Pardon Our Mess


junkyard1My homestead dreams included images of tidy outbuildings and manicured fields, populated by well-behaved livestock, with a snug little house heated by worm farts and sustainable wood that was harvested on-site. Nothing could be further from the truth. Homesteads and working farms are cluttered places. Turns out that I was a combination of deluded and snookered into believing the Homesteader’s Dream.

Buildings have a tendency to age and dilapidate. Everything, with the exception of the rocks in the ground, breaks in the middle of a project. And, oddly enough, livestock does not line up for slaughter.

“Everything here has been burnt or broke, at least, once before.” – Bobby Bare

There are some specific reasons my farm occasionally resembles a junkyard. Let’s play a game where you see how many apply to your homestead and whether you have some of your own that I missed. Leave your additions in the comments section.

Emergencies and forced delays

My farm may not have been hit by hurricane Irma, but she did push wind and rain up our way. Neither of which are conducive to working outdoors. All manner of weather can slow down projects, and often bring them to a dead stop. Even a simple change in the rain prediction will throw the next several days of planning into disarray and necessitate re-prioritization, based upon what would most likely be ruined, if it was rained on. That’s usually hay laying in the field.

I’m getting too old to work on non-mission critical projects in knee deep mud or freezing cold. Plus, the wife makes me come indoors when she sees lightning. So, work is often a stop-and-start affair.

Elements of nature aren’t the only reason we are surrounded by half-finished projects. Kids and livestock have a habit of coming down sick or injuring themselves at the worst possible time. Mrs. Cunha and I have been known to soldier on with broken bones and bleeding wounds, but the phrase “rub some dirt on it” doesn’t go over well with the Millennials. I don’t know what they will do, when adversity eventually comes their way.

Stocking up on supplies for future projects

Aside from cash, the go-to gift for a hard-to-shop-for man, such as myself, is fence posts. Specifically, five-foot metal T-posts. These knobby metal rods do more than hold up fence. They serve as boundary markers, tree supports, tie-down stakes, and any other purpose the imagination can conjure. When we moved from a rental into the house we now own, I pulled up every post I had sunk into the the rented land over the previous three years and had fantasies of never buying another in my lifetime.

I blew through them in a couple of weeks.

junkyard4T-posts are in such demand around the Cunha farm that we’re saving our pennies to buy a pallet of the bastards, much like we did with a purchase of 2x4s last summer. They take up a bit of space in the garage, but just having them on hand when needed cuts down on time-stealing extra trips to town.

Not only is precious covered space dedicated to keeping bulkier items dry. The shelves of my garage are packed with little whose-its, what-thems, and doohickeys, partly because I can never find a specific item when I need it. I stopped counting the number of half-used rolls of electrical tape and cans of WD-40 I have. And God help me if I don’t squirrel away a couple of wedge blocks before the first cut because the Co-Op sure as hell won’t have any when the hay tedder throws a fork.

Error, mistakes, and inexperience

Homesteading is a continual learning process. No two endeavors go exactly the same, and often, the evidence of my ignorance is on display for all to see.

This past spring, I had one of my most brilliant ideas every. It struck me walking by the outdoor display at Tractor Supply. There, before my eyes and on sale, was a ten by ten dog run that could be quickly and easily converted to a sorely needed duck pen. We dragged it home, jury rigged a center pole with an eight-foot fence post, and zip-tied a tarp on as a roof. Not being engineers, neither Mrs. Cunha nor I realize that we had just created a giant kite.

IMG_20170322_145043947_HDRIn one of life’s bittersweet moments, we happened to be outside a couple days later, when an afternoon wind picked up our newest animal abode and crashed it down into the hayfield about sixty feet from where it started the day. The ducks looked surprised at the sudden disappearance of their shelter. Just before impact, I remember thinking their reaction reminded me of a Benny Hill skit, but not as funny because there were no women in underwear. Just confused ducks.

I was left so brokenhearted, both at the waste of money and general failure, I didn’t bother retrieving the wreckage until the day before I mowed the hay. Mrs. Cunha, understanding soul that she is, did not ask once when I planned to face my failure.

Deferred maintenance makes for ugly buildings

The barn on my farm is fairly young for a wooden barn. The house is about fifty years old, according to the property records the county keeps. I haven’t found evidence of the barn’s exact age, so I’ll just peg it as the same as the house, for the sake of example.

