THE OFFICIAL BLOG
We started the new year, as we always do, with an ambitious plan. We decided it was time for a complete overhaul of the use of our land. Although we love the idea of waiting for our livestock to shape and change our rocky and heavily wooded property, we are mortal and only have so much time on this earth to get things done.
Part of our plan was to have a professional with heavy machinery come in to clear the brush and smaller trees on the three acres on either side of our long drive. However, the extreme rockiness of our land proved too much for a couple days work and we were left with a bit of a mess by the time spring rolled around. Undaunted (mostly), we forged on with making a nice, new wooded lot for our little fold of Highland cattle. It would not be as large as we had intended, but featured lots of lovely shade for summer and would be nearly rock free for heavy cow hooves. Also, it would be close enough to our hay storage area to provide them with an entire bale of hay periodically.
We long passed the point of temporary pens and fences and very much want to make sure that we spend our time on projects that will endure for many years to come. We took our time making sure our cattle panel fencing was neat and well-joined. Posts were driven straight and solid. Gates were hung nicely on good hinges and heavy chain. Only the best for our cows, and all that.
An incredibly long and miserable season of rain stopped progress for weeks. Our cow paradise was on hold well into the heat of summer. By the time we were able to get back to it, the brush had grown up and we had to designate someone as a lookout for snakes as we worked, but we DID work in spite of it. And it was beautiful. It was clear and flat and full of cow enrichment possibilities -- trees to scratch on, little shrubs to nibble, brush piles to headbutt, and an entire fresh bale of grass hay in a lovely grove of hickory trees with the stock tank nearby. Can you hear the birds chirping in my mind? It was perfect.
To me. It reminds me of all those times I spent hours making houses out of cardboard boxes for my cats, really. I cut out little windows and doors and made planters for their porches full of cat nip. The cats were not interested. Apparently, I learned nothing from that experience.
We had these cattle for just over a year before they were moved into cow paradise one sunny afternoon. In all of those months, we never had an escape attempt. And a good thing that was, considering just how flimsy our fences were. (At one point, they were even deterred by nothing but some green plastic snow fence wired to a couple floppy t-posts.) There WAS that one time that our oldest cow got a little overenthusiastic when reaching for hay on the outside of the fence and basically walked right over it... but she didn't leave. No one left. They liked it here.
I think they hated cow paradise.
Within the first 48 hours, three of them escaped. Two had wandered far into the woods on the road side of the property. In the meantime, our bull was wandering around in the driveway as if he had nothing better to do. So, they had found the weak part in our fencing. We knew there would be bumps along the way. It was all very normal. We brought them in and repaired the fence. But there were a couple more short break-outs within the next few days, followed by a dramatic prison-break which brought one of our neighbors to the door one morning telling me they were on the loose. They had walked out... past several bales of hay and plenty of fresh grass on the easement.... and were on their way to parts unknown.
The question in my mind is: "Why?" But I don't think I will ever think like a cow. We gave up after that final adventure and moved them back to their small pen behind the barn. In the meantime, we moved our donkeys to cow paradise and it pleases me to say that the donkeys seem content there. The cows are content as well so far - at least happier than they were when we put too much effort into their surroundings.
Plans for 2022 continue with the intention to eventually add an adjoining area to their existing pen -- in the hopes that they won't mind adventuring a little closer to home.
If you have been following the blog or my Facebook page, then you know that we have been working on various home remodeling projects here - including (but certainly not limited to) - replacing our white wall-to-wall carpet throughout the downstairs with porcelain wood-look plank tile.
Downstairs includes our master bedroom. And once we had pulled up the old carpet, it was completely necessary to take the opportunity to repaint as well. The original walls were a mossy green - which I updated to a more muted bronze months ago.
We started laying our tile in the bedroom at the beginning of July. I will be honest: I thought we would have been done with the entire project by now. But we had a bit of a setback in having purchased and used the wrong mortar for the job when starting out - resulting in having to take up and reset a lot of previously laid tile. And there is also the problem which will never go away: my choice of tile.
Porcelain wood-look plank tile (6" x 24"): A few things you should know (that we did not know when we decided to use it.) First, porcelain is very hard and difficult to cut - a decent quality tile saw is absolutely imperative if you want to finish tiling with porcelain within a generation. Also - as we learned the very hard and tearful way following our wrong-mortar fiasco - the 24" sides mean that plank-style tile is always considered a large format tile - no matter how narrow the planks may be (purchase the appropriate mortar). Everything else is concerning the relative dimensions of the tiles. And I do mean relative. The tiles are not the same thickness. They are not the same overall size. They are not perfectly square - some curve significantly. They are not a consistent thickness throughout the tile. Many have a substantial bow to them and will not set flat on the floor (something you have to make up for with some creative mortar beds). All of this means that it is impossible to get a perfectly consistent grout line or a perfectly straight line on long runs of tile. The stuff is great if you start out with the idea in your head that you want a rather random and rustic look. (Fortunately, that's exactly what I wanted.) If not, you will surely lose your mind.
We have officially finished the bedroom - which looks fantastic. No regrets! Even though it took at least six weeks longer than we had anticipated. We now have somewhere comfortable to sleep so that we can rest up and conquer the rest of the downstairs floors.
