Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s a heifer!

I didn’t expect to make a third post today, but after my last one, I have to post this one.

Tilly had her calf! It’s a beautiful little heifer! She was standing next to her mama trying to nurse when Jessica, Ramiah, Malchiah, and I went down to do chores this evening. I thought Tilly might be in labor earlier, but I wasn’t sure. I guess she was.

The children have asked what I’m going to name her, but I don’t know yet. In the photos she looks darker than she really is because she was still wet. I’ll get some more photos when she’s dried off. She’ll be a darker brown than her mother, for sure.

Both mama and baby are doing fine.


I know there's good stuff here somewhere What are you looking at? What a cutie! Aww, mom! A healthy little heifer She's darker brown than mama

Waiting for the calf. . .

Last April we bought a Jersey milk cow named Tilly. According to the people we bought her from, she was bred six weeks before we brought her home. Based upon that, I calculated her due date to be the end of December or the beginning of January. She looks to be right on track for her due date. Now, I wouldn’t purposefully have a cow freshen in the middle of winter. Tilly's udderThat just seems like the wrong time of year, but I had no say in when Tilly was bred. By looking at her, I believe she will give birth within the next couple of days. It’ll be nice to have fresh milk and cream again, though!

I moved her to a stall separate from the other cows a few days ago because she was starting to bag up. She’s continued to bag up and looks like she couldn’t get any fuller. I took a couple photos of her late this morning. I didn’t clean her udder before taking the photos, so you’ll have to excuse the mess on it (I still haven’t taught her to not poop in her bed). I put fresh bedding down in her stall twice a day, trying to keep her clean. Most of her manure ends up away from where she likes to lie down, but, like this morning, when she gets up she’ll drop a load right where she is. TillySo, I keep adding bedding and trying to make sure she has a clean, dry place to lie down.

She may be in early labor today. She was acting a little different, just kind of standing there facing the wall. She may also just be uncomfortable. Either way, the birth of her calf is imminent.

Whether she has a heifer or a bull calf, we’ll keep it to raise. I plan on retiring my other milk cow, Josey, this next year – she’s 12 or 13 years old now. She’s due to have a calf in April. It will be a Guernsey-Jersey cross (a Juernsey?) as she was bred to a friend’s Jersey bull. I’d thought about keeping Josey’s calf if it’s a heifer, but I won’t if Tilly has a heifer. There’s no telling at this point. It’s entirely possible that they’ll both have bull calves. If so, we’ll keep at least one for beef.


I’ll let you know when Tilly has her calf. Soon, I expect.

Off-grid solar power system specifics (technical details)

The basic components of our solar electric system are:

  • 1250 watts of solar panels (10 100-watt panels and 5 50-watt panels)
  • 12 6-volt 225 amp hour batteries
  • 60 amp MPPT solar charge controller (Xantrex XW-60)
  • 3,000 watt true sine wave inverter (Aims Power)
  • 600 watt true sine wave inverter (Samlex)

Sun-100 solar panel I bought the panels and batteries from Sun Electronics in Florida. The panels are Sun-100 and Sun-50, panels that the company has assembled for them from other panel manufacturer’s parts. These are not top of the line panels, but I didn’t pay the $3 to $5 per watt price of top of the line panels. I bought these because they were on sale ($1.74 per watt – they now have other sizes on sale for the same price), fit within my budget, and their specifications were appropriate for my application. They look fine and test fine on my digital multi-meter. Maybe they won’t last as long as other name brand panels, but they seem like a good place to start.

The batteries are 6-volt golf cart batteries, a common deep-cycle lead acid battery for solar US-225 batteryapplications, especially new systems. They are relatively cheap and should provide several years of service if treated properly. One of the things I didn’t realize when I first ordered the panels and batteries is how the solar array needs to be sized to the battery bank. You can have too large of a battery bank for the number of panels which isn’t good for the batteries. I actually was on the bottom edge with my amount of PV (photovoltaic) watts with our original number of panels (10 100-watt). 

