They (don’t) call me the donkey whisperer

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.

Spring on the homestead

Spring on the new homestead has been a very busy time trying to establish both the home and the farm. Much of the outdoor work over the past month has been hurried between rain storms and a busy calendar of activities. The rain has been mostly welcome at our place as we have not experienced the flooding of other areas. So far the only inconvenience has been the inability to cut the grass and make hay because the ground remains so soft. On the other hand, the ground that was so hard-baked last year and nearly impossible to dig has been a delight for me in my unending chore of putting up fences. Speaking of which, for the past few months my only option for pulling the fence tight was to attach the end to my tractor and pull forward slowly being careful not to pull the poles out of the soft earth. A couple weeks ago I finally gave in and bought myself a fence puller and am so very glad I did. The result is far more satisfactory.

Fence puller

 

 

 

 

Much of this fencing has been put up in preparation for the newest members of our farm family. I had (nearly) finished this task this past Sunday evening and was a bit frustrated because I knew our sheep would arrive the next day. Monday arrived and we headed out on our Texas hill country adventure. We took a short detour at the LBJ Ranch and enjoyed a short walk to the living history farm. It’s interesting how different the experience is now that we are trying to actually emulate some of the things they demonstrate.

Once we loaded back up in the truck we soon left the main highway and traveled deeper into the beautiful hills. We entered through the ranch gate and drove a few miles along dirt roads that wound through the hills and down through crystal clear water crossings. When we arrived at the rancher’s home I was in awe of the beautiful spot. The home is nestled in a small valley between two tall hills and a picture-perfect creek flowed just below the home and barns. Angora sheep gracefully bounded along the hillside above us. We were met by the wonderful owners who are the third generation to live on this true slice of heaven.

We were treated to a cold glass of ice-tea inside the cozy home and enjoyed getting to know the rancher and his family as well as some of the history of their operation and livestock. We felt we could have spent hours with them and enjoy every minute, but it was getting late and knew we had a more than three hour drive home so we headed out to meet our sheep.

The rancher rounded them up and gave us some great pointers then we loaded them up in the trailer and headed for home. As we crested a small hill and drove around a corner progress came to a stop because a large cow stood in the middle of the road. We noticed that we were now between her and her calf and she wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. We just sat there patiently until she decided to go back to her calf and made our way back to the highway.

Darkness came quickly as we drove home, but as we finally reached the street-lights of our hometown one of the trailer tires blew out. It was frustrating to be so close to home to deal with a flat tire, but it was a blessing that the tire had waited until we were back in civilization to give out. We pulled into a gas station and a friendly resident of our new town graciously offered his help. Before long we were back on the road and very relieved to enter through our own gate.

It was quite late so we weren’t able to spend much time welcoming the sheep to their new home. I backed the trailer up to the barn and unloaded them into their pen. We made sure they had what they needed for the night and hurried ourselves to our own beds.

 

 

Playing Catch-Up

Our little farm family has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks since we moved in. First a donkey, then a couple goats, some more goats, a couple of dogs and now 4 chickens and a rooster. The arrival of each additional animal on the farm has required some mighty fancy footwork to keep them housed properly with a care and maintenance plan in place for each one. Throw in an almost solid week of rain into the mix and we have certainly been playing catch-up! I do believe we are finally settling in with the proper arrangements, but we know there are a few more arrivals not too far around the bend. We should be able to take a short few breaths before we bring in the sheep, but it has definitely been interesting getting to this point.

The chicken tractor itself was much more of a challenge that I had imagined. We were up late Friday night trying to finish it up because we knew our chickens would arrive sometime Saturday. The sun came up and we had already been in the garage putting the final touches on it when the pastor of our prospective new church arrived at our gate with his feathery donation to our cause. To be honest, although he did tell me the breeds I cannot currently remember, but I do know there are 1 hens and one rooster. They went into the chicken tractor as soon as I got it into place and for the next day had to check to see if they were actually still there. Each time I checked, two to four of the hens were all congregated together in one or two nest boxes and the rooster was either in one by himself or hanging out on one of the roosts. They eventually did come down though and are now enjoying the green grass of home as well as all the insects they could want.

