Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This is What I Herd

Yesterday my herd of cows became the biggest it has ever been. We have been having calves all along this spring and now we are up to nine. Yesterday morning my neighbor Dick came over and hooked on to my cattle trailer (my truck can barely pull itself up a hill) and we went about 25 miles to the east to pick up 9 Angus feeder steers I had bought. That brings us up to 38 head including calves. We probably still have about 4 or 5 calves to go.

The guy I bought them from had quite a few head of cattle, about 120 I think, but he didn't have any kind of loading chute or anything. I guess what he normally does is lead them with a rope while someone behind them pokes and prods them until they hop into the trailer. We did this with the first two until I decided that I wasn't going into a cattle trailer with a bunch of nervous, agitated 800 lb steers to take the neck chains off of them. We ended up setting up some gates to try and run them into the trailer but it was a pretty poor set up and that didn't go real well either. Finally we had them loaded and took them to the sale barn in Nicholson to weigh them.
Because sale barns are designed to handle hundreds of cattle at a time they are generally layed out pretty well with alleys, gates, and chutes. It can be little difficult to find your way around that maze, but once you have figured out which gates to open the cows pretty well take themselves where you want them to go. We got them in and weighed and back onto the trailer without any effort at all.

We have always worked with a cobbled together corral system which works a lot better than the system the guy who sold me the cows has, but it has a lot of room for improvement to get to the efficiency of the sale barn. The thing is finding the ballancing point to have a corral that makes handling cattle fairly easy yet has a price tag appropriate for the small number of cattle that we have.

The cattle are all out on pasture now but the grass is just starting to green up and really hasn't grown much so I am hauling them out quite a bit of hay. I ended up putting them out on pasture because the cow shed isn't big enough to handle that many cows. We are still trying to find out what the carrying capacity is for the land that we use as far as cows it can support is concerned. Unfortunately the carrying capacity is going to vary depending on the kind of growing season that we have. In a drought year we could be in trouble with the number that we have now. In a cool wet year where the grass just keeps growing we can probably handle even more cattle. But you never know what you have til you have it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Banjo in a Guitar Case

Early last week it had been brought to my attention that there were 4 Australian Shepherd puppies up at the SPCA in Montrose. I resisted the temptation to go up and see them for 4 days, but then on Thursday I finally came up with a half baked reason to go to Montrose on other business, and while I was there I thought I might just take a gander at these pups. When I got to the SPCA there were still two left, both males, and one of them told me I should take him home (he speaks fluent Pupese). Unfortunately the SPCA only takes cash for adoptions and I didn't have any. Luckily I had invited our friend Kristin to go along as a voice of reason and she happened to have a debit card, so we were in business.

We named him Banjo and so far he seems like a great dog. He is gentle and tolerant with the kids, pretty close to house
broken, and so far has been sticking close by when I am down at the barn doing chores with him. He's also been working pretty hard on his chicken herding skills.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

What a Sap

Bill and Isaac in the Sugar Bush

The Evaporator

The Finished Product

Our friends Bill and Kristin and their son Isaac have a great old farm a few miles north of us. Bill decided he wanted to make some maple syrup with the big stainless steel evaporator pan he got somewhere. He ended up building a 9x12 sugar shack on the concrete pad of an old garage. I talked him into using an old horizontal fuel oil tank that I wanted to get rid of, for the arch. The arch is the structure that holds the fire and the evaporator pan sits on top of. We ended up cutting part of the top off of the tank that the pan could sit over. Then we cut out a door and welded it back on with some hinges. For the smoke stack we cut a 6 inch round hole in the back end of the tow and welded a piece of silo filling pipe onto it.
It was pretty impressive how well the thing worked. It didn't take nearly as much wood as Bill figured it would to boil down the sap. He put out about 15 or 16 taps and they ended up with more than 3 gallons of syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. The difference in the colors of syrup has to do with the time of season. Earlier in the season makes lighter and later it gets darker.

So now Bill is thinking that maybe full time sugar maker might be a good career change for him. He'd have a real busy month or so every spring, but then he'd have the rest of the year off for hunting. I think it's a good idea. The salary and benefits package don't look that great, but you can't have everything. It would also dovetail nicely with Kristin's future full-time goat farmer career. Isaac is pretty smart and shouldn't have any trouble supporting them in their old age.

Bill Skims the Foam Off While Pete Contemplates The Finer Points of Boiling Sap