Vacations are a rarity these days, especially with a toddler and a barn full of hungry animals. Thankfully, due to the grace and friendship of neighbors who agreed to take on our responsibilities we spent this past weekend on the wonderful island of South Padre. It wasn’t just a simple time alone however. We enjoyed the tremendous pleasure of a Weekend to Remember Getaway retreat by FamilyLife. It was not only a great respite from the daily grind of farm and work life, but it was indeed a weekend to remember spent with the one I love.
Our love for each other has been a wonderful adventure these past 10 years, but in these three short days we learned more how to better apply the precepts of love, respect and honor.If you and your loved one have yet to take a weekend to remember, we highly suggest you find a way to do so. If you’d like more information about the weekend getaway, please feel free to ask us.
Or better yet, find a Weekend to Remember event near you!
For the past month we’ve been preparing our farm to receive friends, both old and new. We have never prepared for such a big event and weren’t quite sure what kind of turnout to expect so we worked a little extra to prepare for a big event. Doing so was a good idea as it turned out that over the course of the day we had 49 people come through our gates.
Of course the animals were the hit of the show. The goats stood up well to the constant flow of people in and out of their pen. They even had a few small puppy visitors. I purposely kept the dogs, donkey and sheep isolated in a separate pen as you never really can tell how they are going to react.
I also spent some time in the week before the open house to cut a walking trail through our woods. This particular section of woods is one we haven’t explored much if at all because the area around it was so dense with briars and intertwined small trees. On a tip from a neighbor I bought a brush cutter attachment for my weed eater and was able to forge a very nice trail. It still needs a little work, but our visitors seemed to enjoy a walk in the woods very much.
The event seemed so well received that maybe we’ll plan to do this again next year!
In the recent past our friendly neighborhood farmer would cut our hay fields for us and he would reap the whole harvest as we had no need of it. Now that we have the animals it is going to be important to store up some hay for the winter. The problem was that we have no means of moving the large round bales. I mentioned this to him when he came to cut the grass this time and he said, “Not a problem. I have an old square baler that I haven’t used in years. I’ll just bale you up some of those.” And so he did! When he was done baling there were 20 large round bales and 56 small square bales on the ground.
First thing Saturday morning we borrowed our neighbor’s flatbed trailer and I began loading the bales. Our youngest son saw what I was doing and he was not about to be left out of the action. He climbed aboard the trailer and as I threw each bale on he would pull it into place. That was until it got to the second level and he couldn’t pull it anymore. From that point on he gave me direction in the proper placement of each bale in order to create a huge nest. Indeed we did! The bales ended up stacked three high, but at the center was an opening for the nest.
Once fully loaded, we backed the trailer to the barn, but unfortunately there isn’t a gate in the fence wide enough for a truck and/or trailer so I had to park it about 15 feet away from where it was going to be stacked. Little man tried hard as he may to carry, drag or push the bales along the ground, but despite his best determination he couldn’t help with this part. One by one I offloaded the trailer and stacked the bales under the barn overhang. They didn’t seem quite so heavy at the beginning but by about the 20th bale they began to get heavier and heavier. By the last bale I hardly had the strength to throw them to the top of the pile, but made it through and ended up with a winter’s worth of stored hay!
Keeping this blog up to date has been a real challenge with the combination of busy days and having no internet access on the farm as of yet. I’d love to report that we’ve accomplished a ton of monumental successes on the farm this summer, but all I can really say is that we’ve been (almost) keeping up with things.
Since our “petting zoo” has increased and our need to keep back the fast-growing grass we tried to let the animals out of their fenced pastures and graze our backyard. We met with a mixed result in that they did help keep the grass down, but their curious nature caused some damage to some of our household things on the front and back porch. We’ve decided that until we can fence off “our” space, the animals will just have to stay in their pastures.
What this means is a little more work on our part to keep the grass around the house mowed. This wouldn’t be so much of a stretch, but unfortunately within the past month both our riding lawn mower and our tractor have decided it is time for them to take a break. I’m pretty sure we can get the lawn mower back in commission soon, but the tractor is another issue entirely.
I haven’t had time to tear down the engine, but I’m pretty sure it is a substantial failure. As I was cutting grass the other day, the tractor just shut off with no indication of trouble. When I tried to restart it a steady stream of black, oily water poured out from the drain hole at the base of the exhaust pipe. I replaced the head gasket back a few months ago to fix water entering the engine, but I think from the volume of water now that there’s a far worse failure internally. Time will tell. If you’re good at working on tractors and want to give me a hand, I’d certainly welcome the help as the old diesel in our Massey isn’t familiar to me at all. There isn’t much to the simple 20HP engine, but I’m simply learning on-the-go. Of course donations for a new tractor would be even better hahahaha!