Xantrex XW-60 solar charge controller I ended up ordering more panels, 5 50-watt panels, after having received the first 10 100-watt panels for three reasons: they didn’t have any more of the 100 watt panels matching what I already received, I wanted to size the PV array more appropriately to our battery bank size, and it allows a little more available power generation for the system. As I mentioned in a previous post, conservation is the first three things you should do in setting up an off-grid system. In sizing your system, you need to be able to compute your reasonable and realistic electricity usage. This is where a Kill-A-Watt meter comes in very handy (as of 12/30/09, Newegg has it on sale for $19.99 with free shipping if you use promo code EMCMNPM27).

For our usage we’ve figured on the following daily consumption (rounding up each in order to over-figure rather than under-figure):

  • 300 watts for refrigerator
  • 300 watts for lights
  • 300 watts for computer/tv/dvd player
  • 200 watts for washing machine
  • 100 - 300 watts for miscellaneous usage
That gives a total of 1.2 to 1.4 kilowatt hours per day. We can and probably will use less because these numbers are figured high on purpose based upon our current usage. There will be times when there is limited sun during a given week because of cloud cover, meaning there will be less electricity available for use. Extended periods of cloudy weather would probably require a generator or other power source to charge the batteries. If we weren’t trying to run a refrigerator, we could just live without electricity during such times until the sun returned to recharge the batteries. So, we’ll be getting a small generator as a backup to keep the batteries healthy – discharging batteries too low is greatly limits their lifetime.

We can figure the necessary battery size for our system based upon our general usage (let’s round it up to 1.5 Kwh). When figuring usage, watts for different voltages are equivalent, but amps are not. There’s a simple formula: volts time amps equals watts. That means at 120 volts (standard AC) 12.5 amps equals 1,500 watts (120 x 12.5 = 1,500). However, at 24 volts (the voltage of our battery bank), 1.5 kilowatts requires more amps: 24 volts times 62.5 amps equals 1,500 watts (24 x 62.5 = 1,500). If I made my calculations based upon amps, I’ be way off. When figuring battery usage, we need to be sure and use the right numbers.

So, our daily usage at 1.5 kilowatt hours requires 62.5 amp hours from the batteries. A standard three day reserve would require 187.5 amp hours. For battery health and life, it is best to not cycle it too deeply. I don’t want to use more than 20% of the battery’s capacity on a regular basis. Fifty percent is the maximum level of discharge, and I prefer not to discharge it that low. At 62.5 amp hours per day, the daily cycle of the battery will be about 10%. We could go 2.5 days without sun without going below 80% state of charge on the batteries. At 50%, we have about a 5 day reserve.

The thing that needs to be figured into all of this is the inefficiencies within the system. All of the components are not 100% efficient. For instance, it’s generally figured that batteries are only 80% efficient. At that rate, our usage figures out to just over 4 days reserve. These numbers give us a good estimate of the capabilities of our storage as it relates to usage. We’ll also have a battery monitor that will give us information regarding the battery’s state of charge and other pertinent information.

There are other inefficiencies in the system to be figured, too. One of those is the inverter. My numbers above haven’t considered the amount of power the inverter will consume just by being on. In fact, the reason we’ll have two inverters is because the smaller one will consume less power than the larger one while supplying the power we need in our home 90% of the time. I originally bought the larger one off of Ebay for about half price of new. Later, I realized that it would draw up to 576 watts per day (probably less, but, again, it’s better to figure on the upper end). The smaller 600 watt inverter will consume 250 or less watts per day.

Okay, you don’t have to do all of these computations in order to set up a system. For me they’re important in sizing our system. A lot of people start out small and build on to their system over time. This allows them to figure out what works as they build. This is a good way to learn. There are also a lot of online resources to help you learn about solar power systems. I’ve found some great information on the Northern Arizona Wind and Sun discussion forum. A little searching will reveal a lot more information if you have the time and desire.

A nice resource for figuring how much power you can expect to realize from a solar electric system is the site PVwatts. You can input location information and PV array specifics to figure how much electricity  you can realistically generate for usage. Their numbers are based upon statistics collected over 20 years. If you want to compute for an off-grid setup, put 0.52 in the “DC to AC Derate Factor” to account for the inefficiencies in the system. I know this sounds like a large amount to derate it, but it is recommended by those with experience in order to give you realistic figures to work with. This number accounts for panel, battery, and inverter efficiencies which are less than 100% each.

