31 July 2006

Sheep in the pasture

Today was Bob the Dog's first full day on duty.

The sheep and Bob were left in the small pen for the day, and Bob barked goodbye as I drove off to work.

When Union Guy and I got here tonight, the three sheep were still in the pen ... and Bob the Dog was not. He was sitting on the ground, like a guardian sphinx, just outside the gate. I have no idea how he got out, but he did it ... and then sat there, guarding his animals. This is very cool.

The Boy and I had previously put in most of the t-posts we need for our perimiter fencing, but the fence itself had not been unrolled and attached. Union Guy and I did a 'quick and dirty' perimiter fence tonight: the fencing is all unrolled and 'tacked' to the posts, although it is not tensioned or even tied well at the bottom. It's a "suggested boundary" that wouldn't keep a determined critter either in or out, but with 6 acres of enclosed grass just waiting to be eaten, I do not think the sheep are very interested in escape. I let them out to graze every day, and they have gotten the hang of their 'grazing area'. They will wander off towards the road if they happen to follow a path of their favourite weed that meanders down into the ditch, but when they hit a fence, they just turn and follow it along. Now, with Bob out there with them, I am not very worried. They could still run off, I suppose, but nothing's likely to spook them with Bob there. :)

For the record, we will be tightening the fences in the next week, so this is just a temporary measure. I keep looking out the window to see how everyone is, and they are all together and seem quite content.

Bob followed us around as we worked - it was actually a really good way to show him where the boundaries are. He marked territory (including the tire of my truck...) and kept one eye on the sheep as he wandered. He seemed to know right away that the fences are the 'edge': he ran up to the fence, then followed it for awhile, then came back in to the center.

We put straw in the new sheep shelter, and fed them their grain in there tonight. They were a bit confused, thinking they were supposed to go in the pen (which they can't get into now) ... but they came when I called them (after they saw the grain bucket!), ate their oats, then wandered off to the hill to graze some more. Bob just follows them around, and lies down when they find a place to nibble on grass. He is the picture of equanimity, just keeping an eye on things and staying nearby.

So far, so good. I think this was a good idea.

30 July 2006

Bob the Dog is now on duty

Today we acquired a new staff member on our acreage: Bob the Dog is now on duty.

Bob is an Akbash-Maremma cross, bred as a livestock guardian. He was born on a sheep farm, and then lived on a cattle farm with one of his littermates, where together they kept an eye on things and harassed the neighbourhood coyotes. They were bought as a pair because coyotes can take on a single puppy, but won't try two pups together, and there was a substantial coyote problem in the area. Now that they've grown up however (they are 3 years old now) only one is really needed, and Bob was 'underemployed'. Through a series of emails, I found out about him ... asked some questions ... and decided he was likely a good fit for our acreage. The Boy and I talked about it too: a trained LGD is a significant investment, equivalent to the purchase price of at least a couple of sheep, but we decided it was worth it if it could prevent the loss of lambs. The very last thing we need is to have The Boy's 4H lambs killed by coyotes!

Union Guy and I went today to meet him and his Person, although from phone calls I already knew Bob was almost certainly what we needed. We arrived and discovered that (in addition to belonging to a very nice Person) Bob was nicely even tempered: he happily lets you handle his paws, put your hands in his mouth to check teeth, and didn't question our presence, as his person had indicated we were okay. We packed him up and brought him back to Apple Jack Creek, where I was prepared for some hesitance on the part of either dog or sheep ... and got absolutely none. I took him out of the truck, walked him over to the sheep pen, and put him inside. The sheep looked at him, he looked at the sheep, and then he went and walked the boundaries of the pen to check out the area. That was it. I kept waiting for someone to freak out or get all skittish, and nothing happened. So, I got the pitchfork and shovelled some straw into the dog kennel we had moved into the pen (thinking we'd need to pen the dog near the sheep, but keep them separate for the first day or two until everyone got used to everyone else, but that was clearly not needed). The pen can provide some shade from the sun and shelter from the rain (which we have been having the last few days) as it's covered with shade cloth. We also shifted the position of the temporary sheep shelter to lean up against the kennel, and that will give a bit more room to hide from the elements.

Once we get the fences up around the full perimiter, we will just turn Bob and the sheep loose in the main area of the acreage, and at night (or in the heat of the day) they can snuggle into the new sheep shelter that Union Guy and I built. I used to worry that they would be too 'exposed' and that the coyotes might get them unless they were penned securely every night, but with Bob on duty, I am not afraid of that now.

The Boy is going to paint this shelter when he comes home ... it is made from leftover lumber from the house building project, and roofed with leftover metal roofing. Oddly enough, we found one piece of roofing that is bright green - the house is roofed in brown, and we aren't sure where this came from. I think it got blown into the yard one day ... but hey, we'll take it! It was exactly the size we needed to finish the sheep shelter roof. :)

So, things are progressing here ... it'll be really nice to have an outside dog on duty, I've known since I moved here I needed one ... but the right one just now showed up. :)

"Bring me a wheel barrow full of money and you can have your truck back."

