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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

23 December 2017 – Cloudy and a high of 10°…Brrrrrr

Winter is here!  We have about four inches of snow on the ground and it is frickin’ freezin’ out there.  It looks like we are not going to get any warmer than the low 20’s for the next 10 days.  At least there is only one night in the forecast where we are supposed to dip below zero, but we’ll see.

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Cows walking up the fence line for breakfast

 

We have been busy with chores and have branched out of our hermit-crabiness and attended some Christmas activities and parties. Typically, the days are as follows. The routine has been to get up and have coffee and breakfast and wait, and wait, and wait for the sun to come up (around 7:18AM).  Once that happens we put on 10 to 20 layers of clothing and head outside to scrape snow off the solar panels. Next, we shovel a place in the chicken run so the chickens can walk outside and we pour hot water onto their frozen water dish.  Sometimes, I make them warm oatmeal for breakfast. (Don’t judge me, we usually have fresh eggs for breakfast so I’m just returning the favor.)  Next, while Dave warms up the Mule I go and scoop the snow off the front of the beehive so if the little buzzers ever decide to come out their entrance/exit is not blocked.  (I tried to get a picture of this, but my phone literally froze and would not work!)

Once the Mule is warmed up we kick it into four-wheel drive and go over to Cowboy Dave and Linda’s to feed the cows.  They eat about 20lbs of hay per cow per day, so that is 280lbs for all fourteen.  That means four bales in the morning and three bales in the late afternoon.  We believe all the cows are pregnant and they eat every last scrap of hay we put out for them. They also don’t seem to have any sentimentality for their heifer offspring, and often we have to try to split them off to ensure the young girls can get some food and not get run over by the big fat cows. We also try to avoid getting run over by the big fat cows; they seem to be always very hungry and once they hear the Mule engine they come running as fast as they can.  It can be pretty exciting seeing a 1600-lb big, snorting, wooly mammoth made of beef charging at you in the snow while you are holding her breakfast.

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One of the large cows, Marzee, getting ready to head-butt the little heifer out of her food pile.  Pilot Dave and Arrow trying to supervise the situation.
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Snow makes everyone HUNGRY

After feeding, we head to the barn and load up the evening hay rations, break the ice in the water tanks, and scoop out any poop in the loafing shed and barn corral.  One good thing about the bitter cold weather is that it makes scooping poop a lot easier than when it is hot….ewwwww.  We repeat the whole routine in the evening. I may have mentioned we are doing winter chores in exchange for two heifers. It is really not that much work, but all of these things need to be accomplished daily.

 

 

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Frozen water tank.  2017’s Ice-Bucket Challenge!

 

Dave and I are really enjoying the farm life.  It is always fun to check up on the animals and get some fresh outdoor air first thing in the morning.  It’s also nice to come into a warm house in the evening after making sure everyone is fed, cooped up, and ready for the cold nights. Then we generally have something for supper that has been cooking on the wood stove all day.  Tonight, we are having baked potatoes that I put on the stove in a Dutch Oven with a little water in the bottom.  We are topping the taters with left-over chili that was also cooked on the stovetop.  Don’t worry, Moms, we are having a big salad too, so we are getting our veggies.  Don’t worry pilots, we are also having some wine with dinner.  It is Saturday night, after all.  Wild times on the Holler.

While we are enjoying the work, winter makes everything a little more difficult.  We worry a lot about the chickens being warm enough, but they are winter-hardy breeds so we hope they will be okay.  We also have been burning through quite a bit of wood in the stove, which means about once a week we are filling up the wood box on the porch.  Yesterday, the Mule was full of wood we needed to unload into the box, so Dave parked it in front of the porch thinking we would unload it prior to going out for evening chores.  Well, the sun came out just long enough to heat the roof of the house and a giant avalanche of snow slid off right onto the back of the Mule.

We had to dig the wood out from under the snow drift.  It reminded us of last year when we didn’t have a wood shed and we had to keep wood under a tarp which was constantly covered with snow as well. 

Dave has also been spending the days plowing the snow off of Stagecoach Springs.  The neighbors seem pretty happy we moved here! Again, no pictures due to frozen phone.