So, our system will have a 1,250 watt PV array feeding a 24-volt 675 amp hour battery bank connected to an inverter that will output clean AC power for our household use. We could have designed and put together a smaller system, but we had the opportunity to make it this size at this time. As I put this together (it’s still being put together), I worked with a self-imposed budget of $5,000 (money taken out of a 403b account budgeted for building our house – the solar power system is part of the house project). In some ways that was an ambitious number, but not completely unrealistic. Our total will actually come out to about $7,000, but the federal government offers a 30% tax credit for installing a system. After that credit (yes, I’ll take it), we will fit within our $5,000 budget (I had hoped to fit within it prior to the tax credit).

We figured as long as we were able to, we ought to make the system larger than smaller. Generally, usage ends up being greater rather than smaller. At our system’s size, during the shortest month (December) we can still realistically expect to generate enough power to consume 1.5 kilowatt hours a day (based upon PVwatts calculations). During the peak months (May, June, & July) while we have plenty of sunshine, we’ll be able to go hog wild and use up to 4 kilowatt hours a day! Ya’ll come over for the party!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Deep bedding revisited

On December 23 I posted about using deep bedding for my cows this winter. I first became aware of the term and the specific ideas of this method through Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in his book $alad Bar Beef. Joel houses his cattle in a shed over winter, feeding them there rather than in the pasture as is common in his area of Virginia and this area of Kentucky (many areas, in fact). In order to utilize the 2,500 or more pounds per day of nutritionally-rich excretions from his cows back ends, Joel spreads carbon-rich bedding every day or so. This provides a dry, comfortable place for the cows to spend the winter. There are benefits for the cows health associated with using his deep bedding method.

By the time the cows are ready to move back out on pasture in the spring, the bedding, loaded with nutrient rich cow dung and urine, may be up to four feet deep. Rather than use mechanical means to loosen and aerate this bedding, Joel employs pigs to root it up which loosens and aerates it. The pigs work for grain which has been incorporated into the bedding during the winter. The grain sprouts in the bedding and provides the pigs with motivation to root up the bedding because it tastes good to them. The end result is loose, aerated compost that only needs to be handled once as it is loaded into the spreader and spread on the fields. You can read an article from the 1990s written about Joel Salatin’s pigerators here.


Many others also use a deep bedding system with their cows. One of the blogs I regularly read is Throwback at Trapper Creek. The author, Matronofhusbandry, writes about her and her family’s homesteading adventure in the Northwest. They use management intensive rotational grazing – moving their cows to a new paddock everyday – and deep bedding in the barn during the winter. She has a love for composted animal manure because of the great benefits it provides for the soil and plants. You can read a couple of posts written by Matronofhusbandry on the following links: Sacrificing the sacrifice area and Dung love.

After my previous post on deep bedding, a friend expressed concern that such a system would constitute a fire danger much like wet hay in a barn does. I’ve searched for any correlation between deep bedding and a risk of barn fire to no avail. If anyone has some information on such a risk, I’m interested in hearing/reading it. I don’t see it as a risk, though, based upon my research and experience, but I’m curious to hear from others about it.

I’ve actually done deep bedding with animals before. That was with goats, and it wasn’t as intentional as it is this year. I just kept adding enough bedding on the floor so that the goats weren’t in mess, and then I dug out the accumulated and packed (can you say very dense) bedding in the spring or early summer. It’s amazing how stuck together it would get. At the bottom of the layer, the material was mostly broken down/composted. The density of the pack prevented any oxygen from being available within the bedding which would be necessary for combustion to occur.

I’ve seen barns in which no bedding appeared to have been put down for the animals. Those were horrible situations and resulted in a lot more problems for the animals. I’ve seen goats who had chronic foot rot problems that when moved to a barn with ample bedding had no more problems. Keeping animals warm, dry, and clean is important. It’s very difficult to provide ideal conditions for the animals without good bedding. If you don’t incorporate enough carbonaceous material into the bedding, much of the valuable nutrients are lost. If you barn/bedding area smells bad, you’re wasting the good stuff. Liquid manure systems don’t stabilize the nitrogen and other valuable nutrients in the manure let alone the problems for the animals associated with a concrete floor (and the mechanical requirements for such a system).