Aside from the hardships, some things have been going well. Our 4 chickens now seem to be in full gear providing us with 4 fresh, tasty eggs each and every day with few exceptions. We also had a great visit from an experienced shepherd who showed us how to catch, halter and take care of our sheep. Before I saw her grab and subdue one of our ewes I wasn’t sure it was possible because they are so strong and wild. Now that I have seen what to do I have so far been able to catch and halter one of the ewes as well as our ram. That is really going to help us take even better care of our little flock.
The goats are much friendlier and are relatively easy to manage and, according to our experienced shepherd, one of the does appears to be pregnant. Sooo…it is time to add a few more small pens to the barn in order to have space to start welcoming our zoo babies!
Here are a few pictures of our summer adventures (which can also be seen on our FaceBook page at: https://www.facebook.com/whirldworksfarm/.
No, no, no…not a Freemason; just a free mason. After the anonymous destruction of our nearly new “indestructible” mailbox it was determined that we were not going to fork over another $500 to have it rebuilt. Instead I went to Home Depot and then came home with about $20 in mortar. Thankfully I already had some basic masonry tools from some repairs to our last house.
I had never done more than a little repair work on cracked mortar before and was a little apprehensive about tackling this project. However, I’m not often afraid of new challenges on the farm so I took this one up without flinching.
Right off the bat I realized this was going to be more challenging than I initially thought. It seemed to me that it would be as simple as putting a puzzle back together. Just take the fallen pieces and put them back where they had been. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Most of the mailbox was so completely shattered that I couldn’t figure out where the pieces had been. Because of this I couldn’t fit together the pieces that were still intact so I had to resort to a hammer and chisel in order to separate every block as well as remove all of the existing mortar. I was left with a pile of rocks that had to find their new home.
The challenge of finding pieces that fit together “just right” was hard enough, but add to that the searing Texas summer sun and I began to rethink my decision. I stuck with it though and layer by layer it began to “rise from the ashes.” I had hoped to build it up as high as I could, make it level and put the cap piece on that was still intact. Unfortunately I would have needed a small crane to pick up the top piece, so it too had to be disassembled and cleaned of old mortar.
The mailbox is back in business now although I think it looks a little more like a Fred Flintstone model rather than the tight, square beauty it once was, but the mail is being delivered again and after all, that was the end goal.
(I’ll add a picture of the finished product)
Coming home to the farm is (almost) always such a pleasure. I say almost because yesterday was not such a pleasure. As we took in the beauty along our road we approached our driveway and immediately something seemed wrong. Your eyes get used to familiar sights and when those sights are missing it can take a few moments to realize it. That’s just what we encountered.
The image stored in my mind of our front drive was missing something, then I realized what it was. Wait, where’s the big stone mailbox? It wasn’t there! As we pulled into our driveway we discovered the remnants of our once proud, stone postal pedestal. The pieces were strewn all across the drainage ditch and not a note of regret anywhere to be found.
There are, of course, a great many other catastrophes that can strike fear or anger into the heart of a homesteader, but this is not one I thought would be realistic. We know all-too-well the habits of bat-wielding fiends on a joyride to destroy mailboxes so we purposely had ours made from the same stone our home was built with. Surely nothing would be able to topple it.
That is of course unless you happen to live right across the street from another home being constructed. The large contractor vehicles that come in and out of that driveway already smashed down one side of our driveway culvert and now it appears they have managed to obliterate our mailbox.
Naturally nobody is assuming the credit for the calamity and the silly general contractor claims there was nobody working on the house that day. I say silly because it was noted by neighbors and even the sheriff deputy who drove by earlier saw workers on site.
I know I’ll get over it and we WILL rebuild. It strikes me as ironic though that we moved to the country for a little more peace and so far this construction site has be somewhat of a distraction from that goal. They’ve been building that house for much longer than it took ours to complete and as far as I know none of our contractors or sub-contractors caused damage to anyone else’s property. If they had I know our builder would have made it right, unlike this character who is covering for somebody.
Oh well, just another day in the country 🙂
It’s that time of year when I become particularly envious of YouTubers from more Northern climates out enjoying their gardens and the like. Here in Texas we are smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer with day after day of temperatures near or above 100 degrees.
To say nothing much is getting done outside is pretty much on target. I actually enjoy getting up at 5am when it is only 80 degrees. I can get the animals out to their pastures, clean out the barn, and make sure all the critters have plenty of water before the sun comes. I duck back inside and do very little outdoors until the heat begins to wain again in the evening.
I was pleased with June’s hay harvest. Due to all the Spring rain our 9 acre hay field yielded 19 large round bales. We don’t need or use nearly that much with our little flock, but the farmer who cuts and bales it (and reaps the harvest) was appreciative. I’m surprised how beautiful the field is right now since we haven’t had a drop of rain in about 6 weeks.
So what do people around here do when it’s too hot to work outside during the day? There’s always work to be done inside since those chores tend to get neglected the rest of the busy year. I’ve also been organizing and downsizing some of my collections that sat in storage for two years while we waited to move onto the farm. We also celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary by taking our first date in a LONG time. We enjoyed a night out in the “big” city and found some time for some uncommon relaxation during a cool moonlight cruise on the lake in downtown Austin.
