Walk with me as I take care of the winter morning barn chores…

Looking outside the ice covered window, I can see the glorious sun peaking up through the trees.  Looks like a beautiful morning!  A quick glance at the weather shows its a cold one.

Better head to the barn and check on the animals.

Time to suit up.  First the bibs, coat, balaclava, boots, and mittens.  Yes, mittens today, for sure.  Five minutes later, I am finally heading out the door.  The door knob turns a bit harder than usual.  A flood of fog simultaneously rushes into and out of the doorway as I open the door.

Our barn water line froze up somewhere in the ground between our house and the barn earlier this winter, so I head on over to the house spigot with two 5 gallon buckets.  Hey, it beats getting water from the bathroom tub like we had to do last winter!  Two buckets will be enough to top off the waters, as the animals should not have gone through too much water since yesterday’s evening chores.  The spigot turns hard.  Very hard.  Careful not to break it, I apply a bit more pressure.  Earlier this week, I had to use the hot air gun once to thaw it out, even though it is a frost-free spigot.  It begins to rotate!  Steaming hot ground water pours out, a good 40 degrees warm.  Both buckets get their turn under the spigot, making plenty of cracking sounds as they disagree with the extreme and sudden change of temperature.  While I wait for them to fill, the sun gleams through the smoke coming from our chimney.  Our house exterior covered in snow and ice.  Winter beauty?

The buckets are full and I head off to the barn.  The ground moans and complains under my boots.  Absolute stillness in the air makes every crunching step sound that much louder.  You know it is cold when you breath in and your nose starts to freeze shut.  The warm moist air from your breath rises from your mouth and condensates on your eyelashes, making the involuntary action of blinking voluntary, a fight to prevent your upper and lower lashes from freezing together.

I check on the chickens and rabbits in the barn. Chickens are good.  Rabbits get their food topped off.  Their waters are frozen solid, no surprise there.  A few whacks against the floor breaks all of the ice free from the crock so I can refill them with fresh liquid water.  All good on the water and feed front now!

The goats are enjoying some hay in the comfort of the barn, non to eager to step foot outside.  That barn window I installed this fall gives them plenty of light to soak in.  The compost on the floor is starting to amass.  This is a good thing for the goats (not so much for me this coming Spring).  As it sits on the floor and decays, it generates heat to keep the goats a little warmer through the winter.  We also apply generous amounts of straw, it almost looks cozy, if only they didn’t have that bad habit of always soiling their bed!

Only the cattle and ducks left to tend to.  I’m still warm.  Hope you are hanging in there.  There is sure to be some coffee, tea, or hot cocoa in the house once the chores are complete.

Looks like their water is frozen to0 🙁

Lets fix that with the ice chisel and top it off for them…  Here comes Yavanna the yak for some treats.  She looks like a natural in this cold, she’s even sporting a frosty white beard (I probably am by now too).

“I’m ready for my treats!”  Who could say no to those big eyes!

I toss a bale in their feeder and give them each some grain.

Last but not least, we better check on the ducks before heading in.

Like the yak, the cold doesn’t seem to phase them.  After all, is it ever to cold outside for a duck bath??

If I have extra water, here is where I like to run to the sledding hill and toss the extra out.  Would be a shame to let that water go to waste.  Worse still would be letting it sit in the bucket and allow it to freeze solid, leading to another cracked and useless bucket.

Time to run those buckets back to the house so they are ready for later, now it’s time to warm up!  Just watching those ducks in the water is making me cold!

-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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Roofing Progress, Gardens, and Automatic Barn Water

Roofing progress has been slowly progressing forward.  Slowly.  Due to various summer activities (county fair, work, CCP recertification, family events, and other commitments) and weather, the roof is still a work in progress.  The good news?  What little I have completed, has stood the test of the elements. We have been hit by several thunderstorms over the past few weeks.  No leaks in the new roofing!

The dormer roofing and chimney roofing took a while to figure out as this is my first non-barn roof that I have installed.  So far it is looking about how we had planned.  For reference, my partially completed 3D model in Sketchup (thanks to my cousin Brad for the software suggestion!).

Looks like another storm’s a brewin..

While my nerves were on edge as our roof was undergoing moisture testing, the ducks were thoroughly enjoying themselves as parts of our yard became over-saturated..

The rain and the hot sunny summer days have started to bring our gardens to life!  Flowers that we started indoors from seed are just starting to bloom.  The hard work and planning of spring is just starting to pay off!

This flower bed did not exist a mere 2 months ago!

Nor did this one!

Not only are the flowers in bloom, but the garden harvest has switched from strawberries, to everything else…  Over the last week or two, I would guess that nearly 80% of the food we have consumed has originated from our property.  Venison, pork, rabbit, potatoes, beans, zucchini, beets, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, peppers, herbs, and even a few early apples!

