You can’t really completely live self-sufficiently and in an eco-friendly manner unless you have an animal to help you in the bush with your wood to heat the home, to help you plough the garden and even the driveway in winter, and an animal to offer you milk for all your dairy products. And of course chickens, for eggs and meat! But the latter will have to wait a while because the former have already taken up a LOT of time and energy! Mostly the energy of Richard, his brother, and his niece’s fiance. That is to say, the ‘menfolk’. ( But I’ve been leaving off baking bread and basement gardening and spending most days wielding a hammer lately as well….)
Back in February we bought the Clydesdale/Belgian cross on recommendation alone (that is that he was only 5 and that he was BOMBPROOF quiet, which Richard needs as he’s not used to horses, and after 3 back surgeries and some busted-up knees, I ALSO now NEED!) He came from more than 3 hours away, and as I knew we couldn’t justify a trip that far just to have a look at him, I asked for a video clip of him hauling logs, and was more than satisfied that he was excellent at this chore.
The hunt for a dairy goat has been going on since last October, but they are even more rare in this province than a good draft horse, so that has been a problem indeed. It’s also one of the reasons I’d scheduled Richard and me for a 3 or 4 hour lesson at the goat farm in Maine; I wanted us to feel confident with all the extra skills and knowledge needed to have a few dairy animals. (I owned a goat in my 20s, but just having one around and being responsible for breeding, raising and selling its kids, and sanitarily milking it are very different circumstances indeed!) We were scheduled to attend the farm in Maine on Sunday, but sadly our truck decided to have over-heating and thermostat problems and we had to cancel. THAT is what today’s blog was supposed to be on, so I’ve had to do some hustling to get ready for this special feature – the preparation for and arrival of our livestock.
The potato quonset that we call part Richard’s workshop/garage, and part ‘barn’ is a big ole piece of tin with a massive cement floor and an echo in it that could stave off the advent of Satan. While I do enjoy going out at night sometimes and bellowing out some Bee Gees tunes to hear the reverb., it’s not a great environment for spooky animals, and besides, Richard in NO WAY wanted the animals being walked past his precious ’73 Chevy Nova. So we needed a run-in shelter with attached paddock (horses are much happier if they can come in and go outside as they please in all weathers), as well as a separate goat stall, although we were really hoping that whatever goat we had would be mostly in WITH the horse as they are compatible critters to each other. In fact, many race horse owners will have a goat actually living in the stall with a hot-tempered equine to calm them.
I designed the lay-out of the ‘stall’/run-in, and since Smitty refused to use the kennel/dog-house I built for him last fall (he tore it apart in under 2 hours on 2 different occasions. It’s what ya call radical co-dependency!) I decided the goat could have the ‘kennel run’ and massive insulated dog-house. To start with, then, Richard and I took bolts out of the tin on two sides of the furthest end of the barn, one for a large 8.5 foot tall door for the Clyde cross, and one man-door for us to run in and out without worrying about going through the paddock area and gates, etc. After he and I took out all the bolts, he started cutting the metal, which really impressed me as I thought that was too scary a job for an accident-prone fella like him:
Next, we had our neighbours’ relatives come in with an excavator and cut the adjoining cement from the foundation, as well as make a slope out into what would be the paddock or corral for both horse and goat. This took a lot less time than I would have thought! Only a few hours and it was finished!
So, ta-da! Great to have all this light in the other end now!
The next step, of course, was to buy the rough lumber, which we got at two different mills in two local towns. Our favourite mill owner lets us have HUGE discounts on 4 by 4s and even the wood-chips/sawdust mix I’m using for footing over the cement. A whole trailer-load for 15.00! (I’m BEDDING the horse on straw, as no one likes to lie on CHUNKS of wood, and sawdust doesn’t drain well when urinated on, BUT there are no proper wood-shavings – peeled pieces – sold in this part of the province, so we’re making do with a combo.!)
Once Richard did all the mathematical figuring (about 8 times over!) we laid in a good supply and asked the family for help. Richard’s niece from Saint John is getting married here at the farm next year, so Carriann came up to work on wedding plans with me, while the 3 men, Richard, his brother Jean-Marc, and Matthieu got hard to work digging post holes. Richard already knew from experimenting that the manual post-hole digger I had him buy wasn’t going to work in this very rocky soil, so he’d even arranged to rent an auger for the weekend. Those hubbies sure worked hard for 2 days straight getting those holes dug and the posts (which we tarred first for protection on the underground portion) set into the hilly terrain. Note: although I’m told that pressure-treated wood is no longer poisonous for livestock with a tendency to chew, I don’t trust it, and besides it’s MILES more expensive per foot! (Slideshow can be clicked through to make it faster, if you prefer).
We didn’t get the posts as deep as I’d hoped – it is suggested that in this part of N.B., the frostline is at 3.5 to 4 feet, so I wanted the posts deeper than that, but there were so many rocks in the ground and poor Matt seemed to have the dirtiest job of trying to heave them all out, so we compromised with just a little over 3 ft down. We may have to do the paddock over in a few years; we’ll just have to wait and see what the winters bring! (also note: the tar shouldn’t be exposed where animals might chew at it either, but they painted the posts thinking they’d be in deeper. However, the goat fence I knew we’d have to install would protect greedy mouths and bored little brains from taking a chomp on this black stuff.)
