Populating the Farm

No sooner did the barn get completed and the fencing all stretched and wired shut than two new members of the JAZ Farm appeared.  Meet Julio and Donavan (Donny)!

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These guys are two gelding (castrated) male miniature donkeys.  Julio is the old man (around 20) and Donny is around 13.  There is a donkey rescue shelter about 20 minutes from us.  We did some research and discovered that donkeys are great for small farms.  They are intruder alerts, great companions, and do very well with other animals (except canines).  While they don’t serve a food purpose like everything else here does, they are great protectors.  We have all manner of predator out here and they will sound the alarm if they ever show up.  Its not perfect, but when I was down and hurt, we got badly raided by a fox and he/she took out 22 of our 40 laying hens.  They will be a first line of defense and alert should it show up again.  The new barn is going to be housing these two guys along with half a dozen goats, 15 Turkeys and chickens that get housed over there when being brooded out.

The learning curve was actually quite shallow.  They are very sturdy animals and can withstand a lot.  The two things that need to be monitored is how much they eat (over-weight donkeys can get very sick) and ensuring that they have a non-stop supply of water.  The rest is kind of academic .  They deal with the heat with little issue and we only have to blanket them when the temps are in the low teens (like today).

As usual, we went to see the place this past Saturday.  We knew they had the boys, but Zina wanted to see some girls too…. until she actually saw them in person.  They were trailered out to us that afternoon!  They are the sweetest buggers.  Julio will just stand next to you waiting for butt scratching and Donny will follow him around like a shadow.  He is still a little skittish and won’t really let us pet him yet, but he let me clean his hoofs, trailer and lead him around, and pet him while he was still at the shelter.  He is younger and on higher alert than his partner.

Donkeys need to be adopted or purchased in pairs.  They bond with other donkeys and if the partner is taken away or passes away they actually will grieve for days just like a person.  So if Julio were to go, we would take Donny back to the shelter and see who he might bond to next and then bring them home as a pair.  We hope that is long into the future as donkeys can live 30 – 50 years!  They might even outlast us!

Here are the first pictures of the first couple of days:

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And of course when we brought them home it was 67 degrees.  Here is what we woke up to this morning.

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As long as they have hay and you have some treats in your pockets, they will pretty much stay by your side and follow you around.  They are WAY less work than horses and much much less high strung.  They are going to be great fun.

So this year is going to see the livestock ramped back up.  These two arrived Saturday afternoon, we have the dogs, of course (who are losing their minds over this – they will not be allowed in with them as the donkeys could hurt them and could frighten them pretty badly).  In April, the goats will arrive and 35 new laying hens.  The first week of May the broiler chicks arrive. The end of May the Turkeys arrive.  If we decide we like the goats, then sometime toward fall we will be getting a buck for breeding and a little wether (castrated male) as his companion.  Anytime during that time frame two little pigs will be added who will be destined for freezer camp.  We are also looking for a gilt (baby girl pig) that we can raise to be bred for an ongoing source of bacon seeds.

This week I will start to fill cubes with potting soil, fire up the lights and the timers downstairs in the seedling room, and planting season will begin again.  While I’m not 100 percent and I fatigue pretty quickly, I had a great check up about my back and it is just time and strengthening to keep me moving in the right direction.  Considering the hell I was enduring a year ago and how 2016 and 2017 transpired, I couldn’t be happier with the progress.  The animals are really not a lot of work and once the gardens are in, they need weeding and fertilizing.

I was told that in order to recover from both my old career and the trauma from my injury that I needed to live life in “The Center”.  Not getting to rev-d up and anxious and not dropping into the lap of my old friend depression.  Find a center.  I likened that to the PH scale where 1 was most acidic and 14 most alkaline.  Right in the middle is 7, neutral.  Thats where I am planting my flag.  Neutral.  It is a lot like finding the Zen middle path, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.  I’m finding that being out here on the farm full time is affording me that mindset.  The animals aren’t demanding, spoiled, or, for that matter, psychotic like the world seems to have become.  I simply could not have endured my career through this administration.  With animals, you know where you stand (usually involving manure!).  They need water, food, shelter and companionship.  They accept you for who you are and don’t make you feel like crap if you do something wrong.