Another quick sneak peak at the latest house progress.

This side of the house has reminded me a lot of the barn.  The roof sagged about 2-3 inches in the middle.  This required a bit of work to remove and will result in a hopefully mostly squared up looking roof.

It has been a while since I have posted an update on here, so, I am going to cover all the bases!

We have laid down the rest of the cardboard we had stored up for the garden as part of our permiculture sheet-mulching technique.  As the rabbits produce more “fertilizer”, we will lay it over the cardboard, along with waste straw from the barn hayloft.  This method seems to so far be fairly effective at keeping the weeds at bay, while at the same time helping the ground retain moisture and receive nutrients.

Had enough yet?  There’s more…

I finally had some time this weekend to install the automatic water valves for the yak, goats, and cows.  At least through the summer months, this will save us lots of time as it eliminates the chore of filling up their waters!

Water aside, it sort of feels like spring again around the farm, in July.  We not only have a new litter of fluffy kittens, but also…

baby bunnies..

I think that about brings you up to date with the happenings on our little farm.

I’ll end the the same way I end every evening here.  This is our naughty hen that refuses to roost with the rest of the chickens.  Instead, she chooses to roost on the rabbit cages.  Maybe she thinks she is a bunny?  Maybe she dislikes our two juvenile roosters that are the cause of chaos before all the hens go in to roost every evening?  Either way, for the last few weeks, every night, I have to sneak up on her, grab her, and toss her back into the coop. Every night!  Without fail!  I hope someday she will learn!

-Jeremy

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Life Goes On

My paths lately have been full of constant reminders of how fragile life is and how fickle man’s plans are.  Just the other week, I was greeted by an overturned semi on the same on-ramp of the fatal rollover a couple of months ago.  Last week I drove by several farms hit by either a tornado or strong winds from storms.  Barns collapsed onto two brand new harvesters.  Metal strewn across large fields.  On my way to work today, I passed by a head on collision involving two cars on the highway.  It was a mess and both cars were no doubt a total loss, but everyone looked fine, so I passed by the scene.  Emergency responders were on their way.

I guess those scenes make me appreciate those meaningful moments as a family, like last night, bedtime stories around a bonfire, birds singing, playful children, and a bright rainbow overhead.  Those moments, I will admit, are too few and far between at our house.  They are also fleeting and hard to hang on to.  Do you know what I mean?  Life shows up in one form or another to squash those cherished moments.  Examples are abundant, children’s’ teeth in need of brushing, rushing to complete several “time-critical” projects, like planting grass after a septic install to ensure it will get a good start while we are still in our “rainy” season, or ordering the children to pickup a mess after they had been, once or twice, kindly asked to pick up.

I guess those moments add to the overall story of our lives, but I would hands down take that bonfire with the family over picking up the house or mowing the lawn.

This weekend we all got out and weeded the garden and picked strawberries on Saturday, before another dose of rain hit.  I think we have officially found and reclaimed much of our garden!  The goats enjoyed every bit of it as we tossed the weeds over the fence for them to munch on.

A quick tip.  If you are freezing strawberries, pre-freeze them (at least until the outside of the berry hardens) on cookie sheets before putting them in freezer bags.  It will make using them in the future much easier, trust me!

Once the rain hit, I worked hard at nearly completing our central vacuum installation, nearly…  Now I have to frame a wall to attach the central vacuum unit to.  I also need to complete the vacuum lines up to the attic.  Okay, I have a ways to go!  This project led to another project which then led to another… I ended up working on some ductwork, installing speaker wire in our family room, and lots of other miscellaneous odds and ends.

Once nice weather hit again Sunday afternoon, we headed back outdoors.  What better way to spend an hour on Fathers day than at the butcher table, right?  Ok, without a question, there are more exciting or relaxing things to do, but, the farm doesn’t wait for the farmer.  My two youngest boys were eager to be at my side as I processed three rabbits for a total of 12lb of meat.  They manned the hose and spigot to supply me with all my water needs.  They also had to do the obligatory “little boy” things, like looking at and touching the rabbit teeth, whiskers, and claws.  Although I think they are still too young to fully understand, I tried to explain to them that we treat dead animals with respect, as they died for our sustenance so that we can live.  It’s crazy really, a beautiful picture of Christ, right here on the butcher table.  Anyways, I am sure they will get to hear my spiel again next time, and next time, and eventually they will understand.  Unfortunately, this is a concept that is lost or taken for granted by most in our modern society while eating that chicken, pork, or beef for lunch or dinner.  At one time, that animal had to meet a similar fate, although I am fairly certain it did not receive the same level of respect any of my animals receive.