Last year with my cows, I kept bedding on the floor for them, but I didn’t let it accumulate with their mess. I forked the cow pies and wet bedding out into a pile every day. The lack of depth in the bedding actually created more mess for the cows than what I’ve been doing so far this winter. I add fresh bedding every day, usually in the morning. This gives the cows a nice dry bed that is well insulated from the ground. They’re cows, so they still end up laying down in some of their mess (they don’t care that they’re standing in their bed when they drop a load) that was added after the fresh bedding, but it seems like overall they have a much better bed to be in. I’m also excited about the nutrient rich material that is being collected.

So far, the bedding for my cows is maybe about a foot thick. The carbon material I spread for bedding is what I already have. So, I’m not spending money on bedding. I’ll see what I can accumulate for next year. The concept behind the deep bedding method makes a lot of sense, and others’ experiences with it validate its utility.

Here are a couple of photos of cows on deep bedding I found online (not my cows) – the second photo looks more like the bedding in my barn:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making a refrigerator out of a chest freezer

Over a year ago, I read about an individual living off the grid somewhere in Australia who converted a chest freezer into a refrigerator. His experience showed him that he could run it as a refrigerator on about 0.1 kilowatt a day. His results were affected by the type of chest freezer he bought for the purposchest refrigeratore, one that is rated highly for its efficiency (I believe it has more insulation than regular models). Being a chest freezer with the lid on top, the cold air doesn’t “fall out” every time it’s opened, helping the compressor to need to work less to cool things back down.

The basic concept for converting a freezer into a refrigerator is quite simple. You have to override the compressor since the one in a freezer is meant to cool things on the inside down to near zero degrees (Fahrenheit). In the article I read, the individual included plans for building an external thermostat to override the freezer’s thermostat. That seemed a bit complicated, but I then found I could buy an external thermostat designed to do the same thing.

Northern Brewer has a couple different ones that they sell. Generally, these allow homebrewers to use a freezer to set the appropriate temperature for fermenting lager and to chill their kegs of beer. thermostatSo, I purchased one of the models they sell (I actually have two of them now so that I can convert another freezer into a refrigerator if necessary).

The external thermostat is plugged into an electrical outlet, and the freezer is plugged into the thermostat. A temperature probe connected to the thermostat is placed inside the freezer, and the desired temperature is set on the thermostat. I set ours at 38 degrees. The unit has a 3.5 degree temperature differential. The set point on the thermostat is adjustable from 20 degrees to 80 degrees (Fahrenheit). When the internal temperature drops below the set point, the power to the freezer is disconnected, stopping the compressor. When it rises above the set point, the compressor is once again powered.

It works quite well. The temperature inside the freezer stays regulated at refrigerator temperature. We’ve set up a 14 cubic foot freezer as our refrigerator. inside & temperature probeThere’s as much or more room for food storage inside than our previous 20+ cubic foot conventional refrigerator. Before switching to using it, I measured its power consumption over six days. During that time it averaged only 9 watts and hour. Our regular refrigerator used over 80 watts an hour.

There is no freezer in the refrigerator, of course. On solar power we will not have a freezer because of the amount of power required (both of our freezers average 55 watts an hour). So, we are adjusting to the limitation. However, the ability to have refrigeration even on solar is a definite blessing.

The main issue we’ve discovered with using a chest freezer as a refrigerator is water that condenses on the inside and then pools on the bottom. It’s a good idea to put some silicone caulk around the bottom edge of the walls to keep the water from starting rust there. I’ve read of others putting a small channel along the inside edge about a foot down from the top which directs the water to a single collection point or through the freezer drain.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Going off the grid

One of our goals is to disconnect from the power grid. Using electricity from the power companies is easy and convenient. It’s readily available here at our place and is relatively inexpensive. However, the generation of electricity for the electric grid has definite environmental, health, and economic impacts on different areas of the country. My consumption of grid-tied electricity affects other people whether I realize it or not.

We’ve talked about and considered having a solar electric system for our home. It’s been a goal reserved for the future, something to pursue when we could afford it several years down the road. Putting together and installing an off-grid solar electric system usually does not make economic sense unless you don’t have electric service readily available to your home, because the time required to recoup your costs can take up to 50 years. If you’re off the beaten path, it can cost you thousands of dollars for the utility company to stretch wires to your home. In that case, it makes economic sense to spend thousands of dollars to put in a solar electric system.