We have found our niche.  I have no plans to leave here for any extended period of time.  We believed that we should build a life we don’t need a vacation from….. JAZ Farm is that place.

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The Bone Crushing Construction Is Over!

Not bad for a guy who, just six months ago, was in a hospital bed having his spine fused.  Zina and I have both agreed that now that the barn is built and the pasture fenced in, that the farm’s infrastructure is completed and its time to just be here and farm the place.  There will always be a hammer to swing at something, but none of it has to be a priority over the gardens and animals.

Friend Paul designs and produces archery equipment.  He called and wanted me to come with him to this year’s World Archery Championships in Las Vegas.  I used to go every year and bring my team of kids, but since having bought the farm, we have not been in at least 5 years.  He has a time share out there and it just happens to be just across the street from the South Pointe Casino where the shoot is being held.  Since we had just finished the big building projects I thought it would be a nice break.  We’ve been hanging out at his trade show booth and at the apartment.  Because we have kitchens, we bought our food instead of eating factory farmed slop at the buffets.  It has been so much fun.  Not only do we share archery as a common hobby, we both run hobby farms and our world views couldn’t be more similar.  Sometimes just begin around the like minded is very soothing.  It helps to re-confirm your sanity.

I have been using the week to unwind, but at the same time as a transition.  For the 30 years I slogged through my career I never had just a “routine” life.  It was largely crisis mode, multi-tasking and racing to deadlines; not to mention having gone through 3 major market corrections (thank god I’m missing this one – although I’m in touch with my partners fairly frequently).  Between work and the farm construction I was mostly running from one task to another.  So this week, during this break, I started to put together my new routine.  Some people in retirement want to travel and explore and do all the things they never got to do while they worked.  I couldn’t be farther from that perspective.  I’ve had too many adventures.  Like the Hobbits, I’ve seen the Orcs and Goblins and quite frankly wasn’t impressed.  I threw my ring in the fiery furnace and the eagles had to come and rescue me and carry me back home.  I’m done.  Right now I can’t think of anything more peaceful and healing than working in the gardens and hangin’ with the critters.

The weekend after I get home, Zina and I have an appointment at the Donkey’s Rescue Shelter over in Bennett.  The stalls and corrals are built and we will be adopting a pair of donkeys.  They will serve as companions and pets and predator deterrents.  They do not get along with Canine’s and will do well to keep the coyotes and foxes at bay.  In addition, we are in touch with a breeder and come spring (using another stall area in the new barn) will begin raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  I just ordered the fencing panels to build a turkey coop inside the barn, and we will be getting pigs again and our usual flocks of chickens.

So its been a nice break but I’m getting eager to get back at it on the farm.  There is so much to do, but now it can be done on a measured schedule instead of a breakneck pace that made a lot of it a struggle to maintain.

New batteries are arriving for the solar system next week as well.  All is coming back together…….  time to chill.

 

Here is a picture of some of the first day’s official scoring and a look at some of the pro’s targets that shot clean on the first day.

 

Above:  The completed barn.  Cupola and Stall door and everything ready to go.

I am retiring to the Shire.  Orcs need not apply.  Just a pipe, good ale, good food and company.  The rest can stay outside the fences.

The Barn Passed Inspection!

The Livestock barn passed muster today!  So no sooner did that happen, the guys were out laying out the lean to.  I set to work flattening the dirt floor with my tractor and then brought in the gates to verify that I had the spacing correct (and I was dying to actually see if it matched what I had in my head). I also got to assemble the new goat hay feeders and was very pleased to see how stout they are.  It’s funny, I get such a clear picture in my mind about how something should come together, that when it actually shows up out onto the earth, it’s not a big deal.  My thought is usually, “Yep, that’s it!”

Tomorrow I will be unloading 25 sheets of plywood and start the process of putting them on the walls.  Between the insulated ceiling, hay stacked 6 high against the back wall, and boards to create airspace on the sides, it ought to be a rather comfortable critter hotel.

