July 2013

We have a new, temporary addition to the farm.


His name is “Red Bull.”  Pretty original, huh?  I didn’t name him.  He came already named.  His owner is the breeder I bought my Lowline cows from, and the price included a breed back to a bull of my choosing.  He has been working on a Red Lowline line, and insisted this was one of his best, most gentle bulls.  Originally I had planned to send my girls back to his farm to be bred, but he kept insisting this bull is a sweetheart.  Seeing as how I don’t handle the cows much anyway since they prefer to be left alone, I finally agreed.  He dropped him off, and they all became instant friends.


I estimate his weight around 1000 lbs or so.  He isn’t that tall, but he is beefy!  I am VERY respectful of him, and gentle or not, I have no desire to approach him.  I never turn my back to him.  So, you can imagine the pride I felt yesterday when I had to single-handedly herd all 5 (2 cows, 2 steers, 1 bull) from our front forest pasture, back to their normal grazing paddock, all the way down by the house.  That’s about 1/4 mile of walking, with nothing but a buggy whip standing between me and him!  Thankfully, he was indeed a good boy.  It probably helped that Tiffany, his girlfriend in the photo above, wound up being in heat.  I didn’t realize it until we were about 1/2 way across the pasture, and he mounted and happily did his thing.  He refused to leave her side, and I certainly didn’t care to argue about it.  As long as they kept moving in the direction I asked, we were all happy.

Now, I just have to wait until Holly gets bred, and he will go back home to the breeder’s house.  In the mean time, my grass got a little long while the cows were in the front forest paddock, so I am going to use him for all he’s worth to eat it back down so I don’t have to mow.

Whether you call it a Daily Operations Center, Operation Central, Family Organization Center, or whatever else you prefer, when you have children, I have decided it makes life soooo much easier.  It’s one of the first things I try to get up when we move to a new house.  I have had several over the years, and they progressed from a simple chore chart on the wall to several items I found myself needing throughout the day.

Our "Training Center" condensed to a standard-sized bulletin board.

Our “Training Center” condensed to a standard-sized bulletin board.

This time, I wanted more than just a simple bulletin board.  The only wall I had to put it on was a centrally located wall in my dining room, which is also one of the first walls seen when you enter our front door.  Thus, I also needed it to look somewhat nice.  It desperately needed a new paint job anyway, but it meant I had to find a new location for the piano (which we don’t yet play, but it has been in S’s family for a while now).  This was the wall before:



Amazing what  a little paint, some picture frames, cork board, simple wood shelving and stain, and some trips to Hobby Lobby can create:




Our new “Family Operations Center” includes a small rack that contains baskets with our table cloths, napkins, and placemats, all plates and bowls, and our utensils so the kiddos whose job is to set the table have easy access, without being under-foot in the kitchen.  The upper shelf on the wall is just a decorative shelf I used to bring it all together.  It just looked better with it.  On the left is a basic photo frame with a calendar I drew on poster board.  With the glass over it, it makes a perfect, decorative, dry erase calendar.  Under that is our “Penny Jars,”  which I will explain in another post.  Below the shelf are where the Chore Packs hang.  You can read more about that HERE.  I have made some changes to the Chore Pack system we used in the past, which I will also discuss in a future post.

To the right of those things is another picture frame, with no glass.  I cut a cork board to fit in about 2/3 of it, where I can hang our “If-Then Chart”, our “Extra Chore Chart”, and a bit of room to expand.  The other 1/3 is a vinyl cover that creates another dry-erase section for to-do lists and such.

Finally, all the way to the right is our new “Family Rules” list.  I couldn’t find a pretty one that was Christian based, but this one was pretty good.  It has things like “Do Your Best,” “Hug Often,” “Laugh at Yourself,” “Share,” and other such things can generally keep peace in a home.

I am very pleased with how it turned out.  Now maybe I can start getting things more organized around here, now that the kids have some direction to help out!

