Sunday, June 29, 2008

4H Llama show

When I was a kid I wanted to live on a farm and be a 4H kid, but I lived in the city, and with my family - well, let's just say that wasn't going to happen in a million years. So I was delighted when I got to know my friend Martha and got to help out with her 4H llama club, and last year I became an official 4H Leader with her club. We have a couple new families in our club this year, and one doesn't have llamas yet, and wanted the kids to try it out first and make sure they enjoyed it before they bought any (a very good idea). And that is how these two boys came to borrow my llamas Scoops (the grey one) and Patrone (the white one with a brown tail) for 4H.



I load up the llamas and bring them to club practice days so they can work with them, or they come to my house to practice. We teach them about how to show off your animal to the judge, prepare them for the questions the judge will ask, and then we set up obstacles and get the animals used to them - things like going over little jumps, walking through brush, walking over a tarp.

Saturday we had our first show. Both of the boys did great. They had to brush their llamas out and present them for judging, and did obstacle courses with them. All their work at practice showed, because a llama won't work for you if he doesn't trust you, and the boys got the llamas to behave better than I had expected, and go through most of the obstacles without any fuss. And look how clean Patrone was for the judge! That boy was persistent in brushing all the hay out of that llama!


By the end of the day they both had accumulated a slew of ribbons for their hard work, and they were a little more prepared for county fair, which is only a month away. I was really happy with how well they did, and how well they treat the llamas. I'm also really happy that I am at a point in my life where I have my own little farm and I can help other kids have that 4H experience I never had a chance to enjoy. It's fun to teach them, and to watch them work hard, make friends with the other llama kids when the clubs get together, occasionally suffer indignities when their llamas try to humiliate them (I've seen llamas drive kids to tears at fair), and come out smiling at the end. I guess that's a pretty fun way to build character!

The economics of hay

I do not understand the economics of hay. I don't know how many bales you get per acre, but I've seen plenty of hayed fields and know about how far apart those finished bales lay, and it's not all that many. For all the work it takes, the specialized equipment that has to be maintained, and the hours spent driving them around that field making bales just when summer turns ridiculously hot, and then selling the bales for a few dollars a piece, it seems to me like there just cannot be that much money to be made in it.

It's hay season again. I'm glad hay is still as cheap as it is. This winter we had to buy supplemental hay for our animals at $12-$15 a bale from the feed store. Luckily there was still grass to be found out in the pasture. I can see why so many people were trying to trade their horses for hay to feed their other horses this winter! If you had a big eater, you would have gone broke! Later we were able to get a few bales from a local field for $4 a bale, and that got us through the spring, though we still picked up a bale of the really good green stuff from the feed store for Mom and her lambs.

This is our first hay season looking out for animals of our own. Prior to this we only had a friend's llamas staying on our pasture, and they went home in the winter. This year we adopted the sheep and goats, and Houdini the llama, and then bought Patrone the llama, and his friend Scoops has come to stay with us as well. So there's three llamas, four sheep (since Mom had twins), and two pygmy goats. We put away 65 bales of hay for them to tide them over this winter. If it's not enough we'll hope we can buy more of the $4 hay when we need it, or they'll be eating high on the hog with the feed store hay again! The llamas also get special grain with llama minerals in it, and the sheep and goats get a little grain to distract them from stealing the llamas food. All in all I guess it's not too much to spend for the entertainment of having them around.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The chicken saga continues

Our chickens are wanderers. They hopped right over the four foot wire fence around their pen and explored the orchard, the backyard, the back field, the neighbors yard, the pasture. Somehow they kept finding their way back to the coop at night. They were chased by cats and dogs, but nothing bad happened. I had to be careful not to let the dogs out without checking to make sure it was clear of chickens. A few days ago Chester got lucky and cornered a chicken and grabbed it's wing and pulled out a bunch of feathers before we got it away from him. The chickens scattered and I thought for sure they were gone, but eventually they all came back.


So today we ended that nonsense by putting netting over the pen, stretching from the fence to the tree. It goes all the way around like a big circus tent. I guess we'll see if it's tight enough, there's a hole around the tree, but I don't think they'll go for it. I guess we'll find out.

So today they were trapped in the pen, and they don't seem too put out. I caught them sunning themselves this afternoon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What's that bug?




I am the kind of person that will be working along productively, then I see an interesting bug, stop to take a picture of it, and halt work for the day so I can go look it up on the net (and not disturb it in case it's something beneficial). So today I spotted this guy and everything screeched to a halt! He's about an inch long, maybe a little less, and was hanging out on a blue tarp I was getting ready to wad up and throw away.