I’ll be in Vegas next week for the World Archery Championships.  When I get back, we should be all set to bring in the hoofed creatures.  Oh ya, I heard back from my solar guru and the battery company actually came through.  They are giving us a big discount on the battery replacements and it will cost about half of what I expected!  It’s nice to catch a break from time to time!

 

New hay feeder

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Goat Hilton

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Donkey pavilion

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Loads of room for stanchions and hay storage

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And On The Seventh Day He Rested. Hahaha! Good One!

As of today, the barn is finished!  The Front wall and trim went on this morning.  The barn and the new fence really change the look of the place and it feels down right ranch-ish.  Tomorrow the guys are going start to put on a lean to on the south side for me and, of course, Zina’s Cupola.  The lean to will provide space for a big water tank, store the tractor, put the goat stanchion and generally create a shady spot to sit and contemplate.

I went back through photos and got to see quite an evolution.

Here is what it was in November of 2012:65ED572C-B124-4EE8-86A9-371477856BB5

This is today:

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JAZ Farm Chernobyl

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A storm was brewing.  Sunday was to be the biggest snow storm of the year so far.  The grid out here is unstable at best.  Weak power poles, high winds and blowing snow all make for power outages.  Sure was a good thing we invested in our solar system, especially the battery back ups.  I’ve had to use them before and it is reassuring to know that even if the worst blows in and knocks the power out for days, the freezers and fridges will still stay running, the furnace will still heat and the well pump will still pump.  That is, of course, if the batteries are working.

Rewind to Thursday.  We wake up and do our morning routines.  We are having some work done on our bathrooms and we thought that the sulphur smell we were smelling was back gassing from the septic system up one of the sink drains that are being taken care of.  Zina leaves for work, I head into town for some groceries.  When I got back, I walked in through the back door.  By the back door are all of the gizmos and boxes for the solar array, including the PVC vent that vents the hydrogen out of the house when the batteries are charging.  Normally this is practically imperceptible.  Not today.  Today it was BILLOWING smoke out of it.  The fan in the pipe was running as hard as it could and it smelled like the aftermath of someone just having shot off a brick of firecrackers.  This wasn’t rotten eggs, this was burning sulphur.

Stunned, I ran into the house, plopped down the grocery bags and flew downstairs.  You could hear the hissing in the battery box and the firecracker smell was even stronger.  The ventilator fan was fighting a losing battle.  I stepped to one side so as to not get sprayed by anything that was causing that hiss and lifted the lid up.  The heat hit me like opening an oven.  The batteries…. all eight…. the equivalent of 16 lead acid car batteries were geysers!  I dropped the lid down and grabbed the manuals.  Because the county never really understood how this system worked, they required us to have a bunch of blade switch shut offs.  I needed to find the one that killed it completely.  Because the system has charge controllers to the batteries, I assumed that if I flipped those off that that would stop power from going to the batteries.  After all, the batteries weren’t spewing water vapor.  It was hydrogen gas… Think Hindenberg.

My solar guru teaches electrical classes in prisons to inmates.  While there he is locked in and can’t have a cell phone with him.  I called him several times, texted, emailed and generally freaked out.  Turning off the charge controllers hadn’t worked.  Fortunately, the storm hadn’t arrived yet and I turned off the furnace, opened up the windows and doors, and turned on a big industrial fan in the basement to help get the gas out of the house.  At a 4% concentration in the air…… BOOM!

Troy finally called and was a freaked as I was.  He sent me back down there and told me which switches to flip to shut the whole thing down.  It reached over 300 degrees in the box and it took hours for them to calm down.

The end result that was determined when he came out on Saturday to inspect the situation, was a full on cascade failure of the entire battery bank.  We knew that these flooded lead acid batteries could fail and if one or two did, it could render the entire bank useless, but this was all of the batteries and they had essentially turned into a hydrochloric acid spewing heat machine.  The battery monitor data showed that at night, because of some sort of short, the inverter would notice a power drop on the batteries and start jamming electricity into the battery bank (on one evening it showed as much as 120 amps). Then, after enough of this, the batteries failed and went into JAZ Farm Chernobyl melt down mode. I was in fear for my life and I was also scared to death that something unexpected would spark and blow up the house.  Not an exaggeration.  The basement was flooded with hydrogen gas.

