country cacklin's

November 2012. We have been here 5 years. Winter is knocking at the door. My installments are getting less frequent. Is anybody interested anymore?

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Well, it's officially getting cold. After a couple days in the seventies, the day started at 60 degrees and dropped to low 40s by the end of the day and a pretty solid rain. It has gotten down to 26 overnight and peaked at 40. Most days it gets up to mid 50s. T-shirt weather! We still have a little more time to get some work done before the ground freezes.

Last spring came on early and the weather was great. Nice rain and warm days. Then everything dried up and it got HOT! I was hand watering the plants around the house but it didn't do much good and I lost a lot of plants that I had just purchased. The entire mid-west has suffered greatly and, unfortunately, the prices in the stores will reflect it this year. Many local farmers have been feeding hay since mid-summer or had to sell off cattle. We were lucky because we had set up the rural water last year for the cattle to drink. Plus our herd is still well below capacity so we still have plenty of grass. The ground was so dry we couldn't drill post holes or pound in fence stakes so many projects didn't get done again this summer. Fall has been nice. A couple good rains helped the fescue to grow. The fall color this year was the best I have seen since we've been here. The pictures just don't do it justice. We have had a few frosts but no snow yet.


We finally built the new deck in the front of the house this Spring. Last year, we purchased a large amount of used cedar and pressure-treated lumber from a large deck that had been dismantled. It took awhile. We got the deck and railing done by early June, but the steps didn't get done until the end of July. It is finally finished and we can use the front door again. We still plan on putting a skirt on it but haven't decided what to use.

We also decided to rebuild the back porch. We wanted to use the pressure-treated 2x6 decking and lumber for the corral and replace the decking with the rest of the used cedar. While dismantling it, it became apparent that It had originally been built in 4 stages. Each section had it own quirks. The newest section had sunk a good 8 inches in the front corner (I never noticed). On the other side the ledger fell off the house as we were taking it apart. The 2x6 joists were undersized and it was very bouncy. Four of the posts were simply resting on little chunks of concrete. Danny was working a lot so it took awhile to get it taken apart and put back together.

We drilled 3 foot deep concrete footings and replaced all the posts. Plus, we increased the size of the beam for the porch roof. The worst part was sanding all the decking needed for the 38' wide deck. We went with a diagonal design to make the best use of all the little pieces of cedar we had, since the used decking we got originally had a diagonal design as well. It was a major pain not being able to use the back door. To use the front door, we ended up tracking a bunch of dirt into the l.r. You don't really appreciate something until it is gone. Now that the decking is done and stained, we will take our time putting up the railings and skirt, as time and weather permits.

After refinishing the living room/dining room floors last year, I finally completed my vision of decorating with a new sofa. I have been wanting a green sofa to match the color scheme but couldn't justify the expense. However, our existing sofa obliged by falling to pieces rapidly over the last year or so. The springs broke and more holes were added to the ones Buster had put in it when he was a pup. The piping fell apart and the dirt really started to show. It lasted a good 7 years. With dogs, that's not bad. A new sofa became a necessity instead of an indulgence. I ended up special ordering one since we couldn't find one that was deep and the right color. The price was right but we had to wait 2 months to get it. Now we just have to figure out how to keep the dogs off of it. Yeah, right.

We decided to build a corral closer to the house. The existing corral had a wood chute that was falling apart and a head gate that is difficult to operate. We purchased a squeeze chute with an automatic head gate. We designed the corral based on Temple Grandin's guidelines. We saw the movie about her starring Claire Danes and are very awed by her. If you are unfamiliar, check out her website and the eponymous movie. The corral has a curved sweep that leads to the squeeze chute. The design is intended to keep the cattle calm. We still need to build the second half, as time and temperature permits. All told, around 50 posts to dig and set.

::  WORK

Danny has been working a lot at his driving job lately. He is on call and the overnight trips and lack of warning wreak havoc on his energy level. However, we are grateful for the money. Jobs around here are hard to find.

My plan to find more work this year, didn't pan out. It gave me time to work on the projects on the farm--at least what I can do without Danny's help. I did do a project for a local newspaper. An insert for an Air Show. I hope they wil use me for more projects in the future. So check out my portfolio website: I Like It and tell your friends.

::  PETS

I introduced Sophie in the last chapter. When we got her, she was quite a challenge. We finally broke down and got an electronic collar. It ended up working very well for us. We mostly use the tone and a reward, and she was very responsive. She finally learned to come to us instead of running off. She also stopped going next door when their big dog chased her one day and bit her in the butt. However, no matter what we do, we still can't get her to stop eating cat poop. She has become a very sweet and loving dog. She's pretty smart too. To bad we are to dumb to teach her much.

In February, I found Pepper on Craig's List. She is an Australian Shepard. The current owners had recently purchased her to use with their sheep and found that she was afraid of the sheep. The owners could tell us very little about her background. She was very timid when we got her home. She found a spot under the bed and stayed there most of the time. She was fearful of things waving around. She was petrified of the ceiling fans. She didn't know what to do when I ran or waved my hat. She was very nervous eating her food. She never barked. She seemed to be house-broken and never made a mistake, but she didn't know any commands, like sit or stay. In the 10 months we have had her, she has improved greatly. She still looks up nervously at times but she is no longer afraid of us or the fans. She plays happily with Sophie. She comes when called. It is so cute when she wags her tail, which she didn't do much of when we got her. She has to wiggle her entire butt because her tail is so short. She still sleeps under the bed.

