Monday, January 30, 2006

The Great Piano Fire of '04

I bought this piano at an auction for ten bucks. Hauled it home, moved it into the house and stubbed my toes on it for two years before I finally admitted that it was going to cost more to tune and repair it than it would be worth. Watching it burn was worth the ten bucks though.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oh, Turkey Tunnel, How Did You Sink So Low?

We had a couple of inches of wet snow this week and the Turkey Tunnel didn't handle it too well. I built the tunnel last summer to house the 80 turkeys we raised out on pasture last year. They spent nights in there and ranged out into their portable poultry net during the day. It's built out of 3/8ths rebar, 2x4's chicken wire, 1x3 wooden strips and a tarp. I absolutely loved the thing and considered building simular ones for the pastured broilers instead of the low Salatin type pens we use currently. About 2 weeks before Thanksgiving we had a bad storm with 60mph straight line winds, thunder and lightning. I knew it was going to be bad but it was after dark so I had to wait until after the storm to find out how bad. Apparently the wind flipped the tunnel up like a trashcan lid and threw it 75 feet. The remarkable think was that none of the turkeys got hurt. They were all still sitting where the tunnel had been. Getting tossed like that did compromise the structural integrity of the tunnel though. We were able to limp it through the rest of the season. But obviously a little wet snow was more than it could handle in its fragile state. I am now trying to design a better tunnel. I think we will be raising a lot more turkeys this year so we would either need more tunnels like this one or a bigger one that could house all of them in one structure. This one was nice because I could move it everyday by hand. Any bigger and I would need to use a tractor or the truck. But the fact that these are light enough to blow away may tip the balance toward a bigger, heavier shelter.

Salatin type broiler pen

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Great Grampa's Truck

A second cousin of mine had this photo of my paternal grandmothers fathers truck. I never met the man and the only thing I know about the truck is that he would park it on a hot manure pile in the winter so that it would start easier. I believe that my great grandfather Starkey is the one driving the truck. The Starkey's and the Comly's (paternal grandfathers family) had farms next to each other in Bustleton, which is now considered Northeast Philadelphia. If the farms were still there you'd be able to take a bus out to the pasture to bring the cows in.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Favorite Outbuilding

This is my favorite outbuilding on the farm. I built it about two years ago back when I was still raising dairy replacement heifers. Before that we started them in the old bank barn behind this one, but it is damp, dark and cold in there, and we had a lot of problems with sick calves. The idea with the greenhouse barn was to improve lighting and ventilation. The ridge actually has a 12" vent that runs the 40 foot lenghth of the barn. The vent is covered with a raised roof, which i got the idea for from the icehouse on the farm museum I used to work at. The roof is white greenhouse plastic held onto 2x6 rafters with furing strips. If I remember correctly this plastic is supposed to let in 60% of the sunlight. I was afraid it would get too hot with the clear plastic. It's guaranteed for four years, but I have had some on a plant greenhouse for 6 years now and it's still in great shape. The pitch of the roof is steep enough that the snow slides right off. The only thing I don't like about this roof is that it really flaps when the wind is blowing, but we have not actually had any damage. It's just the idea that it sounds like a kite on a windy day that makes me hope it doesn't act like one. The sides are 6 feet high and built from 1x6 hemlock boards nailed onto the locust posts. I got the fill that it is built on from PennDOT when they were ditching the road we live on. I think the construction costs were about $1000 not including the water line. A lot of that cost was the hardware for the sliding doors in the gable ends (small one on the west side and a 12'x12' on the east end.

Last year we raised some dairy steers in there, as you can see in the picture. This year its got pigs in one half and laying hens in the other. We like to use a deep bedding pack under our livestock and just keep adding any form of dry carbon we can get our hands on, like newspaper, woodchips, or junk hay, to keep the critters clean and dry, and to absorb the manure. After this bedding pack composts, usually with the help of the pigs turning it, then we clean it out with the front end loader trractor and spread the compost on our pastures and hay fields. I might try growing some early tomatoes in the complost inside this barn this spring after the livestock go out on pasture.

Friday, January 20, 2006


The farm sits on top of Mitchell Hill which has an elevation of 1480 feet. We can see about quite a distance to the East, South, and West. Our view to the North is only about a quarter of a mile. The wind can be pretty impressive sometimes, flipping wagons and turkey shelters. We have learned to store gustable items strategically. The plus side is that the hay dries fast and we don't need an air conditioner in the summer. Also we have some spectacular sunsets. Surpisingly this old farmhouse (the oldest portion is from 1840) is fairly tight, and we rarely use more than 700 gallons of fuel oil per year. We do also burn an old cookstove in the kitchen which does a lot of the heating during waking hours. Mitchell Hill runs a mile to the west and 3/4 of a mile to the east. Springville, which is at the bottom of the hill to the east lives in the shadow of Mitchell Hill, especially in the winter when the sun sets there at 3pm.

The weather has been so warm this January that I have the cows back out on pasture. We have a couple of fields that we want to try frost seeding clover on this spring, so we have to graze them pretty short. Frost seeding is the practice of broadcasting seeds onto the ground in the morning after the ground has frozen into a honeycomb structure over night. Some of the seed lands in these openings and is pulled under the soil surface after the ground thaws. This should enable us to improve our pasture sward without having to plow.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hundreds of Fence Posts, 1 Injured Horse, and 7 Steers Gone
I Spent the week between Christmas and New Year cutting and hauling locust trees out of a neighbors woods with my friend and sometimes hired man Seamus (he's the one driving the team in the photo). The weather was about as bad as it could be for this type of work, 30's and raining. The worst part was that we had to drag the trees down to the road across a very muddy cornfield. We didn't tear the field up much but the logs ended up very muddy, which dulls a chainsaw in a hurry. Still things went pretty well and there is a lot more posts in that woods than I thought.
On Friday afternoon though the luck started to turn ugly. The first incident involved trying to pull a couple of trees out of the woods with a long cable. We got them moving until one of the butt ends stopped dead on a stump. The logs stopped, the forecart I was riding on stopped, me and the horses kept moving. The horses were fine although they did tear the neck yoke and evener off of the tongue. I ended up with some pretty impressive bruises on my upper legs from hitting the hand rail on the forecart. We got everything repaired and finished hauling out the rest of the logs we had cut.
I unhooked the horses from the cart and tied them to it for a lack of a better thing to tie them to, and began cutting the logs into fence posts. Everything went fine for about 20 minutes, then I heard the commotion. The younger horse, Tiny, had started fooling around and got his front feet up over his fathers' (Don) back and gotten a foot caught in the harness. The cart went over on its side then Tiny went down on top of it. The infamous handrail punched a hole big enough to put a baseball into into his belly. Luckily it didn't rupture the membrane between the guts and the outside world. I was able to walk the horses the mile home and tried to get a vet out to stitch him up. Our regular vet, who does do horses was away for the week. One of the other vets in that practice was actually in my town when they got him on the radio, but he refused to come. After a couple of failed attempts with other vets my neighbors who are dairy farmers came over and sewed him up. It is getting harder all the time to get a large animal vet out in our area. Tiny is healing up well.
The weather was too bad to take my steers to the Middleburg sale a few weeks back, so I ended up taking them to the sale in Athens, Pa on New Years Day. Seven fewer steers should make the hay last until the 22 head left are out on pasture in the spring.