^DE2C3DD736DB8E5A8CCCB0AABE3AF983E8F7355479CED4D49D^pimgpsh_fullsize_distrThe house was clearly kept up with more diligence than the barn. It doesn’t lean near as much as the barn, but that might be attributable to the house being single story. Impending collapse aside, the barn is still much more of an eyesore than the house. Dulled galvanized roof, faded and peeling paint, and rotted siding that make me cringe every trip out there speak to God knows how many years the previous owners didn’t nail in a replacement board or pick up a paint brush. Maybe they didn’t have the cash for materials or just never got around to it. Valid and excusable reasons or not, the chores were not accomplished. The result is a building that passes for an abandoned crack house for drug addicted livestock.

Why does your homestead look like the set of Sanford and Son?

Leave a comment below with your favorite reason. I promise not to judge.

 

3Thank you to all my readers. I appreciate every one of you. Please visit my Patreon account for members only content. Becoming a supporter gets you additional articles, behind the scenes access, and unique Thank You gifts for your support.

Don’t forget to preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

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Homestead Rules to Live By


Creating your own homestead is a great way to free yourself of other people’s rules, but in one of life’s ironies, often you end up establishing your own set. The good news is they are yours. The bad news is you have to enforce them, sooner or later. Here’s my list of non-negotiable rules. You might have similar ones.

Behave or be eaten

My kids are all old enough to know this rule can’t really be applied to them, but understand the sentiment. I doubt they believed it when they were young, either.  A seven-year-old girl walking around the chicken coop, pointing out pullets, and saying, “This one’s a jerk. She dies first,” tells me the lesson has been assimilated.

1389d74399e7d94e12031c4ee0ee0b75ad0ca2dce77429e3bepimgpsh_fullsize_distrIt’s my policy to maintain an understudy rooster in the all too likely event that Number One decides he wants to expand his dominion over more than the other chickens. The current Cock of the Walk at The Five Cent Farm is named “Turkey,” an unfortunate moniker he earned as a gangly cockerel, which was especially confusing once we added actual Meleagris gallopavo to the menagerie.

Turkey earned his promotion when I pulled into the driveway one afternoon to find Mrs. Cunha chasing Billy, the then-top-rooster, around the chicken run with a table leg, shouting, “I’m gonna kill that sonofabitch!” As it turns out, he had attacked both our daughters and Mrs. Cunha, leaving scratches from his spurs down the length of both forearms. That earned him a trip to Freezer Camp and created a job vacancy in the chicken coop.

Go be wildlife somewhere else

If you read my terrorist threat to the fox who ate my ducks, my position on wildlife predators should already be clear; there is no free lunch on the Cunha homestead. That meal will cost you dearly, if I have anything to say about it.

photo4Any venom I harbor for particular sorts of animals stems from experience and proximity. Any wildlife that makes the life-extending decision to not damage my property are regarded with indifference. With the exception of spotting a deer during fall, while having room in the freezer, I take a live-and-live approach.

I don’t have time to go traipsing all over the farm to eradicate every critter that might possibly take what is mine. Maintain a quick trot along the fence line and keep your eyes forward. You’ll be fine. We even overlook the occasional egg lost to Black King Snakes, since they eat rattlesnakes; #BlackSnakesMatter.

If you’re not producing, you’re waiting your turn on the menu

Several of the animals on my farm labor under the delusion they are somehow special; the sheep and pigs, in particular. Neither the sheep nor the pigs have ever looked around and thought, “Hey, what happened to Joe? I haven’t seen him for a few days.”

photo 2The dirty secret is they are breeding stock. We will be eating their babies, soon enough. And if my boar Hamilton doesn’t start siring me some piglets in pretty quick order, we’re going to have ourselves a little luau and find the gilts a new boyfriend, who doesn’t have the sex drive of a panda.

I suppose this rule confounds and terrifies the chickens, since we eat what they produce and sometimes eat one of them for dinner. Along with the occasional coup d’état necessitated to enforce Rule #1, it must strike the chickens as tyranny at its most schizophrenic, but such is life when your social structure is that of an all-girls middle school.

This isn’t a safe space (it’s not a safe place, either)

Homesteading isn’t just dangerous in terms of the ultimate fate of most of the animal residents. Safety sleeves on PTO drives and roll-bars make tractors safer, but you can still be hurt with sufficient disregard for common sense. On the plus side, these safety devices will only leave you maimed, so you can live to farm thoughtlessly another day.

KudzuMud and ice leave you on your ass wondering if you shouldn’t find a job in town. Waiting for your wife to hook up the next bale of hay, thoughts of whether it’s preferable to fall out of the barn loft or get a finger caught in the pulley flit through your mind. Animals don’t care about your feelings, your cold, or the weather. I suspect they conspire to launch coordinated attacks of mischief at the absolute worst times in order to make me look as foolish and inept as possible.

