Thursday, April 30, 2015


The stray cat situation seems to have narrowed itself down to one cat. All the other cats have been gone for months. That left this little tiger:
It's hard to get a good picture of her but she is very pregnant. The worst of the cat calling was at the end of February so we should be having kittens soon. I think "Stumpy", she is missing 3/4 of her tail, is living in an old ground hog burrow under a large forsythia bush. We will let her deliver her kittens, see if she lets us near them, then catch everyone near weaning time, get her fixed and maybe keep a kitten or two as barn cats. Anyone want/need a kitten?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Learning the Ropes

While waiting for the pastures to be ready for grazing the sheep have been busy learning all about electric roping. With the permanent perimeter fencing and the semi permanent fencing down the side of the stream in place the sheep need to learn to respect the temporary electric rope that will delineate their grazing areas. We fenced in a small area outside their barn run with the electric rope and have been letting them out to "learn the ropes."

After quite a few zaps, ram 0006 was the slowest learner, they all seem to respect that little white rope. Yesterday ram 0006 came up to within a foot of the rope, looked at it, then backed away. Good boy!

Worming and weaning ram 0004 happen this weekend, then it will out into the pastures the following week.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Kindness of Gardeners

I met a fellow gardener who lives about two miles from me. She had too much Siberian Iris and needed it thinned out. So I went and dug out a lot of iris!
I planted a few clumps in the front yard gardens but most of it went along the stream.
She also had an amazing rhubarb patch and had just dug out some plants and offered them to me.
I added four plants to the five I had before. Hopefully, this will be enough rhubarb!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Expanding the Pasture

Alan got to play with the drag harrow today; after using his ratchet rake to pull out all the little stumps from the area the goats cleared at the top of their old pasture. He has always said he doesn't want to be a farmer, but he sure does have fun with all the equipment!
This work today adds at least 50 x 150 feet to the top of the pasture. There is still about 250 feet left to go in this upper field and the goats are getting to work on that. They've done a pretty good job so far. Still over 200 feet to go though.
Next task up is seeding this area, but that will depend on the weather.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fencing Along the Stream

For the Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) that I plan to use for the sheep I need to be able to attach my fencing to a hot electric wire. Our permanent perimeter fence has a hot wire along the top, but the middle pasture is far away from the perimeter fence for the most part. Today we strung a semi-permanent 3-wire electric fence on T-posts all along the stream. Total length was 385 feet. We used 23 T-posts. At our old house it would have taken nearly a week to pound in 23 T-posts!
We also got this cool tool- a Spinning Jenny. Very useful for rolling out the high-tensile wire.
Alan has the whole electric fencing thing pretty much figured out, but I am slowly coming along. It's finally starting to make some sense. These cool fencing tighteners work really well.
The fence looks pretty nice. Not only will it be my source of power for the portable fencing, it will also help keep the sheep out of the stream. Now we just need to add a couple connectors and hook up the knife switch so we can turn it off when needed. One step closer to MIG!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tractor Work

Today the tractor got a good work out.
 It dug holes for my fruit trees...

Scraped out an old stump...
And pulled out a yew bush the deer killed. It even took out a couple of lilac bushes that were in the way. (All the years at the old house I longed for a large lilac bush. Now, at the new house, I have so many I am pulling them out!)

The lambs thought the holes were useful. If they stood in a hole they didn't have to lean over to eat grass!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sheep Lawn Mowers

The grass outside the pasture has been growing faster than the grass inside the pasture; so this evening we tried letting the sheep out to graze the yard up by the barn. I wasn't sure how this would go so I enlisted Alan and Maddy to be shepherds. The sheep did great! A couple of them learned about electric rope when they got zapped by the enclosure around the orchard and the grass was trimmed nicely.
This hill will be difficult to mow so I am happy to see we can put the sheep to work!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April Cover Crop Update

As spring progresses I am getting a better idea how the cover crops faired over the winter and what I like and don't like about each one.

Crimson Clover:
Everything I've read says crimson clover should over winter in our area. But most of it died. The green plants at the bottom of the picture are what is left of the clover. We did have a very cold winter, with many days of record breaking low temps, but I can't count on that never happening again. So scratch crimson clover off the list.          
Austrian Winter Peas:
These are my second biggest disappointment. I don't know if I planted them too late or not heavy enough but I am not happy with the sparseness of the planting. The gaps leave too much room for weeds to move in. If I try them again I will plant a little earlier and more thickly seeded.
Winter Rye:
This cover crop looks great. The plants are densely spaced, crowding out weeds. The final verdict will come in when I cut the rye, at pollen shed, and see how the roots die off.

