Homesteading Toys, I Mean Tools

Living on an acreage usually means that you may have a few more tools, or toys as some may prefer to call them then the average homeowner. I recently bought a new toy that I have had my eye on at the local farm store for quite awhile!

It is amazing how excited one gets when they get a new toy to help them with tasks on the farm, here is a round up of a few of my favorites that I have been using quite a bit lately.

Garden Hopper

I found this fabulous contraption via Laura from my favorite Youtube channel, Garden Answer. I always envisioned a cutesy, old-fashioned basket to take fresh veggies from the garden to the house but when I saw this it just made so much sense! It is still eye appealing, has plenty of room AND you can rinse the veggies off right in the basket and let the water drain through! There are three different sizes, I chose the middle size because it was big enough to hold a good haul of produce but still small enough for Scarlett to carry, which she loves to do!

A Good Old Tractor

This one may be an obvious one but only in the past couple of years have I truly began to appreciate a good tractor with a loader bucket. Growing up we mainly used the four-wheeler and a cart to do various tasks but when Coby and I got married he introduced me to how awesome a tractor can be! I use it for everything! From yard work to dragging the garden to mowing the pasture. I love how versatile it can be. I’m definitely not an expert at maneuvering yet but my first thought when I see a large branch broken off in the tree still hanging there is, “I can hook a chain up to that and pull it down with the tractor!” Or, “I hate that giant planter that is anchored in the ground with cement footings, I’ll just rip it out with the tractor!”

Spring Cleaning the barn!

A Handy, Dandy Garden Cart

This is the item I had been eye balling at the local farm store for about a couple months. We have an old wheel barrow that has a flat tire and is pretty rusted. Not the end of the world but honestly, wheel barrow’s are definitely a needed commodity on the farm but they’re such a pain to maneuver. You get off balance while carting them around and SPLAT, the whole thing falls over and you lose everything you were trying to transport. I loved that this cart had a flat bottom and could stand on it’s own no problem. It’s still very spacious inside and honestly, I think it may have more cubic area then most wheel barrows. When I brought this home I was literally coming up with things in my head to use it for so I could test it out. We decided to give it a test run cleaning out the chicken coop. I had it about 2/3 full and was afraid it would be too heavy but it wasn’t bad. Taking it through the pasture on some uneven ground was slightly challenging with the flat bottom all the way around but it wasn’t bad. Also keep in mind, I wasn’t just trying to maneuver it over uneven terrain but also trying to maneuver it with the help of a baby!

Another cart that I got was the gorilla cart, it was a Christmas present from my mom. You know you’re becoming a garden nerd when you receive a cart for Christmas and are ecstatic! Scarlett and I were putting it together in the barn last night and I can’t imagine how useful this will be in the upcoming seasons. I have been using Scarlett’s radio flyer wagon to haul items around the yard before but I think this will be a little more suited to some of the dirty jobs I have to do!

Digging Fork

I feel is a staple in any barn, whether you really have critters or not and it was just left there from when there were animals inhabiting that barn. To be honest, this is how we came to acquire this tool. I had never really used it much before because we have an actual pitchfork that works better for mucking out barns but it’s skinny tines can sometimes render it useless.

I have been using this a lot lately to help clean up hay on the barn floor. We have small bales and of course the shaft separates from the flakes of hay and ends up on the floor. For what I am paying this dry year for hay I am sure not going to let it go to waste! I have been using this to easily rake it up and take it to the fence for the Boys to enjoy!

This is one of my new favorite tools!

Final Thoughts

These are the items I have been reaching for time and time again lately for help around the acreage, what are your go-to items that make your life a little easier on the farm?

“Patiently” Waiting for Spring

Spring has sprung and I realized I’m not ready!

Last night Scarlett and I were out taking stock of the property since most of the snow disappeared with the warm temperatures yesterday and I stopped in my tracks and beckoned my ear for a better listen, it was a Red-Winged Black Bird! Every year there is always the conversation about how spring must be close if the Red-Winged Blackbird is back!

Apparently the Redwing Blackbirds were a little late getting to our place!

