Thinking Ahead to Winter

Last night Scarlett and I were out meandering in the pasture and a very large flock of birds went overhead. Since then I’ve seen a couple flocks fly by and couldn’t help but think, “Is it that time of year already?” I still think it’s pretty early for birds to be flocking together and heading South but it got me thinking about winter coming and then the panic set in.

It sounds very “Little House on the Prairiesque” but the impending winter makes you really take stalk of what you need to accomplish before the snow flies. I have never had this thought process until last fall when we were coming into our first full winter at this property. I had things that I really wanted to accomplish before winter that would make life so much easier, i.e. pouring the sidewalk patch, read about that project here: https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/03/24/pouring-a-sidewalk-patch/ or putting in a gate in our barn to make it easier to access the pasture (https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/05/29/building-a-wood-gate/.) Luckily, I got all of the important things accomplished last year. Now, it’s time to look ahead to this year’s list.

Narrowing It Down

My husband read a book awhile ago titled, Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight. He summed it up how she sets priorities by making a list of everything you need to do. Now narrow it down. Narrow it down again. And then, narrow it down again. It sounds very common sense, but, once I started using this approach it truly helped me examine what REALLY needed to be done. Not what seemed important, but what do I have to do right now that sets me up for success. All of the fluff things you wanted to get done kind of sink to the bottom and you realize what truly needs to happen.

Now Narrow it down. Narrow it down again. And then, narrow it down again.

I have started using this approach with the acreage. We will have lived on this property for two years come December. There is a list as long as my arm of things I want to get done, that’s just life, specifically life on the homestead. BUT, I am starting to take note of what will make life easier this winter and what will give us a head start in the spring.

This helped me narrow down things to do for the barn, and my garden and probably most important, the wood furnace in the house.

Getting the Barn Winter Ready

We have a hook up for a hydrant in the barn but have not put a hydrant on there basically because I don’t know if anything else needs to be done to it to ensure it is ready for freezing cold temps. As of now I have to run two hoses from the hydrant in the middle of the yard to the pasture and then coil it up and put it in the basement so it doesn’t freeze. Granted, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t the worse thing in the world but when it is below zero out, it sucks! I would love to have a hydrant in the barn and get a lightweight coil hose that only has to reach about 25′ to the water tank. My Dad thinks that we need to do a lot of additional steps to get this hookup ready for the hydrant and I quite honestly just want to have our local plumber come out and give it the green light but also don’t want to have an expensive plumber come all the way out for a simple DIY so really I just need to pull the trigger and get my butt in gear!

The current set-up we have to water the horses is such a pain. We need two hoses to reach the the tank, it’s so far away you can’t even see it!

The next thing on the list for the barn is repair the roof. We have a hole on the North side that definitely needs some attention. I was out there awhile ago during a rain storm and the water was pouring in to the horses shelter area, not OK for so many obvious reasons. I do not do heights so roofs are clearly not my thing and Coby simply doesn’t have time so we are going to hire it out and definitely need to be getting on that because winter will be here before you know it

If you look towards the top of the picture you can see bits of light coming in, clearly not a good thing in a roof!

Moving the Garden Shed

The next thing is move my garden shed to the new foundation we poured, read about that project here: https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/07/10/533/. While this isn’t going to make or break our winter it would make things go a lot smoother next spring. My main reason in wanting to get this in place is so I can start my ground cover walkways so they can take root this fall and early spring before we get out in the garden.

I can’t wait to get this big project completed and have the garden shed moved so I can’t really start building my garden next year!

I thought long and hard about what material to use as a walkway for in between my raised beds. I have always loved going barefoot in the garden and didn’t feel that was a great option using tradition walkway materials of mulch or rock. I also didn’t want the added maintenance of mowing and trimming the walkways if I planted grass. I was very adamant about being comfortable walking barefoot in the garden, there is something so uplifting about connecting with the earth that you are working and I didn’t want to lose that. I kept thinking about it and realized that there had to be some other option and I stumbled upon walkable ground covers. These are huge!! There are people actually replacing lawns with this to make less maintenance! After much research I settled upon Irish Moss as the ground cover I would use for my garden walkways. It can withstand heavy foot traffic and grows rather quickly and has a decent spread so I don’t need millions of plants to get my walkways covered. I referenced the website https://www.stepables.com/, they were great in detailing the pros and cons of each variety of stepable plant. They also sell the plants of course. Since I am going to be covering a wide area of space I ended up buying seeds from a different company and am starting them at home myself.