The red on his wings was stunning, but they look too short to fly with. He didn't try to fly, so I suspect he's fresh out of the cocoon and his wings aren't ready to go yet. I looked up on What's That Bug in the moth section and found the Cinnabar Moth from the UK, and further reading indicated they have been introduced to the US to eat Tansy Ragwort. Well, more power to him! Just yesterday Dave picked a five gallon pail of tansy out of the pasture! Go little moth, go!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Barclay




Barclay enjoys a spring afternoon in the grass. It's been raining so much we thought it would never come, but it's turned beautiful the last few days, and everyone is enjoying it!

Mighty comfortable kitty





Mighty and Mouse have been exploring the great outdoors, including chasing chickens and running away from goats! We still make them come inside for the evening, to try and keep the coyotes from eating them. Here Mighty relaxes on the doggie bed after a hard day of playing outside.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Freezer Jam


When I was a little girl, too little to help, my Grandma and her daughters (my mom and aunt) would make jelly every year. They would do boysenberry and blackberry and other kinds too, carefully can them in little glass jars, and put paraffin wax on top. I remember that when we needed more jelly we would go get a jar out of the cupboard and pry that wax off the top. Unfortunately my mom had a stroke when I was ten and I don't think they ever made jelly again after that. Life got very complicated.

So making jelly seems like something you do when times are good. This year I successfully made jelly myself for the first time. Unfortunately Grandma is no longer around to help me figure out how, so I just followed the recipes off the net. I decided to go for freezer jam (I think I prefer chunky jam to jelly anyway), maybe someday I'll learn to can. I tried it a couple years ago and it just didn't turn out right. But this seems to have gone much better. I used the rhubarb from our garden to make rhubarb jam, and it tastes really good. Then I took advantage of all the sweet fresh strawberrys available this week and made strawberry freezer jam. Yum! I ended up with 4 cups of rhubarb and 7 cups of strawberry. I'll do blackberry when those ripen, and we'll never have to buy jelly again!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shearing

On Thursday the shearing guy came over and did Al and Mama sheep. It was amazing. He rolled them over and did their bellies, and then he just worked his way around until the wool was off in one big sheet. The sheep just lay there and let him do it, but they're very happy to leave when he's done!

Before


After


We couldn't catch Houdini the llama, but Friday we finally cornered him and got him haltered up. He came back and sheared Houdini, with me and my husband holding him down by the ears. Really, when they start getting contrary, you grab an ear and twist and they suddenly become more compliant (I would too). But it was important that he hold still to avoid getting hurt by the shears, and it was important he be sheared to avoid heatstroke this summer. So we twisted his ears and he survived it all just fine. Though he's still holding a grudge. I can't blame him, llamas look ridiculous when they're sheared.


Now, what will I do with three big bags of wool?

Chickens!


One of Martha's hens showed up with chicks back in February, so Martha generously gave us five of the young chickens to get our coop started. Unfortunately, within ten minutes of bringing them home we were down to four! The only one she was pretty sure was a hen, a nice little yellow chicken, scrambled out of the pen and out the door, across the yard with dogs chasing her, and through the fence into the neighbors field, where she was last seen running for the horizon at full speed.

That was Monday.

The outdoor pen


Here it is Sunday and the other four have been 'cooped' up while I talked to them and fed them goodies. They were starting to relax, so we built them a smaller pen within the orchard so they won't wander too far, and today was their first day outside.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The chicken coop


We spent all day Sunday turning one end of our garden shed into a chicken coop. I have wanted chickens for years, and we just finally got around to it. Plus it took a long time to wear Dave down to the idea. He even came out and helped build it.



I set cleared away the stuff from one wall of the shed, and set up the coops end walls and supports. Then we cut a hole for a window and another for a door. The coop opens out into the orchard.

Here is the completed coop. It is four foot high in the front, and six foot long.


There are two nest boxes on one end, and a roost on the other end. The bottom has two rabbit cage trays for easy cleaning. The lower front opens up so I can slide the trays out into the shed for cleaning.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I love my Cobb Grill

I think these should be more popular. I asked for mine for Christmas a few years ago, and the hubby obliged. I love to cook outdoors, but the regular grill is a bit big for cooking for two. So I saw this and decided it was just what I wanted.

I guess the thing I love most about it is that it can cook a meal for two with a ridiculously small amount of charcoal, and that it has a plastic 'cool touch' exterior so if necessary you can move it around. Also you are unlikely to get burned while using it, and it's safe if dogs decide to stick their nose against it. It's very stable too. Not at all rickety like the mini BBQ we used to have which always felt like it's little metal legs were on the verge of collapsing.