As for the goats, they’ve been somewhat of a challenge. We confiscated their living quarters to house the two new Anatolian Shepherd puppies we picked up on Friday and made a temporary pen for the goats. We knew that wouldn’t work long so we got straight to work on a proper pen that we were able to finish this weekend as well. They really seem to like their new abode and I’ve even had to shew the donkey out of it a few times since she seems to now think she is a goat too. Which brings me to the only dilemma of late. It seems that Amelia the goat and Ruth the donkey have become quite the pair and are nearly inseparable. I bring a tray of feed in the evening to get the goats to all come in the barn together, but Amelia has gotten wise to my scheme. She will not go into that barn and will hide right underneath her donkey protector. It has taken quite some coaxing the past few nights to be able to safely separate them and get Amelia into the pen with the rest of her family.

The Goat's New Pen
The Goat’s New Pen

That’s about all for now, and I think it’s quite enough for one weekend! 🙂 Sorry I don’t yet have any pictures of the puppies, but it won’t be long.

All Cooped Up

What better way to spend a rainy weekend than to get back to some projects that have been on the back burner for a while. One such project has been our mobile chicken tractor. I started this with one of our sons last summer but only got so far as putting together the frame. Since then it has been in the way just waiting to be finished. We’ve had several people offer us chickens, but we haven’t had anywhere to put them due to the fact that this project remained incomplete.

When it comes to chicken tractors there are many ideas, designs and thoughts on the proper construction. I came across a design on YouTube published by The Growing Club. I really liked the design, but because they haven’t provided any plans I’ve been working from a sketch I made while watching the video. There have been a few areas I’ve had to guess at, but it’s coming together pretty well and I can’t wait to see how it works out.

The entire project so far has been built from extra materials left behind after our house was built. The only things I’ve had to buy so far are the nails, screws, hinges and the 1/4 metal netting. The wheels that will be attached soon are ones that I bought several months ago for an application that didn’t work out well.

Aside from this project we knew the rain was coming so we moved the goat shed into the barn. The bran itself isn’t quite secure enough at night to protect against certain predators so it was important to get the goats a place they could sleep safe and warm. Our donkey couldn’t decide whether or not to stand in the rain or seek shelter in the barn, but eventually she realized how much nicer it was in the dry barn. Unfortunately I hadn’t considered all these animals in what has been more of a workshop than a barn. Ruth is apparently very inquisitive and she managed to knock everything off the shelves within her reach. That took some time to clean up, but thankfully there wasn’t anything dangerous for her to get into.

Lewis and Clark have arrived

Whirldworks Farm’s Corp of Discovery is now complete and ready to begin the exploration phase of their journey. Our Doelings, Amelia and Harriett had the run of the barnyard for a few weeks, but yesterday we brought the boys, Lewis and Clark, home and let them loose in the barnyard.

It took all of perhaps 5 seconds for them all to make friends. Ruth the donkey wasn’t quite sure what to make of these newcomers and she followed them around for a little while. The girls decided it was time to get a better view and headed for the goat hutch roof. The boys saw what was going on and ran over to meet them. It took them a few tries, but eventually all four goats were on the rooftop lounge making conversation.

goats

Two Weeks on the Farm

Let me ask you, have you ever lived in such a way that more than half of your belongings sat stored away in boxes and then finally had the opportunity to open those boxes again? If you have you can imagine the wonderful joy we’ve been having now that we are finally able to unpack our lives and settle in to our own home once again. We’ve found things we forgot we had, experienced the relief of finding favorite dishes, pictures and other items to still be in once piece instead of broken or shattered from being shifted around for years. It has been a sweet time of memories too as we have retrieved items that remind us of the great times we had with all of our older kids when they were still at home with us.

We’re still getting things situated, but I was finally able to make enough space in our garage to park our car inside. That has been something we have missed for a very long time, even since before selling our city house. Challenges still remain though as we are now at a point where we have to jostle boxes and loose items around to make space for things that actually belong there. The garage probably poses the biggest challenge as everything that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else has piled up in there. Much of it will likely make it into the attic, but there will likely be yet another purge of things to give to Goodwill.

