Homemade Hay Feeder


20170612_095651Hay constitutes most of the diet of farm animals found on the homestead. Pulled directly from the ground by the animal consuming it is the most nutritious, but that’s not always an option. Fields need to rest, winter stops hay growth, and some folks don’t have the land to dedicate. There is any number of reasons a homesteader might feed hay. If that’s the best option for your circumstances, go ahead and do what’s right for you. I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for someone else.

Besides the importance of maintaining condition of the hay, the method of feeding it is also important. Animals tend to make a mess. They are picky and go for the tastiest parts first. I often hear farmers caution that cows will eat the center out of a round hay bale to the point the outside collapses, sometimes causing injury.

In addition to store-bought feed we supplement for the known vitamins and parasite medication, we try to feed hay as much as possible. One of the many projects on my Honey-Do List is fencing off additional paddocks to use for rotational grazing. Until that chore is complete, the sheep will be largely on dry hay we bale through year.

My goal is three hay cuts a season, but between fires, unpredictable summer weather, using mostly borrowed equipment, extensive travel for work, and plain old inexperience, I’m doing good to get two mediocre cuts.

Our hay needs on The Five Cent Farm are modest with nine ewes, but with a soon to arrive ram, those needs will increase, if I can get Apollo to do his job. I’ve seen his results on my neighbor’s farm, so I’m confident that despite middle-age creeping up on the old boy, he’ll continue to produce long enough to expand the flock.

The big problem we were having with feeding the girls hay was two-fold. We get a lot of rain and any bales placed on the ground wick water up through them, so it becomes a race between moisture moving up and sheep eating down.

The second problem is the tendency for sheep, mine at least, to stomp all over bales as the pick through it, ruining hay they would normally eat while scattering around hay they might eat later, depending on how hungry they are.

Neither Mrs. Cunha nor I were happy with what we viewed a wasted resources in loss of finished hay and the time and effort to get it that way. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, we set out to steal a few good ideas from other people and incorporate them into one of our own.

This is what we came up with presented in photographs. Feel free to steal some ideas yourself.

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Young Pigs in Love


img_20161220_155021037-1Generations of homesteaders and farmers have relied on hogs for food, field preparation, waste disposal, and occasionally, companionship. The little buggers have personalities better than most people you will meet. Who knew a Christmas present would turn into a love affair?

A few days after Christmas, the entire tribe climbed into the War Wagon for a two-hour drive to buy a replacement rabbit for my youngest daughter. Unlike the unfortunate incident with Jennifer a couple years ago, the impetus for this trek was neither my fault nor the result of friendly fire.

Death is a frequent enough visitor to the Cunha farm that I finally broke down and put up a sign reserving him a parking space next to the barn. I figure the faster he is in and out on his business, the less time he has to notice job opportunities while skulking around.

I’m giving serious thought to diversifying into a discount pet cemetery. Nothing fancy. Just a hole and a marker for the budget conscious parents of pet-owning children.

We had acquired Winter at our local co-op. She was on consignment from someone who had a connection with the manager. I should have known better.

Most days you’d have an easier time asking permission to date one of my daughters than convincing me to hand over a proven breeder, but reproduction wasn’t a factor. This rabbit was to be a pet, something cute and fluffy that wasn’t destined for the dinner plate.

This is how a farm turns into a petting zoo; one sacred bunny at a time.

Putting aside my misgivings about the rabbit’s lineage, living conditions, and lack of liveliness, I relented to the pleas of the women in my life. The rabbit came with a cage and paraphernalia, so I’d break even, if it died prematurely.

It was dead inside a month from a nasty eye infection we couldn’t get under control. Mrs. Cunha has a pretty good track record of doctoring animals, but even the best lose one every now and then.

It’s just my luck that it was an eleven-year-old’s pet…and Christmas.

61c55ee6adc9f00717d5e37f06081d250ea6164726bb1b0e5apimgpsh_fullsize_distr-1I still don’t understand the vagaries of rabbit math any better than Chicken Math, but we ended up a hundred-some-odd miles away from the farm, at a stranger’s house, answering a Craigslist ad offering Lion Head rabbits for sale. Mrs. Cunha always finds something unsettling and mildly creepy about answering the Craigslist ad of a complete stranger. I revel in the Libertarian rush of two independent, like-minded people coming together for an exchange without Big Brother being any the wiser.

