Archive | 2015

Chicken Coop Rehab: Part 4

10 Nov


Even though the weather has been abnormally warm, it’s still obvious that we’re heading towards colder weather.  That means that winter housing for all the critters is high up on the to-do list.

We’ve made lots of repairs to the chicken coop in the past year, but there were still a few big repairs that needed to be knocked out before the snow flies.  After fixing the sill plate of the side wall, it became painfully obvious that the entire back wall needed the same treatment.

151020-IMG_20151020_100725Last winter it was a major point of ingress & egress for trespassers of the rodent variety.  Not a good thing to have in your chicken coop.  So now with that all sealed up there was one other detail that needed to be addressed. 151103-IMG_20151103_135914838

Somehow, in the years since the chicken coop was first built, the foundation walls have pulled away from the floor slab by anywhere from 1/2″ to as much as 2″ in places.  Give rodents an inch or two and they’ll happily take a mile or more.  So we needed to mind the gap.


Mix up some pretty wet concrete and ladle it on in there.  No more gap.

Cowhide Rug

3 Nov


If you are blessed with a better memory than mine then you may recall that I started to make a cowhide rug a little over a year ago.

I may not have such a good memory, but my lovely wife is on the case.  She has made certain that I never forgot the cowhide rug that I promised her.  Much to her chagrin, I have my own timetable for dealing with such things.

But ever since the garage/shop has been filled with new welding projects the space occupied by the salted cowhide is desired for other purposes.

So I finally decided to go about procuring all the ingredients called for in the tanning recipe.  Since the recipe is for somewhat smaller hides, I decided to double it just to be safe.

4 boxes of bran flakes: check.

20 pounds of salt: check.

7 cups of battery acid: check and then some.


The auto-parts store only had one of the smaller 750ml bottles of battery acid (I needed three).  So I had to settle for the next biggest size, 5 gallons. What am I going to do with the remaining 4.5 gallons of battery acid?  I have no idea, although I know some folks with a bunch of huge batteries in their basement, maybe they’ll be able to use it eventually.

After a good soak and several good rinses, the cowhide was ready to dry (again).  This time it only took a week. Then comes the fun part, getting the last of the gunky bits off of the back. 

There were a few remaining bits that had to be cut off with a knife.  I attempted to use a drawknife as a fleshing knife, but it’s not exactly ideal. I ended up doing it the old-fashioned way, with my fingers and a pocket knife.  The acids and salt left in the cowhide were none to kind to my fingertips afterward.  If I were to ever do another hide I’d invest a few dollars in a fleshing knife and make up a fleshing beam.

Instead of manually wire-brushing the back of the hide, I decided to speed the process up a bit and use the big angle grinder with a 4′ wire cup brush to do the job.  It worked out just fine, although I’d be hesitant to use it on a thinner hide.


After the wire brushing I was tired of working on the cowhide and decided that I was ready to call it finished. I dragged it in the house and put it in place to await the final verdict from my wife.


It showed up on her Instagram feed less than 24 hours later, a sure sign of a high WAF.  Now there’s just the small matter of flattening it out a bit.

Bale Spear Reboot

30 Oct


Our bale spear has been with us for a few years now.  It’s been through two states and two tractors but the basic format has always been the same.
One absurdly large center spike and two little fellas on the bottom.


Back in Missouri this was never a problem.  The dominant form of hay bales in Missouri is the large round bale.  Stick the big spike in the middle of the circle and you’re good to go. But here in Minnesota, round bales play second fiddle to the large square bale.  Most of the diary farmers (the guys who put up really good hay) all use square balers.  Thus, if you want to buy really good hay, you’re going to be looking at big square bales.  This is where a giant center spike causes problems.  Moving large square bales with our bale spear is problematic.  Even with a very attentive operator there’s a decent possibility of breaking a bale and leaving 700-900# of loose hay lying around where you don’t want it. So after we got a bit more ‘lectricity in our shop, the bale spear was due for a reboot.


First order of business: Drill some big holes in a bunch of metal.

Why drill holes you ask?


Because, dear reader, this big 2.125″ x 5″ steel cylinder is the key to the whole bale spike thing. Sure, it’s a cylinder on the outside, but inside it’s a bit more conical. So conical in fact, that it mates perfectly with the conical end of the bale spikes themselves. Of course there’s a giant nut on the end that keeps the spike from falling out, but it’s the cylinder that does most of the work. So several thousand pounds of force all channels down to a mere 5″ cylinder. That sounds like something worthy of a little attention.


With all the holes drilled, we managed to get the cylinder nested in a chunk of 3″x3″ square tubing with a bit of 1/4″ plate on either side to give it a little more to hold on to.


Before all the real welding fun can commence, the fitup must be checked a few dozen times and all the pieces have to be tacked into place.