I have been on a bit of a construction phase lately.  Considering I’ve never really worked with wood before, I am quite nervous around power tools, and I have only incredibly hard wood to work with (meaning beautiful wood, but lots of stripped screws and broken screw heads–even with pilot holes!), I really am becoming quite proud of the work I’m accomplishing around here.  One of my recent projects is getting my living room set up a bit.  This house has no shelves to store things, so I have to build them.  I am building 2 sets of 4 decorative shelves in the living room to hold our family scrapbooks, our frequently-used farm reference and religious books, and a few knick-knacks that are meaningful to us.

First, I only had 8 inch boards to work with, so I ripped those down to 7 inches wide, attached 2 together to make a 14-inch shelf, then trimmed off and sanded the front edge to give it more rustic look, and finally stained it.  The photos don’t  show the detail of the edge, but I think it turned out really nice!


I attached one side to a stringer directly on the wall, and the other to a wrought-iron-style bracket.


Then I set to decorating with some of the stuff just sitting homeless around this house.


I am so excited to see things coming together around here.  I still have to finish the shelves on the other side, but I’m over half way to finished.  Then I just have to finish hanging the drapery and I think the living room will be set for a while.

Last month, I attended my first farm estate auction.  Man, oh, man did I ever score!  Those are pretty awesome places, assuming you don’t get caught up in the heat of the moment and wind up overpaying for something.  My mother, formerly an avid yard saler and estate auction attender, who taught me all I know about finding great deals, would be so proud!  I came home with a truck-bed load of goodies:


A few of the finds I can remember right off:

  • old-fashioned, but like new, manual drill  $4
  • entire box of drill bits to go with the manual drill $6
  • old American made scythe, rusted, but wooden snath in perfect condition and blade just needing to be cleaned up and sharpened  $1
  • a whole stack of fruit harvesting/storage baskets $5
  • old radio flyer wagon (overpaid a bit, but we needed it for the kiddos)  $15
  • box full of brand new, assorted sizes, landscape fabric  $20
  • and my all-time favorite…an old metal trailer to tow behind our 4-wheeler  $4

I am thrilled with all of it, but I tell you what, that old metal trailer had old fashioned, airless rubber tires that worked perfectly.  I have used that almost daily to haul water, t-posts, kiddos, fencing supplies, firewood, stick for the burn pile, and more!  It was probably the best $4 I could have spent.  Folks thought I was nuts for buying that “piece of junk,” but hey, one man’s junk is another’s treasure, right?  I seemed to have developed a reputation by the end, for for “eclectic” and completely unpredictable choices for bidding on.  Several of the older men in attendance began looking at me to see if I would bid on some odd item that popped up.

I am looking forward to attending more in the future, and find more treasures for almost no cost.

The older 4 children are attending their first Vacation Bible School at our new church this summer.  For several weeks prior, they have been learning the VBS theme song, “Colossal Coaster World.”  This past Sunday, as a kick off for VBS week, the kids got to sing it in front of the church.  N can get a little crazy and show-offy (is that a word?) in front of a crowd, so I opted to not let him perform this first time, but the older 3 got up and did a great job!  Unfortunately, I am still learning to use my new camera, so for some reason the focus is all off.  If any of you readers happen to know a way to adjust this, I would greatly appreciate the help!  Nonetheless, you can get the idea.  They are 3 on the far left; A and JR have matching shirts, while M has a yellow shirt and floral skirt.


Abigail….our new Jersey cow.


JR picked the name, right out of thin air, and when I looked up the meaning, it was perfect.  Technically, it means “A Father’s Rejoicing,” but Biblically speaking, there were many Abigails.  The most famous was Queen Abigail, who shrewdly and wisely saved her husband from King David’s wrath.  Over time, the name also became synonomous with “a lady’s maid” or “servant.”  How much more perfect can a name be for a loyal, family dairy cow?

Sweet Jersey face

Sweet Jersey face

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know we have been planning to purchase a dairy cow for several years.  I love my goat milk, but miss my cow cream!  We decided to do both.  Our ideal was a miniature jersey, which you can read more about in a previous post, found here.  After a lot of research, I found a breeder willing to work with our timeline, and was put on her waiting list.  Then, last fall, she found out her entire miniature jersey herd had a bovine disease known as BLV–sort of comparable to HIV in humans.  Obviously not what I wanted to start with.  So, after we got settled in here at Red Gate, I resumed my search, and she put me on her list for a mid-sized Jersey.  Thankfully I  did find another first, as just a few days later, I found out that I made it to the top of her list, a heifer finally became available, and she apparently sold it to someone else before even giving me a chance.  It could’ve been a long wait if I’d stuck with her!


