Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Our poor Jaz

I've been kind of discouraged because of this snow.  It makes morning milking more of a chore than I'd like it to be.  I love my quiet time in the mornings with the animals and usually find it relaxing, but having to walk there every day with a backpack isn't as enjoyable as driving there and happily singing my good mornings to everyone.

Yesterday I realized hiking to milk is really nothing in the big scheme of things.  I got a wake up call as to what's really important.  As I entered the milking barn I discovered Jaz, my 21 year old donkey, down and unable to get up.  She has terrible arthritis in her front legs and very little range of motion in them.  I don't know if she strained something slipping in the snow or what but something caused her to go down.  Luckily she chose a nice warm heavily bedded shelter to rest.  I tried bribing her with food and pushing on her from her back but she stayed put.  I called the vet and was very lucky he could come out on such short notice.  They're very busy this time of year (I was told when he got here) pulling calves and dealing with prolapses, etc.  He squeezed me in on his way to pull a calf.  He brought with him a syringe of whatever it is they use for euthanasia, along with pain meds after hearing my description of Jaz's condition.  He took her temperature, which was low because she'd been down a while.  Next we put a halter on her and with a rope pulled her up.  It went way better than either of us expected.  After administering Banamine (pain meds) we massaged her one leg to get some circulation back in it.  It was very dangly.  The vet said after looking at her he was feeling very optimistic so I felt equally so.  I watched her during the day limping around like she wanted to move.  I was hopeful.

This morning I got my binoculars out and looked into the field to see if I could find her.  I could see everyone else but her.  I hiked to the barn and found her down again.  I called James and asked if he'd
come help me get her up.  Unfortunately she was so close to a post of the barn it was hard to maneuver her without her getting wrapped up with it.  We rolled her over twice hoping to get some momentum to get her to rise on her own.  No go.  I finished my milking and other feeding and went back to the house.  Later I looked out the window and saw she'd gotten up and was hobbling around.  I was thrilled only to be disappointed later when I found her down, this time lying in the snow.  I knew she had fallen because of her position and because she didn't choose a shelter.

Again James came down to help me pull on her to no avail.  I felt defeated.  I gave her an apple and another dose of Banamine in hopes I could relieve her pain and she'd want to get up.  Before dusk she was still down and I covered her with a blanket and surrounded her with hay.  I don't know what I'll find tomorrow.

There are so many things I love about raising livestock/animals/pets, but then there are times like this when, as I type about them, I have a lump in my throat.  I'm worried I'll have a tough decision to make tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Artisanal Snow

Come and get your snow here!  Hand shoveled by a Mennonite.  Ok, so James is technically no longer a Mennonite but people love to advertise "Amish made or Mennonite made", so why shouldn't I?

Not only is our snow hand shoveled but it's also gluten free, lactose free, sugar free, fat free and non GMO.  It's the healthiest snow around.

Note how beautifully sculpted the artist carved the snow at the edge of the driveway.  Such intricacy -A true designer.
Come visit - walk around the property until you find some you'd like to take home.  Our bearded master, Baxter, has also created some fine free form compositions.

Act soon, it's going fast (not fast enough).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I love to go a wandering along the snowy track (not)

and as I plod I'm weighted down by 2 gallons on my back... valdereee, valderahhh.

In total I think we got something like 17 or 18 inches of snow, though it's now compacted into about a foot.  We (mostly James) shoveled the driveway yesterday every time it had 3 inches on it.  We did this 3 times.  Weird how the driveway got longer and longer as the day went on.  We quit before dusk.  Today James shoveled another 8 inches or so.  I think he was out there 8 hours.

I was afraid to drive the truck to the field to milk so I walked, carrying most of what I needed on my back.  The load home was a bit harder because I was carrying 2 gallons of Raisa's milk.
I took the road because it was easier walking than trekking through the field.  I've never tried snowshoes but I think I'd like to.
Eventually I had to walk through the deep stuff.  Like the long driveway, the barn seemed farther away today than usual.
Papa had icicles hanging from his face.  Franklin and Lennon tend to use the shelters more than Papa so they weren't as snowy.

All the animals seemed fine, though Cooper and Spotify (pig) were shivering.  It doesn't help that Coopers ears hang in the water when he drinks.