Recently, we’ve moved up the date for achieving our goal of going off grid. Part of our motivation has come from some friends of ours whose children have been affected by pollution from the use of coal. Rather than make a strictly economic decision about electricity, we’re making what we consider to be a moral choice in pursuing our goal at this time. It also fits within our efforts toward greater independence from “the system.”

We’ve been making preparations to go off grid during the last few years, of course, primarily through conservation of our use of electricity. We turn off lights when they aren’t needed. We disconnect the water heater at the circuit breaker during the day, turning it on 30 minutes or so before taking a shower and then turning it off afterwards (I’ll soon be installing an on-demand propane water heater to supply hot water for showers – the only thing we currently use it for). We’ve stopped using our electric cook stove, using our wood cook stove instead (we have another small wood cook stove that I’m going to set up on the back porch to use when it gets warmer this spring/summer).

In order to disconnect from the electric grid, I’ve done a lot of research recently and have ordered solar panels, batteries, a charge controller, inverter, cables, etc. – all of the things we’ll need (if I’ve figured correctly) to set up our own solar electric system. I’m in the process of installing the system right now.

I’m putting our system together and installing it myself. I’ve learned a lot in the last two months about what’s needed for an off-grid system and how to put it together. There’s a lot more I’m sure I don’t know, but hopefully there isn’t too much critical knowledge that I don’t have yet (or that I will be ignorant of before I’ve got it all set up and going). There are a lot of online resources available and a lot of reputable companies with great knowledge selling solar supplies. I am, of course, willing to share my little bit of knowledge with others, too.

batteries in a box This is a photo of the batteries in the battery box. Currently, they are wired in two 12-volt strings (three paralleled sets of two 6 volt batteries in series) in order to put a 12 volt charger on them until the panels are up and going. Once the panels are up, the battery bank will be 24 volt (three paralleled 4-battery series). I’ll post more photos and description of the installation later.

When it’s all said and done, we’ll have 1,250 watts of solar panels charging a 24 volt battery bank with 675 amp hours capacity. We’ll have 600 watt and 3,000 watt pure sine wave inverters (the larger one for only when needed, like for running any power tools for short duration). Our refrigerator, which I’ll post about later, is a 14 cubic foot chest freezer with an external thermostat that keeps the temperature at 38 degrees while using 10 watts per hour. We’ll be using less than 1.5 kilowatt hours per day during the winter months with the option to use more during the summer.

The first, second, and third things to do when setting up an off-grid system is to conserve, conserve, conserve. We bought a Kill-A-Watt meter a few months ago which allows us to measure the electrical usage of different appliances in order to gauge how much power we actually need. There are a lot of things which use a lot of power but really are not needed (incandescent light bulbs, for instance).

More to follow. . .

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bakers’ Choice

firewoodDuring the winter we heat our home with wood. For many years while I was growing up, the primary heat source in my family’s home was from an old wood stove in the kitchen. My grandfather had salvaged the stove from a local junk pile, and, after a little work on it, it kept my family warm during many cold Illinois winters. Well, in that old house, it kept us warm when we were near it in the kitchen. We didn’t heat the bedrooms in that house.

The first winter after we moved to Kentucky, I installed a wood stove. The previous occupants in the mobile home that we currently live in had put in an insulated chimney through the roof in the kitchen area. I moved an old wood heat stove that was in the garage into the house, and we heated with that. I removed the old electric furnace and made a pantry closet where it had been located – we weren’t going to use it (the duct work served as an interstate system for the resident mice, let alone the amount of electricity the furnace would be sure to consume).

After two winters of heating with that old stove, we purchased a new wood stove, one with which we could heat our house and cook and bake. Bakers' ChoiceAfter doing some research, we decided that we would be better off with a new stove rather than buying an old one with unknown problems and difficulties. The criteria we used in determining what stove to buy were price and capability of heating our home. We ended up buying a Bakers’ Choice wood cook stove.

We love our stove! It’s utilitarian, designed by an Amish man for heating and cooking – just what we wanted. It’s also one of the least expensive new wood cook stoves available.