The oats grew nicely in the fall then died back into a nice mat that should be good for planting transplants. Definitely something to grow again.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Garage Roof Patching

Next on the to-do list for the garage was taking out the old chimney from the wood stove that had been in the garage/shop for many, many years. But that left a nice hole in the roof.
We were able to find a halfway decent match in a cheap shingle for the patch. After patching the hole with plywood and roofing paper the shingling went fairly quickly. And it was a beautiful day for the job.
Seems a shame to do all this work since the whole garage and house will get a new roof soon, but the chimney needed to go now. It looks so much better without the chimney, though.
Anybody need an old chimney and an Easter Island-looking wood stove?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Older Ram Lambs are Not Happy!

Today was the day, finally, that we separated the ram lambs (who are now 4 1/2 months old.) Yes, that is way too long and I can only hope that they still aren't tall enough to have done the deed. Moose, who lost her lamb in mid March would be the shortest ewe whom they may have been able to reach. The boys just aren't that big, maybe around 50 pounds and not that tall.

But they sure aren't happy being separated from the rest of the flock.
They spent the afternoon crying to get out and crashing into the cattle panels. Their mom didn't seem to be bothered much by the whole thing. She does seem a bit out of sorts this evening at feeding time. She is now in a different stall and doesn't seem to know what to do with herself. But she still has a good appetite and she and her lambs can still lay up against each other at the fence if they want.

Soon the boys, soon to be joined by rams 0004 and 0006, will be moved to the pasture across the stream to spend the summer grazing before going to visit Iceland in the fall.

Friday, April 10, 2015

FAMACHA Training

Wednesday evening Maddy and I went to a FAMACHA training class put on by Penn State and held at the sheep barn at Delaware Valley University. FAMACHA is a diagnostic tool useful in determining which sheep/goats need deworming. The program is based on assessing the color of an animal's mucous membranes (mostly the lower eyelid) using a patented color card to diagnose anemia. Anemia is very helpful in assessing for barber pole worm infection.

The barn itself was impressive. There were at least three different types of sheep (we didn't go through the whole barn) and I was able to get some pictures of the hay mangers I want to build.
Side view-
The course started with a power point presentation covering internal parasites, their life cycles, management techniques to prevent the spread of worms, etc. Dr Wolfgang, from Penn State, spoke in a little more depth on other principles of management including refugia and Targeted Selective Treatment (TST.). Refugia is the term for populations of worms in untreated sheep and the subsequent larvae on pastures. Leaving worms that have not been exposed to the anthelmintics helps to reduce build up of resistance to wormers by diluting the numbers of worms that survive treatment.  Another part of TST is FAMACHA scoring.

We then went over to the sheep and assessed the color of the mucous membranes of the lower eyelid of a sheep.
She was very cooperative!

Inside the classroom the assistants had been busy preparing fecal egg count slides from the fecal samples the participants brought. They also showed us how to prepare samples ourselves. Of course my sheep sample was the only sample with worm eggs, 1750! At least the goat sample I brought was clean.  Dr Wolfgang gave some recommendations for treatment and I'll be getting the vet out, again.

I have been mulling over in my mind how to do my own fecal egg counts. It is recommended to keep a "low background parasite burden"  and only treat animals when necessary i.e., if becoming anemic. This strategy should help decrease the development of resistance to anthelmintic drugs. But having the vet's office do routine fecal egg counts on all my sheep and goats on a routine basis could get expensive. Preparing the sample is not that difficult and only requires a few simple tools. The most costly tool is a microscope. I am spoiled by the microscopes at work so a cheap microscope might just be too frustrating for me. 

