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August 2018

The Lazy Days of Summer

25 August 2018 – Sunny and 86 degrees

The weekly blog post has fallen completely off of my weekly to-do list.  Probably because Dave and I have just been sitting around eating bon-bons, watching our stories on the TV, and drinking wine while the sun sets.  Ha ha, I wish!  We FINALLY got done haying the second week of August (just over a 1,000 bales for us) and over 300 bales for the neighbor, Sheri.

We separated calves from mama cows and sent the bull and the older ladies up to a northern pasture. The calves are penned up over at the High Lonesome, where Cowboy and Linda have the facilities and fence to keep them from their moms.  The first week, the babies bawled and bawled so much that the mamas broke out the northern pasture three times and came back to find their kids.  So we rounded them up and sent them north again and again.  Finally, they decided they weren’t going to get to see their babies anymore and stayed put.  The calves decided they like living the high-life at the High Lonesome, since Pilot Dave feeds them a bucket of creep twice a day and makes sure they have hay and water.

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The mamas and the bull up in the north pasture’s pond
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The calvies having creep for breakfast

I am pretty sure I wrote this last year, but creep is a supplement to help wean the calves from milk and onto grass.  It basically looks like grain and they love it. So we will keep them on creep for another week or so and then they should be good with grass.  These calves are all going to auction in October, so rather than reunite them with the herd, we plan to just keep them separate and make our lives easier when it is time for them to go.  I don’t want to think about it.

Other than calve creeping and watering, we have been working on putting a fence around the barn.  Once that is complete, the herd (minus calves) can come over to the Holler and graze our pastures. We thought that building a fence around the barn would be about a ten day project, and I’m sure you can guess why it has taken us over 2 weeks…..that’s right, ROCKS.IMG_6995

In typical South Dakota style, some fence posts went right in the ground, and others required Pilot Dave and I to pound, chisel, dig, and even rent a jack-hammer.  When Dave went in to get the jack-hammer, the guy at the hardware store said, “Last time, you told me not ever to rent this to you again!”  After a day of pounding away, we remembered why.

Dave and I were discussing how we feel like we are tired all the time, but we both feel stronger than when we first moved out here.  In 2016, I could barely hold the jackhammer up, but this summer, I actually got in there and worked on quite a few holes.  He said it didn’t seem as tough as the first time for him either.  Ranching makes you thick! (Or thick-headed!)

So after getting the corner posts in and lined up, we went to work lining up T-posts, then stringing wire, stretching wire, tying off wire, and clipping wire to the posts.  We are done with that part this afternoon and enjoying a cold Keystone for our work.  The only thing left is to hang the gates, and we will do that after a quick trip to Rapid to buy them on Tuesday.

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Northwestern corner of the barnyard
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Southwestern corner with the barn in the back

We decided with all the hay in the barn and the impending fall weather, it was time to get some barn cats to keep the mice out of the hay.  This morning, Linda and I went to the humane society and picked out two potential mousers.

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The (Grey) Goose

Goose is really sweet, social, and friendly.  She does have a feisty side and will bat at you if you come at her a little too quickly.  We hope this means she will hunt.  Maverick is really stand-offish and shy. That’s why I haven’t got a picture of him yet. We let him in the barn and in half a second he disappeared into the hay bales and we haven’t seen him since.  I’m hoping he will warm up to us, or not.  As long as he can find his food, water, and get some mice it is all good!  The plan is to keep them in the barn for 4-5 days while they figure out it is safe, they have beds to sleep in, food and water, and a target rich environment.  Then they will be outdoor/barn kitties.  Happy hunting!

And finally, sometime over a week ago, I harvested honey from the bees.  Both hives are going strong and I saw evidence of queens in each.  I left the new colony all the honey they have made (which I’m estimating is around 70lbs) since they will need it this winter.  I harvested a little over 2 gallons from the original hive as the two deep supers I think have about 70-80 lbs of honey for them this winter.

