Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Hope you're having a fun and spooky Halloween!

We did all our celebrating over the weekend. Friday was the dress-up day at school. I went with three other teachers as the four seasons. By four seasons I mean Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, not the backup singers for Frankie Valli. Farmer John and some other middle school teachers went as zombies. He also spent the day blowing up pumpkins in science class. As you can imagine the kids love that experiment!

Saturday we attended a costume party. I didn't get a photo with both of us, but Farmer John's costume was the same as mine. Can you figure it out?

Tonight, we won't have any trick-or-treaters. I think it may have something to do with this...

That, and we don't really have any neighbors.

What are your Halloween plans?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

As Requested

Here's a photo for Mom and Jordan. Mom loves her grand-dog, and Jordan and Badger have a special kind of love for each other that I just don't understand. If they had to list their relationship status on Facebook it would probably be "It's Complicated."

We tied him to the cattle chute on Sunday while we were splitting wood. Poor guy has fleas. Maybe that's why he looks so grumpy?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Putting the visitors to work

Have you noticed how we always put our guests to work? It was no different last weekend when my Aunt and Uncle drove out from Wisconsin for a visit. Sure, we spent some quality time drinking coffee around the kitchen table and even enjoyed some pizza at the local pub. But the rest of the time was spent working on fall chores.

I know you'd all had your hearts set on being here for the most glamorous of farm jobs, but they beat you to it! We worked on cleaning out the barn from last winter.

The first year that I helped with this I thought it would be easy. Boy, was I wrong! The cow manure and the hay form a thick mat. The only way to get it out of the barn is to chop it apart with shovels and pitchforks. Then it can be loaded into the truck.

From there Farmer John takes a truckload to an out-of-the-way place on the farm and unloads all the manure. We'll let it sit there over the winter and then use it on the gardens in the spring. Which means we end up moving that very heavy manure three times.

Farmer John always says he wants a bucket for the front of the tractor at this time of year. I always say I want hogs to root through the barn and break up the hard mat of manure. Our visitors said "Let's go get pizza!"

The following day we worked on cutting wood (or, in Wisconsin-speak - "making wood"). In the picture below my Uncle is demonstrating what NOT to do with a chainsaw! At least he's got his helmet on.

We got two truckloads of wood cut and unloaded into the woodshed. I have to say, the two Norwegian women on the crew did most of the heavy lifting!

Thank you Lorraine and Chuck for driving out to visit, all your hard work, and the cheese curds!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For Becky

Just because Becky loves Beast, and Beast loves Becky.
(Becky, I think he really misses you because he's taken to running into the house at any opportunity!)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Diggin' Taters

Several weeks ago, we spent an afternoon un-earthing these tasty taters.
Digging up potatoes is usually a pretty fun job. This year, we let the weeds overrun our potato patches. A field of thick weeds makes this job not as much fun.

We use the four-wheeler to pull a plow in order to get the potatoes out of the ground. John handles the plow and I drive the four-wheeler.

Here's a photo from several years ago. This is what the plow set-up looks like. Here Sam is handling the four-wheeler to help Farmer John plow a field for planting potatoes.

It took about three passes over each row before we were able to get through the weeds and down to the taters. Then came the fun part, the search through the soil to find all the potatoes. When Farmer John was a little boy this was his favorite farm job.

This year we planted two gardens with potatoes (approximently 100 pounds of seed potatoes). One patch was all Yukon Gold and the other was a mix of both gold and red.

After all the potatoes were collected, we spread the out in the sun to cure. This helps prevent rotting once they go into storage.

After curing for a few hours, Farmer John packed them for storage. We also harvested our pumpkins that day. Both chores felt like fall activities, even though it was close to 80 degrees that afternoon.

Five milk crates full of potatoes, plus all those pumpkins are now in the cellar. We'll share them with friends and family and cook them up on cold nights. How's that for homeland security?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Farm Fall Scenes

Fall has arrived in our area. However, it feels like it might be leaving quickly also. As I type this I'm sitting next to our wood stove and the second fire of the season.

Here are some shots from the last few weeks around the farm.
The garden is almost done for the year. These are the last eggplants I could harvest. We cooked a big feast with them last Friday. The menu included samosas, naan and eggplant dip. Yum!

Isn't that new cattle chute pretty in the sunshine? So much better than the weather in which it was built.
Finally, although this weed is growing in a raspberry patch I still like it when it's in bloom. I've never looked this weed up, so I don't know what it is. Any ideas?

Hope you have a fun weekend with lots of time to play outside. We're going to try and check some more farm jobs off the list.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


This is what happens when someone leaves a gate open:

I think our cows have a sixth-sense to detect open gates. Luckily, this one wasn't too hard to herd back inside the fence.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Birthday Boy

Happy Birthday Farmer John!

I know you'd rather be raising a building with your bare hands.
Or, hanging out next to giant cows.

But, I hope you have a great day anyway!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We have a winner!

Congratulations go to K&A of Little Alexander for correctly identifying the skull in yesterday's photo. Their prize is a home cooked meal when they come to visit the farm.

It's an opossum - Didelphis virginiana. I realize that I could have given you a better scale to work with. The skull is about 5-6 inches in length, and it's sitting on the hitch of the boom-pole for the tractor.