Make no mistake. Farms are harsh, unforgiving environments. It hardens a person. I realized “the birds and the bees” talk was unnecessary when my daughters began bringing me daily heat reports from the barn and cheering at successful mountings. They are well versed in anatomy, and I pity the nervous young men who come courting when my girls are older.

Well, not really. I find horrified millennials hilarious.

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works and consider becoming a supporter. Patronage will get you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapter.

Fox in Socks


FoxRule #2 on the Cunha farm: Go be wildlife somewhere else because otherwise, I will hunt you down and kill you. I found your little den in the bushes, Mr. Fox. The trap is now set, and if need be, I will stakeout your dirt condo every night until you make the mistake of showing your furry little ass around my homestead again.

I’ve watched you trot back and forth along the fence line, through the bushes, and across the road for the better part of two years. You have been ignored the entire time because you have not taken from me. You were given benefit of the doubt when the first bird disappeared. However, I have strong evidence you have killed and eaten one (possibly, two) of my turkeys, and two of my ducks. That goofy little crested duck was the last straw. He was my favorite. I kept him around for no better reason than he entertained me.

Here are your options, Mr. Fox. One, leave immediately on your own accord and never return. Two, sign your own death warrant by entering my sight. Those are the only choices.

I am tactically patient, tenacious, and possessor of the hardest heart you have ever encountered. I will fashion you into a hat as a warning to others of your ilk that I will not tolerate killing of my livestock and theft of food from my family’s mouth.

This is your only warning and my singular promise under God, Grandpa Miguel, and all the Pygmies in Africa.

Sincerely,

Your Angel of Death Carlos

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works and consider becoming a supporter. Patronage will get you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapter.

Hello, World!


44a6a4ead1c67a92cfbfae8cfa23d1ebb529f0239b02f885b3pimgpsh_fullsize_distrLife on the farm entails a lot of death, but for once, new life visited the Cunha homestead this week. Even if my family were to go the vegetarian route and only keep animals for what they produce, they will eventually die. I’m still young enough that I will outlive all the animals I own, and as their steward, one of my responsibilities is to minimize suffering at the end of life.

Having said that, we are ruthless in application of Rule #3: Those that don’t produce have no place. My farm is neither a petting zoo nor an animal retirement community. References to livestock riding the bullet train to freezer camp are gallows humor because I don’t take pleasure in killing. It’s necessary to eating animal flesh, controlling costs, and ending suffering.

Even the times I’ve screwed up dispatching an animal were far less gruesome and prolonged than the average take-down of prey by a predator in nature.

Mrs. Cunha and I have been kicking around the idea of purchasing an incubator for about a year, and spent most of the summer on the verge of taking the plunge. The option of producing a batch of chicks whenever it was convenient for us was attractive, as was having control over the pace and timing of reproduction. Depending on how fancy we wanted to get, the cost wasn’t terrible, but the prospect of adding one more chore to the list kept us holding out for a hen to go broody.

539a00524f9ee110005cf75710f4a781f896eb630a60411a0cpimgpsh_fullsize_distrTime always seems to be the resource of which we have the least. The chickens look to have a lot of time on their hands. Their job is pretty low stress and low skilled. Maybe that’s why they don’t qualify for minimum wage.

I don’t know how industrious your chickens are, but mine make Department of Motor Vehicle employees look like tornadoes of ambition. The dumb clucks in my flock don’t even have hobbies. They just sort of mill about like teenagers at a school dance; moody, self-absorbed, and convinced nobody likes them.

Well, they’re right. The teenagers, I mean. They might be more likable, if they crapped out eggs, but then they’d want a trophy for it.

Fully understanding that a broody hen stops laying, the trade off a dozen or so eggs during a gestation cycle of approximately twenty-one days sounded like a fair trade, both in terms of unrealized ova and, especially, unexpended effort on our part.

Any time the animals do their thing without human intervention is a bonus in my book, since it’s less work for us.

My first rooster, John Wayne, was a cock apostle. Prior to him, I wasn’t keen on having one around, but lack of a cock-of-the-walk caused my chicken coop to have the same dynamics as a women’s prison. There was incessant gossipy chatter, squabbling as cliques emerged and dissolved, and a big bull-dyke hen named Henrietta strutting around with a chain hanging off her wallet pressuring the other hens into lesbian relations.

I’m not kidding. I saw her mounting the other hens. She is also suspected of radicalizing the flock into mounting the Chicken Uprising of 2015.

1389d74399e7d94e12031c4ee0ee0b75ad0ca2dce77429e3bepimgpsh_fullsize_distrAll that silliness ended when John Wayne stepped out of the carrier he was delivered in. By sundown the same day, peace and order were established in the flock. When I went to close up the coop that night, I found tranquility, instead of the usual bedlam.