I followed the donkey and cow paths through the snow to get hay for the boys' side of the fence.  On the way back to the milk barn I began following the dogs' trail.  That was a mistake.  Donkeys and cows walk pretty straight lines.  Dogs zigzag all over the place and do it in record time.  I found my way back to the donkey path.  Perhaps you can see the dog trails in this picture.
No one was out fishing today.
The chickens never stepped foot out of the barn.  When I opened their door this morning I'm pretty sure I heard one of them cluck, "what the flock?!!"  They've been very generous with their eggs lately so they must not be too upset.
Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and nearly 40 degrees.  That's more like it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pickling and preparing

Brrrr, it's cold!  That sentence should probably be followed by "finally" since it's been such a warm winter.  I'm not a fan of the cold so I would have been happy with a very long fall leading into spring.

Because it was so cold I stayed indoors today - mostly.  I don't really mind milking and feeding in the cold but I do mind breaking ice in buckets and removing it with my naked hand.  I also hate when the hose is froze(n).

James pulled up the beets last week so I decided today was a good day to pickle them.  They were getting kind of old and losing their sweetness so we thought pickling was the best choice for them.  I miscalculated how many there were so I prepared lots more pickling juice (vinegar and sugar, etc) than I needed.  I only got 5 quarts of beets and had a lot more liquor left so, living in the south, I pickled some hard boiled eggs.  Growing up in PA I'd never heard of pickled eggs.  I'm not sure I'd ever had them until we moved to VA.  Often you see them in gallon sized jars near a cash register when you check out.  I guess it's common for people to say, "throw a couple of 'em eggs in 'ere", when paying for their gas and other snacks.  Adam loves them.  We have an abundance of eggs right now.  Oddly, our chickens decided to start laying in winter.

Even after pickling the beets and eggs I had some sweet vinegar left so I shredded some cabbage and poured it over it.  What the heck.  I was in a pickle (ing mood).
Before it got dark I made one more visit to check on the animals and break ice.  It's supposed to get down in the single digits so I gave them more hay to keep their bellies warm.  Raisa was so excited she led me to the hay by bouncing and frolicking.  She's been very frisky lately.

The goats will begin kidding in early March so they're beginning to get round.  Pessa is always round so it's hard to know if she's pregnant or not.  She does love to eat.

She's been moving very slowly lately, as is Cooper.  I wasn't sure if it was because of her weight, her age or because her feet hurt so I decided to trim everyones' hooves in preparation for kidding season.  Unfortunately I cut one of Darla's back hooves too closely and she's still limping today.  I feel bad about it.

I've just started feeding hay in the past week now that the ground is frozen.  Spotify, my one remaining pig, is learning to eat hay along with the bulls.
I love this picture of the 3 bulls.
And this one of the animals all sharing so nicely.  Darla is the little black and white goat in the foreground with a very round belly.  You might be able to tell how she's holding her left rear foot up because I hurt her :(

Like Raisa, Keri and Rex are also very frisky.  They love this cold weather way more than I.  Their coats are so thick I doubt they even feel it.
We're feeling very thankful for our geothermal heat pump tonight.  It sure beats the wood stove.  Hope everyone else is staying warm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Confessions of an amateur concrete countertop builder