For us, not just any cow would work.  Unfortunately, as modern dairy practices took shape beginning about a century ago, common dairy cows had a protein gene that began to mutate.  You can find more detailed info elsewhere, but essentially, this mutation of the casein protein is often to blame for digestive issues and lactose intolerance in humans.  There are some dairy cows still out there, however, that do not possess the mutated gene, now known as the A1 gene.  The purer, original gene, known as A2/A2, is more desirable.  Interestingly, goats are A2/A2, as are most beef cattle, as they never developed the mutated A1/A1 or A1/A2 gene.  This may well be a big reason why people who can’t handle cow milk can often drink goat milk just fine.  Apparently, the gene is fairly limited to dairy cows like Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Guernseys, and others that have been bred more for the large dairy industries where high production levels are desirable.  In any case, regular genetic testing for this gene is a relatively new concept.  As a result,  A2/A2 cows are difficult to find, and if found, they are rarely for sale.  I spread the word to everyone I could think of regarding what I was looking for.  Because some of our children have shown tendencies toward lactose intolerance, we had decided we would only purchase an A2/A2 cow.

Somehow, obviously a God thing, an Amish guy I’ve never met, who lived in a small Amish community several hours from us, found out about our search.  He passed word along, and offered an opportunity we couldn’t resist.  His family had a standard sized Jersey milk cow which had a heifer calf last fall.  They had decided to sell the calf, now 9 months old.  Amazingly (why are we always amazed when God is at work?!), he had just had the calf tested for the casein protein gene, and she came back A2/A2.  There was a problem though.  One day, when she was a young calf, they had put her into a stall to catch her, and she wound up ramming her eye into a bolt sticking out of the wall.  She was permanently blinded on that side, so he was offering to sell her for a steal of a price.  Let’s just say, even with the blind eye, I would have happily paid triple just to get the genetics.

Her blind eye looks a little funny close up, but it really isn't that obvious.

Her blind eye looks a little funny close up, but it really isn’t that obvious.

Now, doing business with Amish can be quite an experience.  To this day, I’ve never met  or spoken with the owner.  At Horse Progress Days, we probably stood within a few yards of each other at some point during the day, but failed to actually meet.  All questions, answers, and arrangements were done through an Amish friend of a his who was allowed to have a phone in his business.  I would call and leave a voicemail with my question.  Eventually, the friend would call back with an answer.  And that’s how it went for a couple weeks.  Through this route, it was arranged for a vet to come check her out for me, as she was far enough away I had to commit without seeing her first.  She got a full health and conformation check, a BVD test, and he checked her paperwork.  Knowing I was a total newbie to cows, the vet was also willing to give his honest opinion of how appropriate she would be for our family.  She passed all tests with flying colors.

We arranged a ride home with another friend, and she’s now been here for a week.  To let her get to know us, I’ve kept her seperate from the other, wilder, beef cows we have, and she has taken to us with no problem.  She adores people, but can get a bit playful sometimes, so I have to watch the kids around her.  She is such a sweetheart though!  Those sweet Jersey eyes and that loving disposition just melts my heart.  She will follow me like a puppy wherever I go, wants only to be scratched (especially on her neck and under her chin), lets me pet her all over her belly and udder area, and is even halter broken already!  I am learning to watch out when I lead her.  She gets so comfortable walking with me, that if she gets me on her blind side, she will sometimes run right into me accidentally.  Even so, at roughly 500 lbs, she’s a lot bigger than I am!   I have to be careful to always know where she is, since she doesn’t always care where I am and so I don’t run her into something.  I accidentally ran her right into a rebar fence post yesterday while leading her, as it was just past centerline on her blind side, and she didn’t see it.  OOPS!  I’ve also given the kiddos special instructions about always talking to her as they approach, to ensure they don’t startle her.