Aside from the challenges of packing and setting up house, here are a few of the highlights from the past two weeks:

No Television

tvYes, I know. In this modern age there are probably few people who would actually count not having television as a great thing, but we’re not missing it AT ALL. Of course we have never really been big on watching TV, but it wasn’t unusual to find us winding down the day with streaming a 30-40 minute re-run of one of our favorite shows. Now though, without the internet or even being able to receive over-the-air broadcasts, it has been great rediscovering the art of conversation as well as being able to dig back into our collection of books that were stored away for far too long. Speaking of which, I’ve been spending a few minutes each night reading through Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Kidnapped, first published in 1886. What a wonderful story and hard to put down each night.

Let’s not forget the entertainment value of our animals. Right now we only have our dog, two little goats and a donkey, but they already provide us with ample entertainment. In fact, one evening we just took our dinner outside and ate it while watching the goats play together on top of their hutch.

This quiet darkness

milkyway

Have you ever lived in a home that is so quiet at night that you can hear a wristwatch ticking in the next room? That is how quiet our house is. No sirens, no traffic, no buzz of a dozen neighboring AC compressors. Just crickets and the ticking of a wristwatch. In addition, the darkness in the country is almost spooky at times. There have already been a couple of times at night when our dog has run off into the truly black darkness and I couldn’t see him even with the aid of a flashlight when he was more than 20 feet away. The blessing of such darkness is the amazing field of stars we can see in the night sky. In fact, for the past several mornings I have stood in awe of being able to see the Milky Way in the sky. I haven’t seen that many stars in years and years!

Friends and neighbors

While living in suburbia we were surrounded by hundreds of homes, but I knew very few of our neighbors and saw even fewer. I would see their cars drive down the street and then disappear behind the closing garage doors, but the neighborhood might have well as been a ghost town other than that.

On our farm we already know most of the people on our street. The other day I called a farmer friend and asked him if he had any hay I could use for the doeling’s hutch. When I got home from work there were two bales of hay inside my shed! We’ve had help from the pastor of a local church when we moved in and one day while the electrician was pulling the wire from the road to the house, another neighbor hopped the fence and just helped him out. People wave (mostly) when driving by and it’s simply a safer, friendlier feeling I get, even out in the middle of almost nowhere.

That pretty much wraps it up for this week. We’ll be getting another two goats next week so stay tuned!

The farm is finally our home

We have dreamed, stressed, planned, prayed and hoped for this for so long now that it almost seemed as if it may never arrive. During the week prior to Easter we took several trips with our belongings to the new house and on Holy Saturday we enlisted the help of several great friends and moved the remainder of our belongings. There was so much activity that when we woke up Sunday morning in preparation for Easter we realized we had indeed arrived. The farm is now our home!

The following week was spent moving boxes to and from each and every room. Because much of our belongings had been in storage for more than 2 years it was almost like Christmas morning with the opening of each box. We each found things we had either forgotten about or thought were lost. The week flew by with little sleep, but there still remains quite a bit to do. Thankfully the furniture is in place and most of our clothes are where they belong.

We didn’t stop there though as on Friday we welcomed our first two animals to the farm. They’re two young Nigerian Dwarf doelings named Amelia and Harriett. The week had been quote a bit busier than we had anticipated and the goat shed wasn’t even half completed when the goats arrived. We worked fast and furious on the shed in order to provide the goats some security at night and by midnight they were tucked in safely way.

Saturday was spent with more unpacking and a few finishing touches on the goat shed. We took some time to slow down and have a nice dinner of grilled pork chops and a warm campfire under the stars. It was fun to look at our fire pit and realize that it had been the first thing we had “built” when we first bought the land. We spent many a night around its warmth and now it is behind our house!

On Sunday we took a “Sunday Drive” to find some bluebonnets and took some great pictures of our youngest son among the beautiful backdrop of Spring flowers. Soon after church I drove to a new friends farm and picked up a donkey. Ruth, as we later named her, seemed happy in her new home. She was pretty wild and had little contact with people before coming to our farm, but I was able to get within 5 feet of her by the end of the day. I hope it won’t take too long for her to warm up to us enough to be able to brush her down and check her out better.