(Frozen rabbit and strawberries)

Getting even messier, we got a new septic put in last week…

As you can imagine, it gave our boys hours of entertainment.  On the soapbox for a moment.. For those that think there is no difference between the sexes, our girl had no interest at all in what was going on outside the window in our yard, ZERO.  Skid steer, front end loader, dump trucks, septic pump truck…  ZERO interest!  The boys however were glued to the windows.  We didn’t train them that way.  Same environment.  Same toys.  Same computer access.  With our house in its current state, even the same bedroom!

Needless to say, as nice of a job as the contractor did at putting the yard back together again after the new septic underwent inspection, it was still a mess.  We picked rock, raked the rough patches, and put some grass seed in the ground.  Once we get the hay off of the field, I am hoping the regular rains continue so I don’t have to run the sprinkler.  What are the chances of that?  Around here, rain seems like a guarantee whenever we are in the middle of a roofing project or cutting and baling hay.  Kind of like how the dry spell we were having a few weeks ago suddenly ended the moment our neighbor cut our field!  According to my forecast predictions, we are in for torrential rains the week of July 4th (the week I start work on our roof and cut in our dormers) 😛

-Jeremy

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Automated Rabbit Watering System

What is the first thing you think about when you think of a farm?  Animals maybe?  Fields, orchards, or gardens?  Tractors? How about chores?  Pretty sure that the word “chores” comes quickly to the mind of any farmer or homesteader out there, past or present.  Chores, they consume our most valuable resource.  Time.  One of my goals (among many others) when entering farming at a small scale was to see how many of the processes I could automate.  Some day I can sit back in the porch and sip some iced tea, maybe watch the chickens and ducks do their thing while the farm tends to itself.  Haha, that will be the day, but you have to start somewhere right?

I have most of the parts to automate our chicken door, but more pressing for us now that the summer heat has hit, has been handling our rabbit water.  How tedious it is to go to each cage several times a day to ensure the water level in the rabbit bottles is okay and to top off as needed.  It is especially nasty when you get to the male rabbit cages.  I haven’t found it yet, but I am pretty sure the water bottles must have a target on them, only visible to a rabbit eye.  Soiled and slimy hands are a sure guarantee (I won’t elaborate).  There has to be a better way.

Sure enough, there is!  For under $60 in parts and less than 2 hours of assembly, we can now water up to 20 rabbit cages.  For comparison, with $60, I could only purchase 3-4 decent new cage water bottles, and I would still have to manually fill them daily.  Boo!

I started by saving an old drywall mud bucket and cover. One can never have enough buckets!  I had stopped at the local fleet supply and picked up a stock tank float valve, typically used to regulate the water level in a stock tank for goats, horses, or cattle.  I cutout the bucket lid so that I could fit the valve and float assembly in the bucket.  I wanted to still be able to put the lid back on there to prevent nasties from getting in their water.  I then ordered a 20 pack of rabbit water nipples and some plastic tubing online.  I had some 1/2″ pex tubing and a valve laying around from house projects.  With a water line already in the barn, I tapped into it with the pex T-fitting and put in a new valve to feed this new rabbit watering system I was going to setup.  This valve would ensure I could isolate this system if I ever had problems with the rabbit watering system in the future.

The pex was then connected from the new valve to the float valve I attached to the bucket.  I drilled a small hole in the bottom of the bucket and installed the plastic tubing through that hole.  I then ran the tubing to each rabbit cage using the fittings provided in the rabbit nipple kit.

At each cage, I installed a nipple.  A word of advice, ensure the plastic hosing is not accessible to the rabbits, they will try to bite through it.  I learned that the hard way!

Wire staples worked well to hold the tubing in place.  Finally, I suspended the bucket from the ceiling so gravity would feed water through the tubes to each rabbit.

Once everything was in place, I opened up the valve to the new system.  The bucket immediately filled with water.  When full, it stopped!   I watched the water slowly fill up the lines and made sure to press each water feeder nipple to ensure that water would flow out and the remaining air would be released from the lines.  After checking on it a few times through the day, I was satisfied.  The water level maintained and the system did not appear to be leaking anywhere!  Perfect!  A simple, yet effective, low cost, low energy rabbit watering system!  All in all, it took about one, maybe two, hours to complete.  I’ll remove the water bottles once I know the rabbits have adjusted.

UPDATE (2017.06.27):  After a couple weeks of use, the water system is still working great!  We haven’t needed to water the rabbits manually at all since installation!  I removed the water bottles about 2-3 days after setting the system up.

-Jeremy

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Windows!!