John Wayne sat in the middle of a perch, Henrietta nuzzled up submissively at his side, surrounded by all the other girls for warmth and protection. The only head that raised when I walked in for the nightly headcount was his, and I swear he winked at me.

I’ve been a fan of roosters ever since. Feel free to insert your dirty joke here. I know how chicken people are.

I go so far as to always have an understudy rooster, since you never know when a coup in the coop might become necessary.

The loss of John Wayne was a blow to the flock, but we were in luck, as his previous owner, a classmate of my oldest daughter, had an incubator full of eggs fertilized by his brother. It wasn’t exactly genetic cloning, but it was the best shot we had at a replacement that might be close. Of course, there were no guarantees, but considering the emphasis on bloodline that each animal breed association has, we figured our odds were decent.

This young lady, who is the most responsible and reliable teenage I’ve ever met, was beside herself when she lost the entire batch by forgetting to plug the incubator back in after some maintenance. Another blow came when informed that John Wayne’s brother was, also, no longer among the clucking and the last in his line.

16be5ebcb8e5d6364be5ea3a8d05aca64a18ab9a05e6accd4cpimgpsh_fullsize_distrMy current rooster lacks a name. He’s a big, gangly thing, and, for quite some time, I suspected he might have been a turkey. He’s nowhere near as handsome as either of the predecessors, but hasn’t displayed any of the behavior that earned Clint his coup d’état. This goofy looking rooster has done something neither of the other two managed to pull off.

We have new chickens on the farm.

This isn’t the first bringing forth of life on the Cunha homestead, but it’s the first of the feathered variety. I’m excited. My assumption is all five will reach maturity. At which point, we will have to determine how many of each sex we have and begin the decision making process of who stays, who goes, and who gets replaced.

It’s a never-ending cycle of deciding how to maximize available resources to reach goals, and a big part of the homesteading mindset.

But for the moment, I’m basking in the joy of new life and little, feathered puffballs.

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

 

It’s a Snake Eat Snake World


snake3For every animal farmers and homesteaders bring onto their land, there is at least one other uninvited critter that comes along for the free ride. Most livestock are installed on the homestead because they taste delicious, with a little preparation, or because they produce something else that is just as tasty.

As an example, chickens fill both roles. Who doesn’t like chicken or eggs? Especially, the sort from my farm. Except for the occasional miscreant who meets an untimely end, my chickens have a fairly plush gig. It includes a run with more square footage than the first house I lived in, a muscular lab who hasn’t figured out that hens are made entirely of chicken meat to pull security detail, and regular access to a hay field, where they can scratch the soil and eat bugs until their hearts are content.

If you don’t have a specific purpose on the farm, don’t be surprised when you are what’s for dinner.

In my youth, I had a pet ball python that, despite all reasonable efforts to keep him contained, would escape every now and again to make off for warm, secluded areas of the house.

There is something hardwired into the human mind to avoid slithery sorts of animals because, even for the owner of a snake, opening a closet door to find Monty the Python draped over and curled around a closet rod will give you a start.

I knew I owned a snake. I knew he wasn’t in his glass house when I looked five minutes ago. It’s not unreasonable to think the snake may be hiding somewhere in the house, but I still nearly wet my pants every time.

It’s like those posts on Facebook of a young Victorian lady that suddenly screams and transforms into a ghoul.

One of the horse stalls in my barn is converted into a feed storage closet. Somebody goes in and out of there at least twice a day, so habits develop and expectations emerge because nothing bad has ever happened entering it. For example, I expect to waltz into the feed locker at night and NOT NEARLY STEP ON A FREAKING SNAKE!

Luckily for me, the little fella (or little lady. I didn’t check) had managed to entangle himself in the flap end of a roll of bird netting we had leaned in the corner.

After Mrs. Cunha came running at my shrieking like a little girl, I felt confident enough in my snake wrangling skills to move the whole circus outside. Roll of bird netting in one hand, the safe end of the snake in the other, and about four feet of well-muscled, writhing garden hose in between, I waddled out of the barn with Mrs. Cunha following close behind with a flashlight and a hatchet.

The tree farm on the other side of the road that borders my place seemed like an excellent location to let this snake go be a snake. I wasn’t sure how to free him from the net, but figured, if I couldn’t shake him lose, I’d leave the netting there and let him sort it out.

I’ve seen videos of people bitten by critters while trying to release them from a trap, so I assume trapped animals are ingrates.

