It’s getting hot in here! A newbie’s guide to hay combustion

The other day as he was leaving for work, Sheldon made an offhand comment about keeping an eye on the hay so the heat doesn’t build up.  When I must have given him my usual whatyoutalkinboutwillis face, he told me that hay can spontaneously combust.  While I was able to keep my facial composure, I cannot tell a lie that in my head I immediately thought that he must be smokin banana peels and that was just another crazy thought from his sometimes paranoid mind.

Except, he was right.  Kinda….

Now, our hay hasn’t combusted since I had my smart arse thoughts.  As far as I know, it’s still minding it’s own business in the barn awaiting the day that our cows/Festus will convert it to poop.  However, being the Bing-er that I am, I had to get online and see what the deal is.   From what I could research on a couple of sites (including this excellent one from WSU), hay isn’t going to spontaneously combust just ’cause you talk ugly to it.  A variety of factors need to build up including heat, moisture (ironic, no?) and bacteria.  Obviously this isn’t going to happen overnight.  But if you have packed your barn tight with hay with limited air passage around your bales, you may find that you have created the kind of environment where moisture and heat can get easily trapped.  So, what’s a newb to do?

Well, think about foundation/stacking.  Most of our bales are small squares that one adult can easily pick up.  We also have some large round bales that we got from a neighbor, but they aren’t a huge concern.  We are planning to use those first just to get them out.  For the rest of our bales,  we have created stacks of hay that are loose-ish.  That is, they are strong enough that our 5 year old can stand on a stack, but not tight enough that I would trust her (or us) up there alone.  This allows air to pass through and reduces the chance for moisture build up.  In addition, we have stacked our bales up off the ground.  While our barn is solidly built, our floor is dirt meaning that moisture will seep up with anything that is in direct contact with the ground.  Some freecycled pallets worked well as our foundation to get the bales off the ground.

You also want to decide to cover/not to cover.  Sure, any rains that you get could eventually get dried by the sun but what are you losing in that process?  Not only are you increasing your chances of more moisture, more bacteria=greater risk for combustion, but you are also junking up your hay.  Remember, unless you are using this hay as bedding for animals, you need to be mindful of protein content.   If you don’t want to be running to the feed store once a week to feed your cows/donkeys, you need to make sure that the hay you supply is still a good source of protein for your animals.   A study by the University of Minnesota West Central Experiment Station at Morris, Minnesota has some great information on hay storage and the resulting effects of protein loss based on storage method.

So, while I’m not saying that we have figured it out in terms of hay production and storage (Ha!  We’re a long way from there)  but, I do feel better having spent the time to do some research so that I feel confident about how we are protecting this investment.  Look forward to hearing from anyone who has even more info to share!  Happy Haying!

Dear muck boot makers…you are wearing me out.

another one bites the dust....

another one bites the dust….

I would like to direct this open letter of complaint to everyone who has ever made my muck boots.  Your numbers are legion.  In the year-ish that we have been at Blueberry Acres Farm, I have gone through no less than 8 pairs of muck boots before completely wearing them out. That is a “shelf life” of approximately 45 days per pair. I have bought these boots all over the place from the big box store to thrift stores to sporting goods stores. I have even attempted to buy your boots online, but I have found that in the world of one size fits all muck boots, it’s hard to get good information about fit for something that most manufacturers seem to think is an afterthought.  Some homesteaders have pudgy calves.  I am one of those.  Can you please not make boots that feel like they are trying to strangle said calves?  Shoes that are too tight are bad enough, but wrap some rubber around your calves and then start sweating…well, I am pretty sure that is what hell feels like.

I calculate that I have spent between $200-$300 on these boots, which might lead some to ask…why don’t you just buy the expensive boots and be done with it? Alas, at 45 days a pair, I’m a little afraid of dropping that kind of cash on boots just to have them follow the same cycle of wear. I don’t think I’m particularly hard on my boots. I wear them typically no more than 1-3 hours per day on regular days and probably closer to 6 hours on heavy work days. I would imagine that many homesteaders/farmers are the same. I prefer not to work outside in clogs/shoes/flip flops because of snakes..Missouri has more than our fair share of them. As a result, muck boots are my shoe of choice and right now, that choice stinks.

So, dear manufacturers…I’m wondering.  Does anyone actually have a muck boot that will stand the test of time?  I’m not expecting something to last for years…but months would be nice.  Sigh.  Rant over…I need to go find a new pair of muck boots.

Ding, Dong, the witch is dead and other assorted things….

