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Permalink 03:45:51 pm, by Karen Email , 370 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

You know it's cold when... are outside and the warm moist air rising up from behind the scarf wrapped around your face condenses and freezes on your eyelashes.

So, yes, it's been cold. Readings of -12F to -20F in the mornings have not been uncommon. I know, I know, there are places in the US that get much colder so I shouldn't complain. But after a certain point, can you really differentiate that much between -20F and -40F anyway? The water in the animals' buckets is still a solid mass of ice that has to be knocked out before more water can be poured in. Your fingers still burn from the cold even with heavy gloves on. And the drain pipes under the apartment are still frozen.

Which brings me to Operation Commode, Part II. The day after we got the toilet re-installed in the main bathroom, we had to get the shower back in usable shape. The panels for the tub/shower surround were not well installed, so they were loose, allowing water to get behind them. No, I didn't want to look and see what was behind them at this point. Yes, eventually everything will be gutted and rebuilt, but for now we just needed a shower. Ken found some tub/shower surround construction adhesive at the local hardware store and glued the panels back on where they were loose, and then duct taped everything for a couple days while the adhesive cured. So for 2-3 days we were taking showers surrounded by duct tape. I felt like those folks on Extreme Makeover Home Edition who end up getting a whole new house after they send in a video of their falling down/rotting away/decrepit living conditions. Hmmm... maybe Ty Pennington would like to come see our place? :-)

After the stuff cured however, we stripped off the tape, and caulked everything. It's good enough for now.

Speaking of now, it is snowing like crazy out there. They are predicting 12-20 inches of snow for our area by tomorrow. Ken went to work, but hopefully they will send everyone home early, as it's only supposed to get worse as the day goes on. This piece of equipment is going to get another good workout.


Permalink 10:43:21 pm, by Karen Email , 558 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Operation Commode

How did you spend your Martin Luther King Jr. Day? I'd be willing to bet it wasn't anything like ours. We awoke to find that the toilet in the bathroom wouldn't flush very well and it seemed that the problem was a frozen drain pipe somewhere under the house.

I'd better explain the house. The main house, built in 1930 or so, has a foundation, and there is a bathroom in the main house, but we have not been using it since it was in dire need of gutting and a total remodel. When the septic system was put in, the plumber who connected the house to the system noted that the floor under the toilet was all rotted, and so we opted to leave the toilet disconnected, and not use that bathroom.

The other part of the house was previously an attached garage, and was converted perhaps 20 years ago into an "in-law apartment". It does not have a foundation but sits on blocks, essentially. There's just a crawl space underneath (if you are really skinny). Where the main house and the apartment are connected there is the entryway/laundry area which also has crawl space underneath. The apartment actually has a bath and a half, and we have been using the full bath as our bathroom. The drain pipes for the apartment run from under the apartment, thence under the laundry room, and through the foundation of the main house into the cellar where the kitchen and main bathroom connect in and then the whole thing runs through the foundation again and out to the septic.

The problem is under the apartment and laundry area. I'll just say it's not pretty and whoever built the place had no idea what they were doing with regard to plumbing, not to mention other things, but those are topics for another time.

So basically things froze up at a certain spot, and both bathrooms in the apartment were affected. We did manage to get the full bath working again, as it would drain veeeerrrry sloooowly, so we kept pouring buckets of hot water in the toilet and waiting for it to drain and repeating as it gradually drained quicker and quicker until it was basically back to normal. But now it's evening, and it's getting colder again, and we're back to a slow drain.

Ken has therefore been working all day on getting the bathroom in the main house functional. He started by tearing up the vinyl flooring where the toilet was. Then there was a layer of rotted plywood that had to come out. Under that was a layer of linoleum tile flooring, and under THAT was a layer of solid oak flooring, rotting of course. But he finally got down to the original board subfloor. They aren't pretty either, but at this point, he has cut a piece of 3/4 inch plywood to fit the space and that should provide enough stability, once screwed into the floor joists, so the toilet can sit without rocking. Eventually it's all going to be re-done so it doesn't have to be perfect at this point. And since that bathroom drains into pipes inside the main house's foundation, they hopefully won't freeze. They haven't yet anyway.

So perhaps by the time we go to bed tonight, we'll have a working bathroom. One can hope!


Permalink 11:32:28 pm, by Karen Email , 740 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

"Merry Christmas, we broke the fence!"

Someone on another farm blog said, in regard to an accident that put her in the hospital for five days, "I may be too stupid to farm."