While Mrs. Cunha and the girls cradled bunnies and gossiped about people none of them mutually knew, the husband of the pair took me on a tour of the menagerie. Before me was an organized, well-maintained suburban homestead that offered neighbors and the Home Owners Association no substantive reason to be upset…but, of course, they were.

If availability of food ever becomes an issue, neighbors who complain about others keeping chickens will be last in line and charged three times the going rate for having been twats.

Milling about the yard amongst the chickens and beneath the elevated cages of quail and pheasant was a bristly black package of pork protein. Something about the way I watched the little boar must have clued the husband into my mild interest because the next thing I knew, I was handed a wiggling, grunting, four-month-old American Guinea Hog.

Mrs. Cunha appeared beside me without my knowing. We’ve been married long enough that she knows her presence is probably necessary when there is that much commotion and squealing going on. Even if her skills are not needed, Mrs. Cunha appreciates slapstick.

Just once in my life, I’d like to have the farm prepared for a new animal addition.

She was falling in love as quickly as I was. The feeling was second only to looking into the eyes of a newborn child. We were sure he would be delicious.

img_20161221_092635780_burst001-1I try not to hold it against people when they tilt their heads and shoot me a quizzical look at my choices in livestock. It’s not their fault the animals we husband are a tad unusual, but it does take me down a peg when someone says, “Never heard of it.”

American Guinea hogs are pigs and not available at any pet store I can think of. Your local Petco carries Guinea Pigs, which are actually rodents, but I’ve had to explain the difference several times already. English can be confusing, but this distinction eludes many people. Most folks hear “Guinea Pig” as soon as I say “Guinea” and assume we are some sort of quixotic rodent-wrangling ranchers.

Marketability is second to producing what meets the needs and desires of my family.

It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions about an entire breed based on one example. Any scientist, pollster, and jackass in a bar who says, “The rest of the world calls it football” will be quick to point out how small sample size skews and can often invalidate conclusions. Anecdotes are not data, but I’m optimistic, bad at math, and like to gamble. That’s why I play lotto, too.

Over the next couple of weeks interacting with Hamilton (named for the first three letters of the word, and not the crappy, Leftist play), his personality convinced Mrs. Cunha and me to modify his job description from “Dinner” to “Bacon Maker.”

That’s how we found ourselves on a two-and-a-half hour sortie the opposite direction to find Hamilton a couple of girlfriends.  Despite the reputation of my area of the country, we desired some depth to our gene pool.

Why is it every animal I want can only be found somewhere between Timbuktu and frickin’ Narnia?

img_20161221_092100811Muddy and mildly bruised from the extended fumble recovery drill of chasing down two gilts my wife and daughters selected from the dozen or so available, I sat in the front seat watching the landscape roll by and daydreaming of the little black, wiggling piglets in my future. The new additions to the farm grunted back and forth between themselves, nestled in a bed of hay in a wire dog carrier in the far rear of the passenger compartment.

“I’m hungry,” came a call from the middle row of seats.

“Holy crap. The pigs can talk,” I said, turning my head toward my wife. Mrs. Cunha shot me the stink eye. It dawned on me that I was playing with fire.

The reason there aren’t very many comediennes is because, as a general rule, the female of our species largely lacks a sense of humor.

Hamilton’s new girlfriends, already christened Petunia and Baby Girl by my daughters, must have smelled the delicious aroma of fast food as we pulled into the drive-thru. I could hear my porky piglet producers rouse themselves inside their pen. Their chattering increased the closer we crept to the order board.

I was busy with the continual internal debate of whether my fat ass would survive skipping Going Big or Super Sizing or whatever this place called their sneaky attempt to pry an additional dollar from my clenched fist in exchange for ten cents more worth of compressed potato flakes and sugar water when the squawk-box fired auditory shrapnel through the driver’s window.