The Fire Department radio has quieted down a bit, (knock on wood), and the state fire fighters finally got the fire out in the State Park.  We drove through there a few days ago and it actually doesn’t look too bad.  It is obvious there was a fire but a lot of it seems to have burnt out the grass and underbrush and most of the trees look like they are in pretty good shape.  God Bless the Fire Fighters!

We are looking forward to a quiet Christmas.  Cowboy and Linda asked us to come for Christmas dinner, but other than that, it will be another typical winter day.  It is supposed to be extremely cold on the 25th and even if we don’t get any more snow, we foresee a white Christmas.  I think we might go sledding!

So that’s the update from the Holler.  Dave and I want to wish everyone out there a very Merry Christmas.  Cheers!

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Our Front Gate

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The Holler Homestead from Cowboy and Linda’s Drive

 

 

 

 

Reunited For Thanksgiving

25 November 2017 – Sunny and 58°

It had been a full month since the Mayflowers (the 5 calves from this spring) had been corralled to wean them from their mothers.  Cowboy Dave said a month should be plenty to ensure nobody tries to go back to milking off of their mother, so we decided to release the calves out into the pasture where the moms have been grazing for the last month.

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The Mayflowers eating creep in the corral

 

Cowboy brought down three bales of hay to the pasture and some cake.  The 9 cows were all grazing up the road in the northern fields, and he put the hay in the south field at the end of his driveway.  That way the calves could just go down the driveway, and the moms could just come down the road and they could have a big hay social right south of our house.

Pilot Dave and I spread the hay around the intended pasture, and took our mule back up to Cowboy’s corral.  Linda and our friend Matt were waiting there, and we said we were ready so they opened the gates to release the calves.

The calves were so excited, they took off running, bucking, and kicking.  It has been a month since they have been free on pasture land and I think they forgot how to run.  Plus, they have all put on quite a bit of weight and are bigger than they realize.  One of them was running so fast she lost her balance and fell over as if sliding into homeplate.  No matter, she recovered quickly and all the calves ran down the drive to the new pasture.

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Stampede!

 

Meanwhile, the mother cows heard the commotion and came running down the road to meet them.  We were all quite happy to see that after an initial greeting, everyone went for the hors d’oeuvres (hay and cake).  Not one calf tried to go back to milking off its mother, and the moms seemed to really not be that interested in their babies anymore.

It only took a few minutes, however, for the calves to find their new and favorite guardian:  Pilot Dave.  They went up to him to get their heads scratched.  They are so spoiled.

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The calves love Dave!

 

The reunion was successful and uneventful in everyone’s eyes, and now we are quite happy to see the whole herd back together grazing every morning out on the Holler.

Thanksgiving was really nice, too.  We just had dinner here, but unlike last year, we had walls and it was not 40 degrees inside!

After the holiday, it was back to more farm work.  Pilot Dave is trying to fix an old disk that he found in the junk yard and use it to pull behind the tractor.  He rigged some weights on it and it was heavy enough to disk up the area we plan to plant oats or alfalfa in the spring.

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Pilot Dave working on his disk.

 

Fortunately, Rocket Man returned the tractor so Dave could get to work!

The weather has been really warm, with record highs set on Thanksgiving Day.  The chickens were enjoying the sunshine and decided to dig an enormous hole and take a dirt bath.

About five minutes after taking this picture, I was in the basement doing some laundry and I heard a loud thud.  I looked out the back door and saw nothing but feathers and I thought, “Oh NO!  Not again!”  But I opened the door and saw Arrow, Cowboy and Linda’s dog, standing there looking at me and looking very guilty.  I said, “Arrow! What did you do?”  And she came over to me like the good girl that she is.  I grabbed her collar and I heard Cowboy Dave on his mule coming up the driveway so I told her, “Arrow, go kennel up!”  She knew she was in trouble so she ran to Cowboy’s mule and jumped in the back. 

I set about looking for the chickens.  The two islanders and Smithy were hiding under the porch but I couldn’t find Farrah Fawcett.  I finally came upon her hiding under the propane tank and I had to drag her by her tail out from under there.  She had obviously been mistaken for a squeaky toy by Arrow, her feathers were slimy and drooled on and very disheveled.  BUT she did not have any blood or puncture wounds.  I pulled on her wings and looked at her feet and eyes and she was just messy, but nothing was injured as far as I could tell.  Poor little Farrah Fawcett!  Terrified little chicken!

