I could feel the anticipation rising, so decided it was time to reveal our solution to the barn floor issues we have been experiencing. We have run through so many ideas over the past couple of years trying to solve this, but we settled on building a wooden deck inside the barn.
It seems so strange now, but in all our discussions about the barn, I don’t recall us ever contemplating a wooden floor. Even in all our research it was not an idea we had come across. That was until someone suggested it as it is how they solved their problems. Then, all of a sudden, our internet searches were met with plenty of ideas and tips for wooden barn floors. I don’t always like it when there are “plenty of ideas” because it makes researching the “right” solution to our individual problem harder to choose. I do realize however that many options make multiple solutions for varying situations more tenable.
Anyway, we talked about the options, then sketched out our idea and determined how much material we were going to need for our project. Because time is not a luxury we experience often, we took advantage of convenience and ordered the material online. The following Friday night I zipped over to the big box store where our lumber was already waiting for me. Thankfully, a couple of helpful employees even aided me in loading it all into our trailer.
It sure seemed like an awful lot of weight for our little 5×8 pull behind and I even had had pieces 16 feet long lashed to the top rail. Yeah, I should have taken a picture, but I was hungry and eager to get home. I took it easy driving all that lumber home and made it to within about 100 feet of our driveway. As usual I drove slow down our obstacle curse some call a road, but I hit one of the vehicle swallowing “potholes” a little too fast nearly lost the whole load. The trailer jumped off the hitch, landed on what passes for pavement in the country and made quite a racket. It didn’t take long to get it back where it belonged though and I had it safely on our farm, ready for Saturday morning.
We started by running those 16 foot long pressure-treated 2x4s down the long side of the pen. We installed them a few inches above the dirt floor so there will be some measure of airflow underneath. Once those were securely in place, we cut two 2x4s about 4 feet long, and propped them up so they were parallel and level with the runners. On these 2x4s we installed the 2×4 decking. Once all the decking was installed we removed the blocks propping them up so that the decking is what held the weight whole pallet. We did it this way because we know we will need to get access to the dirt floor occasionally to clean it. Lift up a pallet, and there’s the old dirt floor.
It only took one night to realize that I hadn’t put enough space between the deck boards. The next morning the poop was everywhere, including being stuck to the sheep. I had to go back and take out every single screw and reattach the boards with enough space between them to allow the “garden gold” to fall to the ground below. It’s been a couple of weeks now since finishing this project and so far it appears to be just what we’ve needed all this time.
Six days of the week, breakfast is something of a hurried affair, but we make every attempt to slow things down on Saturday mornings. It is a special time when we can spend some time working together to make this tasty treat and then share them as a family at the table. Buttermilk Pecan Pancakes have become our family favorite!
Working on the homestead is most often less of a chore and more of a blessing. To know that every ounce of work you put into YOUR place is yours to keep. Add to that the chance to be outdoors enjoying your little piece of heaven and there is little better enjoyment in life.
When it comes to giving a gift to the man of the homestead, it may seem difficult to know just what he wants or needs. I can tell you from experience that there is plenty of need for new or replacement tools and you shouldn’t worry much about getting him something he already has. When it comes to tools and equipment, nothing lasts forever on the homestead and a backup always, and I mean always, comes in handy.
I could list far more than 10 items on a man’s homestead wish list, but if I truly had to narrow it down to 10 things, these would (and are) on that list.
Working on a homestead often involves maintenance in locations too far from your home or other sources of electricity. In many cases I actually prefer powerless hand tools, but there are times when cordless power tools can be very helpful. Repetitve jobs and time constraints make the cordless power tool a handy item to have in your toolbox. I don’t own this particular set, but I do own the corded version of the Black+Decker Matrix and really enjoy the versatility of a variety of attachments.
Unless your homestead is a sod hut on the vast prairie, a chainsaw is a must have piece of equipment. Brand loyalty is a major factor in choosing your next chainsaw purchase, but beware that when it comes to chainsaws, you really do get what you pay for. I bought a relatively inexpensive brand when we first purchased our land and that chainsaw now sits gathering dust in “forever storage.”
There is no counting how many times I’ve run across something that needs fixed or mended while working on something else, only to discover that the tool I really need is back at the house. Carrying a heavy toolbox around the homestead is not a reality I experience, but a well stocked tool belt can reduce time spent going back and forth to the house for a screwdriver or hammer.
It doesn’t take long to realize that muck boots are an absolute essential piece of homestead gear. The very first time your regualar boots get stuck in the mud or you, um, track that mud into the house, and you’ll recognize the need. Muck boots typically slip on and off with ease anyway, so they are extremely convenient when you have to run outside for a second, or if you have a day’s work ahead of you.