With the Bakers’ Choice, we can cook and bake. It takes a little getting used to in order to cook on a wood stove. You can’t control the heat as readily as a gas or electric stove. You are able to use the entire cook surface, which is more than on a conventional cook stove. You soon learn that different areas are hotter or cooler than others. So, you move your pot to where the temperature is what you want. We cook everything on our stove. Anne even cans – hot water bath and pressure – on it.

The ovenUsing the oven also takes getting used to. The temperature is slower to respond to your inputs than a conventional stove, and it’s harder to get the heat exactly as the recipe may call for. You’ve got to be flexible. You also need to remember to turn what it is you're baking during the process because the oven often tends to be hotter toward the back and on the side toward the firebox.

We also purchased the hot water reservoir that is an option for the stove. It holds about 7.5 gallons of water. While using the stove for heat, we keep the reservoir filled and use the hot water for washing dishes.

fireboxAs far as heating our home is concerned, we seldom are cold. The firebox is nicely sized, allowing a fair bit of wood to be put in it at one time. The stove is also airtight, allowing the burn to be controlled quite well. I load the stove at night before going to bed and set the draft control so the fire continues to burn slowly (we only need some heat during the night). Eight or ten hours later in the morning, there are still plenty of coals and/or wood in the stove so that it’s very easy to get a good hot fire going to warm up the place.

During the last two months, we’ve cooked and baked exclusively on our Bakers’ Choice. We’ve actually turned off the circuit breaker for our electric cook stove since we’re not using it.

drying sheets near the stoveOur stove is also useful as a clothes dryer. We hang clothes on drying racks near the stove rather than use our propane clothes dryer. We’ve also dried herbs and food by hanging them from the ceiling near the stove. It’s definitely a useful part of our home that we would be hard put to do without.

Supplying the stove with enough wood during the winter isn’t a problem. There are lots of trees available for firewood in this area. We’ve mostly cut firewood from the tops of trees on neighbors’ properties that were left after the properties were logged. This has been good wood that would otherwise just lay there and rot. I estimate that we burn less than three cords of wood a year (a cord is a 4’x4’x8’ stack of wood).

There’s nothing quite like the heat from a wood stove when it’s cold outside. It’s a kind of warmth that you can just soak up and enjoy. No forced air furnace could ever duplicate the comfort of wood heat. Being able to cook with the same heat is great, too.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hunting with my boys

We had two weeks of rifle season here in November. I did not see any deer. Dad saw some three different times, but, alas, he didn’t harvest any of them. Even though we didn’t get any deer (actually, I got a small one with the van the week before rifle season), it was still enjoyable to spend several hours in the woods or in the deer blind.

024The boys wanted to go hunting with me. So, one morning I woke Malchiah up at 5:00am to go out with me. We walked to the blind in the dark and got situated. Once in place, the idea is to sit still without making noise while watching for deer to come by. Sitting still and quiet for 2.5 hours for a six year old is a pretty big task. Malchiah did admirably well, but he grew bored after the first hour. 026He laid down on the ground and played with a piece of wire. He did perk up and get excited when a flock of turkeys crossed the creek and began working their way across the field. He encouraged me to shoot them, but I explained that it wasn’t turkey season and that a rifle isn’t the best gun to use for shooting a turkey. After the turkeys went into the woods, we headed back to the house.

034Ramiah went out with me that afternoon. Perhaps, sitting still and quiet for that length of time is easier for an eight year old, but he still was fidgety at times. Still, no deer came by during our time in the blind that afternoon. No turkeys either. Ramiah went with me one more afternoon during muzzleloader season. No deer then, either. But, we watched two coyotes walk across the field.

Venison from the deer we shoot and ones that neighbors give to us is the primary meat we eat during the year. This year we have a steer to process, so the limited amount of venison won’t be a problem.

Someday I expect the boys will do much of the hunting to bring home meat for the family.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our new pond: current photos

The pond is currently a little less than two feet from being at full pool. Another two or three inches of rain should bring the level up to the overflow. The children and I have enjoyed skipping stones on the water and thinking about swimming next summer.

We added 200 1” – 3” redear sunfish on November 25. Actually, Dad put them in the pond since we were in North Carolina visiting family (we left Mom and Dad here to take care of things). I only found three fish that didn’t make it. The children and I occasionally see some of the them swimming near the surface. We also put 2 pounds of flathead minnows in at the same time. I haven’t seen any of them, but I don’t reckon they went anywhere else.

