Sunday, April 22, 2012


I told Phoebe I could do a post in just 6 words but I think I can do it in 4. Here goes:

The mowing. THE MOWING!
It is that special time of year in the NW when the grass grows 4-6 inches in a week. If you don't stay on it, you get buried by it. Between our two places, I imagine we mow a couple of acres.
At both places we use Snapper walk-behind mowers, the kind with rear wheel drive. We have had a few over the years, and have found them to be excellent mowers. 

Several times a year, we long for a tractor. But we are not yet ready to spend the money. There is a lot we could do with one, between the blackberries, brush, mowing and landscaping projects, but so far, the mowers are getting us through. Phoebe looks at it as her aerobic exercise.

A riding lawn mower sounds attractive some times too, but the ground is so rough I think it would be a miserable ride.
I used to be the primary mower, but that is no longer the case. At our town property, where these photos were taken, my father-in-law does most of it. I feel bad sometimes, having a man in his 80s do what used to be my mowing, but he sees it as a way to contribute. I really appreciate his effort, and I try to jump in when I can.

And at the Homestead, Phoebe has been doing almost all the mowing. I must say, it is really nice to show up and see the place looking neat and tidy.
I am curious about other parts of the country. How is the grass growing where you live? Is it crazy fast like here, or more moderate? Tractor, riding, push, or goats?
And do your apple trees look this pretty right now?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mud Control

I am about to share a piece of information that will change your life. That is if your life is full of


 And this little secret will turn

If you have any livestock at all, mud is a fact of life. Especially here in the Willamette Valley, where we are having a record setting spring for precipitation.

Horses can be the worst of offenders because of their weight, habits and their wide hooves which act like plungers on the soil.

Years ago a friend who ran a horse rescue gave us a tip which we have capitalized on for many wet winters. Rubber stall mats. The kind you would line horse trailer floors or cement floored stalls with.
Lay them right on the soil, BEFORE the mud begins.

If you lay them out after the mud gets deep, the mats will migrate and sink. Like this one did. They still keep the mud down but they don't work as well as they can if you put them down while it is still dry out.
The horses love to hang out in this corner where they can see the trailer, so they can see if we are coming to feed them on any given moment of the day. They like to dream that that could happen. The mat that has worked it's way up on top of the others only did that because we put it down after there was already some mud. If we had put it down while it was dry out it would have stayed put, like the other mats in the photo.
If you put them down while the soil is dry and flat, they will prevent the mud from forming in the first place, by spreading the weight of the animal over a wider area and causing rain to run off in another direction. They work amazingly well for years and years if they are put down while the soil is dry.

Stall mats are a bit expensive, around $35 on sale but they last forever and make you and your animals life so much better. They're mobile so you can take them elsewhere when you need to. Albeit a little like wrestling a giant stinky eel, if you have to move them in winter.

They are made of recycled tires and last forever. We have some that are 14 years old. They don't smell so great, but they do the job.

Buck and I invested a bit of money last fall on setting up our loafing shed and the accoutrement that go with having a sturdy and safe area for livestock. At the top of the list and worth every dime were several stall mats.
Strategic placement of the mats help make the most of what we've got. Inside the loafing shed they make a safe and sanitary place to toss hay. Make sure you do not let the edge of a mat hang out in the roof drip line though, because it will funnel water into your barn.

They also make it extremely easy to clean out the shed with a flat shovel. Then we just hose it off. It always helps if you have situated your shed and pasture on slightly higher ground, so that you have good drainage.
Most livestock want to pace the fence closest to the barn where the food comes from.

Gates are a funnel for increased foot traffic.

Water and food troughs are always a real vortex of mud too.

We are far from having a mud free pasture, but these mats make all of our lives a lot better all winter long and each summer we will add a few more.

 Here are a few of the websites I have found useful in my battle with mud.

Pennsylvania State University "Nutrient Management"
Sacrifice area.
Oregon State University Small Farm
Tips on Land and Water Management for Small Farm and Livestock owners

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bird Songs in Spring

I know, that title sounds like a bad 6th grade poetry assignment.
I can't help it. Here at the Homestead it's spring and I feel like I'm in the 6th grade. I find myself sniffing the air and rubbing moss with my finger tips. I want to ramble through the woods with a wax paper wrapped PBJ sandwich in my pocket and eat it by the creek at the bottom of the hill. But I can't. I have work to do today. Instead I take a moment and watch the birds do what I wish I could.
The Northern Flickers are calling back and forth. The White-Crowned Sparrows chase each other from tree to tree and a Robin lilts the song he only sings now, when the Morel mushrooms are about to spring up from the thick brown duff in the woods.