Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dusty's new "workout" area... the round pen

Here's a long look at Dusty's new round pen. When the weather abates, we'll set to work getting him trained. So far, he's had his halter on a few times, and has let us place a blanket on his back.

He responds favorably to a "carrot stick", but has such a high "play drive" that it's a challenge to keep his attention.

This is the area where the two-gate system works. We open the gate to the round pen and then open the gate to the corral. That lets Dusty go from place to place. This space also gives us direct (as in truck) access to the manure pile and we can back a trailer in when he has to go to the vet.

Here's the "escape route"... the man-door.

If you scroll back a few posts, you'll see the "debris pile". The man-door is just about in the same place.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 12:18 PM :: (0) comments

Gotta love Utah desert winter weather

Sunday morning Cindy and I figured we'd better get the worm bed installed and ready for critters, whenever the weather turns. We left Bev inside to do "house-cleaning".

Within about 3 hours, we had the big (10 ft x 5 ft x 9 inch) box cut in half to form a 10 ft x 2.5 ft x 1.5 ft bin. We had leveled the ground using the little Mantis tiller. It took several "pulls" to get it started and it wasn't real happy about tilling frozen ground, but did get the job done in minutes compared to the hours I'd have spent chopping away.

We loaded up a pile of partially composted horse manure and put that into the bottom of the bin.

We're expecting several inches of snow today, so that will add some slow moisture as it thaws.

In the meantime, we've been cutting cardboard into 1" strips and shredding all the old newspapers. It's sure nice to have a little paper shredder and small town newspaper rather than a big city version.

Just before we order the worms, we'll wet down the paper products and add them on top of the manure. That should make a comfy home for our little critters.

Oh, and I've still not seen the Key Lime Pies.

Posted by Shari Thomas @ 11:53 AM :: (0) comments

Saturday, February 24, 2007

We deal for a ram and then build a round pen...

Remember those panels we loaded up last week? Well, they arrived late yesterday afternoon. Betcha you can guess what we did today.

That was AFTER we went to a neighboring farm and made a deal for a Merino ram to add to our little flock of sheep. We'll get him in a couple of weeks, so that means building still more pens as he can't live full-time with the ewes.

His name is Aljinon... Al for short. He'll make a very nice addition, and eliminate the long walk across the desert (can you spell "tumbleweeds"?) to deliver the "girls" to the neighbor's ram.

Upon arriving home from the ram deal, we learned that the kind folks who delivered the horse panels were coming after their trailer if we had it empty. Took us about 15 minutes to haul 13 16-foot panels, a couple of 12 footers, a man-gate, the box for the worm bed and a couple of miscellaneous things.

Of course, once the panels were unloaded, we just had to build the pen. After much discussion, measuring, and more discussion, we set about building the pen.

Mind you, these panels are a wee bit heavy. It takes two of us to carry them any distance (more than a couple of feet). We got enough panels up to make sure our idea about the "double gate" system was sound and then set about cleaning the area of debris.

Now, debris here includes things like abandoned railroad ties, old fencing, pieces of barbed wire, baling wire, and cedar fence posts. That became a 2 hour job even with the help of the truck. At least we could set a choker chain and drag the RR ties to a new location.

Ok, time to set the panels. This many panels makes a 60-foot diameter pen. First thing was to set the outline with a measure from a center post, a 100-foot tape set to 30 feet (the radius), a trailblazer holding the end of the tape (me), and a marker coming along behind me with a hoe (Cindy). We let Bev be the pivot in the center.

About an hour later, we had carried, dragged, tugged, and dug the panels all into place.

Time now to see what Dusty thought about the whole thing, since he'd been watching from his corral.

We first stabled him and tested our 2-gate system. The concept here is to eliminate his options. He can go only from the corral to the pen, and only when we want him to. That all worked, so time to do it for real.

As I was on the short gate side, you can bet I was praying he didn't want to come my way.

What a good boy! He came directly from his stable, turned left at the gate and very slowly made his way across the 10 foot span created by the gates and entered his new "workout" pen.

Talk about surprised at his pace! This young boy first made his way all around the perimeter, taking in the scents and the view. Then he checked out the interior, pawed a bit and looked for a place to roll. He didn't find a good place for that, yet.

While Cindy went to bring mom out in the car, Dusty completed his inspection. No sooner did she arrive than he showed his approval, running full speed, bucking, kicking, and rearing in delight. What a sight!

Watching him made all the hard labor worth it.

Play time over, we called him to the stable and with very little hesitation, he did just as he was asked. Good day's work!

Needless to say, we're all tired to the bone and ready for bed. Tomorrow it's time to finish the sheep pen, and build the worm beds.

Oh, and maybe, just maybe we'll have a Key Lime Pie or two waiting for us.


Posted by Shari Thomas @ 6:46 PM :: (0) comments

Friday, February 23, 2007

Expecting snow... got key limes... say what?