I know I mentioned a while back I was building a new concrete countertop with integrated sink to replace our cracked porcelain sink.  It began as a fun puzzle.  I read all I could and watched every Youtube video on how to do this.  I've done concrete countertops (not well) in the past but I wanted to do a better job this time and the sink made it way more complicated.  There are sink forms you can buy for about $300.00 but none of them quite fit the cabinetry or space so I decided to build my own sink form.  First I built the form for the countertop out of melamine. This part was simple.  I just measured the existing countertop and made sides that were 1 3/4 inches high.  I drew in pencil where the sink would go.
Next I built a form which would be the inside of the sink.
I sanded down all the rough edges and corners and filled in any gaps then sprayed with a clear coat to cover up the exposed particle board.  I also marked where the drain should go.  Next I had to build the outside box that would form the outside wall of the sink which would hold the concrete in around the inner form.  I guess I didn't take a photo of it.  It rested on the walls of the countertop form and surrounded the inner sink form, creating a 1 1/2 inch wall.    My drain was formed with a piece of PVC, a basin stopper and a few layers of gasket material in the size of the lip of the drain. I used PVC to form the holes for the faucet and the soap dispenser.  I also put rebar in after filling the form with concrete about 2/3rds full and also putting some remesh in the floor of the sink. In this picture the rebar is resting on the form but I removed it before pouring concrete.
This is the gasket material I cut for the drain. 
There's now a concrete made specifically for countertops.  It's a special order though and you can't just go to Lowes or Home Depot to get it.  I ordered it from Home Depot because our Lowes doesn't carry this brand.  It took a few weeks to come in so I had plenty of time to study my form, measure and remeasure to be sure I had everything just right.  I began building the form on November 19th so I had lots of time to prepare for the pouring on December 11th.  Here's a picture of the countertop portion with concrete when I placed the rebar in.  It's important you note the placement of the sink form and faucet hole.
Now note the placement of the sink and holes in the next photo after pouring the concrete for the sink and removing the forms.
 Here it is from another angle.  Does something look different?
After we poured the concrete, James was cleaning the tools and I was vibrating the concrete to get the bubbles out, I stopped short and thought I was going to vomit.  I realized I had it all backwards.  Either the faucet would be on the outside where you stand at the sink or if I flipped the counter the other way it would be where the dishwasher goes.  I wanted to cry. Instead I called James over and asked him to help me move things around and see if we could salvage this mess.  It meant taking all the concrete off the sink, taking rebar out where faucet holes went and sliding the sink form back to the other side of the form.  The sink and faucet holes had been glued down.  At this point I could no longer see my pencil lines to know where the edge of the sink belonged and we had to eye it.  Nothing was now glued down and I was certain this was a waste of time, melamine and concrete.  James just went along with me.  As we were doing the final tapping of the form to get bubbles out the outside sink form started coming apart and the concrete was collapsing.  I won't go on about how frustrating and defeating this was but we finally called it quits and hoped for the best. I knew if this ended up in our kitchen it would be a miracle.

Getting the inside form out of the sink wasn't easy.  We had sprayed it initially with Pam hoping the concrete would release easily but since we had scraped the concrete off once and had to reapply it any releasing agent wouldn't have worked.  We had to chisel the melamine out.  I worried about breaking the sink, or at the very least, making a mess of the floor of it.
Once we removed the forms completely I measured things and went inside to remeasure the cabinet to see what wasn't going to work.  As far as I could tell it looked like things were pretty close to what they should be.  I decided to keep working on it and spent a few weeks trying to get the finish the way I wanted.  There were several air bubbles.  I mixed up a slurry of portland cement, concrete bonder and fortifier, along with some black concrete colorant.  This made a neat design out of the air bubble holes, I thought.   Notice the rough edges and the rough groove around the inside of the sink.
I kept resurfacing the counter and sink with the portland cement mix, then sanding it down or grinding it when I was really unhappy with my attempts.  At one point I tried staining it and hated the outcome so I put another coat of slurry on it and began again.  I'd have to say most of my expense on this whole project was on sandpaper and grinding attachments.  Here it is at one point along the way. Notice how the edges are getting smoother.

My goal was for it to look like stone.  I feel like the finished product looks very much like it.  Today we installed it and to my great surprise it fits and looks awesome.  After all the headaches and things that went wrong, today things went right.  Even the plumbing only took one try with no leaks.  I can't stop looking at it or rubbing my hands on it.  It's silky smooth and shiny.  It's finished with 2 coats of grout sealer, followed by 2 coats of paste wax.

I think it would look way better with a stainless steel dishwasher to match the rest of our appliances but this one still works.  I can't get any pictures that really do it justice or maybe I just think it's prettier than it really is.

Maybe the reason I like it so well is because I was so sick of looking at this.

In total this whole project cost around $400.00, including faucet, drain, plumbing hardware, concrete, etc.  I had a lot of the tools, equipment and products in my garage or basement so that saved some money.  From what I've read it would have cost approximately $1,500.00 to hire someone to build this for me so I'm pretty happy about that.  Next project is to reface the other existing concrete countertops, using the portland cement mix.  I have a few ideas for designs, which I'll save for another blog.    I know this was a long one but it was a long time in the works.