Luckily spring is just around the corner and I cannot wait, the weather is going to be nice so I can get started on everything I want to do with the garden, the chicken coop, the barn… the list goes on and on! I felt like I was ready to go and had everything in order to start all of this year’s projects but now that the time is here I’m having “Oh crap!” moments and realizing I might be a little less prepared then I thought.

I love getting to change from my bulky winter boots to these darling rubber boots in spring!

When we were in the coop last night I was doing some measuring for some nesting boxes and setting up a nice spot for the girls to roost instead of on top of the feed container where they hang out now. We then went into the main area of the barn and I saw our cute wooden ladder that we use to get into the haymow sitting on the floor and remembered that I wanted to get some brackets to mount it to the posts in the barn so it won’t be in our walking path anymore and I started to get that overwhelmed feeling creeping up. I have a tendency to be a little impatient and when I get an idea in my head I want to do it NOW! Partner that with some recently manifested anxiety and I was getting way in over my head before the season truly even started! I had to make myself pause and stop my mind from racing ahead of itself.

My TRUE sign of spring! When my mom’s horse starts shedding it means we’re getting close to spring. When my horse starts shedding, it means spring is here!

Last year when I was trying to get everything done for the season I made a monthly to do list instead of having one big, “Get it ALL done list.” This really helped me visually break it down and plan for each weekend which is when we do our larger projects around here since we work during the week and it really helped! It not only helped me plan but also helped my husband because he knew what I wanted to do in the upcoming days so we could chat about it and get a clear picture of what he needed to do that weekend as well for his business and make it all run smoothly.

I am definitely a need to write everything down kind of person!

I of course want to get everything going on our property that I enjoy, the garden, making the chicken coop cute AND functional but I am trying to get myself to slow down and enjoy the process. The process is never-ending, there is always going to be something that needs to be done or something that I want done so I’m trying to enjoy it because, as they say, getting there is half the fun!

Happy spring All!

Moving Our Shed

Envisioning a New Life for a Repurposed Shed

I mentioned awhile ago the list of to-do’s I wanted to complete before winter hit. One of them the pro’s told me wasn’t the best idea and we would have to go a different direction that would have to wait until spring and the other I just sadly haven’t got to yet. BUT, this past weekend I did get one of my big items on my list DONE!

The shed where it stood in the background and it’s new home up front!

We finally got my garden shed moved to it’s rightful place! This summer we poured a cemetn foundation in my garden (read about that process here https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/07/10/533/.) We finally were able to coordinate a time with my Dad to have him come out and instruct us on how to properly move the shed.

Getting Prepped

Our first step in moving the shed was cutting all of the bolts that were securing it to the current cement foundation. Coby used a Sawzall for this.

We had to switch to the corded Sawzall as the battery operated just didn’t seem to have enough umph to cut through the bolts.

The most involved part of this process was getting the shed prepped to move to ensure that it would structurally stay together while moving it. The shed is about 10′ x 10′ so we bought six 2×4’s in 10′ lengths and two 12′ 2×4’s to help brace the shed.

Setting Up the Braces
  1. We placed two on the side walls, about 2′ up from the floor. These were also used to give us something to jack the building with too.
  2. One across the center of the building, perpendicular to the ones on the side.
  3. Two along the side with the door, one along the bottom and another at an angle across the door. There was one along the bottom of the back wall as well.
  4. The two longer boards we attached at an angle high up on the back wall angling down to the floor of the wall with the door.

We then started using two jacks to raise up one side of the building. Coby and my Dad were using the jacks to raise the building just enough for me to slip a 6×6 block underneath of the building to hold it up. The building has some rotten spots that gave way during this phase. When this happened it made the whole building shift a little and I had to reposition the blocks to make sure the buidling was steady. Once this step was complete we positioned skids that my Dad had made, they were made of 4×6 lumber with holes drilled into them and chain loops drawn through so we had a place to attached a tow rope. With the skids positioned I took a 2×6 board and screwed it into each skid on the front and back to help act as another brace while moving. We got everything attached and hooked up to the tractor, the moment of truth was here!

Moment of Truth- Moving the Building

Coby eased the tractor forward and a loud wood splitting sound pierced the air, my inital thought was,

“Well, there goes the building!”