That's what our wonderful mechanic said when he called to let us know the truck was finally ready to hit the road again!

So ...

that's exactly what we did.

(He is a really great guy who just retired from the military, and works on the trucks in his garage ... we'd met his little boy and knew he'd enjoy the wheel barrow once his dad took the money out!)

Mechanic laughed when he saw the wheel barrow, it was so much fun. :)

So the good news is that the truck is finally back up and running. The bad news is that it still need some additional work to be 'in ideal shape', but it runs fine as it is, and I am happy! We ended up replacing the engine with a 2L - it had a 3L before. The 2L can have a turbo (although I don't have the manifold, which we need to set up the turbo ... that's the next piece of work to be done as it's still a bit gutless on the highway without the turbo). I am glad to have found someone trustworthy to work on the truck: he and his family are off to Nova Scotia on a holiday for the next couple of weeks, but when he comes back and we have the extra parts here, he's willing to do the additional work on mine. Union Guy needs a bit of tweaking done to his as well, and Mechanic says he'll be bored if he has no trucks to work on, so he'll still do a little bit on the side ... just not too much. :)

At dinner tonight we blessed our mechanic. I am sure God understands why!

25 July 2006

Make hay while the sun shines

All the farmers around here are busy making hay while the sun is shining (which it has been doing quite steadily for several weeks now). On the weekend I met some people who are charged with mowing the hayfield near me (owned by someone else, an absentee landlord) and worked with them to find an acceptable entrance to the field and such. When the man came by to take his mowing equipment into the field, he mowed my ditches for me! What a nice thing to do. The mowed grasses and weeds have been lying out in the sun for several days now, so tonight I went out and picked up the edible bits and stacked them into a bit of a haystack up by the sheep pen. It's not a lot of hay, but it'll supplement the sheep and rabbit for a bit, and it's free!

I did get the flooring finished in the loft this weekend, it looks really good. Well, I suppose finished might be a bit of an overstatement - it's all laid, but not sanded or stained or sealed. Union Guy and I checked out the sander I need on the weekend - it is too heavy for me to lift so I'll hvae to wait until he can come out to carry it up the stairs for me before I can sand the floors.

I think that's it for me for one night, I'm off to sleep. :)

15 July 2006

Just another reason to love Union Guy

Union Guy found an antenna for the cell phones, and brought it out today. It significantly improves the reception on the phone, which is a good thing.

After seeing the picture, he suggested this post be titled "Who's the goof on the roof?"

The siding is all done now, and looks really good. The siding guys found a wasp or bee nest up in the peak of the house and had to go on a field trip to buy insectiside spray so they could finish! They're all done now, and we have eavestroughing, soffit, and all the siding. It will be wonderful not to hear they Tyvek flapping in the wind anymore.

My task for today was installing flooring in the loft. It is actually much easier to install than I expected it to be: there are several steps to the process, but none of them are actually difficult. For those of you just tuning in, I'm using wide planks from Whiskey Flats Lumber rather than the more common varieties of hardwood flooring. I love the old fashioned look of the variable width boards and the visible screws (which look like nails unless you check closely). The floor is one of my designated luxuries, although in reality it won't cost me very much more than prefinished hardwood from the local Home Depot (this stuff is costing me about $6.50 a square foot).

To install this kind of flooring, you have to measure and mark the places to put the screws, then drill the holes over the marks, get the board into position and put the screws in. A carpenter's square, a pencil, two drills and a bag of screws and you're good to go. The worst part is digging through the pile of lumber in the living room to find the boards I need! I think I moved every board today in search of the ones I needed. However, I am very happy with the end (well, interim) result - check out the picture in full size.

Once the floor is down and sanded, it'll be stained with black walnut stain. This picture shows three of the four wood finishes that are in use in the house: the light walnut on the walls, the golden pine on the doors, and the black walnut on the floors. (Those are just a couple of pieces of scrap flooring, stained with two coats of Watco Black Walnut and pushed up against a wall so I could see what it looked like). It is actually a bit darker than what you see in the picture, the flash washed it out a little. I like the contrast: I purposely wanted a very dark floor, medium walls, and a light ceiling. I think having the colours move from dark to light makes the room feel more 'grounded' somehow.

12 July 2006

Off to Lithuania

My sister and her husband left for Lithuania last week. I love this picture ... so I had to post it. :)

You can read about their adventures on their blog!

11 July 2006


One of the reasons I moved to the country was because I could reduce my operating expenses. The up front investment is significant, but the day to day operating costs are less: property taxes are half of what they are in the city, I have no power bill, no water or sewage charges, and my only utility bill is for natural gas. My fuel costs for the commute have gone up substantially, but it is a fair trade for daycare costs and downtown parking. I'm also talking to my coworkers about being able to work remotely one or two days a week, which will save significantly on fuel.

For further savings, I've decided not to install a land line for the telephone. It will cost about $1500 just to get the line run to the house - and then I'd have a bill of about $40 a month on an ongoing basis, which I don't particularly need. I've found a better cell phone plan, so my monthly phone bill is substantially less than it was: these days, the cell phone is a requirement and the land line is optional. Strange how things change with advances in technology.