There are several factors that could have contributed to this:

1.  The original engineers could have programmed the inverter settings improperly and had the batteries charging up too hard and too fast.  As batteries charge, the temperature can increase, and heat and batteries are a bad combination.  We had noticed at one point that they were boiling off a lot of water and that is one reason for having the tech out for a check up.  Things were corroding and it turns out that a vital sensor had completely crapped out.

2.  Because of the rapid boil offs and the corrosion, I was told that perhaps I was adding water to them too frequently and it was venting off due to over-filling (this turned out to be nonsense).  The Tech told me to not fill them monthly and go to a more 4-6 month schedule.  However, having done that, there was still massive corrosion build up indicating that something was still a problem.  Also, for a good deal of time over the past year and a half, I’d been unable to walk.

3.  Lastly, and what seems to me most likely, is that because of the massive loss of water from not having filled them for 6 months, the lead panels inside the batteries had dried out sulphur crystals built up them (Sulphur is a normal by-product of the internal reactions; however, they would normally stay underwater).  Once we refilled them, and the tech cleaned up the corrosion we had a powerful system up and running again.  It is entirely likely that the sulphur came off and created a bridge between the lead plates; thus, shorting them out.  A short, just like with wiring, draws a tremendous amount of energy and creates heat.  This happened across the bank and the result, after a couple of days of this, was damned near a catastrophic explosion.  The heat from the short caused the lead plates to warp and the system melted down.

Whew!!!!!!!!!!   What a couple of days I’ve had.

So we are into troubleshooting mode.  None of the batteries were salvageable but there are some possible warranty options so it might keep this disaster to a financially reasonable outlay.  Did the electrical systems have compatibility issues with the batteries?  Were the batteries defective?  Was it the water issues?  Are the inverter settings in error?  We don’t know.  However, within the week the new batteries should be here and then we can fire things up and start diagnostics.  This. Should. NEVER. Happen. in a well equalized system.  Needless to say though, Farmer Juan will never again listen to anyone who tells him not to fill them regularly.  All is well, but currently we are sucking off the grid because we can’t run the panels without the batteries in place.  As they say in the survival world, “Two is one and one is none.”  The snow storm did arrive.  It did not knock out the power thank goodness.  But we did wheel the 200 pound 8000 watt generator out by the back door just in case.  Redundancy is your friend.

On a happy note!  While all this was happening, the barn grew a roof!  We are waiting for one last set of sheet metal siding, and they expect it to be ready to be inspected on Friday.  Goats and Donkeys will be here for the spring!

Cheers.  My blood pressure is finally back down.  This was terrifying.

 

Walls!

The guys hustled this past Thursday to beat the freezing rain that came Friday.  Building in January, obviously, can be hit or miss.  They had planned on putting the roof on on Friday but the forecast called for 25 mph winds with freezing rain.  All of which came to fruition.  From experience, picking up sheets of anything out here in the wind can be pretty dangerous.  Especially when having to carry them up a ladder.  So here we wait to see the weather for Monday, which is iffy.  The rest of next week is supposed to be sunny and in the 50s.  We’ll take what we can get.  The fence is one section shy of being finished as far as it can be until the barn is completed.  There is another cement mixer that has to get in there before I can button it up.5E1A1BAE-0ABD-471E-A04F-3AA18AE81433CF21F76F-C905-4017-98A4-DA37F964A404578D4AC0-4FCA-4EC9-9042-487E03DE9EC2ADB6453B-1D73-4E8E-9B12-5329AB2957FE

Kinda Lookin’ Like A Barn

I have to admit that these guys work fast.  After the fiasco involved with getting our greenhouse and getting fleeced with our solar system, having this crew get in here gettin’ it done is quite refreshing!  Today they have almost finished the framing.  Before it rains tomorrow they will be coming out to finish the cross bracing, framing for the overhead door and framing for the people door.  If they keep at this pace, I’d expect them to be mostly finished next week.  They still have to put on the the over hang (lean to) but this thing will be wrapped up by months end at the latest.