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Filtered honey dripping into jars
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The bright yellow stuff going into the filter

This harvest, the honey was more yellow, not as perfumey, and just a little sweeter than last.  I think they got more nectar from wild flowers as the sweet clover is almost all gone. Either way, those magnificent little bees just keep working away!  I will open the hive only two more times before winter; once to put in a mite treatment, and another to take the mite treatment out.  Then the hives get wrapped in tar-paper and we will wish them luck.

Oh and one more thing.  Remember the giant piles of rocks left from the barn excavation?IMG_5328

Dave put an ad on Craig’s List and wrote, “Free rocks!”  and about 10 days later, a gentleman called and said he was putting in a driveway and needed the rocks for a base.  We said, “Come and get ‘em!”  And he came for 11 loads of rocks, using his own Bobcat and dump trailer to load and haul them away.  Hooray for Craig’s List!

That’s the August wrap-up.  We hope everyone is doing good out there in the real world! And P.S. at the time of this post I have seen Maverick the Cat.  I went up to the barn and hung out drinking my morning coffee and the little guy got brave enough to come out and say Hi.  Then Goose smacked him around a bit and he ran back into the hay bales.  Cat Drama!

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Sheriff Joe takes a nap after a hard afternoon of fencing.

 

The Barn Door is Open!

4 August 2018 – Sunny and highs in the low 80s

Please excuse the title of this post, I couldn’t resist.  Anyway:  Woohoo!  We have a barn!

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Barn under construction in late June
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The big red barn

The barn was actually completed mid-July, but I haven’t had a chance to write about it because we have been busy filling it up with stuff.  After the building was complete, we had several loads of gravel brought in.  Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave used Cowboy’s tractor (since it is a little more maneuverable than Babe) to spread the gravel inside.

 

This all happened at the same time we were still haying, so we immediately began stacking hay in the barn.

 

We also have been using it to store equipment, and are especially happy that our tractor, Babe, has a sheltered place to stay.  The intense South Dakota sun, and the frequent hail storms can really do a number on equipment that is constantly outside, so we are hoping to prolong the life of our tractor.

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Bob and Babe protected from the elements

We are planning on putting up a hay loft.  The builders engineered it and put in four support beams, but in the interest of time and money, we have elected to do this ourselves. Clearly, we have a lot of free time…ha ha ha ha ha!  Once haying is finally done and autumn sets in we will get to work on the hay loft, stalls, equipment racks etc.

The other big barn project is all the rocks that were displaced for construction.  Does anyone want any?  Really, come and get them, they are FREE ROCKS!  And they rock.  (Sorry, again I have been spending too much time in the sun.) Rancher Dave and I have been slowing digging out and picking up the big boulders, primarily with the use of Babe.  Our ultimate goal is to have gravel around all sides where we can drive a truck and hopefully have enough space in the front to turn around or back a trailer.  We have mostly completed the front side.

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Moving more rocks
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The front nearly complete with gravel and the road back to the house

We also completed a road from the house to the barn. It’s kind of ironic that we have all these rocks and we keep purchasing more rocks in the form of gravel.

We are really happy to have so much space to store hay. Speaking of hay, we were hoping to get 1000 square bales out of our properties this season.  Last year we got around 600, and this year we got exactly 1002!  Goal accomplished.  We need about 1050 to feed our cows for the winter, so we will end up buying some round bales anyway, but not nearly what we bought last year.  Also, it is good to have a contact you can buy hay from and the best way to keep that contact is to buy hay each year, so we really don’t mind buying a little.  Hay is a lot cheaper now than it will be in April.

Our haying season is not complete yet.  We are having the wettest summer on record in Custer, and it just keeps prolonging our work.  We did complete our fields and all of Cowboy Dave’s property, including a second cut of his alfalfa.  This is almost unheard of in these parts.

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Jeff driving Babe and baling the 2nd alfalfa cut
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Kana loads the hay onto the wagon

Notice we had some extra help doing Cowboy’s field.  Our good friends, Jeff and Kana, came all the way from Florida to visit the Black Hills and we put them to work.  Jeff did some baling, and Kana drove Cowboy’s tractor to stack hay bales.  Rancher Dave and I sat around and drank beer.  Just kidding.  We really did have quite an efficient operation going with two extra people, we baled and stacked and loaded all the bales in about 90 minutes.