Someday I'll have a garden, which will help bring the grocery bill down, and I do get as many eggs as I can eat (and more!) from the chickens. I calculated the cost to be about 5 cents an egg (excluding infrastructure costs). Eventually we may be able to make a little money from the sheep, although probably not much more than what will cover feed and vet bills. Ah, the dreams of being able to supplement my income with old fashioned skills ... it may still happen, but I'm not banking on it.

Speaking of banks: the tricky part to all of this, of course, is the up front investment. While I did manage to get approved for an owner-build mortgage (through the nice folks at ATB Financial, who are the only ones willing to finance such a venture), it still takes a lot of money to get things going. You don't get your mortgage funds until after you complete the work and an inspector agrees that it is done. Well, that's not entirely accurate: you do get startup funds, but not enough to pay for everything as you go.

The good news is that you don't have to pay your regular mortgage payment until your house is done or until one year has passed, whichever comes first. That means that a portion of your paycheque can be used to buy deck screws and light fixtures and tools instead of paying a mortgage, which helps. Still, the cash to pay for the solar panels and the fireplace and the kitchen cabinets all has to come from somewhere, and my paycheques are not quite that generous. To accomplish the necessary financial sleight of hand, I have a number of creative financing options in place ... all of which are racking up interest at startling rates, unfortunately. I took advantage of all the offers I could find: my kitchen cupboards were bought on a no-payments-for-a-year promotion at Ikea, and I've put other major purchases on one credit card then switched the balance to another card that offered a low interest for six months on transferred balances.

Unfortunately, all these tricks are still not enough to keep things going indefinitely, my one year is up, and the house is not finished. The bank has another 30K or thereabouts to give me ... but the ceiling is still just vapor barrier and fibreglass, the flooring has just started to be installed, and there's no trim installed yet. No mortgage payments for a year is a nice thing, but 30K would pay off a lot of high interest debts!

The other day I had a call from the bank saying that it was time to start paying the mortgage, as my one year was up. "But," I said, "the house isn't done yet and you still have money to give me!" They told me they'd send out an inspector and the last draw could be forwarded to my lawyer who would hold onto it until things are really and truly finished. This had me a bit worried: now I'd have a mortgage payment in addition to all the debt servicing I'm doing to keep the various credit cards and such under control. I started crunching numbers and looking for even more creative financing options.

Today when I came home, there was a pink note stuck in my door ... the bank inspector had been here and approved the final draw with only an 8K holdback! This means that I will have enough cash available to pay off the higher interest loans just as they come due. Whew! That was close.

To add the icing to the cake, a truck came today and picked up the roofing that we were not able to use (see the posts from last January if you missed that part of the adventure). Once it is returned to AllPro, I will get a credit for those materials. More money, more bills paid off, more good news!


For some reason I am reminded of something I saw in an email awhile back: Life shouldn't be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving there safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, a glass of wine in one hand and chocolate in the other, all worn out and hollering "wooohoo what a ride!"

05 July 2006

"I have three sheep now!"

That is what The Boy had as his Messenger tag earlier this week.

On Monday I went for a 2 hour drive and picked up a ewe and her ewe lamb to keep Master Jack company. The ewe is very small - she is only about 80 lbs and maybe 3 or 4 inches taller than Master Jack (who is a miniature breed) so we are thinking that perhaps she'll prove a suitable partner for the breeding project that The Boy wants to undertake this fall. The new sheep are crossbreeds of some kind - nothing in particular, just a grass eating wool bearing 'mutt'. The lamb sure is adorable, though!

They are both still a little skittish, but they are rapidly learning that I am the nice person who shows up with grain and water, and they do seem to get along fine with Master Jack. They have somewhat goofy names - Cookie (the mama) and Bubble (the baby) - and I would not be surprised if The Boy decides on something a little different.

The improvements that have been made to the fence seem to be working - at least everyone was safely inside when I got home tonight. It is true, however, that yesterday Union Guy got here before I did and found that the lamb had escaped from the enclosure. The fence certainly holds the bigger sheep, as only the baby was outside the fence (it is about half the size of Master Jack, so it can sneak through a much smaller space) and the mama certainly tries hard to stay close to her baby! Fortunately the lamb did stay close, just grazing on the opposite side of the wire. Getting her back inside was a problem though - the lamb didn't know Union Guy at all, and refused to come to him for grain or anything else. He ended up chasing her around the yard while the mama hollered and fussed from inside the pen, wondering about this big crazy person who was chasing her baby around. In the end, Union Guy lassooed the lamb with a rope! What a cowboy I've found, eh?

This morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, I heard Duggan growling at something outside. I looked out and saw a deer walking up the trail! It looked right back at us, and proceeded to calmly walk across the far side of the property, just along the edge of the trees. I do love living out here. I have all the benefits of camping - wildlife, fire pits, birds singing, coyotes howling - and I can have a hot shower and sleep in my own bed when I've had enough of the outdoors!