Surprisingly, (to me) Buster has had problems bonding with the new girls. Sophie and Pepper hit if off right off the bat. They play together all of the time. Buster has only just recently started playing with Sophie. She is a very good sport when Pepper and Buster attack her from all sides. Buster is still unsure about Pepper although Pepper has never shown him (or anyone) any aggression. It may just be that she is a little bit bigger than him. Danny saw them playing a bit in the living room recently so they may become friends yet.

I love walking the dogs on the property but it can be risky. One day, when I walked the dogs down the hill by the blackberry patch, the dogs were running all over the place, as usual, tracking down critters. From my vantage point, I can see cottontail rabbits scooting over the hillside. The dogs usually can't see them over the tall grass., but they get all excited by the scent. I called them off (with questionable cooperation), and as we passed the pond, I smelled skunk. I figured it would be prudent to turn around and go back. As I turned, I saw Sophie with something in the grass. I called her off of it. It turned out to be a baby skunk, dead. So I spent the morning cleaning skunk spray off her. Pepper also got a dose, I'm not quite sure how. Buster learned quite a while ago about skunks, but he hasn't run into one lately, so I can only hope he remembers. I see skunks on occasion on the hillsides early in the mornings, but fortunately the dogs don't see them, and we go in the opposite direction.

In July we had a scary situation. Buster raced ahead of us and ran into a couple of coyotes. I didn't see the encounter, but when Buster came back I noticed a spot of blood on his anus. He had been having digestion problems and I assumed it was just that. Later, he became lethargic and was straining to go. When I took him to the vet, they gave him antibiotics. We assumed he had eaten something that didn't agree with him. He continued to ail. I tried putting witch hazel and aloe on his anus. Then I noticed his entire backside was swollen. I took him to the vet again. It finally occurred to me that he had been bitten by the coyote and had developed an infection. More antibiotics finally did the trick and he is as good as new. I don't think he has learned his lesson though and still races ahead looking for trouble.

::  CATS

This little guy showed up one day all covered in crusty stuff and very under-weight. He was very friendly and after Danny fed him, he didn't leave. A couple days later, when we thought he would put up with it, we caught him and gave him a bath. We were afraid of what he could be covered in, but it turned out to just be dried mud. We named him Krusty. We let him in the house. I don't know if he had ever used a cat box, but he took to it quickly, except for the 2 or 3 diarrhea episodes in the hallway. We got him on antibiotics which seemed to help. He eats A LOT and has regained his weight. Last week, we decided he was healthy enough to neuter. Kitty kitty doesn't like him yet, but she is not complaining as much about him as she did about Boris (whom we had to find a new home for), or Abby who disappeared last year. She has been pretty mean and he often has scratches to his head. I think one of those scratches has caused his ear to droop. Well, now I can tell him apart from other silver tabbies. She did ultimately become friends with Dewey, so I am still hoping they will become friends too.


We have had the usual problems with the chickens. In mid-february, I noticed a stray dog out front one day and when I went out to chase him away, I noticed feathers and our black chicken was gone. The dog kept coming around for the next couple days. Danny fired his gun to scare it away but it still came back. I finally found his owner, who lived down the road, and he hasn't been back. But before that, Danny was keeping the bb gun with him in the shop and I was to call if I saw the dog. Because I was being vigilant, I heard a rumble across the back porch and raced out the door. By the time I got out, all I saw was a huge pile of feathers. I let out a blood-curdling scream while calling Danny to bring the gun. A friend, Clifford, was driving his tractor down the road and saw the next-door neighbor dog carrying our rooster in his mouth. Clifford yelled and Hoss dropped "Special K" and K ran off. I was crying like a baby. While I put the other chickens in the coop, Danny went and looked for him in the pouring rain. I went and looked after lunch when it had stopped raining and we couldn't find any sign of him. Amazingly, at dusk, "K" was there waiting to get in the coop. I think he is part cat (9 lives). He won't let us touch him, so we couldn't tell what kind of wound he might have had. After that, he seemed fine except for missing a few feathers. Better than the first time he was attacked.

Another close call in March, the neighbor dogs were still getting free and coming over here and chasing the chickens. We heard a commotion and when I went out, I found feathers everywhere. After searching around, I found Peeps laying in the grass. She had lost some feathers and looked to have a scrape on her back but seemed basically whole. As has happened too many times already, K was nowhere to be found. When he showed up later, he had lost all of his tail feathers. We couldn't help but laugh. They slowly grew back, and Peeps limped around for a few days but has since made a full recovery. We are not on good terms with the neighbors anymore, but I haven't seen Hoss running around free since then and their other dog tends to stay away. Right now, we hold steady at 5 chickens. They are all molting and not laying eggs. I realized how spoiled I am with our eggs. The store-bought eggs just aren't as good.


