27 October 2008

almost winter

Winter is getting closer every day - when I go out to milk the cow in the mornings, I see a skiff of snow on the ground, and in the shadowy areas of the yard, sometimes there's a trace of white on the grass even late in the morning.

It is a relief to have most of the 'must be done before winter' tasks completed. There is still more to do, of course, there always is, but we have a lot accomplished already, and it is good to stop and take note of what we have managed to get done.

We have fencing in place to hold everyone for the winter. This was a big job, and it's taken some time to figure out the best layout that keeps the animals close enough to manage in the cold weather and yet still gives them access to the shelter and the space they need to be comfortable. The sheep feeding pen is in place, and working well so far (there's a fair bit of wasted hay, but we're working on that), and the cows have a big hay feeder and a comfy barn. The gates are sturdier than they've ever been, and we have moveable panels that we can configure in a variety of ways, giving us more flexibility.

The addition of the cows did require some careful planning: the cows move in and out of the barn every day, but the sheep only need to get in the barn if there is a problem. This meant we needed easy barn access for cows and reasonably easy barn access for sheep. We ended up dividing the winter pasture into two sections, with the one directly in front of the barn doors designated for the cows, and putting a small gate from the sheep feed pen into the barn 'courtyard', which we can use to move a sheep into the barn if the need arises.

Winter also means worrying about frozen water troughs and plugging in tank heaters. To simplify our chores and ease our electrical bill, we made an opening under the fence between the sheep and cow pastures that is sized to hold a water trough. The trough slides under the fence and the sheep drink from one side and the cows drink from the other. This way we need only one tank heater in play, and we have only one trough to fill. It's a bit of a hassle to pull it out to empty it, but the animals don't seem to mind sharing, so that's good at least. While the weather is cold but not downright freezing we have been using two heavy duty bubblers (sort of like the kind you put in an aquarium) to keep the water moving. So far, this has kept the water from icing over. It won't work in the deep cold of full winter, but the bubblers use much less energy than a heater, so we'll use them for as long as we can.

The Reluctant Farmer got the chimney swept (a messy dirty job, but one we very much appreciate), and we have had fires going the last few nights. Tonight we'll burn a special chemical log that helps keep the creosote on the chimney to a minimum. We have a good bit of wood cut and stacked, although The Reluctant Farmer plans to go cut some more, as it's hard to have too much stocked up.

This morning we woke up to find the grid power was out - the Boy and The Reluctant Farmer got laptops fired up in the 'original house' (which runs on solar power) and with a fire going in the wood stove they were comfortable and able to work. During the winter they'll probably work near the fire more often, so it'll be even more important to have a good store of wood set by. The wood is nearly free (this stuff costs time, of course, and the fuel for the chainsaw, but the trees are ones that had to be cut down anyway to bring the power lines through), so it makes sense to heat with wood when we can.

Oh, and the cement is in place for the base of the wind tower: it's had time to cure now, and we should be raising the tower and hooking up the wind generator in another few days. We had a huge windstorm on the weekend that knocked down trees and caused some substantial damage around us (none here, thankfully - an old tree did come down but it didn't hit anything on the way to the ground) ... capturing all that energy would be a good thing, but we'll certainly want plenty of guy wires in place to stabilize the tower!

I'm so glad we are able to have power and heat even when the grid is down. Mornings like today make me realize just how good it is that we have alternatives to the 'usual way'. Then again, mornings like today also make me realize that if I didn't have to follow the artificial schedule set by the office workday schedule, I could follow the schedule set by nature and not even try to get started until the sun comes up!

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