Contest Update: Week 1

February 8, 2013

Contest Update: Week 1

Photo taken after six days.

Here are your contestants:

Doug, 7 days

John Roelli, 14 days

Walt, 16 days

Hubbard, 17 days

Gordon Milligan, 20 days

Brygy, 24 days

Toasted Tofu, 28 days

For the record, I would have guessed 28 days, which looks now to be more of a wish than an estimate.  As I tell my sons, an estimation is not a wish.  If you consistently under or over estimate, you’re wishing.

It’s good that I’m doing this.  I really need to get a handle on use.  I estimated the large pile I built up over the summer would last 3 to 5 months.  Not a very precise estimate.

It looks like it’s going to last about three months as I didn’t start using it until the middle of December.  Until then I was cutting weekly loads because I had time and the weather was nice.

Thank you to our contestants.  I’ll update again within a week.

Contest: How Much Wood for Outdoor Wood Boiler?

February 1, 2013


How many days to burn the row pictured?  The dimensions are about five feet tall, by sixteen feet long, by sixteen inch logs.  This is about eighty percent of a cord of wood which is 128 cubic feet, the industry standard for firewood.

It’s mostly dry oak, although it was rained on the day before I took this picture.  And now another winter storm has dumped snow on it, but it still burns well.

You can look at this old post for hints.  Also notice the changing color of the lawn.

I’ll start burning this row February  1st.  You have a week to guess in the comments.  The prize for the closest guess is negotiable.  In the past I have given gift certificates to Kiva, and meat.  Good luck!

I hope my old friends guess.  I also hope some of the newer visitors will guess and introduce yourself.  Ever since Bruce King put my blog on the sidebar of his excellent blog, I’ve had more international visitors.

Bruce raises chickens and hogs on some highly fertile bottom ground in the state of Washington.  He also recently purchased a confinement dairy farm.

Firewood and Snow

Click on this link if you want to read more about my Outdoor Wood Boiler.  Below is a photo of the ash pan.  That is the amount of ash after two days, which is about how often I remove the ash.

Ash Pan

Another Set of Eyes

September 1, 2012

Frank, with his horses.

Frank is another set of eyes, checking on my fall-calving cowherd.  He lives in the house which is situated near the middle of my rented pasture.

His yard protrudes into and is surrounded by the pasture on three sides.  When he has his morning coffee on the front porch, he is checking my cows.

For me to check my cows, it’s a mile ATV ride.  And if I get there at the wrong time, and they’ve gone into the woods for shade, I’m out of luck.

One day in August I only counted eleven cows.  The next day the same cow was missing.  I asked Frank to keep an eye out for her.

I started walking the woods looking for her.  The woods is a jungle, pictured below.  I realized, crawling under Multiflora Rose brambles, that the cows hadn’t even explored the whole woods.

I spent two days combing the woods looking for the missing cow.  Frank rode his horse where he could, looking for the missing cow.  I started using my nose, figuring the stench from a decaying animal would lead me to her.

On the fifth day, 949 nonchalantly walked out of the woods with a little black calf and rejoined the herd.  At that point, I realized I can’t micromanage.  Frank and I just count.  We’re at seven black calves now.

New Splitting Maul

August 1, 2012

I started cutting wood in July.  I woke up one cool morning after the heat broke, and went out in the woods and started cutting.  This might be the year I have all my wood cut before the snow flies.

I only cut dead trees which are down.  If you don’t cut and split the wood, it will start to rot.  Rotting isn’t terrible, as many critters make a living out of decaying trees, but I figure it’s also a good way to heat my house.  If I cut into a tree and its started to rot, I leave it for the critters.

I bought a new splitting maul, pictured.  I don’t know why I scrimped with my old one for so long.  This one works like a dream.  It’s an eight pound maul made by Task.

Outdoor Wood Burner, New Tractor Update

March 4, 2012

I’m back to cutting wood hand to mouth. It’s ok though. I had enough cut and split to get through January and February.  Next year I plan on having more than enough for the entire wood-burning season by December 1st.

After using the outdoor wood  burner for two seasons, I wouldn’t recommend one for most people.  It isn’t as simple as chucking in wood and forgetting about it.  It takes some fiddling, and it’s always asking for more wood.

Pictured is my tractor.  I bought it last autumn.  It’s a 1981 Deutz 7807.  It has 78 horsepower, which is just enough for grinding feed, the most demanding horsepower job on my farm.  I bought it from a dealer who sold it new.  It has 4500 hours on it and I paid $8500 for it.  I like it so far.

Farrowing in Hoop Building in January

January 22, 2012

Splitting up farming with my parents means I needed to find a different way to farrow.  We used a combination of crates and pens in a heated farrowing barn on my parents’ farm.  It worked well.  Last year we average 10 piglets born alive and 9 piglets weaned per litter.

I was excited to try farrowing in pens, because it’s a new challenge, and because I don’t like crates.  Crates do save piglets from crushing, however, so the question is, can I raise enough piglets this way to be economically viable?

Pictured above, I built ten farrowing pens in one of my hoop buildings so each sow and litter could farrow in privacy.  I used a combination of round bales of bedding and wire panels.  I used the bedding bales to make the pens larger, and to have dry bedding accessible at all times.