Then comes the welding. Lots of welding.
Many pounds of welding rod later and we’ve got something that looks like it should work.

Of course there are no photos of welding, because that stuff’s bright.  And I was a bit busy with the gloves, and welding helmet and all.  Apparently I only slowed down when it was time to hit it with a few coats of John Deere green.  And despite my best intentions, I did find myself singing about the star-crossed lovers Billy-Bob and Charlene.


With the bale spear all completed I haven’t done much more than quickly pickup a large square bale of barley straw yet, but it appears to work. More importantly, it hasn’t fallen apart yet. As my first major welding project, I’m going to call it a success.
And as with anything here on the farm, I couldn’t have done it without the interwebs. It is almost solely through watching hours and hours of Chucke2009 videos that I managed to become anything more than a dangerously incompetent welder.

So now with the revamped bale spear we can buy better hay with confidence.  Better hay means it ought to be easier to carry cattle over winter in better condition, which means better beef earlier in the spring.

More Power!

28 Oct


The garage needed a bit more power.  Luckily there were two empty spaces left in the breaker panel.


More power means bigger tools, like a welder that doesn’t require gas & oil.  Nothing against our welder/generator but it’s not exactly something you want to be using in an enclosed space.


So after  a bit of conduit and some hefty wire was run, we got this nice plug setup.  Two hundred twenty volts of electrical goodness.


And with all that out of the way it’s time to the new (very old) welder and see what kind of trouble we can get ourselves into.

Never Underestimate a Pig

23 Oct


The ferocious livestock guard dog puppies got a new dog feeder, one that holds a whole 50# bag of the large-breed puppy food.


That lasted a whole 3-4 days until the piglets found it. Then I raised up the feeder on some bricks to be a bit more exclusionary for said piglets.  “Surely” I said, “this has to be good enough to keep piglets out and let puppies in.”


No dice.

Then I changed up the fence to be a bit more exclusionary for said piglets. “Surely” I said, “there has to be a way to keep piglets out and let puppies in.”

Don’t underestimate pigs, especially when tempted with food that is more expensive than their regular fare.

O’Brien Treadaline posts

14 Oct


We’ve had a few O’Brien Treadaline posts since we moved to the farm back in 2012, they were left here by whomever last grazed the place.  I really grew to like the old blue posts even though I had no idea what make/manufacture they were.  Come to find out they were the same post that Jim Gerrish and Greg Judy (among others) swear by.  And just when we were about to need more posts to graze the rye/brassica mix, we happened to come into possession of a bunch of new O’Brien posts (thanks Jared!)


The only thing I don’t like about the Treadalines is that the metal spike is not sharpened from the factory.  That may not be a big deal to those farmers out there with less rocky soils, but we’ve got enough rocks to stop an un-pointed post in it’s tracks.


Bench grinders make this problem go away in a hurry

151012-IMG_20151012_125407Much pointy. Very nice. 151012-IMG_20151012_125356

And guess what is just about the perfect size to store all of these posts?

Yes of course it’s a 55 gallon barrel.  55 gallon barrels are the solution to everything.  Well, nearly everything.

151012-IMG_20151012_140651Upon setting the newly sharpened posts out in the rye/brassica field, I was notified that we were being watched.


Farmer watches dog, dog watches cows, cows watch farmer.

Big Wheels Keep On Turnin’

9 Oct


We’re not quite done with our first market season with the new (to us) display freezer and we’re completely in love with it.  We happened upon it last winter on Craigslist for $150; worth every penny.

If you, out there in internet land, sell meat at a farmers market and you don’t already have one, go get yourself a display freezer ASAP.

While we tried to outfit our freezer the best we could ahead of time, one weakness has already reared it’s head, the big wheels weren’t big enough.


The 5″ casters were plenty big for the (now defunct) egg refrigerator, but not quite up to the task of dealing with a full 7 cubic foot display freezer.


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  But this time with mild steel, a welder and bigger wheels.


Fits just right.

And don’t worry, the old wheels are making themselves useful on the farmers market cart these days.  Waste not.

Fearsome Twosome

7 Oct


We’ve got a few new faces on the farm.

These two are Anna & Elsa, our new Great Pyrenees pups.


We’ve had a bit of trouble this summer with predators picking off our free-range hens.  When it was just a terrestrial predator we figured we’d invest in a bit of that fancy electro-net fencing next year to keep all the girls out of harm’s way. But then the problem became airborne.


First there were the bald eagles.

Then the juvenile red-tailed hawk.


A fence won’t do much to deter such airborne threats, so we figured that a change of plans was in order.

Livestock guardian dogs it is.  They’ll spend the vast majority of their time out with the chickens.  For now they’re getting the lay of the land by hanging out with the pullets (next year’s laying hens).