Here are some fun facts about 'possums as told to me by Farmer John as he read out of his "Mammals of Minnesota" field guide:

- Gestation is 12-13 DAYS, at which point they crawl unassisted into the pouch.
- The brain cavity of a possum can hold 26 navy beans. (While a similar sized raccoon's brain cavity can hold 139 navy beans.)
- They are popular table-fare in southeast Minnesota. Which, I swear, came straight from the book!

And so concludes your nerdy-naturalist lesson for the day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


In honor of today being Friday here's a weird farm photo for you:

Do you know who this skull belonged to? Farmer John and Migrant Farmhand Becky had to get the field guides out when they found it.

We are excited to have some more guests/willing workers at the farm this weekend. They are coming all the way from Wisconsin! It will be time to make some wood.

Cattle Chute Project Finale!

Drum roll please...

The headgate! This is how the cows will experience the headgate. The two doors swing open, then we'll close the doors to catch the cows. It will hold them in place so that we can do any vet-work that needs to happen. Of course, with our cows we may have to help their heads get through the gate - pesky horns may get in the way!

Here's the final product. Headgate on the left, loading chute on the right. What is a little tricky to see is that there is a bend in the loading chute. The idea being that the cows won't see the trailer until the last moment in the chute. Farmer John used several of Temple Grandin's suggestions when designing the chute/gate system. That bend in the chute is one of them.

Here they are!

Thanks Farmer John for designing the chutes, organizing the lumber and for all your hard work.

Mostly, thank you Farmhand Dad! Thank you for driving out here and working hard in the cold, mud, and rain. Thank you for supporting this project in many ways - it wouldn't have happened without you!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cattle Chute project Day #4

No, I didn't forget a day. On Day #3 Farmer John and I went to work. Farmhand Dad did some other chores around the farm, went to town, and got more supplies. When we got home, we did some more work (still in the rain) and I didn't take any photos. We got the boards put up on the loading chute. Then we all went for dinner at Boggs - but, unlike some other members of the family, we did not eat their giant calzone.

This is from the morning of Day #4:
We had to pull several fence posts on this day. They needed to be re-positioned in order for the headgate to fit and to make it easier to place boards. Rather than pulling them with the tractor they used the "Handy Jack." They wrapped a chain around the post and then jacked it up and out of the ground.

One post came right out when Farmer John pulled on it, the others had to be jacked up because they had been set with concrete. The post in the photo below only had to move over one inch, which seemed sort of silly to me. However, by moving it over one inch it saved having to cut some of the boards.

Day #4 is also when the headgate was put in place. The headgate is a big heavy beast - but Farmer John and Farmhand Dad made it look easy to get into place. They secured it to two square posts using several lag bolts on each side of the gate.

This is a view of the project as it was nearing completion. The loading chute is angled off to the right and behind the four-wheeler. The guys were measuring where to set posts so that things would be lined up correctly.

Check back tomorrow for final photos!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cattle Chute project Day #2

Sunday began with some schoolwork and coffee. Then we got started - again, in the rain.

Since the next holes for posts had to be dug in the yard, it wasn't quite as muddy and the tractor with post-hole digger could be used.

Farmhand Dad got the job of pushing against the post-hole digger so it would stay plumb.

Four holes were dug in about 10 minutes. Way faster than the previous day!

Next came attaching the boards to the posts. They measured the length needed to span two posts, then cut and attached them with lag bolts. Farmhand Dad and I would hold the bottom board in place while Farmer John attached it. Then they set the next board on 6 inch spacers before attaching it to the posts. This continued until there were four boards between the posts.

This is a view looking up the hill. It's the direction the cows will walk to go into the head-gate and trailer.

We finished the day by getting all the boards up on the posts that ran down the middle of the lane. The chute is very sturdy. The posts are set in concrete and the sides of the chute are oak boards - the bull is NOT getting through!

This was also the only day that the cows came down the hill to investigate what we were up to. Farmhand Dad is standing next to the last post Ewok will go past on his way to the trailer. Maybe the cows knew what we were doing? They haven't been around since.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cattle Chute project Day #1

Farmhand Dad generously donated several days to the farm last week. We were able to begin a much-needed project. We did not have a way to move cattle into a trailer or area where we could work on them. And so began the cattle chute project.

Follow along for the next few days to see how the project turned out.

The above photo was from the very first hour of the project. They had to measure and then hand-dig holes for posts. Next they set the posts in Quickcrete. The whole process was made a bit slower because it was raining and everything was muddy.

I was able to find a dry area to rig up the radio so we could listen to the WVU game. (WVU 55 - Norfolk State 12)

Here they are measuring for the next post. They are measuring from the fenceline to the middle of the lane. I'm standing along the fenceline to take the picture. At the narrowest the posts were about 30 inches from the fenceline - just wide enough for a cow.

The posts in the middle of the lane are the ones that were set by the end of Saturday. The cows will walk down the hill on the left of the posts to get to the barn. When we want to work with them, or load them on a trailer, they will be funneled up the right side of the posts.

At some point during the day on Saturday the guys showed up with the lumber we'd ordered. Farmer John and Farmhand Dad spent some time helping them unload 800 board feet of rough-sawed oak 2x6s.

Check back tomorrow to see how they used it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A muddy mess of a project

What were Farmer John and Farmhand Dad up to this weekend?

I'll give you a clue, it has something to do with this herd:

Stay tuned for more rainy, muddy photos!

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