Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘paddocks

Trouble Starting

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Despite the ongoing dry state of our soil, we’ve got areas of grass that well deserved to be mowed over the weekend, but I never got the chance. The ol’ Craftsman lawn tractor wouldn’t start. Actually, it tried to start several times until it stopped rotating the flywheel and just made a whiny sound. That set off days of trial and error troubleshooting. I thought it was the solenoid, but I was wrong. Then I wondered if it had something to do with the battery. That didn’t appear to be the case.

Next, I wondered if the Kohler engine might be seized, because I couldn’t move it. Then I removed the starter and discovered the engine wasn’t seized. The starter seemed okay, so I mounted it back in place, and lo and behold, the engine spun again. Twice, in fact, before it resumed doing nothing but whining.

Now I have a replacement starter on order.

Since I couldn’t mow with the tractor, I switched to the Stihl power trimmer and headed for the labyrinth.

Once again, we are finding that the earth is slowly swallowing the stones we placed to mark the pathway. Even with the ground hard and dry, the rocks seem to settle ever-deeper, and the grass gladly works its way to cover their edges, pushing them down even more.

The horses are doing their part to keep the paddock grass beautifully mowed.

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It crossed my mind that I could use their expertise on the runaway growth of grass between the barn and the chicken coop while the mower is waiting for its starter.

In the amount of time it would require to install temporary fencing around that area, I could take care of things using the power trimmer. If the ordered part doesn’t arrive on the day advertised, I just might do that.

The starter will be here about the same time the weather is predicted to possibly bring rain. It’s frustrating because we really need the rain, but, at the same time, I really want to get the grass cut.

I may not have trouble starting, at that point, but I just might run into trouble finishing.

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Written by johnwhays

July 12, 2021 at 6:00 am

Guessing Game

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With our fields all freshly cut for hay, we have been inviting the horses out to graze in the pasture again. They have shown much less interest than I expected to see. I think they know how dry it all is and find it no better than what is available closer to the water and their preferred territory inside the paddocks.

Last night, Cyndie and I walked out into the back pasture to see if they would join us. Mia eventually made her way into the round pen.

Swings and Mix followed along after a bit, Swings stepping inside and Mix choosing to circle around outside.

Light chose to stay back under the overhang until much later. After we had exited the pasture and moved our focus to the chickens, Light showed up to graze just inside the pasture, parallel to the coop.

Can you tell the difference between the older Buffalo Gals and the younger Rockettes?

It’s difficult to tell unless we focus on the breed. Of course, with the mixed results of the chicks we hatched that Rocky the New Hampshire Red fertilized, the breeds are not entirely obvious. It’s still not obvious which of the Rockettes are roosters in hiding.

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Those two faces are looking much more rooster-like than the rest of the young ones, but they aren’t visibly bigger yet and their legs don’t stand out as distinctly thicker/longer.

With 25 birds constantly in motion, it’s hard to keep track of which one is which. I’m pretty sure I’ve counted the same one twice every time I’ve tried since we merged the two groups. Until the size becomes obvious or they grow rooster tails, it’s pretty much a guessing game about the ultimate outcome of our hatched chicks.

One thing is for sure, though. None of them look like chicks anymore.

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Written by johnwhays

July 8, 2021 at 6:00 am

Steaming Pile

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The new manure pile is already cooking! Given the near-freezing temperatures we have been enduring of late, the heat from the pile of composting manure was clearly visible in the form of steam wafting up out of it.

It’s not completely obvious in the image above, but there’s a little fogginess around the upper edges. The composting process is underway. We’ll have more fertile soil for Cyndie’s vegetable garden in about six weeks if I studiously work this pile. Not that we have a critical need.

Based on previous experience, I tend to miss a few key time intervals when it comes to composting, so I don’t think we ever achieved getting useable compost in the shortest possible time. Since we don’t have our compost area covered, I can’t protect the piles from getting too wet when weather is rainy. I am also prone to missing a day or two of checking the piles, so they can become too compacted or over-dry before I finally notice.