Zeus, sensing excitement, came hauling dog-butt from around the corner of the barn, where I assume he was sniffin’ and peein’, to join in. He would have made an excellent member of La Costa Nostra because despite extensive questioning after the fact, Zeus remained mum as to whether his intent was to protect his territory or play tag.

Either way, I now had the added difficulty and stress of trying to keep the dog and this snake apart from each other. For her part, Mrs. Cunha did an excellent job of keeping the flashlight beam trained on the business end of this serpent, so I could keep some degree of control on the situation. I was praying the whole way that the snake didn’t work its head free and take a chunk out of me.

I don’t recall saying, Honey, watch this! but that’s about how things turned out. The snake freed his head and, being that I was holding on to its tail, swung towards me and the dog. That’s the moment things got real, as the kids say.

My regular readers should know by now what Rule #2 is on the Cunha Homestead.

In the heat of a moment, whether it’s a gunfight or pushing Helen Keller out of the path of a runaway horseless carriage, dealing decisively with the threat takes precedence over everything else. Sorry, Mr. Snake. I don’t enjoy killing. Under different circumstances, like passing through on your way somewhere else, I would have been largely indifferent to your existence.

Curious at to the exact form the Devil had taken to invade my garden, I turned to my good friend Google. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a snake nerd. Such a person is called a herpetologist and their field of study is called herpetology. They are quite informative people.

snake1Turns out the snake we had just evicted from the barn was an eastern black kingsnake; which have the rather interesting propensity to eat rattlesnakes. Who knew? But like any self-respecting reptile of the same proportions, eastern black kingsnakes eat mice and chicken eggs, too. I suspect they would also eat a chick, if given the chance.

This is an interesting conundrum that never crossed my mind prior to owning a farm. To my mind, animals are in either the “good” or “bad” category. This “mixed bag” status forces me to think, and I’m not such a big fan of having to think. Mostly, because I’m American.

If I wanted to deal in nuance, I’d be a Liberal.

After considering the duality of the situation, I began to wonder what the sacrifice of eggs would be versus the benefit of reduced rattlesnakes. They eat eggs, too. Is it really a wash in terms of lost eggs, and the deciding factor has more to do with avoiding inadvertent viper bites? With a fairly young child and her big, goofy lab running around the joint, the thought of someone receiving a dose of snake venom frightens me.

It wouldn’t likely be a fatal event, but the desire to protect my children, particularly the ones of the girl persuasion, increases as the child’s age decreases.

Call me a hetro-normative dinosaur who clings to misogynistic values of the patriarchy, if you like, but girls rate more protecting from life’s traumas. The boys would consider being snake bitten as a badge of honor and show off the scars to anyone willing to see them. I’d probably do the same. Boy and girls are just different from each other.

Considering their relative sizes and how often most snakes eat, how many rattlesnakes can an eastern black kingsnake eat, anyway? For all I know, rattlesnakes leave the area because they are terrified of the eastern black kingsnake’s reputation; like in Jim Croce’s warning to stay clear of the south side of Chicago because of Leroy Brown.

So, yet again, I find myself short of answers and turning to my readers for advice. What are your experiences of kingsnakes and the general trade-offs of beneficial outside wildlife that come with a cost to farm output?

 

 

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

Protect Your Hay Investment


7ccc760f6b117192a424a4b7f45b4ed69bfa1b21b8555f0233pimgpsh_fullsize_distrWhether you grow your own or purchase, proper hay storage is a critical homestead skill to possess. The longer your winters, the more important hay storage becomes to the survival of your animals and the homestead itself.

This past week, we put up fourteen hundred bales of fescue at my place. Combined with the eight hundred bales from the first cut earlier this summer, my math calculates the yield at 2.1 tons per acre. Talking with my County Extension Agent, this is at the low end of the “normal” range in my area, but not a complete disaster, given that it has been a bad year for hay with everyone down about thirty percent.

Considering I haven’t done anything to the field, aside from admire it and daydream a bit, I’m reasonably happy for a first harvest.

From talking to neighbors and the previous owner, it’s been some time since the field had any TLC, so I’ve kept my expectations modest.

Mrs. Cunha and I bought the farm without benefit of owning a tractor or haying equipment. Since we didn’t have money for both, and a rented house with a yard full of idle farm machinery didn’t make a lot of sense, we figured the absolute worst case scenario would be that the field was left fallow for a couple of years, while we saved our pennies.

As it turned out, the solution was something of a middle ground that would not have been possible without the help of my neighbors. Through a combination of work ethic, industriousness, and shares of the harvest, we managed two cuttings. The understandable downside is my field is mowed last. As a result, the second cut had begun to sour in the field and there likely won’t be enough growing time for a third cut this season.