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Farrah Fawcett all fluffy and dry before the attack.

 

I let Cowboy know that everyone was okay and not to get too mad at Arrow.  She didn’t kill anyone and she was just doing what dogs do, but I know she was in trouble for running over here by herself, which she is not allowed to do and has never done before today.  Maybe the wind was right and it smelled just like KFC….irresistible! 

November is coming to a close, and it has definitely been an exciting one around here.  Let’s hope for a less eventful December.  Happy Belated Thanksgiving everyone!

The Dark Days

5 November 2017 – Cloudy and 23°

November hasn’t been a whole lot of fun on the Holler so far.  For the first time since we have been operating off of solar power (over 14 months) we have had five consistently cloudy days.  While we still have power, we are worried about the drain on the system’s batteries.

Quick Simple Explanation:  The solar panels take in energy from the sun and charge the battery bank.  The batteries provide power for all the needs of the homestead, but once they charge to 100% the sun provides the power directly.  This allows for us to have electricity at night provided by the charged batteries. As advertised, the batteries can last for 48 hours with 100% charge and no sun. The batteries are intended to last 7-10 years and are by far the most expensive part of the solar power system.  The best way to decrease the battery life is to run the charge down to a low percentage.

Additionally, we have a propane powered generator that should charge the batteries in the case of low sun days. Needless to say, we have been running the generator quite a bit the last few days.

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Foggy on the Holler….taken around 1PM

 

I am definitely oversimplifying the system, but the gist of the situation is that while we have been quite literally living in a fog, the batteries have been providing the majority of our power.  Plus, an icy snow left a white sheet of ice on the panels preventing us from sweeping them clear and allowing the little bit of sun available to charge up the batteries. 

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Solar panels swept off but some ice still remains

 

We are kicking ourselves a bit because we have been so cocky about how great the solar power is.  Well, it has been great except for about 5 days!  And we aren’t living without power. We also have heat from the wood stove and use propane for cooking and the water heater.  We are just being ultra-conservative while we wait and wait for the sun to come back out!  So enough complaining, these are minor problems and I think I see the sun trying to peek through the clouds.

Sadly, we also lost another chicken this week.  We were at home, getting dressed and ready to head out the door when Dave looked out the window and saw a golden eagle swoop down onto Ginger, one of our favorite girls and our most prolific egg layer.  Dave ran out and the eagle flew away, but she was already dead.  Fortunately, it happened very quickly and we doubt she even knew what happened.  As a result, we have been debating keeping the remaining four chickens cooped up again, but they are so used to free ranging it seems cruel to keep them in the run. We also think they may try to kill each other if confined since they are used to more space.  The continual question:  Is it better to be free and happy or contained and secure? We are discussing an expanded chicken run, but right now the ground is frozen and will make post driving nearly impossible. Ugh, poor Ginger!

On a positive note, we are really enjoying our winter chores.  Every morning, we get up and let the chickens out of the coop, break the ice off of their waterer and fill up their feed.  We check the beehive and make sure there is some thawed water on hand for them as well.  Then we head out to feed several bales of hay to the cows. The cows can hardly wait for breakfast, especially since there is snow cover on the ground now. Right about the time we are getting ready to feed them, they come out of the woods and head toward the house and start mooing.  “BREAKFAST!!!!!  Get out here people!”

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Waiting For Breakfast
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Guarding the Driveway

Then we start up the Mule and they get crazy because they know it is the hay wagon.  They act like a bunch of little kids when they hear the ice cream truck coming down the street! They chase us up to the water tank where we distribute the hay and some cake as quickly as we can so we don’t get mauled. Lately we have also had to break ice up on the tank so they can get a drink.

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Chasing the Mule to the feeding grounds
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Breakfast, finally!!

The calves are still separated from the cows, so we head over the High Lonesome Ranch to muck the stall and feed the babies and fill up their water.  They also get crazy when they hear us coming and while Dave fills up the creep feeder he has to be really careful not to get kicked.  The corral they are eating in is a disgusting manure pile, despite our best efforts, so it would literally stink if he got kicked or fell down in that muddy mess! 

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Dave giving Creep to the calves
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The muddy mess!