As a result, my composting has usually been more of a stuttering on-and-off process that ultimately falls short of locking in maximum nutrients and thoroughly killing weed seeds and fly larva. That is the promise when paying precise attention to detail, or so I’ve read.

The horses are doing a fabulous job of grazing the back pasture to make sure we will have no shortage of manure. They continue to look increasingly comfortable with their new surroundings. Cyndie and I reinstalled one gate yesterday afternoon that allows us to break the paddocks into two during the short period when we set out pans of feed. This served to prevent the horses from chasing each other off their pans.

With two horses on each side, they settled down and ate with no fuss.

On my way down to the barn from the house, I stopped off to check the unauthorized nest Cyndie found. No eggs for one day. We’ll keep an eye on it and see how long that lasts.

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Written by johnwhays

April 22, 2021 at 6:00 am

Fifth Nest

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Cyndie finally found it. The location where our hens have been laying eggs beyond our coop. Eighteen eggs, to be exact.

We’d had our suspicions about the general direction for some time, but were mistakenly searching between the trees around the area when all the while they have been sneaking behind some rolled up fencing stored right beside the outside of the shop.

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Based on the variety in colors of eggs, we suspect between three and four hens have been taking turns laying there. They aren’t all laying there every time, as we have usually found six eggs per day in the coop nest boxes from the eight hens.

Yesterday, Cyndie spotted the Domestique running from the shop area which clued her in about refining her search location.

The chickens have been taking advantage of the horses being out in the back pasture, returning to their old stomping grounds under the barn overhang to scrounge for goodies. Since the horses tend to make swift sprints back into the paddocks at random intervals, the chickens occasionally find themselves alarmed.

Cyndie captured this image of Rocky standing tall over them as they closed ranks during one such incident yesterday.

When the horses aren’t racing back into the paddocks, they were thoroughly enjoying the comfort and open space available in the back pasture.

It was another glorious day in paradise.

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Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2021 at 6:00 am

Settling In

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Despite innumerable projects that deserve our attention this time of year, we preserved much of the day yesterday for just being with the horses. We continue to gain insight into the significant difference between these horses who have been rescued from a variety of situations and histories, and the four pampered Arabians who lived with us previously.

As we were sitting in chairs beside a gate to the large paddock mid-morning, the four mares were finding themselves inclined toward taking a nap. A real lying down nap. All four at the same time.

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A short while later, since naps on the ground tend to only last about 5-minutes, they remained spread out and took to calmly grazing where they stood.

Slowly, but surely, Light made her way toward my feet at the gate, closing the distance by halves, then inch by inch as she munched. I purposely left my boot where it was, protruding beneath the gate in the direct path of grass she was working.

 

When she got to my boot, she pressed it gently, as if to make a connection with me. Then she just kept on munching grass just beyond it.

There has been very little drama between the mares, but as they crowd around the overhang when we are about to set out feed, we’ve seen Mix get a little testy with those around her. We’ve also noticed Swings having some bouts of anxiety that cause her to pace back and forth in one specific spot near the first gate they entered.

We watched as Light appeared to intervene one time to help interrupt the routine, getting Swings to break the pacing and walk calmly away with her. 

Cyndie reported this morning there is already a worn path along that fence that is beginning to get muddy.

We have been a little concerned about how much newly greening grass was available to them in the paddocks, but their digestive systems appear to be handling it thus far. Yesterday we dumped the inaugural wheelbarrow load of manure into the compost area. Cyndie and I embarrassingly held a small celebratory moment over the occasion.

Rocky showed up soon after to start scratching into it, knocking down the nice shape I had created.

Elysa and Ande stopped by to greet the horses and then I successfully installed the pump in our landscape pond to restart the soothing sounds of the falling water.

With that chore completed, I feel justified to now spend even more time helping our horses get comfortable with us and their new surroundings. The grass in the paddocks is already grazed to such an extent we are considering opening the gate to the back pasture for them this afternoon.

They’ve already demonstrated interest several times by standing at that very gate and ogling the greenery spread out before them.