Homesteading is a dirty business. I can’t think of a single chore that doesn’t somehow mar my clothes with a spot of mud here or a stain of something there. Not to mention working in the woods surrounded by poision ivy. The difference between overalls and coveralls is pretty much a personal preference, but if I am going out to do something that I know for sure is going to be a dirty job, I prefer coveralls.
Okay, here is a choice that can cause hours of discussion, especially here in Texas. Every Texas homesteader knows something about barbecue and a piece of land without some sort of grill or smoker is wasted space.
A homesteader without a good strong knife is like a zebra without stripes. Pocket knives are a good tool to carry, but I have found them to be too small or awkward for some of the jobs I need a knife for. There are any number of quality fixed blade knives out there today, but I really love my Morakniv Craftline. It’s bigger than my pocket knives, but smaller than a machete and is a very strong and versatile tool.
The stars may be bright deep in the heart of Texas, but they typically are not bright enough to work by. They are certainly not bright enough to find a stray animal or to tell if that noise in the bushes is an armadillo or a skunk. Flashlights are handy, but I have found that when I am outside after the sun goes down, I usually need both hands free. Modern headlamps are bright and last much longer than any nighttime job I have needed them for.
I have no idea where you live, but on our homestead we never go outside in the summer without a good hat on our head. The sun can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time and your scalp is one of the last places you want to experience a sever sunburn. Sure the cowboy hat is king in Texas, but I have found my cowboy hats to be in the way or get knocked off easily when I’m working in the woods. I have found that I very much prefer a vented bucket hat when I’m out on our homestead.
Gloves are everywhere and every homesteader has a pile of them somewhere. But chances are that one of this pair is missing, one of that pair has a dozen holes, and that pair, well, what is that smell? Leather gloves are great during the winter, but during the summer when it’s 100 degrees outside, I don’t know about you, but I need a glove that can breathe AND handle whatever I throw at it. Having more pairs of gloves than you think a person needs is never a bad idea.
So here’s my list. Would you have a different list? I’d love to know what is on your Top 10 gift list for men on the homestead!
Our barn was the very first structure we built as we knew there was a need to store tools and equipment long before we called the land our home. (You can read a little more about our barn adventure here, here, and here).
When I set the very first posts we were in the middle of quite a drought and the entire homestead was covered in very tall grass. Because of this, I had no idea I was actually building our barn in a pretty poor location. When the rain returned, I soon discovered our building area was actually in a low spot and collected quite a bit of water. No sooner had I built the barn, I was digging a drainage ditch around the perimeter and installing french drains, gravel and rocks to divert the rainwater.
This worked fairly well until our home was built and the road base from the house to the barn was laid. A great volume of water would drain from the house gutters, follow the nice new graded plain to the new road, take a right turn and follow the road straight to the front door of the barn. Again I was employed in digging trenches, but no matter what I did, the barn floor would experience varying degrees of drainage. The result was a wet, muddy floor that we knew would be unsuitable for our future animals.
We read on the subject and talked to people in the area and settled on the same kind of red dirt/sand that is typically seen in arenas. The wet mud problem vanished, but once our sheep moved in, it didn’t take long to realize it was turning them orange! After our first season on the farm, I dug out as much of the red dirt as I could and we replaced it a dump truck load of something similar to play sand.
This seemed to solve both the problem with mud and orange sheep, but cleaning a twenty by twenty foot litter box with a rake and mud shovel (sifter) every day became an every day chore. There really didn’t seem to be any way around this so for the past two years, rake, sift, dump has been a daily routine.
Then came our recent discovery at the fiber mill. Even after washing our wool fleece twice, the mill owner showed us a pile of fine grit and sand that clogged their machinery and caused a slow-down when processing our wool. The owner has sheep on ground not too different from ours and we asked how they reduced the problem in their flock. The answer was a wooden floor in their barn.
This solution sounded reasonable enough, but as with all suggestions and ideas, we took it into consideration and researched it. Turns out, plenty of other people have used this same solution. How is it that we never came upon this idea before?
The decision was made and our sheep were going to get a Texas-sized dance floor!
Until next time…..
2018 was our second shearing season and we took the opportunity to learn more about our wool. We sent off samples for each animal and were thrilled with the results.
Our wool falls into the very fine category! Here are the results:
Rather than trying to process the wool ourselves this year, we had it processed by the great folks at Independence Wool. We did a considerable amount of skirting the wool by hand prior to handing it off and were rewarded with the report from the mill that our wool was not considered to be exceptionally dirty with seeds and other “vegetable matter”.