If you look with a microscopic lens you can see the tiny Irish Moss seed sprout in there!

Wood Furnace

We have a wood stove in the living room. I grew up with a wood stove as our only form of heat because my Dad is very “thrifty” as he likes to call it. I love wood heat, electric heat can’t even begin to touch wood heat in my opinion. Our house is roughly 50′ long with doorways breaking up that distance. That is a lot for a wood stove to try and heat. It would be nice and toasty in the living room but it would be freezing on the other side of the house, something I am not a fan of! The previous owners had a wood furnace installed in the basement and I want so badly to get that thing up and running that way we have that glorious wood heat spreading evenly throughout the house! The previous owner mentioned that the chimney needed to be re-lined so that’s why we didn’t try it last year when we moved in during the middle of winter. Since it hasn’t been used in awhile we want it to get professionally inspected and brought up to snuff because of course burning wood can be dangerous if not done correctly.

Our wood furnace set-up and chimney in the background.

I hope you don’t have a panic moment like I did realizing that winter is around the corner and you have a bunch of stuff you want to get crossed off your to-do list before that happens! I hope this just gave you some food for thought, good luck on checking off that list!

Working with Animals

This morning we moved the steer and horses to another pasture as the grass is getting sparse in the one they were in. Our steer has never had a halter on him and of course, never been broke to lead. We had to move him maybe 20 yards outside of the pastures and fences to get to the new grazing spot. Coby wanted to set up a make shift fence with paneling. Probably the smarter way to go but that seemed like waaay too much work for me. I opted to throw a lead rope around his neck instead, not sure what that really does but it made me feel better. So, being armed with the lead rope in hand and a tub full of feed in the other I opened the gate. He did pretty good, until he felt the lead rope tightening around his neck. Then he started romping around and playing like silly moo cows do. I let go of the lead rope because I am clearly not going to stop him and let him run. Luckily, he is a very lazy steer and didn’t go too far BUT, he did go in the opposite direction of where we needed him to go, of course! He let me walk up to him, grab the lead rope and feed tub and slowly I started backing toward the pasture. I could tell a couple of times he was getting nervous so we stopped and let him grab some bites to calm down and continue on.

Scarlett and “Baby Cow” getting to know each other. She was clearly more excited about that then he was!

It took mere minutes to get him moved but it left my adrenaline a little ramped up! It sounds silly but we are dealing with a 750 pound steer. In all honesty we should still be chasing him around the property 6 hours later but we aren’t. To get an animal, especially one of that size and power to trust you and follow you to a new and unknown place is very a humbling experience.

One thing I have learned when it comes to dealing with animals, especially large animals is that you have to be patient, no matter how hard and excruciating. I sometimes have a hard time going on other peoples schedule, my husband likes to remind me that if it’s not done on my time it’s not right.

Getting ready to walk the boys around the perimeter of their new pasture!

I bought my horse Chocolate when I was in the fifth grade, he was my baby before I had a baby. We have learned so much from each other over the 21 years we have been together. But most importantly, he has taught me to slow down, that not everything can be done by my schedule. There are times you just have to stop everything else, everything that you had planned to do that day may not happen because you are asking this animal that is literally a thousand pounds heavier then you to do something and they aren’t so sure of it yet.

I think over the years Chocolate and I have developed a mutual trust that makes it so much easier to ask him to do something. That, and we are both older, matured and just don’t have the energy to be sassy with each other any more! The other night we went for a ride and I decided it would be fun to see if Chocolate would step up onto the cement patio that has a couple stairs on it. He did it without blinking an eye and then just hopped down like it was no big deal. I was so proud of him and how far we have come as a team.

Scarlett’s first ride on Chocolate at 6 months old. He is such an amazing boy!

It is a great privilege to have this bond and mutual trust between large animals and a human. I have trusted Chocolate not only with my life but also my daughter’s, that’s a lot of trust! It is a gift that we have been given to communicate with animals and it is amazing! I am definitely not perfect and get a little rammy sometimes when it comes to dealing with the animals but I hope to teach Scarlett the same love and affection I have for animals so she can have great bonds with them too.

Building a Wood Gate

We moved to our new homestead on a snowy day a year and a half ago during a winter that my Dad referred to as “This is what I remember winter’s being like when I was a kid.” i.e. I think he was going for that, “We had it so bad we had to walk up hill both ways to get to school” kind of vibe! So once we got everything here we hunkered down and just tried to make it until spring!

