from scratch before May 🙁

I also plan to setup a few bee traps in the woods.  Who knows, I might just get some free native bees and then in turn, add another hive to our homestead.  It only takes a little investment and minimal time, so, why not?

Now that you know what we are up to, how about you?  Do you have any fun (or not so much fun) Spring projects going on?  We’d love you heard from you!

-Jeremy

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Evening Winter Farm Chores

Here is a glimpse into our evening winter farm chores.  No milking this year, just checking in on all of the animals and making sure they are fed and watered.  I do plan on posting yearly updates to show how our farm and chore routine evolves.

If you are interested in homesteading with animals, hopefully you will find this helpful.   It should give you an idea of what you need to be prepared to commit to at least twice daily (morning and evening).  If you are already homesteading, how does your winter chore list stack up and compare to ours?

Our evening winter chores normally take 10-20 minutes.   The animals like routine, so we try to do our chores at the same times every day.  We typically get the evening chores done right after getting kids to bed (but sometimes before).  Although there are other farm chores that need to get done from time to time, these are the daily and routine ones.

The chores give Shelly and I a common daily hobby we can both work together on.  In addition to that, it forces us outside on cold winter days that we would probably not have ventured out in before.  Many evenings after wrapping up the chores, I have to stop and take in the cold, quiet outdoors.  Some nights, the moon stands in the sky reflecting the light on the snow so brightly, you can make out the surroundings as if it were an overcast day.   Other nights, the moon is nowhere to be seen and every star is brilliantly and clearly on display.  One cold night this winter, I even had the chance to see moon dogs for the first time in my life.  Pretty cool!

Well, on to it.  Our typical evening routine involves:

Chickens

  • Last daily check for eggs
  • Do a quick head count
  • Check feed level
  • Check water level
  • Check grit level
  • Throw out any kitchen scraps that are chicken friendly

Rabbits

  • Fill water
  • Fill feed
  • Keep the cats from trying to get in the rabbit cages while the doors are open (Johnny, I’m talking about you!)

Cows

  • Grain ration
  • Top off hay
  • Top off water
  • Optional: A quick head scratch

Goats

  • Grain ration with kelp
  • Check hooves
  • Check eyelids
  • Top off water
  • Top off hay
  • Check mineral levels
  • Optional, but rarely skipped: A little play time or neck scratch

– Jeremy

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