Now, I just have to figure out who to breed her to this fall!  She is a standard-sized Jersey, with her dam being roughly 48 inches tall.  So not huge, but not a mini either.  I have easy access to a Lowline bull, which would create a Jey-lo calf, an increasingly popular, but still widely unknown beef/dairy hybrid.  Then there’s a top of the line Dexter bull, which would give something akin to a large Belfair calf, another increasingly popular, but largely unknown all-purpose breed for the homestead.  I also have access to a standard sized Jersey bull.  By far the most valuable calf (if it was a heifer) would be a cross with a mini-Jersey bull of A2/A2 genetics, which would produce a mid-sized Jersey (around 40-44 inches at maturity).  If it was a heifer, I could also continue to breed down to get my own miniature. Of course, the problem there is I have no clue where to find one of those unless I do A.I. Oh, decisions, decisions!  Guess I’ll cross that bridge when she gets a bit older.  For now, I’m just gonna love her and keep getting to know her.


After all the work I’ve been doing around here, it was high time to have some fun with the kiddos.  We decided to head to the fair.  It was a small town fair, so I was actually disappointed that there was almost nothing going on.  Most of the animals had already been taken home to avoid the severe heat wave, and most of the exhibits had already been judged and taken down.  In fact, the whole fair was exactly one block long, with the carnival at one end, and the cattle barn at the other.

The fair.  Yep.  That's it.

The fair. Yep. That’s it.

The carnival rides didn’t even start until later in the evening.  So, we spent several hours just walking around, letting the kids play and goof off a bit, got some horrible fair food for dinner, and found a petting zoo of farm animals.  The kids loved petting on those critters so much, a passer-by would’ve never guessed they live on a farm.

R with a sheep.

R with a sheep.

N admiring a pig.

N admiring a pig.

Finally, the carnival opened.  There were only about 8 rides to choose from, and the younger children could only do about 6 of those.  Nonetheless, we decided to splurge and try to make a memorable evening, so I got all the kids the “ride-all-you-want” arm bands.  And boy, did they ever!  We jumped from one ride to the next to the next and back again.  Thankfully, small fairs mean short lines at the rides, so there were few waits longer than 2 minutes.  They must have ridden their 2 favorites almost a dozen times.













Later, there was a demolition derby, which I enjoy.  I had told the kids about it, and they wanted to watch, so we headed over to the grandstands.  For the next hour, we watched cars bash into each other, and tried to predict who would be the last one running.  When one car suddenly burst into flames, the kids were just mesmerized and thrilled to watch the firefighters douse it.  We saw so many radiators (I guess?) burst, that the smoke from the hood didn’t faze them by the end.



After the demo derby, it was back to the carnival for more rides.  Finally, around 9, I dragged them away, exhausted but still high on good times.  They were all smiles and chatter as we drove home.  They all got to bed late and we slept in a little this morning, but it truly was a great evening together.


S decided we should raise meat birds this year.  Since we’ve lived in the higher altitudes of CO for the last few years, where cornish hybrids don’t survive well, we have only raised heritage type breeds so far.  The problem with them, though, is they eat.  And I have to feed them for about 6 months to get any actual meat out of them, and even then, they dress out to about half the carcass weight of a cornish hybrid.


So, as much as I am not thrilled about the hybrid versions, I wanted some actual meat with really big, juicy breasts to make the effort worth while this year.  Due to their growth rate, they also only have to be fed for 6-8 weeks and then they are ready to harvest.

Source: Internet Stock Photo

Source: Internet Stock Photo

To encourage good grazing and reduce their consumption of organic chicken feed a bit, spread manure, and decrease the stink and maintenance required from these birds, I decided to house them in a portable chicken tractor.  After researching several versions, I decided to go with a type based on the model used by Polyface Farms.

I took some scrap lumber S had cut with his lumber mill (so it is untreated), and cut it into 2×2 boards, each 6 foot long.  Then I cut 8 2×2 pieces 30 inches long.


I assembled these to make a 6 foot long x 6 foot wide x 30 inch high frame.  Then I cut and installed braces for the corners out of scraps, most of which were around 1×1.5 inches.  Finally, because this unit will be dragged across pasture on a daily basis, I also put larger braces around the top section, just to give some extra stability (though I forgot to take a photo of that part).