Grain Bin Build

28 Sep


You may remember back a year or so ago (I just barely remember it) when we snagged ourselves a free grain bin.

We managed to get it all back to our farm in pieces, and then sometime this summer the real work began: putting the darned thing back together again.


The first problem is that the concrete pad that formerly hosted a grain bin was not quite the right size for our 18′ bin. Nothing a little forming and two dozen or so bags of concrete mix can’t fix.


Then begins assembly. We have a bin that’s 5 rings high, so being slightly ambitious (and having no idea what I was doing), I started with the 4th ring.
The process of building a grain bin is a bit odd. You assemble the top bits first, lift them all up into the air and then bolt the lower rings on one at a time.


Somewhere along the way we had to harvest our barley, which was meant to go in our yet-to-be-completed grain bin. Our neighbor was kind enough to rent us his bin for a while (until he harvests his soybeans) so we bought ourselves a little more time to build our bin.


The roof was the tricky part. All those little “slices” of roof are held up by the tension on the center ring. Getting all that lined up 12′ above the ground without the 25# center ring coming crashing down on your head was quite a feat.  It probably would have been a lot easier to start with the #5 ring so the roof wasn’t quite so high up off the ground for assembly. Oh well.


The local grain-bin supply place charges an arm and a leg to rent their bin jacks, $50/jack/day. We built our own redneck bin jacks for less than $50 each and we get them for as many days as we want. For those interested, the parts list for a bin jack goes something like this: Two 2x6x10′, one 2x6x12′, one 2x4x4′, one come-along, one 3/8″x4″ carriage bolt, one 3′ length of chain.


Now it really starts to look like something. Especially once the rusty roof is painted with some aluminum roof paint. Protip: get a cheap paint sprayer for the aluminum paint, it goes on really fast & even that way.


With all the bin jacks set up, it’s time to get them something to fasten to. The rental bin jacks came with a bit of 2-3″ angle iron that had a hole plasma-cut into it for the hooks. Being tragically devoid of a plasma cutter, I settled for welding a 1″ slice of pipe to a piece of angle iron.


Somewhere along the line my impact driver quit in protest of all those 1/2″ bolts. Still don’t have the darn thing back from the repair place. Waiting on a part they say…


Anyway, putting all the rest of the rings on goes pretty quickly. Jack the bin up, bolt the next ring on, rinse & repeat. When you finally get to the last ring on it’s time to bust out the big hammer drill and get whole mess bolted to the ground. Then comes the important (but not pictured) step of sealing the bottom of the bin to the concrete with a big bucket of roof cement.


Then comes the real fun, at least for us. Actually, scratch that part about fun. Assembling the drying floor was not fun. I really wish we’d have thoroughly marked the floor with several cans of spray paint before we disassembled it. That would have saved lots of head-scratching during reassembly.


After plenty of futzing and a bit of finagling, we ended up getting it all together.  A judicious application of power tools helps greatly.


Found this on the door. Looks like it has been a little while since this grain bin was in serious use.

Rye & Brassicas

13 Sep

So after we got all finished up harvesting our barley, we decided to put the big field (17 acres) into a winter grazing/cover-crop.  Since switching over to grass-finishing this spring, we’ve been cognizant of the fact that our climate zone will provide certain challenges to us in maintaining our grass-finishing during the whole of the farmers-market season.  Namely, the grass isn’t growing that well on either end of the farmers-market season.  When the grass isn’t growing well, the grass-finishing isn’t going to go that well either.

So, to that end we ended up seeding a mix of winter rye and a grazing brassica.

The winter rye should be a good forage for our potentially cold winters, with an ability to survive -35°F, which is well below what we get in a severe winter.  From what I’ve read we should be able to graze the rye well past all of our other pastures this fall/winter and still have some very early spring grazing out of it.  Heck, it’s even possible to get a grain-crop out of the rye after grazing it in fall and spring!  The yield wouldn’t be much, and we don’t really have too much use for rye. so that’s something we’ll probably pass on.

Not wanting to put all our eggs into one proverbial basket, we added a bit of Vivant brassica[PDF] seed to the rye. The Vivant is supposed to be a turnip/rapeseed hybrid that is geared toward producing more of a top than a regular turnip or tillage radish.
It’s now been about a month since planting, and they’re looking quite leafy with a small white (diakon-like) taproot.

We used a new broadcast seeder for this planting, which explains why it’s so spotty.  The new seeder works great once you get the hang of adjusting it for the correct seeding rate.  Being new, we did not have the hang of it, and the resulting seeding rate was a bit variable.  Oh well, the cows won’t care too much.

So in a few weeks we should have 17 acres of high-quality forage available to us that will last until the end of our farmers market season (Thanksgiving) and pick up early enough for the beginning of next years market season, without having to resort to feeding tons of silage over the winter.