…..and by witch, I mean hay!  I know-it was a stretch, but it’s absolutely how I feel.  We finally got the hay in our large pasture cut.  Sheldon finished bucking the many bales last night.  The hay should have been cut close to 2 months ago, but alas, we counted on the word of someone who proved to be a little less than dependable in deed.  However, some very hardworking folks came to our rescue and despite their baler giving out on them multiple times, they were able to finish the vast majority of our field.  Is it the world’s finest hay?  This late in the season, no.  But, the field is cut and the little bit of green left will quickly be finished by the cows and Festus.  We already talked about when they will come out next year and how we hope to double our load of hay at that time with an early cutting.  Sooooo…painful first year lesson to learn about depending on others that you don’t know well-both when they fail and like the folks who cut our hay, when they succeed despite obstacles.

Now, we are prayerful for some rain.  It’s been weeks and weeks since we have had anything fall out of the sky save for bird poop.  The lawn is all but dead (and I’m too stubborn to water it-water is for veggies and animals, not my 2 acres of lawn grass dang it!) and the dirt road is making horrible dust devils all over the place.  I feel like I can’t keep my house dust free for more than 2 minutes and frankly in this heat, I don’t want to even think about cleaning!   So, for this week, Blueberry and I are going to do what we can outside without bursting into flames in the dry heat.  We have swimming fun on tap, the library, going to visit the Grand-Blueberries and studying weather.

This cute little weather tracker from Smart Lab came in one of Blueberry’s Christmas gifts.

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This morning as she was outside with it studying the clouds while the dogs looked expectantly up with her, she learned the difference between the different types of clouds thanks to Mom’s geeky love of weather and this handy little website that not only has great weather pics, but some cool weather activities too.  We’re going to be studying weather all week as we begin that downhill slide to the first day of K for Blueberry.

How are you keeping cool in these hot dog days of summer?

Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!

Trying some new things this month: a working parents guide to not medicating with wine

Well, it’s July 1st.  That means that here at Blueberry Acres, we are sliding downhill (fast) into August where our little Blueberry will start her first day of “real” school.  I began to get misty eyed about it as I thought through the month of June and decided to take her out of the part-time preschool that she has been attending.  Seemed like a good plan at the time.

However, that means that now in addition to working from home part-time, taking care of Blueberry Acres full-time and occassionally shaving my legs…I need to find a way to provide care for the squirt 24/7 while working to keep that balance without having to sneak into the kitchen to fortify myself with wine on days that end in a Y.

Enter in quiet time.  We have decided that we will follow the advice of oh-so-many other bloggy moms and dads with structured quiet time.  While I wish my little Blueberry still slept in my arms, the reality is that those days are gone.  However, I still need (crave, depend on, am crazy for) that quiet time in the afternoon where I feel like if I have to answer another question from a 5 going on 23 year old, I will lose what is left of my mind.  As a result…we’re going to a post lunch regimen that involves the kiddo going to her room for exactly one hour each afternoon.  What she does when she gets there doesn’t matter to me as long as no cats are involved, she doesn’t blow the roof off the house and no hour ends with a fun ride in an ambulance.  Beyond that, she can read Dostoyevsky, play with her guys or paint her toenails blue..whatever.

Beyond the solitary confinement quiet time, we’re trying to be a little more loose on bedtime so that she can enjoy more evening farm time.  I don’t know if I have ever seen a more beautiful fireworks display than the one the fireflies put on around here at dusk.  We’re also asking her to be more involved with the evening poultry routine.  What’s that you ask?  Well, often it’s where I stand in the various poultry yards trying to convince everyone to go into their coops while cursing their moms and telling them I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, etc.  It’s not my finest moment.  But, add in some Blueberry, and well things get a lot easier…that kid is the dang chicken whisperer.  She has had an almost magical pull over these birds from day one whether they were chickens or turkeys and she can wrangle them into the coop with limited effort.  It helps reduce my workload and stress…but also gives her a little extra shot of exercise after dinner.  While it means that she goes to bed a little later, it also means that she is sleeping in a little more.  That works nicely for me!  While Sheldon would prefer to be strict with the routine, I’m finding that a little flexibility here is going a long way.

Introducing regular chores of her choice.  We have struggled with this for a while now.  We want to introduce the concept of a weekly allowance, but we don’t want her to think that money will always be handed to her without work.  When we have tried to introduce chores for dollars in the past, it’s fizzled out fairly quickly.  Especially when she gets her piggy bank and tries to pay me to do some of her chores because she doesn’t want to.  Obviously she has mastered the concept…it’s just not of interest.  So, now we are going to one unrewarded chore per day (in addition to picking up after herself) and we’re hoping that by doing so, we’ll continue to get her to invest in how things operate, look, etc around here.  Plus, if she is doing more then we are doing less.