Luckily it turned out just to be one of the 2×6 brace posts snapped. When it snapped it pulled some of the skid with it so I had to reposition it, nice and tight against the building and re-attached it.

I thought this was going to be a super slow step but it sped right along! I apologize for the sound quality, it was a very windy day!

The moment of truth was here again! Coby eased the tractor forward again and I was amazed at how fast he could move that thing and it did great! He got it lined up with the new cement foundation, got the front tractor tires onto the foundation and couldn’t get quite enough umph in the tractor to get the rear tires over the foundation as there is about a 1′ rise from the ground to the top of the cement. He then decided to unhook the skid, drive the tractor by itself over the foundation and turn it around. We were then able to hook up the tow rope and chain onto the bucket and have the tractor in reverse to tow it. Once the building was right next to the foundation Coby lifted the bucket the chain was attached to very gently and we nestled the 6×6 blocks under the skids to help elevate the skids into place to get it onto the foundation since it is elevated so much higher then the ground because we live on a hill. We had to do this again with some 4×4 blocks on top of the 6×6 blocks as well to ensure the skids would be able to clear the foundation. After we were set up Coby put the tractor into reverse and pulled it onto the foundation!

Securing the Building to the Foundation

At this point we realized the Tapcon concrete screws we had were definitely too small. I got the largest size available at the local hardware store but my Dad was not comfortable with using those to anchor the shed to the foundation. Since it was rather windy this day we decided to leave the shed as was, anchored on the skids and wait until we could get larger Tapcon’s.

My Dad got 5″ Tapcons during the week, there is a 2″ footing with 2×4’s around the bottom of the building so this gave us 3″ that would go into the cement foundation to secure the building.

The next weekend Dad and I set out to get the building anchored to the foundation. We started by using the loader on the tractor to gently push the building more square on the foundation. It was a little askew when Coby pulled it on the foundation so we let the tractor do most of the work for us to get it centered. We then took out the skids and slowly lowered the shed onto the foundation.

We had to add plates on the South wall of the shed as they had rotted away. We had a 2×6 laying around and cut them it length. We had to do some fabricating to make it fit the building correctly as the adjoining wall jut out slightly. The rest of the building had two plates so we added two to this wall as well.

As we were trying to get the footings around the building secured with Tapcon screws we realized the East and West sides of the building toward the door slanted up. We started to dismantle the braces we installed on the inside of the building to move it hoping that would shift enough to gently let the building rest flush to the floor. We worked at trying to get this thing flush for a long time but it wasn’t cooperating. Dad thought that possibly the old foundation angled one direction and then our new one maybe angled the opposite direction so the building was not sitting right. I was rather appalled he would suggest such a thing as setting up the framework for that foundation I swear was almost the death of me. I thought we had leveled the framework to within an inch of my life but who knows!

You can really see the gap underneath where the shed won’t rest on the foundation. Dad wonders if maybe they only used one plate on the right side where they used two on every other side of the building. We will test this theory and I will let you know!

We used a steel tamping/digging bar to get the building to sit exactly where I wanted it, scooting it an inch this way and that until it was perfect. We used the level to ensure that the door was square and would securely close. We then used a 3/16″ Masonry bit to pre-drill holes for the Tapcon screws. This took some time and patience because of course, drilling out cement isn’t a fast job! I then used my impact driver to secure the screws. I sadly have a hard time getting enough pressure on a drill to fasten things without stripping them but for some reason the impact driver works so much better for me. It’s an embarrassing flaw for the daughter of a man who’s done construction all his life but it’s the truth!

Final Thoughts – It’s Done!

We have the building fastened down and it looks amazing in it’s new home! It really anchors my garden and is the perfect axis to center everything from. Not to mention it will be handy to have all the gardening tools right there when I need them! Now I just have to wait until spring to really get everything in full swing!!

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.

Top 5 Reasons Raising Country Kids is the Best

Growing up in the country was a big influence on who I am today. I truly believe that experience is everything and makes you who you are. I grew up on a small acreage that was fairly self sufficient and many of the things I do today I can trace the reason being that I grew up in the country. My sister has a new beau and invited his parents to my Dad’s 4th of July celebration. Since it’s a small town I already knew her boyfriend’s mom pretty well. She commented numerous times after seeing my Dad’s place how wonderful it must have been growing up there and she made the connection of why my sister and I are the way we are simply because growing up there!