That's right. All the forecasts pointed to a strong snow storm headed our way overnight. In fact, Bev came home, grabbed a clean uniform and headed right back to St.George to stay with a cousin.

Wisdom said navigating the pass at daylight wouldn't be prudent.

When I put the first two dogs out at 5:40 AM, there was a dusting of snow, and that's the way it has stayed. Oh, we've seen several intense showers pass by to the west and east, but none have given us more than a flurry.

Now, about those key limes...

Since Iron County is the poorest "per capita" income county in Utah, they've got this "gleaner's program" called Care to Share. Every couple of weeks, we drive down to the junction (7 miles) and pick up food that is delivered. We never know what we'll get.

This time we got a case (12 doz) cookies, 6 bags of baked pita chips, 6 bags of frozen corn on the cob, a case of powerade, a case of Mountain Dew X stuff, 4 loaves of bread and 6 bags of key limes.

Now, if you've never seen a key lime, they're about the size of a golf ball. They're juice has a completely different flavor than the standard lime and you only get a few drops of juice from each one.

Mom has a recipe for Key Lime Pie... so Cindy and I spent about 30 minutes juicing the little devils. We did one bag today (enough for two pies) and will do another bag every couple of days. By freezing the juice, we can extend the shelf life nicely.

We also cut the corn off the cob. That yielded 7 quart bags. So much for Dusty (the horse) getting any treats.

All in all, not a bad haul.

Posted by Shari Thomas @ 3:09 PM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Taking advantage of a break in the weather...

With Bev working full-time, we have to really maximize our "brawn work" on Saturday and Sunday.

With several days above freezing and no precipitation, we're able to get to some projects... including loading a series of 16' tubular horse pen panels. The lady who got Dusty for us is giving/loaning/selling her horse stuff to us.

While we were there, we were also given an 8'x8'x12" frame that had been used as a temporary chick brooder. We're going to cut it in half and construct our first worm box, making it 8'x4'x24".

The panels and that frame are all loaded into the horse trailer and will be delivered in a week or so... when we catch the next break in the weather.

To orient you, here's a series of pictures that show where we're doing the first projects.

We got the worm bed area pretty well cleaned up. The remainder of grading and leveling will be done once the frame arrives. We won't order worms until after we see how many "natives" we can attract and/or capture by hauling in composted manure from horse barns and the local dairy.

Since the lambs loved to go "walkabout", especially as they grew up, we had to fortify the fencing. The easiest (that's a relative term) was to pull the existing posts and fencing that extended about 40 feet beyond one corner of the lamb pen.

You can barely see that extended fencing on the right side of this photo. We pulled it by hand, and then used the truck and a come-along to help stretch it as far as it would go around the pen.

After working all afternoon on Saturday, and most of Sunday morning, here's what it looks like. We still have to re-connect the remainder of the small fence and do some minor hardware work on the gate. We needed to let the gate posts set and hope for a little moisture so the sand will set like concrete.

If you take a close look at the sky... moisture is on the way. Within a couple hours of this photo we had a quick snow storm. Over the course of about 4 hours we gained 2 inches of snow that melted off yesterday.

Now, we're expecting another storm Thursday night and maybe another one on Sunday, so we may be working on the "inside" projects for another week.

One reason for moving that fence was to make way for the barn site. Here's a picture of where the 36'x60' Monitor-style barn will go.

The barn will have 4 stalls, and a loafing shed area for the lambs. We're really hoping to get a mustang from the BLM in the next year or so. Of course, it's time to train Dusty so that should keep us busy this year.

Either shortly before, or after the horse panels arrive, we have to clean that site. There's a pile of railroad ties as well as tumbleweed, and lots of junk wire. Don't want any of that in the pen, so will spend a lot of time "kicking sand".

Here's where the first horse pen will go.

Ok, off to update Sarah's blog... She's been dying to share pictures of her buddies.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 9:44 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, February 19, 2007

Talk about a crazy week!

First we lost out Internet connection... something about being late on the payment, but got disconnected 72 hours before the late payment was due... and with no disconnect notice... oh well, that's life in the middle of the desert.

We got back up and running on Thursday.

Having no Internet access combined with pretty good weather allowed us to get a jump on the farm projects.

I started by getting a series of photos to share with y'all so you can see how things get done around here.

These first two shots show you the property... about 9 acres of tumbleweed an acre of house area and an acre of animal area.

Looking NW from the SE corner property line where two roads intersect.

Looking NNW from the SE corner property line.

As you can see, we've got our work cut out for us for several years. The previous owners really didn't take very good care of this place. In fact, at one point, there were renters living here with "100 dogs".

As we're working to rebuild the sheep pen, and prepare the new horse pen, we're picking up lots of wire, conduit, old re-bar, and other crap. It's quite a job to say the least.

Here's where the first worm boxes and compost pile will go.

Looking W along the N block wall.

Looking E along the N block wall.