We did learn that we should probably let the wool grow a little longer before the next shearing as well as add a little more than our usual amount of supplemental feed.
Our final lesson from the mill was that even with all our precautions and care for the sheep, their sleeping on our sand floor in the barn creates a process problem for the mill. They showed us a pile of fine grit and sand that came out of the wool (after washing) in the carding machine. It is too late in the season for us to make changes that will fix this for our 2019 wool, but there are things already in the works to help with that issue (Stay tuned!).
Our shearer did a great job and as a result, this years wool has far less “slubs” or lint and was cut much more evenly. It is processed into semi worsted roving and the prices reflect the lengths and micron count.
What is worsted or semi-worsted roving? Here’s an article to help understand the difference:
|Wade (16.7 microns /3.14 inch length): $4 per Ounce|
|Wendy (18.5 microns and /3.54 inch length): $4 per ounce|
|Winton (18.6 microns /2.95 inch length): $3.50 per ounce|
|Wynonna (18.8 microns /2.75 inch length): $3.50 per ounce|
|Wanda (18.9 microns /3.54 inch length): $4.00 per ounce|
When it comes to our momma sheep and their babies, there appears to be a trend developing at Whirldworks Farm. It would appear that cold fronts that blow in on Sundays bring out the lambs! Last year pretty much all the babies came to us under these conditions.
Last weekend a cold front blew in Saturday night and Sunday morning Wanda was standing tall and proud with her new baby, Ansel.
This weekend, a cold front blew in again on Saturday and this morning we found Wendy standing even more proud with her twin babies, Ari (boy) and Ariel (girl). It is interesting to note that last year Wendy had a set of twins ( a boy and a girl) as well. All our other ewes, so far, have had singles. Time will tell what other lambs are in store for us this year, but needless to say, it is a very exciting part of our year.
Ari and Ariel
We found this wool to be very soft and it has a great crimp. 2017 was our first shearing season and we learned allot from it. We hired a wonderful shearer for our first fleeces, but learned a valuable lesson in the process. Our shearer made the sheep look show-ready, but unfortunately the result was lesser quality fleece. Because of the shearing process in 2017, we ended up with a lot of second cuts in this season’s wool and the staple length was rather short, due to the way it was sheared. No fault of the shearer, we just didn’t know what we were expecting (or needing for that matter).
We also learned that washing the wool ourselves, by hand, was incredibly labor intensive and left the wool somewhat felted.
In order to put this wool to use we had to open the fibers up again before putting them through the carder, or use a hand carder. We believe a tool called a picker would be helpful in opening up the fibers to make them easier to card.
After having manually opened some of the locks (and wads) of felted fiber we were able to card about 5 “rollogs” weighing about 1oz each. This spins into a very bumpy yarn wit h a lot of “slubs” or lint. It has a very “artsy” texture that would make great place mats or other items where a lot of texture is desirable. It is nonetheless very exciting to actually spin wool from our very own sheep.
We have set the price for this wool at only $12 per lb because of the inferior shearing method, and overhandling during the washing phase. It is still a very spin-able wool for a somewhat seasoned spinner and makes a great yarn for certain applications.
Since we began raising our sheep, most of our lambs have been born in January. Such was the case in 2018 as well and some of them came during a horribly cold period for our area. We were seeing temperatures in the teens and keeping those babies warm was a challenge. So much so that we decided to delay our breeding season this year to allow the lambs to be born in February or March.
Wanda had other plans! I went out to the barn for our morning routine to let the sheep out to pasture and just beyond the sound of the excited sheep baaas came a tiny, precious sound. The ewes all moved toward the gate as I approached except for Wanda. And there, hiding behind her was a brand new baby boy we have named Ansel. Despit having delayed the breeding in 2018, Wanda had her baby on essentially the same exact day as last year, during a cold front. Thankfully this cold front isn’t nearly as bad as it was this time last year.
So, please join us in welcoming baby Ansel to the Whirldworks Farm family!
The cold and rainy weather of late gave way this weekend and we were blessed with three days of beautiful, warm sunshine. We spent Saturday catching up on many of the chores that needed done, but today we spent some time in the woods.
One of my favorite things to do while on our walks is to look for new and interesting fungi. I would have never thought this to be a “thing” for me, but in our woods we have found fungi to be a vastly interesting subject. Our search was rewarded today as we discovered some typical growths on a tree, but also something we have never seen before. We discovered a variety of fungus that has the appearance of a flower and it was so fun to just sit and look at it for a little while.
The winter rains have certainly left behind a wet and muddy floor upon which to venture, but our treks have been enjoyable with the sun shining through leafless trees and the creek has been running full much longer than we are used to seeing.
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