That is all for now, as if it isn’t enough for one week! 🙂

 

Almost there and fundraising

I can barely believe that our nearly three year journey will come to fruition in just a couple of weeks! Our house is almost complete and we will be calling the farm our home by the end of March.

We have been genuinely satisfied with our choice of a house construction contractor, Bland Construction. We have run into very few issues in the building process and even those were handled quickly and satisfactorily. I know had we chosen one of the other contractors we received bids from that this process would never have gone so smoothly and probably with less quality that those at Bland have provided.

houseOnce we get moved in, our next task is to begin bringing in the livestock, but before we can do that we need to finish fencing in the barn are where our new critters will call home. As such, we launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise the money we need for fences, animals and all the associated accoutrements involved. Almost all of the fence posts are in the ground and we have all the fencing we will need to close it up. If you would like to financially help us out we would be extremely grateful as the cost of building and traveling between our city and future homes have been considerable.

** UPDATE ** We want to thank all those who donated to our fundraising campaign and we invested your donations in some very important infrastructure improvements that have made a huge, positive difference. THANK YOU!

We’ve been doing our research on the kind of sheep and goats we plan to acquire, but the process is one of those daunting tasks that we want to get right. My wife is very excited about the sheep and her plan is to purchase some Delaine Merinos for their wonderful wool. The goats are my project and I’m still wavering between dairy Nubians, meat Boers or a combination of both.

In other news, we did take a weekend off from working on the farm back in February in order to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas. There were a lot of great exhibitors there, but I most enjoyed the presentations by Joe Salatin and Wranglerstar. We also had the opportunity to meet the Wranglerstar and Homestead Kids families in person. It was a wonderful day of “downtime learning” and friendship.

Winter 2015 Update

Although we’ve been somewhat disappointed in our hopes of living on the farm by the end of 2015, things are continuing to move forward and it looks like 2016 may actually be our year to do so. In the meantime, we’ve slowly been progressing towards that goal.

The Barn

We’ve put some more finishing touches and updates on the barn. Because of the drought we really had very little idea what to expect in wetter weather and discovered that our barn location is a little wetter under heavy rain than we had anticipated. Because of that we’ve had to shore up the base of the barn some as well as add some drainage around it, but we think we’re getting it just about right.

Tractor

Our little riding lawn mower took a beating this summer. We knew it wasn’t meant for keeping up with the demands of our farm, but we tried to hold off as long as possible. After replacing blades and several sets of bearings and belts we decided enough was enough. In October we bought a 1981 Massey Ferguson 205 Compact Tractor that came with a brush hog and a grading blade. It’s a small 20 HP diesel, but the first time we plowed through some very tall weeds with it I knew it would be the answer to a lot of our problems. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for trouble to show up. At the end of November I tried to start it and it wouldn’t even turn over.

I went to the helpful folks at TractorByNet.com and they graciously helped me diagnose the problem. Water had gotten into the cylinders causing a condition known as hydrolock. The potential causes were a blown head gasket or a cracked cylinder head. I ended up tearing half the motor apart and the cylinder head looked to be in good shape. I replaced the head gasket, put it back together and Lil’ Red is up and running again.

House

We finally got all the paperwork done to build our house in the middle of October…then the rains came. It was proving impossible for the construction crews to get concrete trucks onto the property to get the foundation poured. We had no idea this would be an issue considering the years of drought we had been in, but when the rain does come it doesn’t take much to make a muddy mess of everything. Last week they were finally able to get enough stable road in and the foundation has finally been poured!

Christmas songs you may have never heard

There hasn’t been much activity on the farm recently, but with the Christmas season upon us I thought I’d share some Christmas songs that don’t usually to make it onto the typical radio Christmas playlists.

Christmas Night in Harlem – Louis Armstrong

Dominic the Donkey – Lou Monte

Lighten Up It’s Christmas – The Geezinslaw Brothers

Christmas Shopping – Buck Owens

Christmas Time All Over the World – Sammy Davis, Jr.

Christmas – Honey & the Bees

PANCHO CLAUS – Jose Gonzales-Gonzales

 

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