  1. Play- I am not about scheduled play dates and structured activities for Scarlett. Those things can be good too but that is so much work and stress for ME as the parent and I am not about that! I believe in letting Scarlett whip a stick around and play with that. Watching her with it you can see she has a purpose for what she is doing, she has some story playing out in her mind and it is so fun to see and to imagine along with her! There is so much research backing free play. I recently read an amazing book titled, Simple Happy Parenting by Denaye Barahona. She has a Ph. D. in Child Development with a specialty in Family Wellness so she comes at this from an educated stand point. She made an excellent point that our education system is shifting from just memorizing facts and figures because let’s face it, the kids of today can look up anything in a matter of seconds. Instead, education is shifting to focus on the 4C’s, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity. This concept blew me away but made so much sense with the way our world is now. What better way to encourage these concepts then free play!

2. Caring for Others- When you have critters you have to care for them. It doesn’t matter how frigid the wind is, how blazing hot the sun is or if you had a horrible day. Your animals need to be fed and watered and YOU have to do it. Being a country kid you learn responsibility early because you have a life outside your own that depends on you and you have to care for your animals.

3. Life and Death- Even though we lovingly care for our animals life will come to an end. Death is a part of life. Scarlett had a kitten named Sandy that we hand fed because her mom suddenly passed away from an unknown cause. When I found Sandy my first instinct was to hide her before Scarlett could see her. Scarlett was about one and a half at the time. But instead I thought she needed to know what happened to her kitty cat and decided to use it as a teaching moment. Scarlett came over and enthusiastically called, “Kitty Cat!” like she always did to Sandy. When Sandy didn’t move I could see the confusion on Scarlett’s face and it was heart breaking to me. I explained to her that Sandy had passed and she is now in heaven with God. I know she doesn’t understand now but I believe in explaining things as they are because some day it will click in her mind. Another great aspect of living in the country is you get to see life coming into the world. Whether it be a kitten or Baby Buck Bucks or a new calf. There is something magical about babies, no matter what species they are! I know as a kid my parents NEVER sat down and had the ‘Birds and the Bees’ talk with me because I already knew, simply by being around the animals. I remember on more then one occasion watching the sheep or cats do their thing and announcing to everyone that we were going to have lambs or kittens! You simply learn the facts of life by watching nature.

Scarlett loving on Sandy.

4. Where Food Comes From- In such a modern world it is so easy to become disconnected from our food supply. You get the munchies, go to the store, grab what you’re in the mood for all packaged up nicely and there you go. But obviously there’s so much more to it. We have a garden for veggies and hopefully soon a small orchard for some fruit. One of my favorite evening activities is spending time in the garden with Scarlett to water the plants and pull weeds. It is such a peaceful and reflective time for me. She helps pull weeds too and harvests produce with me. She got her first fresh strawberries this spring and couldn’t get enough of them. It was such a wonderful moment seeing her excited and enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures. Along with produce we also have our own steer that we will be butchering this winter. About a month ago my Dad called me at 6am on a Sunday morning wondering if I could come over because they decided they were going to butcher chickens that day. I took over our old hen who hadn’t laid in a long time so we could butcher her as well. We went up to where they were butchering and there was already a pile of dead chickens laying there. It understandably upset Scarlett. I picked her up and explained that chickens lay yummy eggs for us but we also eat their meat as well. I didn’t want to really get into it but simply explain the facts to her. She spent the rest of the day running around chasing kittens so it didn’t seem to bother her after that. I think it was the initial shock that really threw her off. I had debated how to present this to her gently but due to circumstances out of my control the pile of dead chickens made the jump for me and I just explained things best I could and she seemed OK with that. We made chicken noodle soup that night, when I told her what it was she took a big bite of chicken, said “chicken”, and kept munching so either she didn’t make the connection or it didn’t bother her too much!

