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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A Yak Update

Inevitably, we have received a lot of questions pertaining to the acquisition of our first yak, Yavanna, this last year.  Typically, you would find yak grazing the Himalayan highlands or plateaus of Tibet, not the lakes country of Minnesota.

So, what would possess a person to buy a yak you might ask?  Don’t worry, it wouldn’t be the first time someone asked us that 😀

Here are some common questions that we are frequently asked when someone first finds out we have yak.

Why would you buy a Yak?

  • Milk – You can milk a yak. They supposedly yield about as much as a goat (we wouldn’t know, we don’t have a bull to breed our heifer, yet…) You can drink it straight up, make cheese, or do pretty much anything with it, like you would with cow milk.
  • Fiber – You can harvest their fiber, which is supposed to have a lot of the same attributes as cashmere or merino wool.  Super warm AND soft!
  • Meat – I have heard their meat is a lot like a mix between buffalo and beef, fairly lean. I wouldn’t know though, as I have never tasted it.
  • Long Life – A yak can typically live to around 30 years or so.
  • Efficient – They consume a lot less than traditional cattle. With that in mind though, they also take longer to fully mature. This is great for a small farmstead like ours.
  • They will defend against predators. We have wolves and coyotes, our yak will put them in their place. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APuua4Gci5U
  • They dance and hop, sort of like a goat! Pretty cute stuff!
  • They respect fences, sort of not like a goat!
  • They are winter hardy. Perfect for Minnesota!

  • They are parasite resistant.
  • They can be bred with traditional cattle: welcome to the world of dzo’s
  • They are easier on the vegetation than traditional cattle.
  • They look downright awesome!

Where did you find your Yak?

Online of course, https://www.yakzz.com/ to be precise! I found a farm in SE Minnesota, near the Twin Cities that was selling a few yak. In the process, I have found two other Yak farmers within a few hours drive from our farm. Who knew!

Do yaks and cows get along?

Did you whisper sweet nothings in your significant other’s ears when you first met?

When we first got our yak, she was pretty wound up after being moved to a new environment. Rightly so. I would not step foot in her pasture for fear I would either end up dead or in the hospital. As we have had her around for a while now, I wouldn’t want to part with her. While I still have some work to do so I can attempt to shear her this Spring, she has warmed up to me a lot. I enter her pen now, nearly daily, with respect, but no longer with fear. When we first got her she charged down and killed one of our ducks. Now she could care less about the ducks and chickens marching past her. She is now just part of the farm.

An additional fact: Yaks do not “moo” like a cow, but rather grunt, almost like a pig, only less squeally and less often!

-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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Converting a [Free] IBC into a Goat Feeder and Dealing with a Chicken Thief

You can do a quick search online for hay feeders and you will get a plethora of ideas and options.  Some are quick and easy to put together with various items you can find laying around or after a quick trip to the lumberyard.  Others are available for purchase and can get rather expensive, some options even ranging in the $1000-5000 range.

I had a few quick project specs that the system had to follow.  The feeder has to hold several square bales (aka idiot cubes).  We bale with our neighbors and neither of us are currently afforded the luxury of a larger tractor that can move round bales, nor the baler itself.  Square bales are easy enough to handle and work fine for the scale we are farming at.

(Good neighbors are priceless)

The feeder needs to protect the bales from rain and snow.  The feeder also needs to hold the bales in a way that would prevent too much waste.  It also needed to be cheap (or in this case, free).

One solution that kept coming up in my search results was the use of an IBC as a feeder.  Great!  Last summer, a bear trapping friend of mine had an IBC that he was given in which was previously used to hold molasses.  He had used up the remaining molasses and I gladly took the IBC, knowing that at some point, it would come in handy.  I originally thought I would use it in a hydroponics or aquaponics system, but until I figure out how to economically keep a system like that from freezing in the winter, that will have to wait.

I grabbed a drill and drilled out a hole on both of the “longer” sides of the IBC.  I then took my reciprocating saw and cut out both sides, using the hole I drilled as the starting point for the saw blade.  Once cutting was done, we pulled the IBC, now a hay feeder, into the pasture and loaded it up with bales.  As you can see, the goats instantly loved the new feeder!

So, over the last two weeks, we have had several chickens go missing (in particular, two stubborn hens that did not want to roost in the coop at night).  Much to my surprise, when stepping out to do evening chores, I was greeted by one of the probable suspects, sitting right there on our patio!  He (or she) turned tail and prepared to dispatch the dreaded spray.  I turned tail and ran into the house, quickly closing the door and running for my .22  Once I had the .22 in my hands, I ran for the door and quickly took a shot at the skunk.  Hitting it in the chest, it returned the favor by using the last of it’s strength to crawl under our deck and die (someday that deck will be converted to a patio!!).  Nice!  With no way to get it out, let alone seeing it in the dark, and with heavy rain on the way, I had no choice but to leave it there until the following day.  Even with the rain coming down hard, the smell wafted into our bedroom all night long.  Oh joy!