Despite having visited a drive-thru literally thousands of times in my life, the voice burst is always jarring. Maybe it’s the screechy tone. Maybe it’s the sudden blast of noise from a direction devoid of human beings. Maybe I’m just wound too tight.

Apparently, Baby Girl and Petunia are both wound a little too tightly, too.

The phrase “Squeal like a pig” has basis in reality, let me tell you.

My spastic lurch wasn’t finished before both those pigs were on their feet, banging the sides of the carrier as they ran in circles, grunting, snorting, and oinking. My daughters covered their ears with their hands against the piercing racket, as I shouted our order back at the disembodied voice.

Order placed and pulling forward to the first window please, I hoped the hay the gilts were kicking out of the cage wasn’t contaminated by anything foul-smelling enough to remind everyone of this adventure the next time we climbed in.

As the car drew up to the window, I glanced over at Mrs. Cunha, who had a look on her face that was a cross between horror and mortification. I turned my head the opposite direction, not know what I would encounter, but half expecting to find a circumstance that would require zombie apocalypse skills.

Freddy Mercury sang that fat bottomed girls make the rockin’ world go ’round.

Now, I’m between 6’4″ and 6’6″ depending on the angle of the video surveillance camera and clock-in at three hundred-none-of-your-damn-business pounds, so I realize my commenting on a woman’s size is akin to Stalin chastising Hitler on his human rights record.

Having said that, I’m going to throw a couple of stones from my glass house.

img_20161230_123607555The young woman collecting money at the window within earshot of the pair of squealing, oinking gilts in the back of my car wasn’t ugly at all. For a hefty girl, she was reasonably attractive and probably has no problem finding a ride home long before last call. She was far from a Tess Holliday, but a carb holiday wouldn’t have killed her.

Women, especially the younger ones, are self-conscious, so she probably knows this about herself.

The look of hatred coming from the chubby cashier confirmed my suspicion that she had heard my little piggies squealing all the way home. I was afraid to hand over my debit card for fear of how many customers behind me I was going to “accidentally” be buying lunch for. At minimum, each burger would be spat on before wrapping.

As I handed over my card, I saw her eyes dart behind me, looking into the back of the car. Her eyes sparkled as they widened, and her mouth untwisted from its scowl into a smile.

“What kinda pigs y’all got there?” the young lady said.

“American Guinea Hogs,” I said, my chest puffing up just a bit.

“Never heard of them,” she said.

 

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My Neighbor Wants Me in Prison Because I Hate Coons


I am sick to death of L’homme Theroux and ready for a break.  And yet, I’m not.  It came out Sunday to as much fanfare as I could muster, and so far, has been a bigger disappointment than a virgin on her wedding night.  Was Victor Frankenstein this disappointed by his monster?  Sure, it was a monster from the beginning, but it did a wicked Vaudeville routine.images (6)

One of my many faults is that I’m impatient.  But more to the point, I’m demanding; especially of myself.  I realize this whole novel thing takes time and the proverbial runaway bestsellers are notable precisely because they are so infrequent.  As it sits right now, I am not pleased with Thomas Theroux, but he’s going to have another adventure whether he likes it or not.  I’m taking a few days away from him, so he has the chance to make me proud.  In the meantime, I’m going to tell a story…

I consider myself a bit of hippie.  I love the outdoors.  Out in the fields and woods is where I like to spend my time.  Being cooped up inside makes me surly.  My ultimate goal is to have a refrigerator, freezer, and panty full of foodstuffs I created myself.  If you want to see Carlos at his best, toss me an ax and say that we need firewood.  You’ll be up to your ass in cordwood by sundown.  In a similar vein, hand me a rifle and mention the freezer is near empty.  It will be full of protein quickly.  And that horrifies a lot of people.

Depending on your personal feelings, I am either a barbaric, illiterate redneck or an enlightened steward of the environment because my most recently discovered way to spend time outdoors is trapping.  Yes, the evil steel trap in one of its many forms and sizes is my best friend when I square off with my nemesis, Procyon lotor.  The North American Raccoon, or as we call them in the South “coon.”

I hate coons.