We didn’t ask our friends to work the whole time.  While we weren’t haying, they enjoyed Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood Rodeo, Devil’s Tower, horseback riding, and of course the Red Canyon and a burger in the booming town of Edgemont.  We had a great time while they were here and we were sad to see them go.  I hope they come back, especially during next haying season….ha ha!

 

Back to haying season.  While we have completed this side of the neighborhood, we still have two fields to complete for our neighbor Sherri.  She is the owner of the mower and baler, and in exchange for their use, we use our tractor and Cowboy’s tractor to hay her yard and one pasture. We are on hold for haying her fields due to rain!  It will get done, though, and we will have a big post-haying season glass of wine to celebrate. Or maybe we will have one tonight, in hopes it gets done soon.

Everything is happening all at once. In the next couple of weeks, we hope to complete Sherri’s haying, clean and put up the haying equipment for the season.  Also, we will be harvesting more honey.  We have another load of firewood to pick up from our friend who wants to get rid of it.  The garden is going to need some attention too.  I canned pickles this week, but I will be doing more real soon. I also picked, cleaned, blanched and preserved sugar snap peas. The tomatoes are starting to come in and I am hoping to make some salsa sometime in the next two weeks as well. The peppers are starting to come in and Rancher Dave will be using the hot ones to make his famous corn relish. Linda has picked buckets of chokecherries off her trees and she is going to teach me how to make chokecherry jelly. I better stop writing and get to work.

Happy August, everyone!

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The Holler with the barn
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The Sheriff supervising the gravel smoothing activity from a comfortable hay bale.

 

Oh Bee-Have!!!

28 July 2018 – Overcast, rainy,  and highs in the mid 60’s

July has been crazy. It seems like we are working all day, every day, as haying season just keeps slogging along. This is an unusually humid summer in the Black Hills, and the weather really is the main factor when baling and putting up hay.  If you bale wet hay, it can cause all kinds of problems for cattle.  If it is clover hay (which we have in abundance this year) it can mold and create the same chemical used in blood thinners, such as warfarin.  Obviously, this is not great for cows, especially if they are pregnant. Another potential problem with wet hay is that the moisture can cause a little growth inside the tight bales, and this friction can be enough to start a fire. This is not something we want to deal with in the new barn!

The result of the hot and humid weather is that we can’t start baling usually until late in the afternoon, when the wind has picked up and humidity has dropped.  So most mornings, Dave and I have kept busy moving rocks from around the barn.

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Rocks from the construction site

Or we have been getting firewood.

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A neighbor decided he was done with firewood and said, come and get all you want.  We are on load #3 here, with one more to go.  

Or we have been herding cows from pasture to pasture.

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Cherry Bomb in the morning

Or we have been weeding the garden.

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Lots of lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes.  Peppers, not so much.

Oh yeah, and we also have been catching rebellious bees.

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A big swarm of bees!

One morning, after working in the barn, I was walking back to the house around 10AM and I heard a noise that was comparable to a freight train.  I looked up at the trees in front of the beehive and I saw a giant, black cyclone of bees!  The bees were swarming. After they swarmed, they landed on a branch in a nearby tree, about 7 feet off the ground.

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Another view of the bees.

This was quite alarming to me.  As a novice beekeeper, I thought my bees were gone for sure.  I immediately called one of my bee-friends and she gave me some advice.  She asked if I wanted to keep the bees, and I said YES!  She said I could catch them in a box, and then rehome them in a new hive.  The problem is that I didn’t have an extra hive just laying around, but she said I could keep them in the box for a few hours, long enough to drive to Rapid and pick up a new empty beehive.

So here is what went down. (Unfortunately there are no pictures of this as there was a big sense of urgency to get the bees caught.  Also, there were no other random photographers on the Holler that wanted to get close to the bees!) I got a big cardboard box and a step ladder and placed them out by the tree with the swarm.  My friend had told me that the swarm rarely stings as they are not protecting brood or honey, only looking for new digs, so they would not be very aggressive.  Regardless, I put my whole bee suit on and headed out to catch the swarm.