Considering we expected the field to be a total loss this year, we’re thrilled.

0610161332Even after parceling out shares and Mrs. Cunha selling some of the hay with her brilliant idea to give a discount to buyers who pick theirs up out of the field, I am still up to my ass in hay. Each nook and cranny of every available structure is stacked to the rafters and then some. In a way, I’m glad there probably won’t be a third cut because the only option left for storage is to pull the cars out of the garage and stack bales in there, too.

Let my worst problem in life be that I have more resources than I know what to do with.

Besides the obvious solution that I need more and bigger animals to chew their way through my problem of awaiting the near certain winter hay shortage, maintaining the quality of the fodder becomes the issue.

Hay, and any other crop, begins to degrade the moment it is separated from the ground. From there, the race to the consumer begins. For products with a longer timeline to consumption, the battle for preservation involves more preparation than it does rushing down the road to the farmer’s market.

For hay, the goal is to maintain as much nutritional quality for as long as possible. We square bale for several reasons; lack of and access to equipment, availability for suitable storage space, our farm needs, and local market demands. Round bales don’t work for our needs and goals, but if you find them effective, don’t change what works for you.

How ever you get you hay, both bale types have the same storage requirements to maintain them at the highest nutritional level possible. To that end, there are basic steps to preserving hay and minimizing waste:

Get it inside

Gigantic rolls of hay sitting in a field are a common sight during the summer in my area, but with all the summer rain we get, they tend to form a hard, protective crust around the outside. Kind of like the shell of an M&M, but proportionally thicker. That shell is also wasted hay of between four and twenty percent, according to the Mississippi State Extension.

2deb267d8d5a921ce67b315d36bae2a3f11c98412303b6c8fbpimgpsh_fullsize_distrIf you’re set on round bales, I recommend you read their Minimizing Losses in Hay Storage and Feeding. It’s the best sixteen pages of knowledge I’ve read recently. It’s also free, so that’s a bonus.

Whether you’re in the square or round camp, all hay benefits from being taken in out of the elements. Hay needs air circulation, but exposure to wind, moisture, and sunlight diminishes nutritional quality rapidly. The bale spoils from the outside toward the center and eventually reduces to an inedible block. Even round bales will degrade to the point where livestock will refuse all but the very center.

UV rays, moisture, and wind will eventually erode the pyramids of Egypt to nothing. Hay is far less durable than limestone.

Keep it dry

Rainfall is not the only source of moisture. Runoff, leaky barn roofs, water dripping from trees, and even condensation forming inside a structure can be sources of moisture that can either prevent hay from drying in the first place or promote mold and rot.

Even if you don’t have a traditional barn or some sort of structure in which to store your hay, anything is usually better than nothing.

At a minimum, rig up a tarp to keep at least most of the sunlight and moisture off it. If you’re absolutely broke or completely out of options, stack the bales tight with some sort of tall post in the center and drape one of those cheap blue tarps over it like a circus tent.

I can’t guarantee how well it will work, but it beats doing nothing and watching money turn into grey, inedible scabs. And for Pete’s sake, don’t let sit in water.

Let it breathe

Even though hay dries in the field before baling, there is still some drying that occurs after. It generally takes about one to three weeks for the moisture content to stabilize. For that to happen, air needs to circulate around, and to a lesser extent, through the bale.

Hay bales should be kept off the ground. Until we ran out of them, we laid down old tires left in the woods to keep our hay bales off the ground. We then switched to wooden pallets we scored from the co-op, Tractor Supply, and anywhere else we could mooch a few free ones.

5006289f62d46f695ce350b6c6e3117bc93f7d32f6515cb80bpimgpsh_fullsize_distrOnce we drank those wells dry, we had to come up with something else. The brilliant Mrs. Cunha jury rigged pallets from my stash of 2x4s in the garage. Beautiful, creative, and ingenious; I married way above my pay grade.

This is where things get interesting. And by “interesting,” I mean “dangerous.” And by “dangerous,” I mean “you accidentally burn down your barn.”

The tendency is to pack as much hay into the barn as possible because space is always in short supply. I’m as guilty as anyone, but there is risk involved. During the one to three week curing period, hay bales give off heat. Packed together in a big enough mass, they sometimes give off enough heat to set the hay on fire.

I can’t quantify the risk. Although, I imagine my insurance agent can and has. Old Timers talk about hay catching fire like it happens every week during summer, but I don’t see nearly enough burned down hay barns to make me think it’s any more likely than an accidental pregnancy.

Then again, I have six kids. Your mileage may vary.