Once the weather turned last year we focused on fencing ALL SUMMER LONG (a post on how we did our fencing to come soon!) Now we are looking into some smaller projects that just make our lives easier. The owners that lived here previously used the hog shed for of course, hogs! We are using it as a barn for the horses and chickens and therefore need to do some adjustments to make it more suitable for us. The main thing I wanted to change was getting from inside the barn to the pasture. The previous owners had a very heavy, large piece of wood that slid into slats blocking the doorway in-between the horses shelter and the rest of the barn where we store feed and hay. This large and heavy piece of wood was great for hogs but very difficult for me to give the boys their feed each night. It was easiest for me to go outside and access their pasture via the outside gate. This meant I had to leave Scarlett in the barn by herself and a 2 year old in the barn without visibility made me nervous! I couldn’t wait to make a swinging gate for this doorway!

This board doesn’t look like much but it is a beast!

Like I have mentioned before, my Dad has done construction for longer then I have been alive so I know the basics but I have always had him there to help guide me through projects so this was the first I have really done on my own from start to finish.

The first step I did was measure. I measured about 20 times and then cut once because I tend to get excited and get ahead of myself and have been known to cut things without accurately measuring. I liked the height of the heavy board they had because it blocked the giraffe necked horses from reaching around the corner and grabbing hay that was stacked there for winter. I did want to leave some room on the bottom for clearance of apples that accumulate from the horses during the winter because it was so dang cold that first winter there was no way we were going to get them cleaned out regularly. In total the height of the gate was mounted at 48″ tall but the gate itself was only 44″ in height, leaving a 4″ gap at the bottom for the apples.

I locked the boys out of the barn while working on the inside gate. They were quite intrigued as to what I was doing with their house!

I used 2″ x 6″ lumber. The lumberyard I got it from cut it to length for me which was 44″. I had to cut the width of the final piece so it would fit in the opening. I used a battery operated circular saw for all of the cutting I did. Next I lined up the pieces on saw horses and worked on the brace pieces. I wanted a classic and simple “Z” pattern. I again measured the top and bottom pieces very carefully and cut the boards to length. I screwed these in place using deck screws, that is what my local hardware store suggested for this project. For the diagonal piece of the “Z” I just laid a board across the gate at the angle I wanted and marked where they met the top and bottom brace pieces. I then used my square to take that measurement across the width of the board so I would have an accurate guide to follow and cut those as well. Once I cut it I screwed this into place.

I used one of the other boards as a straight edge to draw a line to follow as a guide to cut the length of the board.

The next step was to take out the slats that held the heavy board into place, they were nailed to the 2″ x 4″ stud that outlined the doorway so it took a little elbow grease and a few choice words and those were out!

I then went onto installing the hardware for the gate, starting with the hinges. I was nervous about this step because I didn’t want to mess anything up. I got large hinges because this isn’t a lightweight gate! I screwed the hinges to the gate and then found various items to put under the gate to hold it in place 4″ above the floor to give me the clearance for any excrement that would accumulate from the horses. I then screwed the other side of the hinges to the 2″ x 4″ stud.

I just started attaching screws at random to get it in place and then filled in the holes.

The next step was attaching the latch, I found a heavy duty latch at Home Depot, one that the horses could not manipulate with their mouths because they can be stinkers like that. I attached the latch to the gate using the accompanying hardware and then slid the latch out like I was locking the gate and fitted the accompanying latch piece and screwed it into place to the stud.

Attaching the latch. I had to use a screwdriver, my drill was too big to fit against the latch itself.

I ensured that my gate would swing into where the horses are because horses can be stinkers and lean on gates, especially my mom’s horse that lives with us, he is a total nuisance and loves this trick. To help with this I made a simple ‘stop’ with the piece of 2″ x 6″ I shaved off for the gate itself. I simply latched the gate into place where it would stop naturally and screwed this extra piece of wood to the stud behind it to offer more protection from naughty ponies leaning against the gate.

My handy dandy “Gate Stop.”

This simple project took a few hours one rainy Sunday afternoon, including beer breaks to let the battery charge for my power tools and it has made doing chores so much easier and safer because I don’t have to leave Scarlett in the barn for very long if she chooses not to come into the pasture to help me. Even Coby and my mom have commented how nice it is to simply walk through the gate and not have to traipse around outside and open the outside gate.

Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?!

I hope this gives you some encouragement to tackle a project that will make your life easier as well. Please let me know what DIY projects you are wanting to tackle in the comments and we can offer each other motivation!