Finally!!  After almost five months, we have some windows installed!  Siding however, that is another story, more on that in a bit…

We started by installing the kitchen window a couple of weeks ago (ignore the ceiling light, I need to recenter that!).  While installing, I was greeted with the reality that this wall was very crooked, for example (yes, that window is level, I quadruple checked it!):

As you can see, the ceiling slopes about 2-3 inches from one side of the kitchen to the other!  Once I complete that wall, that slope will should be inconspicuous to the average person walking through the room.

The larger problem was on the exterior of the house.  It became quickly evident that the previous owners did not use a level when installing the siding.  The siding was not off by a 1/4 inch either.  I might have been able to live with that.  It was off by several inches from one side of the house to the other. Great, I could already visualize it.  So, you drive up our driveway and immediately, your eyes are drawn to a newly and crookedly installed window (that wasn’t really crooked, but just appeared so).  Reluctantly, I pulled all of the siding off of that side of the house so I could install it correctly.  Well, so much for a quick window install!!  This project just became larger and more demanding of my time than I had anticipated!  Surprise!

I proceeded by installing the two new windows in our living room along with exterior window trim once the siding was out of the way.

While I had this side of the house stripped down, I thought it would be as good of a time as any to add some extra flashing along the bottom of the wall, equating to an extra layer of defense against any future rodent problems (thankfully, a problem we have not had since before we sprayfoamed).

After some work interruptions over the weekend, I was able to make some slow progress at putting Humpty-dumpty back together again.  This will be a project that will obviously take up several of my evenings this week.

For reference, here a before picture of the house.  Mind you, windows are just the beginning.  We have plans for the fascia, soffit, straightening the roof, finishing our replacement of the vinyl windows, a four season porch, and dormers (that is a 10ft attic from floor to peak).

Less demanding of my time was our master bedroom window installation.  The siding on this side of the house was actually fairly straight!!   Only some caulking and painting left to go on the window trim.

Again, a before picture, for reference…

The house remodel has been a full family effort.  At times it forces our patience, but it gets better as each project gets completed.  Stephen or Shelly are always there to lend a helping hand.  Even the bunnies got in on this weekends projects, if only by gracing us with their presence!

Only five more windows left to order and four more waiting on me to find time to get them installed. We’ll get there!

-Jeremy

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mmm, Tacos!

My brother and his wife came over to our farm tonight for tacos.  If you know either myself or my brother well enough, you will know these were not your ordinary Minnesota style beef or chicken tacos (although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the pictures)!

Chicken?  Nope!

I spent about 45 minutes last night processing 4 rabbits.  Two went to the freezer, the other two, well they made for a delicious 5lb of taco meat.

Pulled pork?  Nope.  Beef roast?  Nope!  🙂

This was a roast from one of my brother’s goats.  Turns out that goat also makes an excellent taco.

I am not sure why culture has to dictate what goes on our plate.  “Because that is how it always is” is not a good enough reason as any engineer or entrepreneur will tell you.  All I can tell you, setting aside cultural norms, dinner was great at our house this evening!

-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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Thrown into the Fire (err, Ice)

So, at the time of this post, our current air temperature (not including wind chill) was -11 Deg F.  Wind chills last night reached the -25 to -30 deg F mark.  What a year to start a farm!

Most of the animals seem to be doing well with the harsh temps so far.  The cows and rabbits don’t seem to mind the cold.  The chickens are still afraid of the snow and look forward to the afternoon when we let them roam out of the coop and into the rest of the barn.  This works well as they seem to eat up much of the grain we drop during our regular feedings of the other animals.  The challenge with the chickens has been to regularly check for eggs, as if does not take long for them to freeze and crack in this weather.

The goats (Nubians) seem to be taking the cold weather the hardest.  They hesitate to leave their shelter and heat lamp, poor things.  We will put priority on installing clear greenhouse paneling for the south side of our barn next summer.  That paneling should allow the barn to warm up when the winter sun beats down.

Additionally, we have begun feeding the goats larger portions of grain twice a day to keep them fat (or fatten them up more).  Besides the increase in feed costs, the downside to this is that we need to also start giving them vitamin B injections so their digestive system can handle the additional grain.

A final point in regards to the animals, they drink much more water in the winter than in the summer.  I am sure this is due to the fact they are eating dry grains and hay, versus fresh lush grass in the pasture and yard.  Unfortunately, the barn water managed to freeze.  I will be reviewing that system next summer.  For the rest of this winter, it looks like we will be manually carrying water to the barn from our tub in the house 🙁

Looking forward, we may be adding another Nubian doe (possibly pregnant) to our herd between Christmas and New Years.  Additionally, we will be moving Daisy into the barn (hopefully this weekend).  So, it looks like I get to build some pens in the barn this weekend!  Highs are forecast to be around -5 deg F.  Thank goodness for long underwear, balaclavas, and overalls.

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