I am happy to be able to say we are all settling in nicely to our new, mutually beneficial relationships.

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Written by johnwhays

April 18, 2021 at 9:36 am

Complicated Water

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We have water in the paddocks again, but it took far more than simply opening a valve. Friday morning brought constant drizzle with few, if any, breaks. Only periods where it leaned toward actual rain that succeeded in changing the state of our clothes from merely damp to becoming downright wet.

Our guy, Mike, from the excavation company that originally installed our paddock water fixture showed up prepared to do battle, but the circumstances of the cracked valve and seized fittings forced a suspension of work to visit the hardware store in River Falls for an altered solution.

Multiple times, the buried column beneath the waterer needed to be bailed out to allow Mike to see what he was doing. The complication of our setup involves the freeze/thaw cycles that our having turned off the water for two winters fouled up.

Unlike the spigot inside the barn, where the water shutoff is down below the frost level, the line to the waterer is a different situation. There is insulation wrapped around the line and a length of heat tape along the top section of hardware to because there is water in the line all the time.

When temperatures drop, I turn on the electricity and the fixture doesn’t freeze. When we shut the valve two years ago, I flipped the circuit breaker off and forgot about it. We’ve now learned that in the ensuing winters, the water in the line froze and cracked the shutoff valve.

Turns out, the easiest solution is to just leave it on. We’ve got it running now and ready for the return of horses. If we don’t keep horses over winter (still an unknown at this point) we’ll need to make a decision about what we’ll do with the waterer next fall.

I had no idea it could be so complicated to have an automatic water source in the paddocks. Obviously, the fact we experience severe cold temperatures adds one level of complexity, but the fact our location is so wet seems to be a compounding factor.

Yesterday, Cyndie and I finished cleaning up the barn to a degree I didn’t think possible. It looks fabulous and reminds me of the impression we got when we first walked in to see it nine years ago. The four stalls still look almost new.

The final exercise I want to finish today involves pounding down a few more fence posts and tightening up all the wires before turning on the electricity to see where there might be arcing. With that complete, we will feel entirely prepared to host a visit tomorrow from a representative of This Old Horse who will confirm our facility as suitable.

More important for us, this will allow them to know where they are headed and how to position a trailer for offloading horses and smoothly introducing our new guests to their summer accommodations.

I look forward to the horses discovering where they will be able to get a cool drink of water.

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Written by johnwhays

April 11, 2021 at 10:05 am

Thirteen Eggs

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We now know that all thirteen of our hens are producing eggs. Friday we collected one egg for each hen in our brood. Our little chicks are all grown up.

 

They are thriving in their first exposure to spring and full access to free ranging our fields and forest. Crawling insects are under an all out assault.

When I was primping the paddock in preparation of our anticipated new equine tenants, the chickens showed up to join the fun; happy to help.

 

Now I’m going to go outside and clear out the last remnants of moldy hay from the hay shed and de-clutter the barn and I couldn’t be more excited about the reason so to do.

New horse companions are slated to arrive in less than a month.

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Written by johnwhays

March 28, 2021 at 9:39 am

Paddocks Reclaimed

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Mission accomplished on Sunday in my effort to reclaim the paddocks from the unchecked growth of grasses and weeds, some of which had risen to over a meter tall since the beginning of this year’s growing season.

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I got in there with the big diesel tractor pulling the brush cutter and successfully avoided destroying any fences while maneuvering in the confined spaces.

Before the cutting started in earnest, Cyndie and I made a pass through, digging up “sour dock” weeds (that’s the local name for Rumex Crispus or some variation thereof) in hope of reducing their propagation.

We used to get sour dock mixed in bales of hay we bought for our horses and they were not fond of it. Ever since, we’ve framed it as an undesirable weed, despite evidence there are some medicinal and edible features to it.

Then it was off to the mowing races.

It’s always a little unnerving to be mowing blindly over such thick and tall growth, not knowing if I might run over a misplaced tool or any variety of wild critters that may have made themselves a home there. As it was, while walking through the higher-than-my-waist jungle of growth I figured I was wandering in a snake pit, much to my discomfort.