I took the following photos a few days ago. The pond level hasn’t changed since then. I’ll post some more photos when it’s full.

  082   093 107088

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deep bedding

I had to move the cows to the barn earlier this year than I wanted. That was the fault of a failure to plan ahead sufficiently and the fault of having more than just a couple of cows. We had our two milk cows, Chucky Joe (steer for beef this winter), Buster (a young steer for beef next winter), and Aggie (Buster’s mother who belonged to a friend). Spice was also on the pastures eating grass. So, the grass ran out earlier than I wanted.

I prepared the barn for housing the cows over winter. The hay Dad and I cut is all stored in the barn. So, it made sense to me to move the cows to the hay rather than move the hay to the cows. Besides, I’d rather have the cows warm and dry during the winter.

The last couple of years when we’ve had one or two cows, I’ve kept them in the barn, too. I would put down fresh bedding every day after removing the soiled bedding. This bedding and manure was piled outside to compost and be used in the garden/fields later. It was a lot of work, though, forking out the heavy, wet, soiled bedding twice a day.

This year I’m trying something new for me: deep bedding. The idea is to not clean out the cows’ mess but, rather, to continue adding fresh bedding on top, letting it accumulate and build up inside the barn. Adding fresh carbonaceous materials (bedding, like, old hay and straw) traps the nutrients in the manure, holding them and allowing the composting process to begin. The non-aerobic composting that occurs within the bedding will also provide some heat for the cows. It makes a nice soft floor/bed for them, too. Adding fresh bedding every day keeps their beds clean and dry which helps the cows to stay clean and dry.

They have a small area to lounge outside, too, but they spend most of their time inside the barn where the hay is. This is good. All that good stuff coming out their backsides is being incorporated into the bedding for later use.

I’ve been adding oats to the bedding as I throw down more old hay or straw. These are to feed the pigs. No, I don’t have any pigs, but I plan on getting a couple in the spring so I can put them to work.

The thing about the bedding is that with several thousands pounds of bovines walking around on it and the composting action going on within, it will be packed down and will be dense. I don’t relish the thought of forking and shoveling it loose in the spring (my back hurts just thinking about it). A better idea is to let a couple of pigs loosen it for me, aerating it and helping the aerobic composting process along. But, pigs need a good reason to root it all up. Hence, the grain that I’m adding. It’s pig food for when I get a couple pigs in the spring.

If I ate pig, this would be idea. But, I don’t eat it. It’s a moral choice. So, I’ll sell the pigs after they’ve worked for me by getting the bedding loosened in the spring. I expect that the bedding will be three feet deep or more by then. Think of all the good nutrients to be added to the garden and fields!

Oh, one more thing. With all that carbonaceous material being added, it does not stink. If it smells bad, that means you’re losing nutrients. The carbon materials hold the nitrogen and other nutrients. That’s a great thing about compost – you don’t loose the good stuff!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Spice: Jessica’s horse

What is it about young girls and horses? It must be some kind of a disease. They fall in love with horses and seemingly can think about nothing else. Jessica has been enamored with horses for years and has held dearly to the hope of having her own horse someday. Well, that day finally came in August. Some friends of ours had a horse that they offered to give to her. They didn’t want to have to continue buying hay to feed it. So, Spice came to live on our farm, and Jessica’s dreams of owning a horse became reality.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our new pond (part 5)

By the end of September, we’d had enough rain to have several feet of water in the pond. I’d also used the time before the pond filled to work on the dock. It’s at the same state now as it was then: all finished except the deck boards. The week before completing the dock framing, I seeded fescue on the dam and in front of the house. It was raining while I broadcast the seed, and it rained lightly during the following days. It sprouted and started growing very quickly.

On September 26, we had 2.5 inches of rain. This, of course, contributed to the water level in the pond, as can be expected. The last inch came in a storm during the afternoon, and it added more than the previous showers because most of it ran off rather than soaking in.

The following photos show the dock, the water level at the end of September, and water flowing into the pond.

Looking out from the land-end of the dock. It is 6 feet wide and 12 feet between posts reaching about 30 feet out into the pond. I intend to deck it with oak boards from a local sawmill in the spring.