There’s about a month left to go before the mercury begins its gradual drop and I’m definitely looking forward to the projects we have in store for the Fall/Winter months here at the farm. We’ll finally be putting in our garden and getting some work done in the “dark forest.”
Until we moved onto our homestead I spent my life living in and around cities. We’ve now been on our land for three months and I can honestly say that one of the most incredible aspects is the silence. Well okay, not exactly silence, but the noises out here are more subdued and much more pleasant.
I haven’t heard a single siren in these three months, except when we go to the city of course. There’s no road noise caused by hundreds of cars speeding by outside. When there is a car on our road I can hear it from almost a mile away. That’s how quiet it is on our farm and this particular loss of hearing things is music to my ears.
We’ve had some family and friends out to the farm and they too are impressed with how quiet it is. I always tell them though that if they really want quiet they should stay overnight. The stars out here at night are something of wonder and one day I just know we’re going to have to get a good telescope. It really is magical to sit on our back patio in the dark silence. Sure there is the occasional pack of coyotes howling in the distance or an owl hunting for it’s midnight snack, but those sounds don’t grate at your ears like an emergency vehicle screaming by.
This past weekend I was blessed with a wonderful Father’s Day! It has been much more difficult to get the whole family together since most of them have grown, left the nest and started out on their own lives. This Sunday though it was an absolute pleasure to welcome four of the six home for a day of talking, laughing, playing games and a visit to our “petting zoo.”
There were a few moments when the kids were together laughing and talking and I just stood back to savor the precious sounds in our new home. Other times I couldn’t help but to butt in and join the fun. It was really fun to watch our littlest try to keep up with the activity and conversation of his bigger siblings.
For dinner each of us crafted our own pizza and enjoyed devouring the results. We followed up our meal with some homemade chocolate cookies and a game of Apples To Apples. It was a great time to have such fun around our dining room table again.
Once the festivities died down I wanted to take advantage of the setting sun (and temperature) so I hopped on my tractor to do some quick mowing. I ran the tractor along the fence line when all of a sudden the tractor died abruptly. I got it started again, but could not get it to go forward with the mower engaged. A quick inspection revealed that I had apparently failed to clean up a small bundle of wire I had used the previous weekend while putting up some fence. The mower blade had sucked it up and wrapped it tight around the shaft. I took a few quick tugs, but it didn’t appear it was going to be an easy fix. I gave up for the night in order to get back to the kids who were preparing to leave.
I returned my attention to the mower last night with some measure of anxiety since I had learned that the blades on a brush hog are tightened to such a degree that I knew I would be unable to remove them with my limited tools. I was armed only with a hacksaw, wire cutters and some pliers. Thankfully it took just a few strokes with the hacksaw and the tight bundle released itself. The pliers made an easy job of removing the remaining wire and the blade was free and clear.
Shortly after we moved onto our farm a new farmer friend donated a donkey to us. This was a “surplus” donkey they had no use for and had in all sense been running wild on his property for about two years. We really didn’t know what to expect from the donkey we named Ruth when she first arrived.
Over the past couple of months she has proven herself to be a valuable member of our farm family. She has bonded extremely well with the goats and is already showing sign of doing the same thing with the sheep. If a large donkey hanging around our other animals would help keep them safe that would be enough for the free gift. Thankfully though she has gone above and beyond mere livestock protection.
Ruth does a great job of keeping the animals together and has even served to herd them towards the barn in the evening. It is an amazing thing to watch her plod along behind the others encouraging them forward.
The one thing we had not been able to accomplish with Ruth was a level of trust between herself and humans. She has been in need of a good brushing and there are a few areas that we would like to get close to and see better in order to make sure she is healthy. Unfortunately she is so wild that she won’t allow people to get closer than about 5 feet. That was until last night and it all happened by accident.
She is so closely bonded with one of our goats that in the evening they can be difficult to separate. Two nights ago was just such a night. It was getting late and all the animals were in the barn, but I could not get little Amelia (the goat) into her pen and she kept hiding under Ruth as been her practice if she doesn’t want to do something. I had to get them apart and the only thing within my reach was a small toy rake. I picked it up and gently touched Ruth’s back to let her know I was there and wanted her to stay there. At first she didn’t seem to happy about it, but she let me keep the rake on her.
Once I got Amelia into the pen I decided to try the rake again. I put it gently on her back and began to scratch her back. She remained nervous, but obviously enjoyed the sensation. We did this for about ten minutes and I let her be. The next night I tried it again and she was much more relaxed and really enjoyed it. I decided to be a little braver and got within a foot of her side and reached out my hand. Her muscles twitched the second I touched her, but she didn’t move. I put the rake away and approached her again and she let me put my hand on her again. It felt great to be able to finally make that connection with her!
This morning, just to see if it had been a fluke, I tried it again and she let me rub her back. I’m not sure if she will let me do so outside the confines of the barn, but it is a huge step forward for her and for us.
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