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.

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!

And now for something a little different….the story of the Buddy Poppies

Berry Flags

Blueberry and I saw our first Ladies Aux. member of the VFW this Friday of Memorial Day weekend selling Buddy Poppies.  Our little darling was born with a heart for service, so of course the second she found out they were accepting donations, she was laser focused on making a donation.  We don’t often see people collecting for charity in our little piece of the world, but I was happy to see them as I think this charity is so worth supporting.  A couple of things about Buddy Poppies that you may not know….

Did you know that Buddy Poppies are assembled by disabled Vets, typically in VA hospitals?

Did you know that often times, these Vets are compensated for their work helping them earn at least a little cash?

Did you know that these programs also support widow and orphan programs across the US?

While some VFW units also sell these for Veterans Day, the inspiration to wear and sell Poppies for Memorial Day is often credited to Moina Michael in the early 1900’s who was inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Field”:

In Flander’s Field

by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago,

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved and now we lie,

In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe

To you, from failing hands, we throw,

The torch, be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us, who die,

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,

In Flanders Fields.

So, if you see the men and women in vests selling Poppies, please take a moment to at least stop and thank them for their service.  Most of these folks are Veterans or the families of Veterans, but if you have an extra couple of dollars, please consider sharing it with them.  Regardless of your view on war, I think it’s our duty to show respect and kindness to those who are willing to die to protect our right to be free, because for these folks…Freedom is never free.  And if you have a Veteran in your life (and you probably do, even if you don’t know it), please give that person a handshake, a hug or a kiss.  Sheldon is our resident veteran and while he is the last person to want anything for what he just considered his duty, we are still very proud of his service as a family.  Thank you again to all of our Veterans and their families.  We owe you everything!

Voodoo Doughnuts

This is normally off our normal topics, but Voodoo doughnuts is my favorite doughnut joint ever. I was introduced to it years and years ago on a late night when I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a shiv or a donut…but ever since, I have waxed poetic for that voodoo loveliness. Thanks for sharing Carhartt!

Crafted in Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

Voodoo Doughnuts and Carhartt

The magic is in the hole! That’s what they say at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland. Located right across from the “keep Portland weird” sign, Voodoo has been serving up crazy and delicious doughnuts for years. This is Holly. Dream up the wildest breakfast treat in your mind, and she can make it for you. You want bacon on your doughnut? Done! How about m&ms or Cocoa Puffs? Got that too. When you step into the shop, you feel like Alice in Wonderland with the crooked chandeliers and giant doughnuts hanging on the walls. And get this, they’re open 24 hours a day, so stop by anytime.

shop Holly’s look: Cheyenne Shirt, El Paso Pant, High Vis Suspenders, and Carhartt Hat

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All Women are prissy, backstabbing cows: A rant on farmgirl tough

Ha!  Made you look.  Don’t you hate those types of statements that make it seem as if we can all be shoved into one specific box?  Some of my very favorite stereotypes and flawed logic statements (courtesy of Buzzle) are:

I’m Christian, so I must hate homosexuals.
I’m German, so I must be a Nazi.
I’m an atheist, so I must hate the world.
I’m Mexican, so I must have hopped the border.
I’m rich, so I must be a conceited snob.
I’m a guy, so I must only want to get into your pants.
I’m young, so I must be naive.
I’m from the Middle East, so I must be a terrorist.
All Italians are in the mob.
All Irishmen do is drink and beat their wives.
All Farmgirls are tough.
Whoa…wait a minute.  What about that last one?  All Farmgirls are tough.  Why is that on the list?  Well, let’s talk about it and my difficulty with the word tough.
courtesy of wikipantings.org

Rosie-totally farmgirl tough
courtesy of wikipantings.org

A few weeks ago, our houseguest Mr. C., Sheldon and I were all sitting around the kitchen table playing cards.  Suddenly out of the blue, Mr. C. asks me if I have a tattoo.  I reply that I don’t (I’m sure with a whatyoutalkinboutWillis kind of face) and go on with the conversation.  But, something about that exchange sticks with me.  Finally, a few days later, this was the convo between Sheldon and me in bed (hot steamy scene NOT about to ensue):

 