5. Hard Work- Living in the country is hard work. Anything you truly want in life is hard work and living in the country helps instill that work ethic in you. Hard work can suck, let’s be honest, BUT the gratification that comes from a completed task is worth it. Scarlett has been a doer since she was able to control her limbs. She is always with us no matter what we are doing. We firmly believe that she does what we do. Last summer she was one and a half and we were cleaning up a large tree that had to come down in the yard. She was right there with us picking up little baby branches and placing them in the tractor. Coby and I were so proud of her working right along with us. She amazes us with things that she is able to do and we certainly cheer her on for it. As kids we were expected to help our parents with things and I remember doing things that my parents didn’t think I would be able to, i.e. lifting a log into the wagon and them being amazed! I thrived on that high! I hope we can instill that in Scarlett as well to push herself and amaze even herself with what she can do.

Hard Working Baby Cleaning up Sticks

I loved growing up in the country and clearly enjoy country life still. Clearly kids growing up in town and the cities learn these lessons as well but I feel learning them in the country helps instill these lessons early in life. I may be romanticizing it, but I think back to my childhood with such fondness and my love for nature and clearly can trace that back to living a simple, wonderful life in the country and hope Scarlett will too.

DIY Chicken Tractor

How I upcycled vintage screen doors into a cute and functional chicken tractor.

Where we used to live was surrounded by cornfields and was close to the river, a mecca for wild critters that liked to feast on chickens. I decided I needed a chicken tractor but didn’t really want to spend the money on a ready made one or a bunch of lumber to make my own more “traditional” chicken tractor. The place we rented at that time has had people in and out of there, many of whom left collectables behind. There was a set of gorgeous vintage, screen doors. I am not sure what they went to as the house was not set up for something like those but I was going to put them to use!

I love that this chicken tractor gets the girls used to being outside in a safe, and easy to catch environment before I let them free range.

Designing and building

Chicken tractors in their most rudimental form is just a triangle and seeings how we don’t have many girls I didn’t need a big space. I was simply going to make a triangle out of the screen doors connecting them at the bottom with some lumber I had on hand.

First and foremost I did have to do some minor repairs, the bottom of one of the doors was rotten so I removed that piece and used some scrap lumber and pieced it together, it isn’t pretty but it works and is sturdy so the girls are safe. I then spray painted the wood white to protect it and make it pretty! As you can see it’s been a few years since I constructed this and need to do it again, maybe with roll on paint this time.

Here’s the corner I patched together with some spare wood lyng around.

I bought a roll of chicken wire that fit perfectly on my doors and rolled it out on the inside of the door and attached it with a staple gun.

It was then time to put it together! To connect the top of the doors at the peak I just butted them together and had Coby screw them together, he was my driller for this project as I was wearing a cute baby at the time! To connect the bottom of the doors to the wood brace posts I just used the hinges that were still attached to the doors! I did have to move the hinges to the end of the board and put them on the other side but they worked great!

Now that the frame was built I finished enclosing the space with the chicken wire by rolling the wire on the end triangle pieces, stapling with the staple gun and cut the excess with wire cutters. This did leave some sharp edges exposed but I have not had any problem.

The final step was adding handles to the ends, I just found some cheap, yet sturdy handles at the hardware store and attached them to either end using the hardware that came with it.

It may not be perfect but it’s sturdy.

Final Tips

I had originally intended on adding wheels but decided against it as it would raise the tractor too high and I was afraid smaller/younger chickens would escape. It is a little heavy but once you get it in the general area it is easy to move one end at a time a few feet over to fresh grass.

The other night I had my “teenage” sized Buck Bucks in the tractor a little later then normal and they escaped! I think they were nesting down for the night and realized that they could slip out the side because the brace board raises the entire piece 2″. I had them in it yesterday and there were no escapees so I think we are OK but something to think about.

I also intend on adding some sort of shading element. I had a tarp strapped over one end but the puppy dismantled that! I have thought of using leftover corrugated metal but am afraid they would get too hot. I want it to provide shade/shelter from rain but also let a breeze go through easily so I am still working on that. For now I don’t put them out if it is going to rain and keep them between two trees that provide shade both in the morning and afternoon.

It was fun using stuff I found around the place, not only does it work well but it gives an ordinary, functional object some fun whimsy, plus, it’s cost effective!