When we pulled it out from under the deck, take a guess at what else came out with it.  Chicken feathers!

Onto bigger animals.  Our yak has settled in nicely.

We were a little worried after she seemed to be taking the initial adjustment pretty hard.  Yavanna (the yak) and Blacky (our steer) seem to have become friendly.  Daisy (our Holstein heifer) and Yavanna on the other hand, well, let’s just say, my fence is getting stress tested!  I need to get some additional electric put in, but until then, I am hoping the head butting between her and Daisy subsides (which it seems to be).  It was definitely a good idea to slowly introduce her to the cows, with a physical barrier separating them.  Our fall beef may have gone through some unwanted tenderizing.

 

So what else has been going on at our farm?  Strawberries!  Lots of them! About 1-2 heaping flats a day.  Happy strawberry picking season!

-Jeremy

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Our First Yak!

Most every marriage consists of a spender and a saver.  Can you guess which category I fall into?  So… last night I brought home a yak.

She’s kind of adorable, right?!  Meet Yavanna the Yak (formerly know as Angel).

We had originally planned on picking her up a week or two ago, but then, a meandering business trip popped onto my schedule that was to take me to Rockville, MN and further south-east into Winthrop, MN.  Winthrop is only about an hours drive from the Northfield farm we had been in talks with about purchasing a yak.  So I borrowed a friends livestock trailer (thank you!) and pulled it along for the ride.

The morning started out a bust.  I had left the trailer connected to the truck overnight, which ended up draining the truck batteries to the point it would not start.  Let’s hope that is the last of the days surprises!  After charging the batteries, I was off.  Once business was complete, I arrived in Northfield around 7PM.  We rounded up our new shaggy little bovine into the trailer and it was back to the road, after, a short stop to visit some family only a few country blocks away from the Yak farm.

It was good to break up the drive a little and visit with family whom I have not seen in quite a while.  My aunt was awesome, hospitable and even had supper dished up and ready at the table!  That was an unexpected surprise!  While there, I also had the opportunity to meet up with one of my cousins and her husband.  It was fun to turn a normal and dull work trip into something out of the ordinary.  By this time, our new yak was starting to get a bit feisty.  Her patience was starting to run thin after being taken away from her familiar surroundings and yak family (just ask my cousin who almost had her hand impaled after trying to pet her!).  It was time to hit the road again, the clock read about 9PM and I still had a 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of myself.

Part of my drive brought me through Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The thought of hauling a yak, native to the Himalayan highlands, in a trailer behind me, through the twin cities at night, was sort of surreal.  Thankfully, this late in the evening, on a Monday, the traffic was smooth through the metro.  The thought of sudden stops with a large animal in the trailer brought horrible visions to mind.  I wanted her to arrive safely to our farm, still able to walk on all four legs.

I pulled into our driveway between 12:30-1AM, tired from yet another late night (I tended to an emergency service call for a client Saturday night/Sunday morning, getting back home at 4:30AM Sunday).  Shelly and I setup some temporary fencing (an IBC) to funnel her out of the trailer and into the dark pasture.  She cautiously emerged from the trailer, a bit timid in regards to her new surroundings and our two larger cows mooing from across the fence.  She took a few laps around the pasture and we took to our bed.

Once morning arrived, to our relief, the fences were still intact.  She seems to have calmed down a bit and is slowing warming to her surroundings and to our crazy family of smiling children, curious cats, questioning cows, quacking ducks, noisy chickens, red-eyed rabbits, and that unwelcome sly fox that took down at least two of our new hens.

-Jeremy

 

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Never a Dull Moment

The homesteading life is never dull.  Here are a few memorable and random moments we captured on camera this past couple of weeks. They represent a sliver of the amalgamation that is our lives.

Even when they are not present, they manage to leave their markings.  This is what I found when blindly reaching into my screw box while working on the barn…  I guess, better here than under my foot, although this was not quite the look I was going for.

Cycling is one of my passions.  I managed to sneak out for a quick gravel ride while the rest of the family was at a birthday party.  Something wasn’t feeling quite right, so I stopped to check it out.  Can you spot what’s wrong?

No doubt, a day they will not soon forget…

Well, they finally did it.  It was probably inevitable..  Our fences were secure.  Our gates were locked up tight.  But, that didn’t stop our furry troublemakers.  The goats managed to knock over these concrete slabs that blocked the exit to our barn gutter.  They then proceeded to climb through (not sure how Bella made it through) the small gutter hole and out the barn to sample every flower, raspberry plant, and tree in sight.  So the game begins, with the ball now in my court.  Game on, goaties!

This is from one of my commutes home from work the other week, on [pedal] bike.  If this isn’t motivation to pedal hard, I’m not sure what is.  Yes, those are bee hives, maybe 60-70 of them, on a public road!  And yes, they are full of bees.  No stings, but some close calls as a few got trapped in the holes of my helmet.

While this picture was not taken from our farm, a similar one will be this June/July!  Meet Angel, a Yak we are purchasing from a farm in southern Minnesota.  Yes, I said Yak 🙂

-Jeremy

 

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