While Dave feeds, I muck the stall.  Then we fill up the water and we grab more bales of hay for the evening feeding of the cows. We repeat the whole drill just before sunset, and occasionally have a Keystone at the High Lonesome with Cowboy Dave and Linda.

Despite the power problems and the chicken murders, we are making the most of winter so far.  The key is to dress in LOTS of layers, and to have a great pair of mud boots! 

Last Weekend of the Summer

17 September 2017 – Sunny and currently 32°F at 7AM – High of 67 forecast today

What the heck happened to the summer?  As all good times, it went way too fast. Here we are looking at autumn and prepping for snow. So long, summer! We have come a long way since last year, and an especially long way from two years ago.

This year I have a lot less apprehension about winter. Last year in the camper was pretty tough but this year we have a warm house, a wood stove and a wood shed full of wood.  I feel like we are much better prepared, and actually even a little excited for the change of seasons.

We have been busy, not only getting firewood, but winterizing the garden.  Overall, the garden did pretty well for us, yielding a ton of tomatoes, jalapenos, and cucumbers.  The corn and the potatoes were total busts.  Mother Nature must be telling us to cut out the carbs.  Anyway, here are some of the ways we have been trying to put up tomatoes.

Yesterday, we knew it was going to be near freezing so we pulled out all the remaining plants.  There were tons of green tomatoes but they all got tossed over the fence for the cows.  It only took a short amount of time before Mar-Z, a huge hippopotamus looking cow, came looking for food and ate all of the tomatoes she could find.

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Mar-Z found the Mater Plants
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Picking off the tomatoes

We have been composting food scraps and chicken waste and will dump that in the garden over the winter, hoping that the soil will do even better next year.

Dave has been working on a coat rack/shelf for the mudroom.

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Installing wood dowels to connect the boards

 

I have been avoiding the bees, trying not to disturb them as they are getting ready for winter.  I will open the hive one more time and treat them for Varroa Mites.  In November, I will probably wrap their hive in tarpaper and put on a hive top feeder with sugar water just to help them if they need more food. 

The chickens seem pretty happy with the cooler temperatures.  All of the Islanders are laying eggs and we get three nearly every day.  One of those poor girls is laying gigantic ostrich size eggs that usually have two yolks.  This one was so big I couldn’t even close the egg carton! 

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Big egg in the middle next to two regular sized eggs

 

Fresh eggs are the best.  I don’t know if we could ever go back to store-bought eggs.  Meanwhile, the Freeloading Faveroles still haven’t produced a single egg. 

Tractor Dave and I are slowly tackling our list of things to complete before winter.  We are enjoying the cooler temps, the blue skies, the yellow aspens, and the wild turkeys that wander through the yard.  It is quiet and peaceful here and life is good on the Holler. 

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Typical September Day

 

 

Chicken Reality TV in HD

5 August 2017 – Sunny and highs in the upper 70s

Last year while we were in the camper, we were without cable TV or a satellite dish.  After giving up television for several months, it seemed quite pointless to start paying for TV shows again.  Consequently, we have been binging on Amazon and Netflix series for nighttime entertainment.  The early evenings, however, belong to back porch, the sunsets, and the chickens.

Dave and I will often go down to sit by the garden in the early evening.  Another really cool thing about the Black Hills is we don’t have any mosquitos.  (Well, maybe I have seen one mosquito in a year, but it clearly took a wrong turn heading for Minnesota.) It makes sitting outside in the summer evenings really pleasant.  We usually let the chickens out of their run to free range and scratch around in the yard.  They are really funny to watch.

Our chickens were bought in two distinct groups.  One group was “The Islanders” which are big white beautiful leghorn chickens, dubbed Ginger, MaryAnn, and Lovey.  The leghorns are the supermodels of the chicken world; tall, long legged and elegant. They strut around like they own the place.

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Ginger – Evil Chicken

 

 Then came “Charlie’s Angels” which are the stubby little fat faverole chickens, dubbed Sabrina, Smithy, and Farrah Fawcett.  You may recall Sabrina became a hawk’s dinner, but the remaining faveroles have found their own places within the chicken society here on Hoten Holler.  They are the stubby, short and they waddle around like overweight Walmart customers in the cookie aisle.

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Smithy the Faverole

 

The queen chicken is definitely Ginger – a leghorn.  She has worked her way to the top of the pecking order of all the other chickens and has been laying an egg daily. 