I should mention that the original intent was to have a top-open panel, but I didn’t think through the 30″ tall really well, and it wound up far too tall to conveniently work in the tractor by bending over.  So, since the chickens are primarily M’s job anyway, I decided at the last minute to build her a little door.  It simply required one additional 30 inch “stud” in the frame, and then I used more scraps to build a little door.  I just used a simply hook-and-eye closure for the door.

The door.  Look on the top, and you can see a large top brace I put in and forgot to photograph.

The door. Look on the top, and you can see a large top brace I put in and forgot to photograph.

Then I installed all the chicken wire, using staples and U-nails, followed by the galvanized roofing and siding.  I used barn roof screws with neoprene washers to install the metal.


To ease the job of transporting a bit, I installed an eye-hook on each front corner, with a rope tied to each to help a single person lift it.


I also installed a bike hook on each rear corner, which made a lovely handle-of-sorts so a single person could easily lift a back corner and stick a skid or whatever underneath.


Finally, I had ordered (only because I didn’t have time to hunt down the individual parts, though it would probably save a bit of $$ if you have time) a 3-nipple gravity-fed chicken waterer, connected to a 5 gallon bucket that just sits on top of the tractor.


The chicks seem to love all the open space to roam.  They are only 2 weeks old, so technically a little young to be out yet, but since our temps are over 90 in the day right now, they seem fine.  I have a heat lamp tied up in the corner that we still use at night, though, as they do get a bit chilled at night without it.  In addition, due to their age and size, we put them on freshly mowed pasture, so they don’t strain their legs trying to manuever through tall grasses, and if there is a threat of rain, we pack straw or hay in the sheltered area, to ensure they have dry bedding to climb up on and get off the damp ground.

The yellow chicks are the cornish cross meat birds.  The other colors are our replacement layer pullets.  They will be added to the chicken coop when they get big enough, which will also give the meat birds room to grow in the tractor.

The yellow chicks are the cornish cross meat birds. The other colors are our replacement layer pullets. They will be added to the chicken coop when they get big enough, which will also give the meat birds room to grow in the tractor.

I actually like the design.  All the scraps I used were hard wood, though, and once the siding was added, it wound up quite heavier than expected.  A shorter size and less dense wood would have been lighter, but I wanted the tractor to be versatile in its use.  In this size, I have the option of raising turkeys, weaning goat babies, letting rabbits out to exercise, or whatever else won’t push through my chicken wire.  I still need to build skids for it to move on, and will just be dragging it in the mean time, with a little help from the kiddos.  The birds seem really happy, though, running all over, going from sun to shade at will.  M even opened the door and let them out yesterday to graze outside the tractor, which they seemed to enjoy.


We are seeing results from our “Forest Hogs” already, and I am impressed.  When they were just 9 weeks old, we turned the pigs out into a roughly 1/2 acre section of woodland, with a small section of pasture adjoining it.  Here is what the land looked like when we turned them out: (Notice the fallen spruce tree in the center to give you reference).

The land before pigs

The land before pigs

Just 2.5 weeks later, I took this picture from the same spot:

The land after pigs

The land after pigs

Now granted, they had a little help.  We turned 2 cow/calf pairs out with the pigs randomly, for a total of 7 days in the forest paddock.  The donkey was out there for less than 2 days, and the goats for maybe 2 days.  Although certainly not necessary, I figured all the animals would create some  “mob” effect, which essentially creates natural competition and encourages them to eat more and faster.  They’re just like my 4 and 5 year old boys, each of whom are convinced it is sole duty to NOT allow the other to eat more of some treat. Because so many different species are involved, their natural grazing/browsing habits complement each other.  After 2.5 weeks, the brush was eaten from the height of the cows’ backs and down.  There is almost no green foliage left.  The next picture shows 2 sections of the 2.5 acre forest lot, with our electric fence netting dividing it into smaller sections.  The right side of the photo used to look just like the left side.  After 2.5 weeks, the pigs were moved into the left side paddock to eat it down as well.