TIP – When building a fence of this type, so many non-farmer folk think it looks ‘prettier’ to have the boards on the OUTSIDE; this is a common mistake. Livestock ALWAYS lean on the fence (ie: the grass is always greener) and can either split the boards more easily, OR pop the nails out if the boards are on the outside. If you MUST do this for aesthetics, make sure you have an electric fence system strung ’round on the inside, to keep the livestock off your rails or panels.
After the rellies left that weekend, Richard and I spent two full days cutting and nailing up the boards, although we did frequently ‘cheat’ and use the massive nail gun, which shoots 4 inch nails deep into the posts! I then continued -in rain, sleet, wind and, when sun was out so were the blackflies!,- to put the goat fence up by myself, whilst Richard worked on building the wall of the stall/run-in (attached in part to what was formerly Smitty’s kennel, built by myself out of old doors from the inside of the house, and a huge television stand Richard had made for us years ago – which will now also be part of the chicken coop!) REMEMBER – REUSE, RECYCLE AND REDUCE! (As always, you can click on any of the photos to enlarge for details).
Above, top two pics are of me nailing up not only the goat fence (so they can’t climb out or under) but also putting old 1970s mouldings from the house over the top edge of the wire so no one gets hurt on it. Not sure how the mouldings will hold up over the course of a winter, but it’s one quick, eco-friendly and inexpensive way of the protecting the animals’ skins without going to town for yet more supplies! Another hope for the goat fence – it will help prevent predators from easily getting access into the barn which is where the chicken coop will eventually be. Bottom 3 picks are of my drop-rail gate, with skinnier tree trunks below to keep the goat out, and heavier ones above in case the horse leans over. This horse-shoe gate arrangement has always held me in good stead for a quick and easy solution, and the trees we cut were already being crowded out by larger trees, so needed to be thinned anyway…
BELOW, Richard not only worked on the wall and gate for the run-in shelter, but had to build a massive door frame for the loose and jagged tin, and fill in holes left by the cement foundation being removed:
We planned the wall 4 boards solid to a) help keep out predators again from the eventual chicken coop which will also be attached to this wall and b) so that the goat won’t jump up and get a leg caught, as goats are prone to do! Also, in the far corner of the stall, note the two beams on the floor that I’ve put to make a separate ‘bed’ -Richard calls it ‘the mattress area’. So while there are rough chips in most of the interior for just standing up and off the cement, the straw is on top of this base foundation in case either animal wants to lie down. Also, it may be hard to see in this photo (and I’ve since put on ripped bits of bright-coloured plastic bags that have triply served their purpose in the house for covering foods, etc.,) but each day the horse will be pastured in an electric fence enclosure for grazing, and the goat will be tethered nearby.
Thus, as you can see from the below two photos, both the outside and inside enclosures are now complete, and we are so happy and exhausted from making them so!
And now, for the fun part! Introducing Chevy the horse (Richard decided he was about the same size as his beloved Nova, although I pointed out he’d be a lot more EFFICIENT AND USEFUL ! In my head, I think of “Chevy” as either short for “cheval” OR as a representation of Chevy Chase, who was the star of Funny Farm, mentioned in the blog posting from our move here last May…) and, along with him, his little friend, the female yearling “Cammie” (Richard also chose this name – really, for Camero – show emoticon of my rolling my eyes here – but Cammie does seem to suit her…) We hope she may someday become our first dairy goat, but for now, she’s just along as a ‘friend’ for Chevy, and so that we can give her some special attention as she’s rail thin and as co-dependent on us as Smitty still is!
Here’s their arrival last night, in the god-awful, far-too-low-for-a-draft-horse cow trailer, on which they stood loaded for nearly 7 hours while cattle were taken on and off and they were driven all over the western part of the province before finally alighting here. I took a shot of my first view of Chevy and my first view of Cammie, also:
They were VERY glad to get into their run-in and paddock, and on terra firma! The blue collar is for Blue Belldon Farm, of course!
Cammie enjoys the warm and dark feeling of protection from her doghouse (which Smitty hated!) It’s thickly insulated and full of shag carpet and pillows, etc., so she’ll love it in the winter as well). And very much LIKE Smitty, she thinks it’s fun to stand up and look over at us!
Richard had a few tender moments with Cammie, who is very sweet, and though I’ve told him we’re not making hand-feeding a rule (it leads to a nippy horse, and no one needs that!) I let him try feeding Chevy an apple. FLAT PALM!!!!!
Both animals are underweight and in desperate need of some good grooming, but time on grass and elbow grease will solve those matters, and they are both very kind and quiet, as advertised by word of mouth through the ‘grapevine’. I don’t recommend buying animals – esp. a horse! – sight unseen, but again, I’m experienced in what to look for, and who/what questions asked, and we purchased from one of the most reliable draft people in the province, apparently. A certain amount of luck is always involved anyway, no matter how many times you may go try a horse, get him vetted, etc.! So in this case, we just clung on to faith and gave it a shot. NOT recommended for first-time homesteaders, though!
So, thanks to the husband for all the work and effort, thanks to the OTHER hubbies for their time that post-hole-digging weekend, and please enjoy this wonderful quote about “Animal Husbandry” by Tom Robbins:
“Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.”
Stay tuned for more from the Chevy/Cammie side of life at Blue Belldon Farm!
NEXT WEEK : Before and afters of the upstairs hall-way floor (Mom’s suite). From darkly stained plywood to ‘weathered and worn old pine boards!’………. HOW?