Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another Episode of DIY

I'm getting to the age when I notice the things that are migrating away, and I'm not just talking about looking in the mirror.  A lot of infrastructure that farm folk rely on is disappearing locally which necessitates finding alternatives, sometimes too far away to be feasible.  When Agway in Bath was in business we had our animal feed ground at their mill.  When they closed their doors (taking our dividends with them, but that's another story) we were willing to try the other mill in town.  They served us pretty well for a few years and then decided that upgrading their mill equipment (translation - repair or replace so it worked better) was going to be too costly so they, too, ceased grinding. They would be more than happy to sell us all the bagged feed we wanted from Blue Seal or other companies, but that wasn't what we wanted to do for several reasons.  So we asked around and found a Mennonite business that handles agricultural needs in Penn Yan and inquired about having our feed ground.  Well, they could mix it but didn't have a grinder and did we think other people would come from the Bath area?  All we could say was 'maybe' so they acquired a (heavily) used grinder and actually have done a very good job with it for us.....until last month when they gave us notice that it wasn't cost effective for them to have a big tractor tied up sporadically to run the mill for us and a couple other customers and they were going to stop doing it in August.

Travelling farther than Penn Yan was not going to be financially sensible for us, and suppose the new place did a mediocre job besides?  Feeling more than a little put out with circumstance we decided to look for a used grinder of some type and if price and condition were favorable we'd buy it and start milling our own feed.


The Gehl Mix-All 125!  (pronounced "gale")

Empire Tractor in North Cohocton had just taken it in as a trade for something else.  They said they hadn't seen one on their lot in a few years and we were prepared for all kinds of damage from misuse (because you never know...)  but it was in quite good condition and only needed minor attention to a bearing and a good cleaning inside.  It runs off the PTO of the tractor, so no engine to worry about.  It had been stored inside and had all its parts and the price was pretty good considering a new one goes for 35-40K.  It lacks an owner's manual, but we're looking online.

So, you shovel corn into the hopper......

The cobs go through a hammermill to be crushed into pieces that will go through the proper sized screen and then it dumps into the mixer body.

At this point you would add other things and let it all mix thoroughly before augering it out for bagging or direct feeding.  However, we don't have a way to store the other components in bulk (soybean, distiller's grain, molasses) so we will still have to run to the Mennonite place and buy sufficient quantity each time for the weight of corn we've ground, put everything back in the mixer and then draw it off again as finished feed, but it's an improvement over buying somebody else's bagged feed or spending lots more money and time driving to another mill (assuming we could find one).

So, we drew off the ground corn and bagged it to take and weigh at the Mennonite's place.  I ran the hydraulics and Andy bagged it right in the truck bed.  Why lift bags from the ground if you don't have to?

It does a good job of grinding and we're happy with it....and happy that we don't have to depend on someone else's mill, skill and schedule.

If anybody wants some ground corn, just let us know ;-)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Doing It The Hard Way....But Doing It!

The weather forecast was looking good for the weekend, so we cut enough hay to keep plenty busy.  Saturday started great, with the field on the south side of the house ready to bale.  This is the timothy that Andy seeded with last year's oats

Just getting under way

Part way into the second wagon Andy came in with news that a part had failed.  One of the rollers that moves the belt that throws the bales (the ejector) had snapped.  Welding it wasn't going to be an option because of where the break occured within the roller.  We tried calling the dealer, whose store was closed (of course - Saturday afternoon), but he would send the shop foreman to check the inventory for the part.  That would take a couple of hours.  Rather than not be able to bale at all, Andy disabled the ejector and folded it up out of the way.  He could still bale, they would just fall on the ground and need to be picked up and loaded by hand.  When problems crop up we never say 'die' (although we say a heck of a lot of other words).

We were fortunate that Red was available to drive the tractor later.  Andy could walk in a zigzag between two rows of dropped bales and heave them onto the wagon for me.  I could then stack them neatly in the wagon. 

Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, but more and bigger.  This time we were working in the lowest east pasture below the sheep barn.  The pasture had gotten so mature that there was no way the flock would make efficient use of it while it was still standing. Furthermore, they would NOT want to venture out into grass growing over their heads where they couldn't see their flockmates or potential danger (or even the way back to the barn!) The logical thing to do would be take it off as hay and let the flock down there after it grows back.  We are fortunate that it's atypically dry or we'd never get heavy machinery down there.  Well, we might get it down there but have a b**ch of a time getting it back!

Right now the sheep are working in the middle pasture, just above this one.  That one also could have been baled but then there would really be no place for them to graze, so we compromised - Andy ran the brush hog over it on the highest setting to take off the seed heads and reveal the undergrowth for better grazing.

The sheep seem to like the tire tracks and follow them into the field like pre-made trails.

The section we were baling was only about half the pasture.  That was all Andy figured we could reasonably manage, and that was before the ejector broke.  He raked up half the cut hay and started baling it while I raked up the other half.

It's a looong field.


The sheep were enjoying a great day - very windy, so no flies or bugs to bother them.

We finally got done baling about 5:30, so then we could start to work.  This time Julie got to be the driver.  We were lucky our two pals were available to help or we would have had to set the tractor into a granny gear and let it roll along by itself (with additional dashes over to make course corrections when it started to wander) while Andy picked up bales.  It would work and we both remember our fathers doing it when necessary, but it certainly would not be optimal.

OK.... Number one.....