We believe Ginger is organizing a coup (no pun intended) to overthrow us and become not only the queen of the chickens, but the queen of Stagecoach Springs.  She will run up to us as soon as we open the coop and get right between our feet.  If there is any delay in dropping a grape, raisin, or other chicken-worthy treat, she will peck our feet or the back of our knees.  I threatened to make a chicken-football out of her for pecking at me.  I shuffled my feet at her in a kicking motion thinking she would get spooked and fly off, but instead she bowed up to me swinging her head and neck in a circle.  She was clucking at me, “Oh No You Di-int!!!” She’s an evil chicken, but I still love her.

At the other end of the pecking order is Farrah Fawcett.  We should have named her President Martin Van Buren.

She is always getting pecked at and run around by the other girls.  She is the complete opposite of Ginger and if you even blink at her she squawks and shuffles away as fast as she can on her stumpy little legs.  She is a sweet chicken and I love her.

The other girls provide equal entertainment.  I found a giant tomato worm in the garden and I threw it to the girls to eat.

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A tomato worm for your nightmares….eek!

MaryAnn grabbed it and ran all over the yard and the other chickens chased her to see what she may have found.  She finally stopped to peck and eat that worm and they all descended on it.  It was like watching a violent and gory episode of Game of Thrones.  Poor tomato worm!

Anyway, that is how we spend our free time without cable TV….Chicken Reality Television in HD is definitely more fun to watch than the news.

 

 

 

 

And Then There Were Five

19 July 2017 – Sunny and high of 95°F

Dave is feeling really good and almost 100% himself.  Thanks to everyone for the phone calls and emails, we appreciate it.  It’s difficult for him to stay in low gear but he still needs to take it easy for 3 more weeks so his internal stitches don’t come apart.  They will dissolve on their own, but meanwhile he isn’t supposed to lift anything heavy or do anything too strenuous.  We have been keeping busy with typical household chores, some gardening and light yardwork.

Our neighbor, Shari, had to work on Monday evening.  It has been really hot so she asked us if we could make sure her cows had enough water between 7PM and 8PM.  We were happy to do this, although we went over to her pasture around 6:30 thinking this wouldn’t affect the cow schedule.  The stock tanks were nearly full so we proceeded to top them off with the hose. 

At 7PM on the dot, her cows came running from the eastern pasture, through the underpass of the road, and right up to the stock tanks.  They pushed and shoved each other to get a good spot at the bar and in about ten minutes both tanks were nearly empty.  So, we stood there with the hose and tried to keep up with the water demand from the thirsty girls! 

At about 7:45 we had refilled both tanks and the cows had their fill and wandered back through the underpass and off into the other pasture.  We got in the truck and drove home.

When we pulled into our drive, Dave looked down the hill at the back yard and said, “What is that?!?”

There was an enormous hawk, really about the size of a standard laundry basket, hunched over beside the garden on top of a huge pile of black and gold feathers.  The hawk was eating our chicken, Sabrina.  Dave ran for the gun and I ran to see if she was still alive.  The hawk flew off and Sabrina was dead.  It looked like he got her just before we got home.  From all I’ve read the merciful thing is a hawk will kill its prey pretty quickly.

I looked in the coop and there were no chickens.  Dave and I proceeded to search and he found Farrah Fawcett under a small tree not far from the murder scene.  I found the four other chickens in a bush about 30 yards away on the other side of the fence.  They were terrified and I thought they were all dead because they wouldn’t move until I picked them up and set them on their feet.  They all ran back to the coop and up into their house. 

Dave and I are kicking ourselves because we knew the risks of free-ranging here in the country.  We just got cocky and we left them out while we were not here. Nearly everyone we know that has kept chickens has lost a few to predators, even those that keep theirs cooped up have lost a bird or two.  The poor chickens really are defenseless to hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, etc.

The best solution we could come up with is to move the coop closer to some trees for more cover and to only let them free range when we are close by.

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New location under trees
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Five Remaining Girls

Regarding the hawk, neighbors and family both say, “He will be back!” In fact, he was sitting next to the garden the next morning but flew off as soon as we opened the back door.  I guess he thinks we are KFC or something now.  He’s welcome to come back.  We are ready for him this time.

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HAWKS WELCOME HERE!!