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In the mean time, I have been steadily getting the pasture enclosed.  Because we are getting goats and donkeys everything says not to skimp on fencing.  I didn’t.  This is about a quarter mile of “No-Climb” horse fencing.  A 200 ft roll weighs about 200 pounds and, of course, I have 8 of them.  I’ve learned to use the tractor to move them around.  Pre-surgery I’d have just heaved them about.  Also, all of the nailing and such that happens close to the ground has had to be re-learned.  I don’t bend like I used to so most everything from about 18 inches to the ground is done more or less with a lunge.  It’s a lot slower going than in my “Strapping young socialist Muslim”days, but I have more time in the day now that Eliot took over at work and I’ve “retired”.

I learned how to splice field fencing today.  Because the sides of the pasture are all about 330 feet long, one roll of this fencing won’t get there.  So to make it reach, two rolls have to be spliced together.  It works great but it’s very time consuming.  Also, as it is a lot like sewing with metal wire, getting poked and scratched and hung up on everything, seems to be standard operating procedure.

I’ve built my share of fencing.  For non-large animal enclosures, you put up corners, H-braces and fill in the gaps with more single wood posts and/or metal T-posts.  Once the skeleton is up, then you wrap the wire around the perimeter and nail and tie it all into place.  Not so here!  Larger animals love to rub on things, especially exposed fence posts.  Consider a 1200 lb. cow.  If she sets to scratchin’ what itches and the fencing is on the outside of the posts, then all the weight is being born by the post and it’s staples and clips.  Soon the fence starts to sag and critters take themselves for a walk down the road.  So this fence, because of the potential of having larger animals, has the fencing on the inside of the frame.  Every corner has to be sewn onto the posts and woven at the corners instead of simply wrapped and nailed.  Pulling it taught (stretching it) also becomes a challenge because the corners get closed off and you have to put the come-a-long through the fence that is at 90 degrees to the fence you want to stretch.  It takes way more time, causes way more cussing, and takes many more staples.  But in the end, now that it is strung inside the posts, if said cow rubs up against the fence, it distributes her weight along the fence and thus several posts instead of it being concentrated on a single one.  So it’s worth doing, it’s coming along very well, there have been some snags, but it is turning out to be one stout cage.  Once that is finished, in order to further deter escape and fence destruction, it will have 3 strands of electric wire to act as a psychological deterrent to keep them away from it.

 

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As, I had mentioned previously, the livestock barn will serve several purposes.  One, we are going to get a few goats.  Whether or not they become meat, dairy goats, or just eating and pooping machines, remains to be seen.  Also, once completed, I’m going to build a chicken brooder inside so we can eventually quit having to have them in our basement for a month at a time.  In addition, a flock of turkeys is on the horizon and their coop will be made from chain link dog kennel panels, inside and outside.  Lastly (ya right), there is an animal shelter near here that rescues donkeys.  It is likely that we will be adopting two of them once all of this construction is over.  One requirement that they have is that the donkeys have their own outdoor corral in addition to the pasture where they can come to eat, feel safe, and have grooming and medical issues tended to.  Last weekend that was accomplished.  I guess there is not turning back now!

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I follow a lot of homesteaders, both on blogs, Facebook and You Tube.  I have yet to find any who bought a field of grass with just a dilapidated house, a garage and run down horse shed, and transformed it into a fully operational farm.  Sure, there are many who have done some incredible things, but I suspect for lack of resources, many are done via the “make do” approach.  Most are many years our junior so what they lack in resources they make up for in energy.  This is the last hurrah.  There will always be the need to repair things and some lesser, non-urgent projects (I would love to dig a root cellar), but this marks the end of the major construction.  It has to be the end.  I’m pretty good at all this building of things, but my dream was to be able to actually enjoy the farming part.  So far, everyone else has gotten to play – including in my greenhouse!  Now it’s my turn too.  I am looking forward to a life of simple routine.  I relish the life of getting up and tending animals, gathering eggs, making breakfast (cooking in general again) spending time with the livestock, spending hours gardening, harvesting and canning and building our food storage, all without the feeling of some urgency of having to have to get the place built before I’m too old to play with it.  The finish line is on the horizon.  Three more sections of fence, a couple of pens, and Farmer Juan gets to play with his creation.  That will be something to behold.