Me: Hey-why did Mr. C. ask me about a tattoo?  That seemed really out of the blue.  Where did that come from?
Sheldon: Well, sometimes you come across as tough.
Me: Tough?  What the FDashDashDash does that mean?
Sheldon:  You know.  Tough.  I don’t know.  Tough.
Me: You say that like it’s an insult.  Like I must have a tattoo because I’m rough, tough and barely a woman.  Where is this logic going anyway?
To which I think Sheldon responded by snoring.  End of convo.  To be fair, it wasn’t his argument.
But, I cannot tell a lie.  This whole interaction first with Mr. C. and then with Sheldon just grated on me.  I’m not a dip swillin, curse word flinging (well not every day), hard chargin broad.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with tattoos but I have no interest in them.  I have a handbag collection that I refer to as “my precious babies.”  I can’t stand it when my eyebrows are ungroomed.  I love pink and would wear it daily if I didn’t look like an idiot trying to cram into my 4 year old’s clothes.  I love manis, pedis and kleenex commercials.  I often drive the tractor singing the theme from Green Acres in my head all the while imagining myself as Eva’s character.  Why the flock is someone calling me tough????!!!!
courtesy imdb

courtesy imdb

Fast forward many weeks and I’m still masticating on this idea.  Let’s face it-if you want to homestead on a quarter acres or a thousand acres, you must have a degree of mental and physical fortitude.  Why just this morning I killed a spider in my kitchen without even squealing.  If that doesn’t show development along those lines, I don’t know what does.  However, the word tough seems to have a connotation in this exchange that I simply cannot wrap my mind around-like it’s an insult.  And to be fair-it’s not just this exchange.  Go Bing the words tough farm girl and click on images.  The amount of weirdness that comes up from the web is a bit off-putting, to say the least.  Which to be fair to Mr. C. tells me that lots of folks hold a similar viewpoint when faced with someone who doesn’t exude softness on a daily (sigh, sometimes not even weekly) basis.
So, what’s a homesteading girl to do?   I cannot imagine how anyone-male or female could live this life and still maintain that 24/7 stereotypical idea of feminine beauty.  Much like baseball, there’s no crying in homesteading.  But for women, I think the standards can be incredibly unfair.  Yes, I haul 40 lb bags of dirt along side my husband.  Yes, I spend hours cleaning the chicken coops.  Yes, I drive the tractor, move the rocks and Lord help me, have participated in the demise of farm animals.  I suppose that makes me tough, but why does being tough carry the implication that I am not soft, lovely and womanly?  I do not know.  Sigh.  Why do I keep writing these blog posts that have no real solution?
For me, it all goes back to why we do this…The Blueberry.  A lovely little girl who loves tutus but has no compunction about picking up a worm and shoving it in my face.  Hopefully she will be better equipped to face a world where dichotomy in women is more embraced and we don’t all have to fit into a specific box to be pretty, womanly, smart or capable.  My hope is that one day someone will refer to her as tough and she will smile and say thank you while changing the oil in her tractor in her couture gown.  Seems totally realistic, right?  Let’s hear it for #farmgirltough!

Earth Day 2013 Activities & Thoughts

As I thought about writing this post, I chuckled a little bit.  I had to actually Bing for confirmation of today being Earth Day because let’s face it..as homesteaders, EVERY day is Earth Day!

image courtesy of earthday.org

image courtesy of earthday.org

However, if people want to use Earth Day to give away free stuff, then I’m more than happy to take advantage of that!

Free Stuff:  Many thanks to MissiontoSave.com for pulling together a pretty cool list of free stuff available today.

Free Entrance:   It’s National Park Week!  National Parks across the US are offering free entrance this week.  Not sure where the closest Nat’l Park is to you?  Use the handy locator to find one.  Sure, many of us feel like our homes are already filled with wildlife-why would we want to go to a park to see more?  Well, because it’s free!  And it’s a great way for our kids to understand the importance of not just their parents, but us as a nation preserving large sections of land for all to learn, enjoy and appreciate.

Free Lesson Plans:  Speaking of our kids, The Educators’ Network has made available free lesson plans/ideas for teaching our kids about Earth Day, climate change and beyond.  the Green Living Section of About.com also had some good general info from the history of Earth Day to more activities for kids.

On a more serious note, here’s my Earth Day disclaimer: I really do find the idea of a single day (or even week) celebrating the Earth as laughable.  I decided to just delete my rant here about how every day should be Earth Day.  Instead, let me just say that I am honored and blessed to be among the growing network of people, families and farmers who are trying to get back to a life that is more respectful of the Earth God has created for us.  Thank you for all you have taught me and all you will teach me.