If you’ve ever had them get into your trash cans, you probably hate them, too.  I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t make the world’s biggest mess in the process, but they throw trash all over the place and then poop in your flower bed to add insult to injury.  Coons are also wasteful.  They will kill a chicken seemingly for fun and not eat it.  The body is just left on the ground with its head missing.

Look at Me.  I'm so Cute.
Look at Me. I’m so Cute.

I’m undecided  whether they are geniuses in fur coats or voracious thieves driven to stupidity.  I wonder because sometimes I outsmart them, and sometimes they outsmart me.  The expression goes that we only catch the dumb ones, but if that were the case, shouldn’t coons be attending college by now?

These sneaky little nocturnal ominous are nature’s con artists.  They have that mask everyone seems to love and have behavior we humans anthropomorphize.  That is how coons trick us.  They pretend to be friendly and docile in exchange for handouts.  They are the animal equivalent of welfare recipients.  Try feeding a family of coons for a few weeks and see how angry they get when you stop the freebies.

Damn Coons
Damn Coons

They’ll run riot across your property like Obama supporters.

Don’t let the cute act fool you.  A snarling, snapping coon charging toward you will get your heart racing.  An angry opossum is more menacing, but they waddle along slow enough that they can be pretty easily outrun.  On a side note, my wife recently chaperoned a field trip to a zoo that had opossums and fell in love with the feel of their fur, so I guess I will have to get over my disdain for the nasty little creatures and skin out a few for her.  The things I will do for my woman.

I'll Hurt You.
I’ll Hurt You.

So one day, I spot my neighbor loading a live-trap into his truck.  Pacing back and forth inside the trap was the biggest boar coon I’ve ever seen.  From three houses down, this thing looked enormous, so I knew it was a big one.  As I drew closer, I began to understand how this monster was kept penned up.  My neighbor had reinforced the trap to keep Mr. Coon from pushing his way out.  Note to self: Good idea because I lose more coons than I keep in a live-trap.

I complimented him on the catch and started in with the small talk hoping to ease my way into a free coon.  I figured if this guy was in it for the pelt, Mr. Coon would be pretty close to room temperature by now.  Just as I was about to ask the Sixty-Four Dollar Question, my neighbor dropped a bomb.

“There’s some sick bastard mutilating cats in the neighborhood.  We found one on the back porch with a bear trap on its leg.  I’ve still got the trap as evidence, and we’ve called the police.  That guy belongs in prison.”

At that point, I knew I was dealing with a moron.  If you trap, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I was also pretty sure that I wasn’t getting my trap back.  My 1 1/2 double long spring had gone missing a few weeks prior.  It had upset me because it was my favorite, and I don’t have many traps, since I only nuisance trap on my own property.  I purposely bait and set my traps to avoid by-catch, so assuming the story is accurate, that cat just had bad luck.

My Favorite Coon.
My Favorite Coon.

My activity was perfectly within the law of that jurisdiction, but since dealing with the authorities is a pain in the ass I would rather avoid (even when I’ve completely in the clear), I didn’t push the issue over a trap that was free in the first place.  Not surprising, my neighbor, Perry Mason that he was, knew with absolute certainly the illegality of my trapping, but failed to understand his plan to relocate his nuisance coon to a public park was illegal as well.  I love people who know exactly what everyone else is doing wrong, but let their stuff slide.  If you want to be Johnny Law, you should keep your nose clean, too.  It’s that whole throwing glass houses thing.

1 1/2 Double Long Spring
1 1/2 Double Long Spring

The point of my neighbor being an ignorant idiot was driven home a second time when he repeated himself a minute later and the cat was now missing a leg from said bear trap that was drug to his porch.  He wasn’t clear on the mechanics of exactly how a device has the ability to both completely amputate a limb and remain attached to be drug somewhere.  Many people (me included) have caught their fingers in traps, both accidentally and on purpose to prove a point.  It won’t even break the skin, much less amputate an appendage.  I began to think I was dealing with someone mentally unbalanced.  Looking back, I think he was.

So, the short version of this story is that I lost my favorite foot-hold trap, lost out on a great pelt, and was indirectly told I should be incarcerated.  The world is full of snitches and bullies.