 

On a lighter note, the garden is doing great.  We have been eating and giving away lettuce and spinach.  The turnips are delicious and we already have harvested a few banana peppers.

The potatoes looked pretty good but the yield was, well, small potatoes.  Each plant had a maximum of ONE potato, and some had none.  Plant a potato, get one potato?  Hmmmm….

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Small Potato Yield…..We should have just bought a bag at the store!

 

The tomatoes are looking good so far, but you never know if they will get bugs or rot.  We’re hoping for a bumper crop to make salsa, tomato sauce, and of course BLTs!

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Large but unripe tomato

 

The beets, corn, and cucumbers don’t look too bad either.

We will do some planting of more potatoes in the next few weeks, as well as some lettuce, spinach, and turnips in hopes of a late fall harvest.

That’s all on this end for now.  Hopefully everyone is enjoying the summer and keeping an eye on their flocks!

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R.I.P. Sabrina

 

Freedom, Baby! Heck Yeah!!!

4 July 2017 – Sunny and highs in the upper 80’s

Today is my favorite holiday. I love reading about the Founding Fathers and the enormous risk they took to throw down that Declaration and say, “We don’t want a king, we want to be free from your rule and here’s why.” And the list is honest, eloquent, and timeless.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  This is what it means to be American and this is what we celebrate today.  If you really want to refresh your patriotism and appreciate your freedom, here’s a link to the Declaration of Independence.  Read it out loud and you cannot help but be moved.  God Bless America!

Declaration of Independence

Out here in the free, wide opened spaces of the great state of South Dakota, we are celebrating today by going to the Veterans’ Parade in Custer.  It is a small town Fourth of July parade and will likely be full of locally built floats, fire trucks, horses, and the high school marching band. Oh yeah, and we get a B-1 Bomber low pass to start things off.  Cool!

We are cooking out this afternoon for some friends, likely drinking some Keystones and eating some burgers and dogs and watching the cows and chickens from the south porch.  What’s everyone else doing out there?

Now for the Holler update.  We finished bailing Shari’s property with 171 more hay bales.  Now all we have left is the oats once they get tall enough.  That is unless we get some incredible moisture and we hay again in August?  Here’s hoping for that…sort of!

The bees have been extremely busy.  There are so many wildflowers that I had to add another “super” or house on top of their main hive body.   Then, 7 days later, that box had 6 frames full of honey so I put another super on top of that!  I hope they can make enough honey to sustain themselves throughout the winter.  I read they need 70-90lbs; that is about one full deep box.  Anything they make beyond that I plan on keeping.  If they are successful and survive the winter I will probably get another hive next year.  Two hives won’t be much more work than one.

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Two “deeps” and one honey super…bees at the front door!

The garden is going gangbusters.  Dave and I have been eating spinach every day and giving some away as well.  Pretty soon we are going to have Pop-eye arms!

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Carrots to the left, spinach in the middle, onions to the right.

We are also harvesting lettuce for the burgers we will serve later today.

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Lettuce amongst the relentless weeds

We pulled this turnip out of the garden yesterday.  This morning the breakfast menu consists of “Hashtag-Hash” which is a diced turnip, spinach, onion, and bacon with a fried egg on top.

The corn is not quite knee high at the 4th of July, unless you have really short legs!

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Shin-high corn

The chickens are free ranging (under supervision) most of the day.  We like to sit out and watch them in the evening.  Chicken TV is better than anything on cable.  They truly are bird-brains and they have a lot of self-induced drama.  They are getting big and FAT, or we could say fluffy if we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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The Islanders and Charlie’s Angels (Farah Fawcett is inside) mingling outside the coop.

 

Yesterday was branding day. We took 7 calves to the Vet and they got their vaccinations and their brands.  Cowboy Dave did the branding and Pilot Dave worked the calving table while the new Vet in town (an ISU grad!) administered the meds.  I got to work the gates and take pictures.

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A steer in the calf table
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Does anyone else smell grilled burger?
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Little Bugger says, “I hate Mooooo-ndays!”

Well, that’s all from the Holler for now.  We are wishing everyone out there a Happy Independence Day!  Freedom, baby!  It’s what it’s all about!

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Three Amigos at the Independence Day party.
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Rainbow from the back deck

 

 

Mid-June Already?