We have begun laying out the tile for the remaining hallway and into the foyer. I am a little anxious about the incredibly long runs that have to happen from the front door to the back of the living room and we are hoping that enough planned randomness will compensate for less than perpendicular lines... Besides dark (black!) grout covers a multitude of sins.
Now I have to stop talking about it and get to work - I hear Dave mixing a bucket of mortar as I type.
Posted by Anita
Hates wall-to-wall carpeting this much.
Fences are expensive.
And I mean really expensive. The next time you are driving down a country road and you see one of those cheap barbed-wire fences, remember that cheap is relative.
Sure, you can pick up a roll of regular barbed-wire for around 60 cents a foot. But then you have to multiply whatever length you need by 4 or 5 depending on how many strands you are going to be using on the fence. Pretty quickly you can find yourself shelling out $3.00 per linear foot. Chances are, you won't be pulling barbed-wire for anything less than 100 feet at a time per side.
Add in the cost of those beautiful wooden posts for corner and center braces at between $10 and $15 each and pick up some unsightly t-posts (just under $5 each) to drive in every 8 feet or so and you've got yourself an investment.
Full disclosure: This is not at all something I learned today. I figured out the expensive part just a few months into our small farming adventure. However, it is something fresh on my mind today because Emily brought the above photo evidence of downed-fence to me a few minutes ago.
To be fair, this particular stretch of fence was supposed to be temporary anyway. But it turns out that a lot of our temporary fixes end up in service a lot longer than planned. And, unfortunately, it simply is not time for a big fence project - the ticks are still alive and well, the temperatures are still in the 90s in the shade, and I have this totally rational fear of copperheads keeping me out of the woods right now.
Besides, we have floor tile to finish.
For now we will throw up some sort of emergency something to keep the donkeys from exploring all of Mayes County while we sleep at night. And we will be praying that Oklahoma storms get all of the fence-destroying business out of the way over the next few weeks and before we make repairs.
Posted by Anita
Keeper of the ever-expanding to-do list.
As I sit here at the laptop this afternoon, there are far too many tabs open in my browser at the moment. Email, Facebook, this blog, articles to read, t-shirt designs, photo albums, homeschool planners... It's all over the place. I have just as many lists of things to do and paperwork to go through and books to read scattered on the table next to the laptop.
It does not seem possible that we will ever complete the various tasks before us... There is not enough time. There is not enough energy. There is not enough determination or concentration or motivation. Impossible. Yeah. I'm a little overwhelmed today.
When things get overwhelming, I have to step back and look at what we HAVE accomplished rather than melting down over what still lies ahead. For my sanity.
So what have we done this year so far? Here's a list of major accomplishments for 2019 in no particular order.
1. We got doors.
DIY IN TEN EASY STEPS
STEP ONE: Decide that new project will be 'easy' and should not take 'much time'.
STEP TWO: Gather tools and supplies - most of which will be totally unnecessary.
STEP THREE: Realize that we forgot half of what we needed to complete the project and go back out to gather more tools and more supplies.
STEP FOUR: Begin project with an enormous amount of effort and struggle.
STEP FIVE: Spend some time questioning whether or not this was such a good idea because we are completely incompetent.
STEP SIX: Muster some determination and start again at Step Four. Results are the same - only more intense.
STEP SEVEN: Consider setting everything on fire and moving into a full-service condo.
STEP EIGHT: Realize that at least one of the tools or supplies is exactly the wrong tool or supply for the job.
STEP NINE: Gather the proper and necessary tools and supplies and start over.
STEP TEN: Easily complete the project in record time.
We have laid tile before so we were pretty confident going into this last weekend. We were both slow to realize that something was wrong, however. I guess both of us were thinking that it had been a while and we were rusty at the mechanics of mortar and tile. I admit that I complained a lot more than Dave. Mostly I wanted to know why the pre-mixed mortar we were using had the consistency of hot toothpaste. I was not polite about it at all. It was sticky, messy, and impossible to spread with the trowel. It was on my shoes and in my hair... It made me cranky. But we used it anyway. A whole bucket of it... and then a little more.
I haven't had a moment to breathe, let alone blog, for the last couple of weeks. Still, the thought of empty blog space sitting out here on the internet haunts me and I feel compelled to sit and write something just to make the tiny bell inside my mind stop ringing for a while.
This is our fifth year here at LeChat Noir Farm in Salina, but we have never gotten around to most of the home improvement projects that were needed when we first moved in. We focused our energy on building a barn (and an apartment for our older boys) when we first arrived. Then we turned our attention to fences and shelters - as we were starting out with exactly zero and though we wanted to free-range the animals .. our neighbors probably would not have appreciated that much free-ranging going on.
Just as we reached the point of having enough in order to fix things that needed to be fixed in our own living space, Dave was laid off from his job in Tulsa. He moved away for work temporarily while looking for a new job close to home. Temporarily turned out to be two years. Which, I suppose in the grand scheme of things, is actually temporary - but hardly feels so to a mere mortal such as myself. Needless to say, everything was put on hold for those two years while the kids and I worked to just maintain the place mostly on our own. Improvement was out of the question.
Mistakes We Have Made
Straw Bale Gardening