I know exactly how she felt.

Christmas Day Ken and I were invited to Ken's manager's house for Christmas dinner with her family. We were there approximately 3-4 hours, and when we got home it was dark. The sheep needed their afternoon feeding (which is normally done in daylight hours) so I went out to do it. We have a light aimed in the direction of the sheep paddock, but by the time you get out there, there's not a lot of light to see by, but just enough so you don't trip over anything. It took me a few minutes to realize there was something definitely wrong with the fence. The dividing fenceline, made from cattle panel, was all bashed up at the end, and this had dislodged the bracing on the main fenceline perpendicular to it. One brace was on the ground, the other was barely hanging on.

Now, in my infinite wisdom, I had thought that if the rams (on opposite sides of the fence) couldn't see each other, they wouldn't go to bashing heads. They had already proved me wrong earlier in December. Our method to provide a sight barrier was to wrap the cattle panels with tarps (see picture below in the "Jake" post). But where the tarps met, an inquiring nose could push them aside slightly, enough to maybe see through with one eyeball. We had already shored up one battered section with a piece of 4 x 8 plywood and reinforced with more t-posts and another section of hog panel.

The section that was newly bashed was not at an area where two tarps overlapped. It was at the end where the dividing panel met the permanent fenceline. The tarp was securely fastened and could not be tweaked out of the way. But apparently that wasn't necessary after all. Just knowing that the other ram was there, on the other side of the tarp, sneering a rammy sneer, was enough to set someone off, and the bashing began.

Imagine, if you will, a welded wire panel, made with galvanized steel "wires" that are about the same thickness as a number 2 pencil. The spacing between the wires is about 6 inches in either direction. Now, step back about 10 feet and get a good running start and slam the top of your head into those wires. Back up; repeat. Continue this while your buddy on the other side does the same thing from the opposite direction. Can you imagine the outcome? Nevermind, I'll describe it. First, you are bleeding from the top of your head (duh!). This apparently does not faze you in the slightest, because you are pumped up on testosterone (ever heard of "'roid rage"?) Next, the wire panel becomes deformed, and possibly welds are broken. The first incident actually resulted in broken welds and broken wire. Third, as the panel was securely fixed to the t-post of the main fenceline, that fence section gets pulled all out of whack and the bracing gets dislodged (we use the Wedge-Lock system, for those who know that that is) and the Wedge-Lock pieces themselves get mangled in the process.

You'd think after the first incident I would have known that this grand scheme of mine wasn't working. Apparently not. So now we have done what we should have done in the first place, which is to put electronet on one side of the fence, about 3 feet away, in effect creating a double fenceline, so that the ram on that side can't get anywhere near the fence and tempt or be tempted by the other ram to start bashing heads. Actually, two parallel cattle panel fencelines 3-4 feet apart would have been better, if I'd thought of it from the beginning. Or to be absolutely sure, I could have had the two breeding groups in separate counties, but that may be taking things a bit far. Oh, and another piece or two of plywood has been called into service to shore up the poor abused cattle panel and provide additional sight barrier, since the tarp at that point had been torn to bits. So far, so good. The sheep on the side with the electronet are not willing to test it. If they do, well, 5000V should be adequate discouragement.

I sure hope so.


Permalink 05:28:32 pm, by Karen Email , 97 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal

Our Charlie Brown Christmas tree

December 14th we went out in our woods to find a tree for Christmas. We knew we weren't going to find one of those perfectly shaped trees that you can buy from a tree farm. But we wanted to find one of our own, and save the money besides. Well, here it is. We like it because the spacing between the branches lets the ornaments actually hang down nicely. We couldn't put any heavy ornaments on because the branches wouldn't take their weight, but we had enough lighter ones to do the job. What do you think?

Permalink 05:22:23 pm, by Karen Email , 74 words   English (US)
Categories: Journal


Here are some photos of Jake from the last month:

These first four were taken on November 23, 2008. This was the last day before the first snowstorm. Jake is about 15 weeks old here.

This one was taken the day of the first snow, November 24th.

These next were taken yesterday, after we finished snowblowing the driveway and some paths through the yard to let us get to the sheep pens. Jake is now 19 weeks old.

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Sharing ideas from our small farm in NH, where we raise Icelandic sheep and assorted poultry. We are members of ISBONA (Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America) and the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation). We also participate in the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (NH54). Contact us at karen [at] birchtreefarm [dot] com. Please also visit the farm website at Birchtree Farm.
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