The water hadn't reached the shallow end (it has now – photos later), but it's 6 feet or so deep in the right corner from this perspective (I didn't measure it, just guessed).

These two photos show the water flowing out from under the trees at the bottom of the two hillsides it drains off of. It then moved through grass for 40 feet before flowing into the pond. Both of these photos were taken over two hours after the rain stopped -- the water doesn't all flow into the pond at once, thankfully.

I stitched the following two photos together looking from the bank near the woods:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Our new pond (part 4)

I worked the two full days in order to add height to the dam. The most tiring part was associated with the stress of driving my truck, my tractor, and a backhoe on top of the dam. I especially don't like when the backhoe leans to the side and when I got it into some of the soft topsoil on the back slope. I decided I didn't need it up there.

The method that seemed to work well for me was to load clay into my truck from a couple different places in the floor of the pond. Then, I drove this onto the dam and dumped it where I wanted it, spreading it out some as I dumped. After several loads, I switched to the tractor and blade to move the material where I wanted it and to pack it some more (the truck tires were doing a pretty good job of packing).

After getting enough clay built up, I took a few loads of top soil to put on top and spread that around. It went fairly well.

This photo shows the outcome of my efforts. I added enough material to put the top of the dam two feet above the primary spillway (the 12" culvert). This also allowed more freeboard above the emergency spillway, which is a good thing.

A little closer look. The section I built up looks darker because of the topsoil I added.
Digging clay and soil out of the pond bottom helped to add some more structure for fish. Structure is basically variation in depth, especially differences within a short distance There is a fair bit of variation on the bottom.

This is a view looking toward the dock from the dam. I was trying to show how the dock is on a ridge with drop offs on either side. There's also another elevation change going into the shallow end of the pond which is a result of digging out clay and top soil to raise the dam.

Looking a little to the left toward the shallow end. One of the things I wanted to do but haven’t done yet is to make a small beach area toward the house where I drove in and out of the pond hauling material.

This photo looks past the pond from below the dam toward some of my fields. Shortly after finishing the dam height project, I seeded the dam with fescue. At this point, I needed to finish the dock framework and then wait for rain to fill up the pond.

The kitchen floor: gettin’ rid of ugly

When we bought our farm, the only “livable” space was an old mobile home. It’s UL listed according to the 1972 standards. It was dirty, dark, and smelled of mothballs when we first saw it. It has evidence of roof leaks and leaks around windows. It’s an old mobile home.

We’ve done things to make it more livable over time. We removed the brown shag carpet from the living room. And, the original green carpet that was under that. Then, we patched places where the floor was rotted out near the walls and put down laminate flooring. That made the living room much better.

The next room we tackled was a bedroom. It had the original green carpet. In the corner of the room, the carpet was about the only thing keeping things from falling through to the nether regions under the house. We removed the old, nasty, dirty, disgusting (add your own adjectives here) green carpet, patched holes and rotted places in the subfloor, and then put down laminate. We also added some big windows to the room.

Later, we installed laminate in the hallway and remodeled the bathroom, 006creating a small half bath off of the bedroom. These too received new flooring.

The one room that still had the original flooring was the kitchen. It needed replaced, but I was reluctant to do so because it meant moving everything out, including the heavy wood cookstove. The old linoleum was a “lovely” gold and green color with a fascinating pattern designed to excite the senses and provide cover for dirt hiding thereon. It was also rapidly deteriorating as pieces of it were wearing off.

The thing that motivated me to replace the floor was a leak under the kitchen sink. One of the housings on our reverse osmosis water filter developed a crack. Before we noticed it, much water had leaked and had saturated the subfloor under the sink. It should be noted that the subfloor in this lovely manufactured house is nothing more than particle board, a material that dissolves into nothingness when it becomes wet.

Rather than have the horror of someday soon watching someone washing dishes disappear through the floor along with the sink, I decided to fix the problem. While I was at it, it seemed appropriate to replace the ugly linoleum with something better – laminate in an oak pattern.

My dad helped me complete the job. It took us two days and involved taking everything out of the kitchen and then tearing out the gold & green linoleum. Once it was removed, we cut out the bad sections of the floor and replaced them with something solid (new boards). Once the floor was repaired, we laid the laminate flooring. What an improvement!

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