Here is another view from the adjoining pasture area.  The foreground shows the grazed down paddock and pasture, while the background shows a future paddock to be grazed.  Notice the difference in the height of the grass, which shows where the electric fence ran.  The animals graze right to the electric netting.


As you can see, they don’t just eat forage either.  Pretty much everything that grows is considered edible.  This photo shows the electric netting again, dividing the already grazed pasture portion of the paddock on the left, and the new pasture on the right.

Happy pigs!

Happy pigs!

I have seen enough photographic evidence to leave me no doubt that if I left the pigs longer, or if I decreased the size of the pen, or if I fed them less supplements, that they would literally clear that paddock down to bare earth.  I have studied a number of pasture-pig farmers who do it that way, allowing the pigs to tear down everything, and then the farmer rebuilds his pasture from scratch.  I decided I didn’t want to do that, though.  I preferred to have the pigs “massage” the land, clean it up a bit, spread some fertilizer, and then move on.  Then, if I have time, I can go in and manually whack down the remaining sapling and brush stems OR I can rotate the pigs through again in a few months.  Waiting a while gives the slightly over-grazed pasture time to replenish itself while also allowing all the accumulated manure to break down and be absorbed in the soil without being overloaded.  By the time the pigs will move through again, they will likely be twice as big, and therefore eat twice as much in the same time frame.

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing "wee-wee-wee" all the way to the milk bucket!

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing “wee-wee-wee” all the way to the milk bucket!

Although it isn’t necessary, I have chosen to supplement their forage diet.  In a paddock like this, they eat not only all the leaves and grass, but also bugs, slugs, frogs, leaves, branches, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and more.  Pigs are not just vegetarians.  They are omnivores, and require high protein levels to thrive.   If I raised them strictly on forage, they would likely either take longer to reach an ideal slaughter weight, and/or be much leaner and lighter at slaughter time.  Thus, I have decided to supplement with my excess goat milk.  I sour the milk for 24 hours (apparently the extra probiotics are better for them), mix in some organic rolled cereal grains, leftovers from dinner, anything I want to clean out of the fridge or cabinets, extra eggs (complete with shells), and so on.  They absolutely go crazy over the “slop” concoctions we come up with.  This also means they come running every time they hear us call, in the hopes we are bringing that slop pail along.

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears...

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears…or the slop pail I failed to bring this time.

An additional fact worth mentioning is that pigs are great manure spreaders!  I don’t mean they poop everywhere, either, although they do that as well.  I mean pigs LOVE cow patties as much as chickens.  My chickens have stayed busy rotating through the the main pastures, helping us break down cow patties there, as well as waging war on the Japanese beetle crop in the orchard this summer.  Meanwhile, I am loath to pet the pigs lately, as these warm….no, I mean incredibly, ridiculously, HOT….days have driven the pigs to desperate measures.  They absolutely love to roll in those fresh cow patties.  They roll, plow, dig, spread, you name it.  Although disgusting to watch, it does a great service. It helps the manure break down much faster, and prevents fly larvae from accumulating, and subsequently hatching out of the patties.  That’s always a good thing.

For the sake of my non-farmer readers, though, I took a cleaner picture to close with.  Isn’t she cute?!


Last week, JR experienced his first, big, “big boy” adventure, independent of the rest of us.  He attended an all-day day camp, where he got to learn all about life in the 1830’s.  Living in IL, Abraham Lincoln is a big theme around here.  As a result, JR has always enjoyed studying him during our homeschool lessons.  We thought it would be a neat experience for him to learn more, hands on.


Each day, he went to camp where they played games and did crafts common in the 1830’s.  They learned historical facts, and were continually quizzed.  They shot muskets (I never got to do that in Day Camp!), practiced team work, often necessary for survival in that time, and learned the dialects of that time.  On Friday, all the kids had to dress like they were from the 1830’s (clothing was provided).  Friday afternoon, parents were invited to watch a series of educational skits.  The kids didn’t get much practice, so they had to read the dialogues, but it was neat to see JR get up in a front of a group of people and do something:


I have to admit, it was strange not having my little man around all day, knowing he was getting big enough to be off doing his own thing.  Suffice it to say, he had an absolute blast, and is already hoping he can go again next year.


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