So this evening after our unsuccessful fishing expedition I decided to smoke a piece of salmon I had in the fridge. Would have been happier with trout, but it's not the first time I came home with an empty hook! So I put a few mesquite charcoal chunks in the Cobb (I took the whole bag when I first got it and broke all the big chunks into roughly briquette sized pieces) and started them with the firestarter sticks. That little bit of charcoal was enough to roast a squash, an ear of corn, and a red pepper (for tomorrows soup), followed by the salmon (with a bit of wet mesquite chips thrown on the coals for more smoke - as pictured above), and then after I pulled the salmon I set an apple with raisins and cinnamon on there to cook and by the time I was done eating dinner it was perfect.

Now when the coals cool off I can clean it up and tuck it away in it's bag until next time. This is about our third year with it, and I never use the big grill anymore unless we're having friends over. This little guy is all the grill we need. It even travels easily. And I prefer using a few briquettes of charcoal to having to tote around a little bottle of propane. I'm just really happy with our little Cobb!

Gone fishing

Barclay went with me to the lake to go fishing this afternoon - his first time! He did great, and hung out quietly with me, then started playing in the water, wading around and picking up junk and bringing it back to shore, carrying sticks and twigs around, and just paddling through the weeds and blowing bubbles by sticking his face underwater. Great fun!


So dirty...



So tired...

Splint day!


When Indy was born the vet came out and put a splint on his broken leg. Then last week I took him to her office and she re-splinted it - but it cost $100! Well, it did take time, materials, and three people to hold him down. But she showed me how to do it so this week was our turn. Dave held him down while I removed the old splint and put on a new one. We did it on the packing table in the shop. He was really good (Indy AND Dave) and we got it done pretty quick, then let him and Marian out in the pasture with Mom for a few minutes while we cleaned the stall and paddock.

Barclay helped clean the stall - ewwwww!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I hate my lawnmower!


This is the bane of my existence. A 2000 MTD Yard machine lawn mower. I admit we have not given it an easy life. It could have ended up at some fancy house where it just went out and mowed a civilized little flat yard and spent the rest of it's time in a heated garage, but instead we got it. We have flogged that poor thing, making it mow 3 acres of pastures, ditches, the edges of the gravel driveway, occasionally running over brush and large twigs, and just to really give it a workout, tow a little dump trailer. Then we park it in an open shed and tell it it should be happy it's not being directly rained on. So life isn't easy, but does it have to be rebuilt EVERY YEAR?! Really? I have had the engine apart so many times I could put it back together in my sleep. We regularly have to replace the belts and pull off the deck. Every year it needs a new battery.

This year it needed a new battery, and even though it was the same brand and size we always buy, the poles were reversed, and I didn't notice before I had hooked it up backwards and caused some electrical damage. I replaced the starter, and the red battery cable. I found the fuses and replaced those. I replaced the battery, because it wouldn't hold a charge after that. I still couldn't get it to start. Finally I pulled a plug and grounded it to the engine and cranked it over - there was a weak spark. So I replaced the plugs and tah-dah - it started up! What a relief! It had already been out of commission so long we'd had to have a friend come over and brush-hog the fields.

But Dave drove it out to the field and took it for a test cut, and when he put the blades down he was enveloped in blue clouds of smoke! So it came back in the garage and I discovered the blades would not turn, the bearings were rusted solid. I just replaced those last year. The original equipment had made it 8 years but these rusted up in a winter! So I pulled the deck, cleaned it, applied some Kroil, then beat the blades with a hammer until they started spinning again. Luckily they weren't too stuck, else it probably would have been time for a new mower - I'm not rebuilding that deck again!

So we fought with putting the deck back on, wrestling and swearing and pinching our fingers until we had everything lined up, all the cotter pins back in, and Dave started it up - and I realized we hadn't put the belt back on. A sailor would have blushed to hear the names we called that lawnmower! Then we took the deck off and put the belt on. Then he took it out and mowed the front yard like nothing had ever happened.

Man I hate that lawn mower...

Horse trailer



I have been wanting to get a horse trailer for hauling llamas in (it's a bear getting them in the back of the van - it works, but it's not easy). I could also think of a lot of other uses for it, like hauling brush to the recycling place, or taking the mower to the shop. Our llama friends had an extra they offered to sell us. It needs new paint, but it seems to be solid. And it has cool old car fenders on it. First order of business is to hook up working lights.