Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Merry Jolly Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

It's nearly midnight and I'm ready to crash, but first a few words.

We had snow this weekend and it made for a lovely Christmas day. Cold though, very cold but the nearly complete barn is doing it's job to provide adequate shelter to our limited livestock. My writing studio above looks wonderful all tucked against the bare winter trees in the middle of our 7 acres and the broken up concrete from the old well house, which we used to make a sidewalk to my studio, looks like a snow covered quilt.

I still do not have electricity or heat in my studio so won't be writing much in there until spring. 

Above and almost perfectly center, you'll see Keith in the early morning sun, pushing hay in a wheelbarrow out to our steers. Once fed we drove the 12 miles into Pontiac where we met with our four children and their families to celebrate Christmas at oldest son Colton's house. His wife Tab, provided us once again with gallons of coffee, hash brown casseroles, chocolates and homemade cream puffs. Heaven it was.

Our day and our hearts, were overflowing with blessings. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Expanding our Swine Horizons

Once upon a time we had a big farm and raised 100 or so feeder pigs a year. With our own breeding stock of Red Wattle hogs we had litters coming and going year round. Some of those hogs went to restaurants, some to grocery stores, many to individual customers.

And yet we rarely had enough for ourselves. It just seemed to make more sense to sell the bacon then to eat it. Fools we were.

Then we got smart and downsized. Sold all the breeding stock and instead each year we now buy just a few feeder pigs for ourselves and a family member or two. We generally buy them at two months of age and have them butchered at about 7 months. We took our summer stock to the locker in October.

Last week we bought our spring stock. Ironically, due to our limited finances we can no longer afford to buy the awesome Red Wattle hogs we worked so hard to promote in Illinois for over a decade. Even at young ages, 8 weeks or so, they sell for between $125-150 each.

But, another farmer friend of ours had some Bershire Cross feeders available. He thought they were already were sold but that other farmer never picked them up. Anxious to decrease his large herd before the harsh winter hits, he sold us four fairly large piglets for just $70 each. A win win situation. Already almost 4 months old, they've got a solid start on their chops, roasts and bacon.

Because they have not been raised by us, and have run with a large group of hogs, they are not the friendliest group of porkers, (Red Wattles are real people pleasers) but they are healthy and adapting well to their new digs. I'm not that particular about their manners, I've been snubbed by bigger pigs in my life, I just hope they measure up taste wise. I so love Red Wattle pork.

We've housed them in one of our old farrowing houses, which needed some repair due to damage done by the last porcine tenants, and filled the interior with deep bedding of corn husks. Three long hog panels act as a temporary pen.

We always put our piglets in this type of smaller confined pen with a single hot wire across the back in order to train them to electric fence.  Hogs have a tendency to go THROUGH a hot wire instead of backing up initially, so this pen idea works well to train them.

After a couple weeks, when they are respecting the electric wire, we'll turn them loose into a much bigger area to root and dig and sun bathe.

Even frozen ground can't keep a pigs snout still it seems.

With a steady died of organic hay, ground corn and good kitchen scraps these little piggies should be ready for the locker sometime in April, about the time we'll get a few more for our summer sausages!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In the Gutter

More barn progress, which is good because it's been mighty cold here in Illinois the last few days. Tonight it will drop to about 19 degrees F and snow is predicted later this week. 

This weeks big deal so far was putting together stalls for the horse (one stall) and the steer and little heifer (sharing the other stall). Our cow Liz will remain in her separate 3 sided combo shed and milking arena until we can afford to run electricity to the new barn and set up the pressure tank needed for our milking equipment. 

One day we'll have all the animals under one roof, but for now we at least have shelter for those who didn't have much before. 

progress was getting up gutters on the north side of the barn. Because we do not have the funds for scaffolding or a man lift (don't we WISH!) Keith has jimmy rigged a raised platform using our Kubota tractor.

By placing long pipes on the fork tines and spearing them through the openings of a wood pallet, he's made himself a small platform that can be raised up and down as he needs it. He placed a short ladder on top of that platform in order to reach the barn roof. Of course he must keep another taller ladder close by in order to get off the platform and back down to the tractor so he can move the tractor and raise or lower the platform for the next task and then move the ladder to that new spot so he can climb back up onto the platform. Whew...wears me out just writing about it. 

All of this explains why Keith has never had a weight problem.

My role in the gutter attachment process was to climb up a third ladder,  raise my end of the gutter and hold it against the barn while Keith moved his way towards me securing the gutter just below the  roof. Since the gutters were not heavy I was able to hold my end with one hand and take a few pictures with my other hand. 

Keith is now standing where I was when I was taking pictures

Good thing I had my smart phone because it was a pretty dumb maneuver while I was 16 feet up in the air. Still, I enjoyed the view of the animal's new stalls.

Horse stall on left with rubber mats over the crushed limestone
Steer and little heifer stall in middle with shredded paper
and straw bedding over limestone.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Roof Over The Critter's Heads

I always think it's only been 3 or 4 or at the most 5 days since I last blogged, and I am always shocked that it's been far longer. Time buzzes by me faster than I used to drive when I was 16 and my dad the cop was chasing me down for stealing, borrowing the family Ford. Excellent times.

Keith's shop will be in the back right corner 

So since we chatted last Keith and our son Jason finished the roof of the new old barn. Keith then took a couple vacation days from work and got more of the walls constructed. Because the roof is constructed of new steel while the walls are all the mid-century steel from the machine shed we had torn down, the new old barn looks like an elderly gentleman with a brand new very shiny toupee.

In addition, Keith spread more limestone in the area which will be our livestock stalls. Thus our one horse, one cow, one steer and one heifer calf will soon be all snugged in for winter. Good thing since the temps dropped dramatically last night. Cold weather is here to stay I believe.

Yet to be done on the barn:
     Attach gutters to the roof.
     Finish south wall and all door trims
     Attach machinery sixed doors to East end
     Run electrical for lights and power in Keith's shop
     Build walls for milking stall, storage room and Keith's shop

And, that's enough to think about right now.

As long as this process has taken us, it's been rewarding to be able to see the barn from a distance. Inside it seems small, especially compared to our old barn in Chatsworth. But when compared to the other smaller buildings here on The Poor Farm, it reigns supreme.