This year we purchased 10 heifers to start our herd. We plan on keeping 25 cows as money permits. Heifers are young females that have never given birth. Since they are inexperienced, there can be problems so they need to be watched. This is difficult since they like to go off by themselves and into the trees. By late April they were all done calving. It was challenging. Our friend Ricky helped by pulling the second calf. It was not easy and we would not have known what to do without his help. But, we lost one heifer and her calf when, tragically, she apparently had a stillborn breech and we didn't know what was going on. The vet spent a couple hours getting the dead calf out but she ended up dying that night from the stress and perhaps internal bleeding. We lost another calf because we didn't read the situation right. First we thought she was having problems and tried to get her into the corral, but she wouldn't cooperate. Then, because the afterbirth was hanging out, we though she must have already calved, so we left her alone. I found the dead calf the next morning.

All together we now have 9 cows and 8 calves. One of the last ones was also a problem. Although he popped out with no problems, he couldn't stand up. We had to feed him for a couple days until he was finally able to stand. Mama was very attentive and not too keen on our ministrations. When he was finally up, he had problems finding his mama's teat. He tried suckling the fence, the trees and the ATV. But once he found mama, he didn't leave her side. His legs still looked funny and he was small and wobbly, but he is still with us. He is smaller than the others, but he is an independent little bugger. He often goes under the wire into "greener" pastures by himself. They are so cute when they are little. It was so fun to watch them run around playing and butting heads. They have grown a lot since then. We will be weaning them soon and selling off the steers. We will keep the 3 heifers to add to our herd. They will not give birth this spring but will grow and they will be impregnated next year.

We bought a bull on May 31 to impregnate the cows. We planned to keep him with the cows for 2 months in order to have late spring calving. We tried to sell the bull but didn't get much response so he is staying at a friend's place. We want to control when the cows will calve and we don't want him to impregnate the heifer calves, which could happen if he is not separated. They are too young. We won't find out until later if he did his job satisfactorily.


I finally got my garden in on May 10. I had to move the location since we planned to build the corral where my garden was last year. We had our insurance guy come and rototill the new plot since I couldn't get mine to run. He has a big 5 foot wide one that goes on the back of the tractor. It took less than an hour. If I had had to use mine, it would have taken all day. It took him longer to drive his tractor up the road to get here.
I planted tomatoes (starts), Zucchini and yellow squash(seeds), Cantaloupe and Watermelon(seeds), burpless (starts) and pickling cucumbers(seeds), 2 types of eggplant (starts), bell peppers (starts), 3 types of beans (seeds), carrots and green onions (seeds), and strawberries (starts). It did not rain much since then and I had to water. After fertilizing a couple times the garden started looking pretty healthy for awhile.

The lack of rain really took a toll. Dispite hand watering most of the season, but it ended up pretty sorry looking. The zucs always die early, but also the cucumbers died early, I only got a couple cantaloupes and watermelons. The eggplants put out a lot before they died and the beans never put out any beans. I did end up with a ton of yellow bell peppers that ended up rotting in the frig. And, as usual, I got sick of thinking of recipes for zucchini and squash and eggplant. I got more tomatoes than we could eat, but they looked pretty sad too. It is pretty discouraging, but I will keep trying. This new garden spot needs major amending. Next year I will add lime, and fertilize more. And hope for better rain.

One morning in June, I noticed the tomatoes being rapidly decimated by bugs. I broke out the sevin which did the trick. I found out that they are striped blister beetles, also sometimes called potato bugs. Apparently, they can cause blistering on the skin if handled. Fortunately, I didn't touch them. It's not like I go around touching bugs as a rule. As usual, the squash was attacked by squash bugs, which is just what I do to control them--squash them--but it is a full-time job.


This Spring was beautiful. By late April, the grass was tall, and so were the weeds. The bluebirds and sparrows had already fledged broods. We saw Purple Martins checking out the Martin Houses but none have moved in. The sparrows take them over and it is hard to keep them cleaned out. The ticks and flies were annoying as usual.

Then it dried up. A couple of benefits of the drought is that the bugs were quite light this year, plus we only had to mow the lawn a couple times all season. Hardly worth it. We really missed the rains. Too hot to enjoy the outdoors. I'm glad no one chose to visit this year. It was pretty ugly for awhile. It was like living in hell, or Texas :).

On the day our corral gates were delivered, I discovered a dead weasel in the driveway. I didn't even know weasels were around here. This is certainly the only one I have seen. I don't know how he ended up dead in the driveway. It may have been Kitty-kitty's doing. Unfortunately, he also was run over by the delivery truck. There are too many critters that I only get to see as roadkill on the side of the road. Or, in this case, in my driveway.


I made an effort to identify more pasture and roadside weeds and wildflowers this year. There were quite a number that I had not noticed before. Every year, it seems, there is something new. Then there are some that I had just never put a name to. I never realized how many legumes there are--a large class of plants that fix nitrogen in the soil and are generally excellent forage. I am including just a few of the more interesting specimens I found.

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