I placed the box as best I could judge under the ball of bees. Then I climbed the ladder and grabbed the branch the bees were lodging upon.  I jerked it downward as hard and fast as I possibly could and a very large portion of the bees fell into the box.  It sounded like someone dumped a box of marbles in the box and I was super excited about accomplishing this…..for about a half a second.  Then, all the bees that were jerked out of the tree flew into the air in a tidal wave of angry buzzing!  They went back to the branch, and I repeated the process of jerking on it three or four times until I felt the majority of the bees were in the box. I closed the lid and changed out of my bee suit and made a bee-line (haha) to Rapid City where I picked up a new hive at the local supply store.

I imagine some of you reading this are wondering why the bees swarmed in the first place.  In my minimal experience, I am not really sure, but everything I read indicates that the hive was overcrowded.  This is really a good thing, as it indicates the colony is quite healthy.  The hive becomes so full of bees it is uncomfortable, so the queen takes most of the bees out in search of new living quarters.  I should have realized this was about to happen, as I noticed some swarm cells in my previous hive inspection.  The colony prepares for the queen to depart by preparing to make a new queen for the remaining bees, and they make distinctive, peanut-shaped swarm cells in which to hatch a new queen.  I could go on and on about all the things I really don’t know about bees, but this would be the never-ending blog post.  I have to quote one of the favorite things I heard from a beekeeper when discussing colony behavior, which is, “I doubt the bees are reading the same books we are!”

I returned from Rapid City and re-donned the bee suit.  I picked up the box of bees, which I estimate weighed 15 pounds or so, and did all I could to dump them into a new hive. I set the cardboard box next to the hive and hoped they would all find their way into their new home.

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Captured swarm next to the new hive.

The next morning, I went out to check the progress, and those dang bees all moved out of the hive and back into the cardboard box!  What the heck? Obviously they can’t stay in a cardboard box for a South Dakota winter, so  I visited the bee guru, aka. YouTube.  I discovered a solution to get them back into the hive.

I made a ramp from the box of bees to the hive using a piece of cardboard.  Then, I took a bed sheet and tucked the corners up into the hive entrance. Next, I dumped the box of bees onto the bed sheet.  Believe it or not, the bees sent out some scouts that walked right up the ramp into the hive and after about 30 minutes, all the bees were out of the box and in the hive.  Thank you, all wise and knowing YouTube!

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The bed sheet shows the bees the way home.
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And into the hive they go!

So that was enough drama to make a bee movie… ha ha.  The next week I wanted to check the status of the original hive and I was hoping to harvest a ton of honey since honey crowding can be a condition that causes the bees to swarm.  Unfortunately, I only had about 4.5 frames of honey capped and available to harvest.  Dave and I garnered about ¾ of a gallon, which was six pints and some change.

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Rancher Dave scrapes the wax from the top of the frames.
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Fresh honey ready to be spun off in the centrifuge.
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Honey!
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Super clear and pure clover honey.

It is the clearest and most delicious and fresh honey, I am told.  Personally, I don’t care for honey but I haven’t been able to train these bees to make chocolate or wine.

To end all the bee drama,  two weeks later I opened both hives.  They both appear to be doing great.  The new hive, which I am referring to as B-plus, has tons of bees and obvious signs of eggs and larvae. I added a new deep super and another medium super to give them some space.  They are also busy making honey so they can make it through the all too fast approaching winter.

The original bee hive, which I am referring to as B-minus, had no clear signs of a queen, but tons of honey.  There were also a ton of bees, so I gave them another medium super. I dug through every single frame to see if I needed to add a new queen, but I was so excited on the 2nd to last frame in the bottom box, where I spotted the new queen. All hail the queen!

If both hives survive the winter, I will have been lucky enough to gain a second colony for free! The lesson I  learned is not to immediately assume the worst when unexpected things happen.  I saw the bees swarm and I immediately cursed it as a bad thing, but it  turned out to be a really great thing.  Actually, the swarm was an outstanding event that pushed me way out of my comfort level and left me with a new colony of bees.  Life is good!

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B-minus in the back and B-plus in the front.  Hopefully more honey this summer.  If not, I hope they both survive next winter.

 

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