We finally finished and got the loaded wagons under cover around 8:30.  Then we could do our regular 'sheep chores'.  Supper was lamb burgers and a tossed salad at 10:00 PM.  I'm pleased to report that neither of us was bedridden Monday morning.  Andy hadn't done that particular job for 35 years nor had I stacked on a wagon for 28. Apparently, you never forget the motions and I could still loft them five tiers high although I admit that toward the end I was making noises like a tennis diva hitting the ball.  (HAA!.......UNGH!......HHNG!). We handled 650 bales this way (still have to UNload the wagons but we would have had to do that anyway) which amounts to a little over fourteen and a half tons.  Total bales for the weekend was 1,050. 

You can romanticize about the good old days all you want, but give me hydraulics and pistons and mechanized efficiency any day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Have Crate, Will Travel

We're planning on adding a new Cotswold ram for this coming breeding season.  We'll be getting him shortly from Ewetopia Farm and keep him in quarantine (not that I have any doubts about this farm, it's just our protocol) for about 4 weeks. One option would be to bring him home in the back of the pickup.  This isn't optimal since we have to have the sliding windows open for air and the screens are super flimsy and would get pushed out by a big curious nose in two seconds, and also because we'd have to cobble together a barrier to keep him from the big back window anyway.  It doesn't make sense to drag our trailer all that way for one animal, especially with gas prices what they are and the dismal gas mileage the Dodge gets when hauling it.  Livestock equipement companies like Sydell have useful crates designed specifically to transport one or a few animals in the back of a pickup, but the sizes weren't particularly compatible with the bed of my truck and they're meant to be used with an open truck bed.  My truck cap is really not meant to be removed.

So, armed with measurements and ideas we approached our friend and neighbor, Red, to see if he could weld up what we needed - a sturdy crate that would fit into the truck with the cap on. Of course he could.

Custom transport crate by Red

The crate completely comes apart into 5 flat panels for easy storage when not being used.  It weighs maybe 70 lbs assembled, so two people can lift and slide it into the truck bed with no problem.  And in a clever stroke of innovation, there are NO separate pins, rods or clips used to assemble it so you can't. lose. parts.  Very important, at least for me!

Sliding door, mounted on rollers inside frame to prevent pushing out

Door latch pin attached by short length of light chain

Pins attached to crate top fit down into cylinders welded to back and side panel corners

Side, front and back panels also have pin and cylinder arrangement

A single larger chain link welded to the front and back corners of the side panels give a place to attach a tie to the tie-down points in the truck bed so there will be no sliding of the crate during transport.  If any sheep get rambunctious while we're driving we don't need to have the crate move around and hit the cap window and break it. 

This will be a great piece of equipment and I'll probably use it lots more than I think.  If anyone needs some custom welding done, I know just the guy to help you!

 Now we just have to figure out a ramp of some kind to get big sheep up into the truck.......

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Truly Amazing Gift

I received an unexpected gift the other day.  Actually, now that I think about it, all gifts are unexpected - that's why they're called gifts.   So let me start over.  I received an unexpected package in the mail and in it was a gift from a fiber friend/customer. 

She took the time to crochet an afghan from her handspun yarns and send it to me just ...because.  Since it takes me forever to complete a project, I'm completely agog that anyone would take the time and effort to do such a nice thing (for a not-close-family-member, no less) and without the occasion of a major holiday looming.  In my mind, this is a major investment of work (not to mention material) since she both spun the yarn and then crocheted the afghan.

A sampler, and then some!

I think she must have included a few yards of just about everything she's ever spun. I'm sure only a small portion of it is wool from our sheep.  There's a good bit of alpaca in there, along with wool, and some if it has a nice halo, so maybe angora?  Most if it is natural colors, but there are a few areas where dyed yarn is included.

So excited I didn't even realize I was shooting my own shadow in the pic

I'm truly humbled.  She's not online......but thanks, Mary.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Look What Our Bees Did

The swarm of honey bees that moved into the locust tree by our front door last fall came through winter just fine.  They have been very industrious since waking up and the last couple of weeks in particular have seen a frenzy of activity and what seemed to be ever increasing numbers.

Man, I hate getting caught in traffic.....

They have been taking full advantage of the warmth and all the blooming plants.

The out-of-control rose bush.......

The mock orange....

...and lots of wild plants and flowers.
Monday morning we heard a heard a noise we recognized from last year....bee swarm!

Click to biggify

This time it was a swarm coming out of our tree and getting ready to depart.  They poured out as though from a faucet and soon congealed around one branch in the tree where the new queen was located.

Everybody gather 'round....

And there they sat all day long, presumably while the scouts were out looking for a suitable new home.

Waiting for directions.....

We called our bee friend, Nick, to let him know that there was a swarm available.  He wouldn't be able to get it until after work, but they didn't budge all day.  How to reach it, though......
Andy to the rescue!

One loaded hay wagon, coming right up.

It was almost dark, very windy and clearly getting ready to storm.  A few strategically placed bales, a bee suit, a big cardboard box, lopping shears, and Number One Son to help and the bees were out of the tree.

Careful, now......

After trimming a few smaller twigs off the end, the whole branch was gently clipped off the the tree and placed in the box.  Just a few bees were dislodged, but 95% or better were all captured for relocation to a new hive at Nick's place.  I felt sorry for the few bees that didn't make it into the box, but the whole swarm might have fared very badly had he not taken them since it started raining shortly after this and continued all night and the whole next day with dropping temps and a soaking inch of rain.  
I think there might be some honey in our future....