Watch for mold, rot, and critters

Of the three, critters are probably the most fun to deal with. Mrs. Cunha isn’t the sort of woman to jump at the sight of vermin, but she and I have been known to mount an afternoon pellet rifle safari. Otherwise, we let the barn cat prowl around and leave us the occasional gift on the door mat. She must think we’re terrible hunters and wants to make sure we eat. Either that, or it’s tribute.

Definitely, get a couple of barn cats.

a090dd9125771308d722c0fbd05d9be87d29f7777471ba9962pimgpsh_fullsize_distrMold and rot aren’t as exciting to chase down. They just kind of lurk, but can be more damaging. Both can set in from the outside, which makes it easier to find, but mold, in particular, will grow and spread on the interior of a hay stack.

Keeps your eyes open, inspect your hay, and dig into the hard-to-reach parts every once in a while. Quite, unfrequented areas of your storage space are likely locations for birds, coons, and possums to take up residence. Spot checks won’t magically guarantee wildlife squatters won’t show up, but will help in catching them early, so you can evict them or take measures to discourage them from returning.

That’s Rule #2 on the Cunha farm. Go be wildlife somewhere else, because if you take from me, I will most assuredly take from you.

There is loads more to hay and farming that I don’t know. I freely admit that, but there are resources available. These are a few I have found helpful and informative. The best part is they are delivered straight to you, in your pajamas, no less, through the magic of the internet:

Storage of Small Square Bales by John Worley, Associate Professor, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

Square Bales Need TLC by Angus Beef Bulletin

Tips on Hay Storage by Dwain Meyer, PhD, North Dakota State University and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota

Selecting and Storing Horse Hay by Krishona Martinson, PhD and Paul Peterson, PhD, University of Minnesota Extension

Sizing and Siting Hay Barns by University of Missouri Extension

Minimizing Losses in Hay Storage and Feeding by Mississippi State University Extension

Making the Best of a Bad Situation – Storing Large Round Hay Bales Outside by University of Florida IFAS Extension

 

 

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.

Chicken Stampedes


IMG_0418Farms are like prisons; they both thrive on routine. Try being late for morning chores to see just how disruptive your barnyard inmates become. With luck, the worst you’ll suffer is obnoxious, sideways looks from the ingrates. If you have teenagers at home, this should be nothing new.

My friends who keep larger animals tell of property damage from 800 pounds of hooved livestock pushing down corrals or kicking apart stalls when breakfast was late. So, I guess I’m doing pretty well that I don’t, as yet, have any animals I can’t wrestle to the ground.

“I don’t care if you have the flu. I deserve to be fed right now.” #ChickenLivesMatter.

In the animals’ defense, I’m sure they all huddled together and passed hushed whispers among themselves, wondering if their human finally had a fatal heart attack.

Something tells me that has never happened. The animals expressing concern for their caretakers, I mean. An overweight, middle-aged farmer who drinks too much and eats bacon with every meal dropping dead from a coronary embolism probably occurs with some regularity. It just hasn’t been me…yet.

In a just world, I will be shot dead by the jealous husbands of the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team, but more likely, I’ll meet my maker wearing a confused expression because I didn’t know that “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing.

Mrs. Cunha prohibits me from any activity that includes the words, “Y’all watch this.”

IMG_0434Until then, I’ll have to suffer the twice daily chicken stampede. Once in the morning, when I throw out scratch grain before opening the coop door, and again in the evening, when they decide to play General Custer’s Last Stand on seeing me carry out their feed bucket.

Pushing through the mob of hens isn’t so much trouble as it is annoying. It can also be dangerous. I’m relatively light on my feet for someone my size, but at six-foot-four and two hundred none-of-your-damn-business pounds, a slip, trip, stumble, or fall can have absolutely devastating consequences on a chicken because they are not terribly sturdy creatures. Ask me how I know the ease with which a chicken can meet an accidental, premature demise.

That particular situation was slightly different because it was my fault for wear flip-flops into the chicken pen, but by the same token, the owl that killed one of my hens last April has made no effort to compensate me. Like the men before me who suffered setbacks, I simply had to absorb the loss and carry on.

My daughter felt just as entitled to a replacement chicken as the animals feel entitled to be fed, teenagers to a new cellphone, or prisoners do to yard time. When it comes to entitlement, only the circumstances change. The cries of “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” are always the same.

Sometimes, it’s not about the expense, but rather the accomplishment.

IMG_0471Little in life exceeds the pride a father feels when finally winning a prize at one of those claw and crane games found in fast-casual type family restaurants, arcades, and carnival midways all over the world. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen one of these machines in a place with a dress code, and since my average reader is more likely to wear Carhartt than Channel, I’ll assume everyone knows exactly the device I’m talking about.