Luckily, no snakes were encountered over the entire duration of this project. A lot of toads and a couple of field mice were about the extent of sightings.

At one point in my hunt for stalks of sour dock hiding among the tall grasses, I came upon a bird’s nest with a lone egg in it. With a total absence of any upset flyers winging their way overhead, I concluded this poor egg had been abandoned.

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Now there is a blanket of cuttings covering the ground in the paddocks. That’s enough for hundreds of nests.

I noticed the three hens wandering around in there right after I finished mowing, picking at the wealth of opportunity, but I don’t think they will make a dent in cleaning up all the deadfall.

We’ll simply leave it to dry up and break down where it lays.

Maybe that covering will slow new growth so I won’t have to mow it more than one more time by the end of the summer. I don’t enjoy operating the diesel tractor so close to fences, especially inside the corners.

The paddocks almost look like we have horses again!

That’s so much better an impression than the neglect all that wild growth has been emanating.

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Written by johnwhays

July 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

Alternative Location

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I mowed the paddocks on Sunday. Knowing the kids were coming mid-morning, I headed out to the shop garage to move equipment around for access to the brush mower and watch for their arrival. I didn’t see Elysa’s car drive past, but looked up and noticed it parked by the house all of a sudden. A second later, I looked up to find Julian’s Jeep parked there, too. How they both got past me without my seeing them drive by is a complete mystery.

So much for that plan.

After chasing Julian around on his Onewheel, I left him to do more practice laps and hopped on the tractor. Elysa opened gates for me and stood on the lookout for wandering chickens.

I didn’t realize that Cyndie had reported a headcount of only seven hens located and I sent Elysa off to can pickles after I’d made a few passes around the perimeter. It seemed to me that I would be able to spot chickens if they showed up.

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When I got closer to the middle of the paddock, the grass was so tall and thick that it was impossible to see what I was mowing over. I looked up after navigating a tight circle around one of the high spots and I caught sight of one Golden Laced Wyandotte slowly and calmly walking away from the grass toward the paddock fence.

Had she been hiding in the tall grass, just as I feared possible? I wasn’t entirely sure, but the thought was unsettling.

The paddocks looked pretty good when I was finished. After six years of successful close maneuvering, I finally broke my first fence board when I miscalculated while backing up to turn around. Curses!

Cyndie took Delilah for a walk through the newly mowed grass and the dog sniffed out where the Wyandotte had been.

It looked like my tractor tire rolled over about ten eggs in the hen’s alternative to our nest boxes.

We are hoping the loss of cover will help convince the vagabond bird to return her laying habit to the coop.

Is it possible to teach old hens new tricks?

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Written by johnwhays

August 27, 2019 at 6:00 am

Still Missing

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Not a day goes by that we aren’t still missing our horses. Yesterday, I spent a little time tending to residual piles of manure. The urgency to deal with it every single day is gone since there is no longer a need to make space for more. I also find myself avoiding dealing with it because it so obviously reminds me of the absence of our equine partners.

There was quite a large accumulation inside the paddock left over from winter that I was planning to convert into a high spot over a drain tile that I didn’t want the horses to collapse from walking over it when the ground was soft. The chickens are doing their darndest to spread it flat, so I have given up on maintaining a pile that will “cook” to compost and am just spreading it out to dry.

There were some huge grub worms in there that the chickens gladly feasted on while I was raking it out. They only last so long out in the bright sunshine before suddenly sprinting off to the wooded shade for a break. After they cool off a bit, they come out for another round of ugly looking grubs, then run off again.

Eventually, I took the hint and moved to reshape some of the leftover composting manure under the shade for them. They appreciated the wealth of smaller worms and centipedes to be found in the piles I moved there.

Standing out in the vacant paddocks now is disconcerting. The encroachment of weeds and tall grass gives an impression of neglect that seems so very out of place. I suppose I will mow it down eventually.

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We are still really, really missing our horses.

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Written by johnwhays

July 13, 2019 at 9:09 am