Ok, next post will show the progress we made late last week and over the week-end.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 9:05 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, February 12, 2007

Is it spring yet? My worm project has my attention...

Being a newcomer to this area, I've got a sneaking suspicion this really good weather I'm seeing right now is gonna turn on me in a few weeks. For the last week, we've been thawing and going through the "muddies".

Fortunately, the soil is so sandy that even if you track it in the house, it quickly dries and sweeps up very nicely.

When the dogs come in, there are many sets of muddy prints all across the carpet, into the kitchen, up on the couch and beds. I've got sand in my bed just from them coming in to greet me in the mornings.

I drew up the rough sketches for the first worm boxes. If all goes well, we should have enough castings to radically improve our own soil later this year. From everything I've read, success is a matter or trial and error.

I really believe that our biggest challenges here will be the temperature extremes. It's been very cold (at least 10 days below zero) at night. We'll have to plan for some kind of insulation from the cold for the worms.

In the summer, it's typically 85 to 95 but rarely over 100. By placing the beds against the north side concrete block wall, that should provide some shade, as well as some insulation.

We'll insulate the box with foam around the perimeter and on the lid. Since the worms will go pretty dormant in the winter, I think covering them with old hay and a tarp should provide decent protection.

We have several railroad ties and a bunch of lumber and some plywood on hand. Not sure how much is truly usable.

As for worms, Dusty has created a decent pile of manure and if we can't find enough worms there... the dairy down the road has acres of manure piles. Bet we'll find plenty there.

What are we gonna feed them?

They love raw veggie and fruit scraps. They'll also devour shredded paper, news paper and cardboard. Once we exhaust our own waste supply, I plan to contact the medical clinic for shredded paper, and the local grocery store for other scraps. Oh, they also like horse manure and we'll have plenty of that.


Posted by Shari Thomas @ 10:44 AM :: (0) comments

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Oh boy... we're laying plans for the year

Bev got her "city job" so that will help support Cindy's and my farm/computer projects. We don't expect much out of "Mom (Cindy's mom) as she's recovering from serious surgery. That's kind of a bummer, too as she's the "chief cook".

With Bev starting work on Monday, I'll be providing what little additional brawn I can to the projects. Either that, or the "heavy lifting" will have to wait for her days off.

This weekend, she's drawing the plans for the barn (to be built early fall), the chicken coop (that goes up within the next 2 months), and the worm beds... first project.

About those worm beds...

That's one of the reasons I joined forces here. We had been discussing projects that could eventually become economically viable that would be very thrifty to start and manage. Verminculture meets those requirements very nicely.

We don't have a lot of water, only one acre foot, so we have to really be careful of how much livestock we get. We'll probably be limited to a couple of horse, less than 6 lambs/sheep, a steer, less than 2 dozen laying hens, and maybe a llama.

Verminculture (raising worms) won't put a strain on the water, will improve our sandy soil, and will give us a use for the manure and other waste. Later, when we have more worm castings than we can use, that can easily be sold to other valley residents.


Posted by Shari Thomas @ 1:59 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, February 5, 2007

Meet some of our farm animals...

Like I said, there are four women, six dogs, four sheep (if you look quickly), and one horse.

Now that it's warming a bit, Cindy thought it would be a good time to spend some "quality time" with Dusty. Come spring and summer it's time for some intensive training as he's old enough now to invite a saddle and rider onto his back.

No, I'm NOT the lucky cowgirl. Cindy gets the honors... and when she's tired, there's a couple down the road that will assist.

Here's our sweet flock. Chiquita and Merino (black and small) are the two ewes. Paco and Wooly are the two young "wannabe" rams. They were raised specifically for market.

I know, you're not supposed to name "market animals" but we're pretty mature around here. Besides, these guys are useless for anything else.

Chiquita is kind of rare... she's got little nubbins (false horns), and likes to use them, too. She's really the barnyard diva, with everyone else waiting for her next move.

We got the call Friday that the boys were headed for market. They'd been sold some time ago, but were awaiting a break in the weather as well as securing the right trailer and meeting the processor's schedule.

I guess you could say these are pretty spoiled sheep as they all but walked right into the trailer. Everything went pretty well until Cindy and the truck driver decided to talk "horses" for 20 minutes.

In that time, Bev got home and literally drove the Avalanche into the barnyard so she could say goodbye to the boys. Well, that set Chiquita off... Maaaa, Maaaa, maaaa! Then Merino chimed in. Within the hour, Chiquita was hoarse.

That was only the start of the adventure. The lady who had originally raised Chiquita and Merino's "mom and dad" invited both Chiquita and Merino for a "long romp with the ram".

I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of us three gals walking the sheep cross-desert to Dixie's farm. Cindy put a dog lead on Chiquita and away we went. Merino trotted right along with us, never straying more than 20 feet. We'll just have to take Dixie's word that it was a pretty funny sight!

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 6:00 PM :: (0) comments