But, I’m curious…for the other bloggy moms/dads out there….what do you to balance your day?

Happy Homesteading!

I’ve been a lame blogger but a busy homesteader, Part 1: Cow Drama

I think it’s been several weeks since our last update of any value. But holy smokes, have we been busy here on Blueberry Acres Farm. Let me just give you the down and dirty update of the last few weeks on the cow front:

Went to cow auction to buy feeder cow. Purchased Holstein heifer. I received hilarious education in cattle prices that I will use to shame myself in later post.

Two days after receiving feeder cow that we have decided to originally name DANGHOLSTEIN! (explanation to follow later again…), we purchased a guard donkey named Festus for 50 smackers off Craigslist.

We work it out with our neighbor to get his cousin to cut our side pasture, which is 8-10 acres of too high grass. As a result, we need to move our tiny herd to what I refer to as our valley pasture so that he can cut our hay.

I wake up early on Mother’s day. I know…I should have gotten to sleep in, but that stupid circadian rhythm kicked in. I decide instead of waiting for Sheldon to handle walking these cows through what was probably snakey infested waist high grass, I would put on my big girl panties and do it myself. Blueberry decided to watch from the fence line (probably because I threatened her with every trick in the book to keep her out of the same probably snakey pasture) and cheered me on. While Festus nibbled on my hair, DANGHOLSTEIN followed too close next to him (did I mention that she was about 900 pounds at purchase?), and our Belties following a polite distance behind, I rattled my bucket of sweet feed for all I was worth while simultaneously scanning for snakes and cursing my now lost courage. But, I got those cows/donkey through the gate and closed it up. I was quite proud of myself!

Awaken the next morning to find all 3 cows back in the side pasture along with Festus. Curse them all tremendously and attempt to get them back into the valley pasture. Have the freaking GENIUS idea that I can just lead them from the gate in the “backyard” to the next gate to the valley pasture. Did I mention that I have to get across a totally open space, around Blueberry’s playset and our clothesline to get to this second gate? It made sense at the time. I let Festus out first (tactical mistake, I know that now) and get him to the second gate with ease, feed rattling, and only a little bit of anxiety. Think that this actually means that the cows will follow suit. See that Pia (the pregnant Beltie) is up next, open the gate and somehow manage to get her all the way across the backyard without incident. Turn to open the gate, turn back around and that ninja cow is gone. She is moving up the yard towards the front yard. Somehow I manage to redirect her and again lose her at the gate. She makes her way back to the original gate where she attempts to get back in to her little pal Maureen. I manage to get her back into this gate without incident other than the fact that I need to change my pants now. Decide that I can once again duplicate my walk through the snakey pasture, so attempt to get Larry, Curly and Moe to follow me, only to realize halfway through the pasture that I am Larry/Curly/Moe and these cows have outsmarted me…they are walking in the opposite direction despite my big bucket of sweet feed.  Take the walk of shame back to the house passing Festus who I let back in the side pasture in defeat.

A couple of days after getting Festus home, I find myself running down the dirt road yelling DANGHOLSTEIN! as she runs away from me in a focused attempt to get to our neighbor’s herd of cattle. No amount of sweet feed treats was bringing her back.  About this time Sheldon pulls up on his way home from work.  I tell him what happens, and he goes to park his truck in front of the house, which is about 1/4 mile away from me.  By this point, somehow Pia had found the weak spot in the fence (that DANGHOLSTEIN!) had served to make when she leapt over it and she was now on the loose too.  So, I’m standing on our road with DANGHOLSTEIN! the feeder cow going one way and Pia, the beloved mother Beltie who was helping to start our herd going the other way.  I decided to handle Pia and God bless her, she came right back to me with nothing other than voice commands and kind words.  She got right back in the pasture.  About this time, I had called for reinforcements from Sheldon (by called, I mean shrieked into the phone in the most unappealling way possible) and he pulled up to deal with DANGHOLSTEIN!…he crested the hill on our road just in time to watch her do a cow-jumping-over-the-moon impersonation when she cleared our neighbor’s cattle fence to get to the cow of her dreams.  She did not even touch his perfectly sound fence-just cleared that thing like it was a foot high.

Fast forward a couple of weeks…

Fences are repaired.  Sheldon wanted to get an electric cattle fence for DANGHOLSTEIN!, but I think I have talked him down off that ledge.  Seems kinda silly for one feeder cow who is probably only a month or two from becoming dinner.