It might take thirty-seven dollars to win a teddy bear the game’s owner bought on clearance from Walmart for $2.99 the day after Valentine’s Day, but dammit, that’s a win in my book.

In an example of both Big Brother looking out for what it thinks are your best interests and parents all too willing to relinquish the raising of their children to the state, New Jersey state Senator Nicholas Scutari has introduced legislation to further regulate claw and crane games.

The honorable Senator Scutari, whom to no one’s surprise is a Democrat, wants to regulate claw and crane games, so they produce a higher frequency of wins for the player. God forbid adults be allowed to chose how to assess their own risks and spend their own money, according to this government lover.

In New Jersey, as in most other jurisdictions, these tempting wallet vacuums are regulated as games of chance, as opposed to games of skill. Both are gambling, when you think about it, so the distinction between the two is really only important to legislators and owners of the machines.

The bigger question is whether you want your kids to participate in gambling. If you’d be OK with Junior sitting in on your poker game, go ahead and try to snatch that knock-off iPod from the top shelf. That’s a decision you should be left to make as a parent.

I have no room to throw stones. My kids learned at a young age how to mix a proper Old Fashioned and that Daddy likes his Scotch four-by-four; four fresh ice cubes and a four-finger pour. My fingers are the guide, not theirs.

I was shocked how fast the kids learned when they figured out I was tipping for each round. There have been arguments over whose turn it was to serve.

0602161917aOne of the hopes I have for my children is they learn life lessons on the farm that can be carried into adulthood. Slapping an angry rooster silly when he comes at you with his spurs forward is an instructive moment for a ten-year-old girl in how to stand up for yourself and deal with bullies.

The rooster wasn’t too thrilled by the experience, but the lesson must not have stuck. A few weeks later, we had to make an example of him in front of the flock. The rest of the chickens have been on perfect behavior since.

20150531_111648_resizedThat’s why I like to keep an understudy rooster around. You never know when you’ll have to remind those dumb clucks of Rule #1: Behave or be eaten.

All the humans on the farm, even if outmatched physically, have access to tools and technology that allow us to prevail when an animal occasionally decides to challenge our authority over them. It’s by no means a fair fight, and it’s not supposed to be.

The lesson I want my children to take away from that reality is not might makes right or even the biblical mandate that humans have dominion over animals. What I want them to understand is that life isn’t always fair. I’m sure Clint the Rooster thought it mighty unfair that he was sent to Freezer Camp for doing what he saw as right by the hens.

Sometimes, you’re just not going to win. Frequently, the odds are stacked against you, and success is a matter of luck and perseverance. Knowing and recognizing those situations is part of being an adult. It also makes the infrequent wins all the sweeter, both for the game player and recipient of the prize.

Win a stuffed animal for your girlfriend at the carnival ring-toss and you’ll be her king for the rest of the day.

I have no idea that “fair” looks like when it comes to a claw and crane game. What I do know is that if nobody ever wins, people will stop playing. The trick, I would imagine, is to make play just challenging enough to keep people playing, but allow enough wins to satisfy the pleasure centers of the brain.

It’s like throwing out scratch grain for the chickens or packing a bone with peanut butter for the dog. Make the work put into the effort just enough to justify the reward without inducing abandonment of the activity.

Wherever that sweet spot lay isn’t the government’s business to determine, but in the continual campaign to placate the Whine Glass Generation, politicians seeking to curry favor with dependent constituencies and retain their power through reelection, want to make everybody feel like a winner.

IMG_0380When everybody gets a ribbon, and each grab at the teddy bear produces a gleeful, squealing child, an expectation of success is inculcated. It breeds a sense of entitlement and reduces risk taking to a monetary exchange. Ultimately, it creates risk aversion and kills the economic libido of children who are no longer learning life lessons about risk and reward.

The livestock on my farm neither understand nor possess the capacity to understand the relationship between risk and reward. All they know is they want what they want and they want it right now.

That explains chicken stampedes.

Do what you like with your brats, but mine will earn their eventual release from the Cunha Juvenile Correctional Facility with an understanding of how the world works that is better than that of livestock.

Assuming they aren’t trampled to death by a flock of hungry chickens first.

 

3Thank you to every one of my readers for coming back week after week. The content on this website is free to access, but does take resources to produce. Please visit my Patreon account to see what I have in the works for the homestead and consider becoming a supporter, which gets you additional content, behind the scenes access, goodies not available on the main site, and unique Thank You gifts for support.

L'homme Theroux CoverIf you’d prefer something more tangible in return for supporting my work, please preview my novel L’homme Theroux and consider purchasing it, if you enjoy the sample chapters.