All in all it was a great class and we learned a ton of very useful information. When I look back to what I knew about sheep four months ago I see huge growth, but there is still a long way to go.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Skunk Holes

We must have a good crop of grubs this year because the skunks have been going crazy.  Every morning there are more holes in the yard.
We have the most aerated lawn around! Time to get serious about the grub population. I think we'll try milky spore since I don't want any chemicals on my lawn. This article on Milky Spore Japanese Beetle Control has some good information. Milky Spore is applied in a grid pattern, one level teaspoon every three or four feet. But summer seems to be the best time for applying Milky Spore to the lawn. Nothing to do now but try to fill in all the thousands of little holes!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Planting Onions

Ever since we moved to a place that has soil good for root crops I have fallen in love with growing onions and garlic. Onion seed planted in February has grown into nice seedlings ready to be planted outside. There is off and on rain forecasted for the next few days and today was sunny and 70 degrees so it was perfect onion planting weather! Now I have 240 onion seedlings in the ground.
In 2013 I tried a method of planting onions I read about in a book by Eliot Coleman. You plant 3-4 seedlings in the same hole, each clump about 6 inches apart. I had a great crop that year, but didn't know if it was from the new garden or the planting method. Last year I planted in the more traditional method and had more problems with weeds and a lesser harvest. It's definitely easier to hoe between the clumps than individual onion plants.

I planted the onions in the section of the garden that was planted in Daikon radish as a fall cover crop. Other than a few stems there is no evidence of the radishes, and some were over eight inches long and three inches in diameter! The soil was beautiful. All I did was hoe four furrows for planting the onions. This is the year for the no-till gardening trial.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Moving the Goats

Moving the goats into the new brush area was our big job for Easter weekend.  First we strung up three rows, each 220 feet long, of electric polyrope to keep them in the area. Of course we had helpers!
You won't be trying to eat the rope once it's electrified!

The goats' new pen is full of brush we need them to eat. Over 6000 sq feet of brush!

The next job was to move our old "hay hut" (made from two cattle panels on a frame) up to the new pen. This necessitated hauling the hay hut up a hill with a total elevation of about 50 feet. We had hoped to be able to put it on a trailer and use the tractor to get it up the hill but the ground was just damp enough to be too slippery for the tractor.
So first we tried carrying it. Yeah, that was NOT going to work. Then we tried putting a hand truck under one end to take some of the load. Not good enough. Finally, with two hand trucks and a really long rope attached to the tractor up in the more level field at the top of the hill we were able to make progress.

Here we are about halfway up the hill. The rope was so long the tractor was up against the fence and we had to shorten the rope. That's when I fell and cracked my knee. Bending is still very uncomfortable.
Almost there!

The goats and sheep checking out their new home.

We plan to put galvanized metal roofing panels over the arch, but the tarp will suffice for now. Next step is to get hoses up there. It's a long walk carrying water!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Planning the Orchard

The fruit trees I ordered this winter should be shipping next week. So, it's time to figure out exactly where they will be planted.  I have been studying high density planting for fruit trees and found a few interesting videos: High Density Planting for Fruit Trees and High Density Fruit Tree Growing.
The first video is helpful in seeing the trees as they are planted and the second video shows mature trees and how they look when pruned to stay small.
Deep Green Permaculture has a nice article on backyard orchard culture with lots of diagrams on different planting layouts. I think the hedgerow plan would work best with the slope of my orchard space.

I have four apple trees, two pear trees, a columnar self fertile peach tree and a crabapple tree going in the orchard; and possibly a sour cherry tree. I remember it was a lot of fun picking out the apple trees. How could I pass up a "Sheep Nose" apple tree!

So the plan, I think, will look like this:
The two Johnagolds are at the top of the orchard and I still haven't made up my mind as to whether or not they will stay. They seem to have more buds on them this year so we'll see how they have recovered after last year's buffet by the deer. Right now the chickens are wintering in the upper orchard but will have to go somewhere else soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


The crocuses I planted in the front yard are blooming!
But I thought the mix of bulbs I bought had yellow, white and blue. Hmmmm.

A Little More Garage Work

Alan has been working on getting the dust collector for his garage/shop set up. He has been insulating the shop area but needed to know where the duct work would go through the wall for the dust collector. Now with it in place he can finish the insulation and move on with his shop.
We brought the dust collector from the old house and it's been sitting in a friend's barn all this time (thanks Ted.) At the old house the dust collector sat in the breezeway/porch between the house and the garage/shop and when it was full it would blow sawdust all over the breezeway. In the new shop it will exhaust back into the shop so Alan will know when it is full!
The black pipe above will attach to the hoses and keep the shop, relatively, free of sawdust.
He also put the screening on the vent from the attic above the shop.  We'll see if it keeps out the stink bugs!