The Belties and Festus are still in the valley pasture awaiting the mysterious cousin who is supposed to cut our hay.  It’s been hard to get more than a day or two without some kind of moisture, so I’m sure we’re at the bottom of his list of things to do.  We’re considering hiring someone to do it (because we don’t have the necessary equipment, nor do we have a need for it with our small 15ish acreage), but we’re hoping that Cousin Whateverhisname comes through.

DANGHOLSTEIN!  remains in with the neighbor’s cattle.  He is a super nice guy who is going to bring her over to us and actually put her into the correct valley for us (actually for me since I’m the only one home during the day) next time he manages to get her in the corral.  Otherwise, he’s cool with her remaining there until it’s time to do otherwise.  Can you imagine a neighbor in a suburb being that laid back about an animal infringing on their property?  Yeah, me neither…

We made the investment in our own little stock trailer.  We had found a very inexpensive rental place for trailers in a nearby town, but when we saw the opportunity to get our own, we thought it would be a good investment for us in the long run.

It looks like we will be getting a bull in the near future.  Our original bull didn’t pass his motility test (for those of you scratching your head, that means his swimmers were sluggish….), but this bull is from the same farm and from what I can gather, comes from Missouri Beltie royalty.  If he passes all of his necessary tests, we’ll add him to the herd with the hopes that when the time is right for Maureen, they will make sweet cow music together.

Well, I know this post is devoid of helpful links or interesting pics, but dang..this is about all I can manage these days.  If I could go back and tell my 2012 winter self to sleep up in preparation for our first spring/summer on the farm, I would have.  Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to find my flux capacitor….

We’ll share more soon.  Lots of chicken and turkey drama in part 2.  Until then, happy homesteading!

Choosing a heritage breed cow for your homestead

It’s been a few days of having our beginning herd home here on Blueberry Acres and we’re learning that much like every other animal, cows have their own unique identity and personality.  Maureen (the little one) is highly curious about our barn cats.  She is quite nosey and it’s obvious that she wants to explore the cats with smell and probably taste since she licked the wooden fence post that one of our barn cats, Peter had sat on just seconds prior.  Pia (the pregnant one) is a little more cautious.  Apparently we are her third farm and she is a little more apprehensive about us and the situation in general.  She doesn’t seem to display the same amount of “ooooh a cat!” as Maureen, and I suppose that is ok.

 

But, beyond these specific personality traits, our decision to build a herd of Belted Galloways was a strategic one.  We knew we wanted to concentrate on a heritage or less common breed.  Here are some of the things that we discovered specific to this particular heritage breed:

Temperment:   Generally speaking, these cattle are more docile.  They are not overly aggressive and as a result, we believe that they will be very well suited to our small hobby farm.

Size:  Galloways are typically smaller than your average Angus cow.  Maureen was born in 2011 and the top of her head doesn’t even come to my shoulder (and let’s not lie-my shoulder isn’t that far off the ground) which makes her a little easier to handle.  In addition to just having less body mass, this also makes them easier and cheaper to transport.

Feed:  Galloways are excellent at processing food/grass where some breeds will desire more specific grasslands, Galloways are genetically predisposed to make the most of the grassland that they have due to their heritage.  In addition, Galloways have been known to consume about 75% of what a typical Angus would take in but still produce the same amount of meat.  However, that is not to mean that they produce lower quality beef.  Quite the opposite, as Galloways are known for…

Beef:  High quality, lower fat meat is the by-product of both their genetic makeup as much as the fact that most Galloway producers (like us) are either grass-fed and/or grass-fed AND finished.  We’ll be in that later category-grass all the way.

Adaptable to varied conditions:  Given that this breed started in Scotland, I don’t think I would recommend them for a farm in Hawaii, but in the diverse Missouri climate, they are well-suited as they will produce a double coat in the winter to protect them from harsh winds and weather.

So, for us, this breed just became the best of the best in terms of value, disposition, and meat quality.  As our herd grows, we will eventually begin breeding ourselves as well as selling meat products.  As our herd grows, we may add an Angus or two just to see what a Beltie/Angus cross is like, but we will also make sure that we do our part to preserve the lineage of this amazing breed.  The breeder that we purchased our girls from also sold us some ground beef and it was FANTASTIC!  We know that building a herd is going to be slow going for this uncommon breed, but we think the investment will be well worth it.  After all, isn’t homesteading all about the journey and not the destination?  Happy Homesteading!

This post also appeared on Modern Homesteaders.  We love the info there-go check them out!