Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Lesson in Milling

Our summers fill farmer Greg's head with projects because this is the only time he is "off" from his non-farm job. I think he originally imagined the summers as a time where he could write his book or take a break from three hard semesters in a row. He didn't count on trees falling over in the winter, blackberries growing like the prickly rose vines in Sleeping Beauty, or the list of honey-do's that stack up over time as things fall apart in the rain.

Farmer Greg's list was long this summer, but one of the more interesting and educational projects was the milling of a number of large trees that blew down last winter, taking with them other large trees. Of course it helped that neighbor Dave connected us with an old logger on the other side of the mountain who just happened to have a mobile mill. What are neighbors for in the woods if they can't help you find your local retired woodsman? The mill was set up in the new clearing down by the spring holding tank, the site of the largest windfalls and the heaviest trees to try to drag too far from where they fell.

Greg and Randy had been cutting up and moving logs into place as soon as the ground was no longer muddy. A place was cleared for the trailer to be backed in. A peeve and wire chokers were borrowed from Dave so the logs could be maneuvered more easily into position. The surprising part - the mill man, took it upon himself to teach everyone involved how to use his machine - how to check the computer screen, how to move the controls, how to cut the size intended. I ended up being the only one not to run it for no other reason than my absence doing other projects.

For four full days, the guys (and Annie for a partial day when she wasn't taking photos of the operation) loaded large, heavy logs onto the hooks of the mill and unloaded cut boards onto the trailer. There was a list of specific sizes we needed for the manure composter we were about to build next to the barn. Then there was all the rest, cut to sizes we hoped would be useful in the future: 2x6s, 2x8s, 2x10s.

The horses and sheep came down for a look, but not for long. Too much commotion, not enough grass. The days were warm but the shade in the woods saved a few souls from heat stroke, while sawdust swirled in the air and covered both men and plants alike.

How many boards do a few windfall trees make? Lots it seems. Certainly enough to build stuff and still have a garage full. Obviously we will need to build more stuff soon or the trailer will sit out in the weather from now to kingdom come and no roof to cover it as the wood cures, and cures some more.

There was one hard lesson we learned from this project. When milling wood for a specific length, say 8 feet, the logs actually need to be cut at about 8'8" because you lose length in the milling process. This meant when we needed 12 foot lengths to tie in as beams for our new composter, 11'8" just didn't make the span. The guys tried to work our wood the best they could but there are certain rules of the game. We will know for the next time.

Meantime, I have plenty of fresh cedar and fir sawdust to blanket our blueberries for the winter and even enough to scatter in the stalls from time to time. We will have to do the math and determine whether all the labor and time were worth the effort financially, especially with the falling price of lumber. But, from an aesthetic, conservation, and educational point of view I already know it was. Sometimes the value of the product is not in how much money you saved but in the knowledge that you learned and accomplished something of value.

Photos: Milling process x 4

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Monday, September 07, 2009


I knew I lost one little lamb about a month ago because she kept trying to die on me and finally disappeared into the brush so I would give up my feeble attempts to save her. I think I realized she would eventually do this. She had not become better with any of our ministering in the barn and, if a lamb can be depressed (hard to imagine when they are so darned cute), she was the poster child for it.

Then, just this week we lost 30 sheep, plus or minus, in one fell swoop. Not lost as in "died", but lost as in "where the hell did they disappear to???" This was a dramatic turn of events and right in front of newly arrived guests. It was also enough to make me lose a very good night's sleep.

I hummed the tune of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' as I lay my head down on the pillow.

Scottie had a lot of lambs, lot of lambs, lot of lambs
Scottie had a lot of lambs whose pastures had turned brown

And everywhere that Scottie went, Scottie went, Scottie went
Everywhere that Scottie went the lambs could not be found

They wandered way back in the woods, in the woods, in the woods
They wandered way back in the woods a distance from the farm

The night grew black and she despaired, she despaired, she despaired
The night grew black and she despaired, a cougar's done them harm...

I noticed we were missing half the herd during feeding. This is always an exciting first experience for new guests at our farm stay. We ring the bell, throw down bales of hay from the loft and divide it between mangers so that 60 odd ewes and their babies can have some dinner. There is a free standing manger in the middle of the shed requiring a cool underhand toss to land flakes of hay properly between the wire walls. Frisbee is good training, so is slow-pitch softball.

This evening I knew I was short a good many sheep. We bedded down the horses, the donkey, and the good sheep who had returned on schedule and went looking for the rest. I had several ideas of former hideouts. I am lucky this couple were in good shape as we hiked higher and higher into the hills. Boy, did they get the personalized tour from me! I took them as high as the logging road behind the property, all the while following fresh sheep poop. Or was it deer? Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference.

We reached a "T" in the road. Would the sheep really have turned even farther away from the farm and headed up the hill? I didn't think so. They hadn't gone that way before. We headed down hill and back towards the barn with no sheep in sight either on the road or through the clear cuts. I started to think back to the afternoon when the dog had squeezed under my desk at the sound of rifle shots. Sure it was hunting season, but only bow and arrow at the moment. Had the gun shots spooked the sheep? Had a hunter mistaken one for a deer? Not the outcome I was looking for.

Once I had checked every hiding spot I knew and driven to my neighbor's house because she has such great grass in her back pasture, I started to call the other folks who live up our road, about 8 residences in all. No, no one had seen any wayward sheep that evening. Of course it was now getting to dusk and the sheep would be bedded down. Farmer Jones suggested there was nothing to do until morning, and even then we might find they returned on their own. Hmmmpff, I wasn't so sure. There were, after all, recent cougar sightings on our road, just to make things "interesting"!

It is at this point I always question my intelligence with sheep and livestock in general. If they had escaped before, why hadn't I done more to prevent a wider range? Could it be because none of our property is fenced on the forest side? Could it be because we had created a perfect storm by ripping up both hay fields in one year? Could it be that once sheep get an idea in their mind it takes a mighty deterrent to make them forget it??

The next morning I went out early to the barn, hoping my pasture roaches had come home in the middle of the night, hungry and humbled. Not a sign. About an hour later my closest neighbor knocked on the door dressed for work. She had seen our sheep down the road about two miles, scattered through a recent clear cut. Oh, great, they were probably eating some of the fresh new seedlings!

Annie hopped on the ATV and came home with all thirty sheep trotting in front of her. She talked about almost missing them because they blended so well with the backdrop. Wouldn't they have loved that - to stay free for another day?! At least I didn't qualify for the worst shepherdess in the world that day. The ewes were back and it didn't appear we had lost any.

They, on the other hand, lost their freedom from that day forward. We decided, until we seeded the barn field, we would leave all the livestock locked behind secure fencing. I figured there was grass at the edges of the fields, and we could toss down extra bales of hay to spread around for forage. The horses were caught up in the bargain, but it made things simpler this way.

Now, going through four bales of hay a day, even with the addition of five tons from my local farmer, is not a good thing for conserving winter feed and, with the cooler nights, the animals seem hungrier than ever. We have had a few rains so the grass is getting greener in the unfenced pastures, but I figure it will have to be plentiful (to their knees!) before our sheep decide to stay close to home. We are almost on gun hunting season so there are additional problems if the flock decides to break out and go wandering in the woods again. Of course, if I find out who the ring leader is, I may just have to whack her over the head with a rifle butt myself!

Photos:(top) sheep in our 'dirt' field with inviting green grass down by the creek but no fence to keep them in, (bottom) horses are grazing the edges of our 'dirt' field as best they can. Will open up pastures as soon as rains start.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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