I didn’t think it would work very well to farrow in an unheated barn in January.  But I didn’t have many due to farrow, so I thought I would try it, so I could learn.

The first gilt farrowed two weeks ago when the temperature was in the 20’s.  The air temperature in the hoop building is about ten degrees warmer than outside.  She and the piglets did fine.  She had eleven born alive and one stillborn.  You can see the dead stillborn piglet mixed in with the placenta in the picture below.  The gilt laid on four piglets during the first 48 hours.  The younger the piglets are, the more vulnerable they are to crushing.  The remaining seven piglets are doing well.

The next two gilts farrowed during an extremely cold time.  Temps were around zero F with below zero wind chills.  Those piglets didn’t do well.  18 out of 20 piglets froze or were crushed in the first few days.

Two more gilts farrowed last night.  Temps are in the 30’s.  They are doing well.

Pictured below is a behavioral trait I want to select for genetically.  Instead of just flopping down and crushing piglets, the gilt scoops out a bowl in the straw with her snout, kneels on her front legs, thereby extending her udder all the way down into the straw, then lies down.  Very few piglets will be crushed this way.

Reality Review

January 1, 2012

Country Outfitter, a retailer of Dickies, sent me this Dickies premium insulated bib overall to review.

Adam from Country Outfitter asked if I would like to review a pair of boots.  I checked out their site and regretted to inform them I don’t wear cowboy boots.

“How about something else?”

I found these insulated Bibs.  So far I love them.  They are super warm.  I normally wear uninsulated Dickies with long underwear, but wanted to try something different  when the weather is brutal.

I’m going to wait and wear them for a winter season before I give my final review. 

Brotherhood of the Combover Men

December 18, 2011

I’ve started the “combover.”  I wanted to document this moment in time and let you know that, speaking for all “combover men”, ‘yes, we know we are leaving our hair longer and combing it over thinner areas.’  We just want everyone to pretend it’s not happening.  We think of ourselves as thick-haired studs, and would appreciate it if you would pretend to think that as well.

A woman was cutting my hair about ten years ago.  I asked her if my hair was thinning.  She said no, but too emphatically.  I knew she was lying, and I think she knew I knew she was lying, but I realized the delicate dance which had just started for me and would not be finished until I was dead or shaved my head.

The last couple of years my barber has started leaving my hair longer in certain places, and it’s funny how it just falls into place across the thinner areas.  And by ‘fall into place’ I mean, incessant stroking with my right hand in a diagonal, back-to-front motion.  My barber never acknowledged he was doing this, and I never brought it up.  I had joined the “brotherhood of the combover men.”

Sow and Calves, Getting Acquainted

December 12, 2011

The steer calves, with one adventurous sow.

You can see the two-strand electric fence.  In the industry we refer to this as a psychological fence.  Hogs and cattle are easily trained to electric fence.  The fence around the other lot is a physical fence, with five-foot high cattle panels and two boards, attached to wooden posts.

While I hate to anthropomorphize and say they’re  friends, I will say they’ve gotten acquainted.

Sow Housing

December 10, 2011

Wednesday was a big day for my new farm.  We moved 17 sows and 2 boars to my farm.  The sows have always been housed on my parents’ farm, but since we are splitting up our farms, I needed to figure out sow housing on my farm.

I could have used the hoop barns, as I have used them for sows with litters and gestating sows, from time to time when I had room.  But I figured I would need all three hoop barns for growing pigs, so I brainstormed and decided to use the former dairy barn which is the bottom of  my big old red barn.

A carpenter friend helped me shore up the old barn door and build the sliding door you see pictured below.  I came up with that so I could lock the sows in or out securely, and I didn’t want a door which swung, because the bedding could pile up next to the door and make it difficult to operate.

The sows exit the barn into the cattle lot.  This is where the steer calves eat their hay and drink their water.  This lot is fenced securely, but I also built another lot to give the calves more room, which is fenced with a two-strand electric fence.

So the time had come to make the move, but I had no idea how it would work.  The variables I was unsure of included:

1.Would the sows find and go in the barn?

2. Would the cattle and sows get along, or would they scare each other through the fence?

3. Would the sows see the electric fence, get shocked, then back away instead of going through and destroying it?

This is how I managed the situation.  I kept the calves and sows separated during the morning.  I fed some grain in the entrance of the barn to lure sows in.

How did it work?  The sows found the barn and all but one were sleeping in it by night.  I couldn’t get the one to go in, so I left the door open all night.  The calves were scared of the sows, but in a curious way with no stampeding.  A few sows were shocked by the electric fence and retreated without destroying it.

What didn’t work?  The sows enjoyed lounging by the calves’ hay, so the calves wouldn’t eat their hay.  I moved the hay further away so the calves could eat.

An unanticipated problem was the automatic waterer was frozen.  I put in a new Ritchie so the sows could drink, which I’ll post about later. I panicked for a moment, but all I had to do was turn the thermostat up.

The photo above shows a boar I call “Able” breeding.  Standing at the front of the sow is “Bewilder”, my other herd boar I wrote about earlier in the year.