14 June 2017 – Sunny and high of 70°F (Currently 47 at 6AM!)

I can’t believe it is already the 14th of June.  The months, weeks, days, and hours are going by at the speed of light.  Actually, the days are getting really long as the sun came up today at 5:12AM and won’t set until 8:38PM.  That is about 16 hours of daylight which is really nice compared to less than half that in December. I have been waking up about 4:45 and I always think,”Rats!  I slept in and missed the best part of the day, it’s so light it must be 8 o’clock!” But then I realize how early it is and Dave and I go about morning chores (feeding chickens, checking bees, etc.) and we are done with breakfast and are more than ready to get to the day’s work by 7AM.

The weather has been really nice, windy, and cool.  That means we have had several good days to cut wood.  We had two really large bug-trees that needed to come down.  The bug trees have been infested with pine-beetle and are easily identifiable by their brown needles compared to all the green-needle trees next to them. We needed to remove them so the beetles won’t proliferate and take out neighboring trees.

Dave cut them down, and while he bucked them up I dragged slash into large piles. We will use a grapple on the tractor to pick the piles up and move them to a good burn spot away from other trees.  Next winter, we will burn the piles when we have enough snow on the ground.  It’s quite a process.

Because we are in the habit of naming things, we are calling these trees January and February.  We think we already have enough firewood stored for November and December so once these two get split and stacked we hope we will be set through February next year for heating the house.

We are dog-sitting Vito again.  He is a very good dog, but not so much help at dragging slash.  Every time I would grab a branch and drag it to the slash pile, he would grab the other end of it and try to play tug-o-war with me.  If I picked up sticks and threw them into the pile, he would fetch them and bring them back.  When he got tired of these games, he tried to eat every stick in the forest. I think he had fun and he slept for a LONG time last night.  Tired dog.

My Mom and Dad came up from Iowa for a short visit for my Mom’s birthday.  We drove to Deadwood to do some gambling.  It was a beautiful drive through the Black Hills. I made her a cake and Dave made homemade pizzas.  The next day we did a ranch tour, they got to meet Cowboy and Linda’s friendly herd, and then we had a picnic in the National Forrest.  It was great to see them and I think they had fun too!

Finally, the latest addition to the ranch is three new chickens.  We found pullets on Craig’s List that were about the same age as Lovey, Ginger, and Mary-Ann and we drove to Rapid to pick them up.  Going with the 70’s TV theme, we are naming them Charlie’s Angels: Sabrina, Jill, and Kelly. Casually we are referring to them as Sabrina, Farrah Faucet, and Smithy which is short for Jacklyn Smith.  Those names just seem to fit them better.

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Sabrina is dark chicken in front, Farrah Faucet hiding in the middle, and Smithy is the salmon color in the back

 

Sabrina is a Golden Wyandotte and will lay brown eggs.  Farrah Faucet and Smithy are both Faverolles that will lay light tan eggs.  The Faverolles are really feathery, they even have feathers on their feet and they have beards.  They have 5 toes on each foot as compared to 4 toes for most other breeds. They are all cold-hardy and easy-going chickens.  

We were nervous about bringing home new chickens since the Islanders (Lovey, Ginger, Mary-Ann) were just getting used to the coop and the run.  We heard adding new hens to the flock can be quite violent as the pecking order gets established.  Usually the larger chickens will pick on the docile ones and sometimes even draw blood.  Fortunately, all of our girls are about the same size.  There was some pecking from the Islanders on the littlest new hens, and the Islanders would not allow Charlie’s Angels into the coop so Dave had to shove them in there at night.  We have a lot of coyotes around so they definitely need to be cooped up at night.  We were happy in the morning to find that the Islanders were all sleeping comfortably up in the roost and the Angels were in a pile sleeping on the floor.  Several days later, they all seem to be getting along and the whole flock is going into the coop at dusk, which is the norm for chickens.  They are so fun to watch and we are looking forward to some fresh eggs when they get old enough.

Tune in next week, we expect to complete more fencing, get a mower and baler operational for cutting oats and alfalfa, and we would like to complete the walkway with stone in the front of the house.  What will actually happen depends on the weather, the wildlife, and the functionality of equipment.  Every day is a surprise.

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Storms rolling in from the West

 

 

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