Monday, January 21, 2019

November Hill farm journal, 68

We’ve had another weather pattern of warm winter days, then rain, then a sudden drop to very cold temps, with another very warm day predicted for Wednesday this week. Last night it dropped into the teens, with windy conditions and a gorgeous moon, and today we’ll barely break freezing. One more frigid night and then we start the warm up.

I was here on my own for the weekend and enjoyed a couple of days of warm sunshine before that rain hit on Saturday. Thankfully I had a helper to do the mucking (stalls, paddocks, a good dent in the back pasture) and to stuff 10 hay pillows. What a luxury to go out Sunday morning and simply serve the pillows to waiting horses and donkeys!

The wind was so brisk yesterday I kept the horses near the barn with their hay while I worked on getting the two paddock water troughs cleaned, refilled, and ready to plug in for the cold night. They enjoyed having their hay in the sun while the wind blasted. Roofers were next door wrapping up the roof job and I worried about them up on a very high roof during the gusting wind. Thankfully they managed well.

On Saturday the dogs and I took a romp before the rain came. Even so, it was still damp and they got muddy and needed half-baths when they came in! But when we first headed to Poplar Folly, Baloo took off like a rocket and was barking his head off, to the degree I thought someone was down there. I saw nothing until I saw Baloo looking up and when I too looked up I saw a huge raccoon in the tree, hiding its face. I calmed Baloo down and told the raccoon we had no ill intentions and he or she gradually turned and looked at me. We finished our time in the way back and left the raccoon to get back to its shelter.

I’ll be happy to get to more steady high/low weather. The up and down is wearing on all of us. We have it easy compared to those getting feet of snow right now, and I send good thoughts their way. My son reported at least 18 inches for he and his wife. I’m glad for them they don’t have barn chores to do!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Backing out of a bad idea

A year ago I did a lot of research and purchased a batch of stable grids to raise and level the shelter floor on the back side of our barn. Between being busy in general and having one of the rainiest, wettest years on record in our area, we just got around to beginning this project a week ago.

When the grids first arrived I didn’t like what they are made of - a hard plastic. I thought when I ordered them they would be more rubbery and would have more give than they do, but figured they would still work and once covered the stiffness I didn’t like would actually do the job these grids are meant to do.

The shelter floor was difficult to level and I think my original idea of how to proceed with this project would have worked better than what ended up getting done back there, but hindsight is 20/20 and since I was unable to do the work myself I can’t complain much.

This morning I surveyed the quarter of the work that was done and made the call to abort the entire project. It wasn’t working well, and would be hard to undo if we went further. I spent an hour and a half undoing the work that had been done and still have another hour to go, but I think it’s the right decision. I’m going to pack in more screenings and get the floor leveled and to the proper height and then I’ll decide how to finish it off. The screenings are great for loafing but I like to be able to serve hay under the shelter on rainy days, and I don’t want the screenings dust getting mixed in.

History has shown that putting down mats that don’t totally fill the shelter lead to problems so we either need to cut the mats to a custom full-shelter floor fit or look at other options. The mats are easy to sweep and clean and are definitely comfortable for horses so maybe that’s the best plan overall.

When removing the grids that had already been put down and filled in I broke a number of the tabs that hold them together. The small pieces that broke off were hard and sharp and a hazard in my opinion. I suppose if snapped together and buried under stone they would be fine but I really didn’t like what happened as I tried to take them up. I have a large stack of them and now wonder if I want to use them at all in the barn area.

Another plan for these grids was to create a well-draining, non-muddy wash area for the horses. I suppose that would still work. I could also use them to create level, stable water trough areas. I’ll figure it out. Thank goodness I started with one smaller project instead of ordering enough to do the entire barn - stalls, shelters, and aisle - which I almost did.

Again, I do think they would be useful but probably best to use them when initially building a barn and shelters. Installing them as the base and filling from there would be fine I think and make for good level drainage underneath everything. Trying to incorporate them into space already built and being used hasn’t been as easy as I expected.

Thankfully most of my projects work well. It’s not fun backing out of one and even less fun to see that big stack of grids growing back again. I am so ready for them to be underground where they belong, or moved on to someone who needs them.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

November Hill farm journal, 67

Winter evening sky, no rain!

We finally had a week with no precipitation and lots of sunshine, which has helped to dry things out. The past few days we’ve had nights in the 20s so the ground has been hard enough that even the remaining wet areas are not a problem.

What a joy to see horses out in their pastures again, and Corgis able to romp without coming in to an automatic bath to remove mud!

We’ve been enjoying a long and treasured visit with my son and daughter-in-law here since before Christmas. It’s been a treat for all of us, animals included, particularly the cats and Corgis who have absolutely loved being snuggled and played with. 

There’s not much going on in the gardens right now, though the daffodils are coming up and have been since late December. I think this is the earliest I’ve seen them. A number of balmy days triggered the blooming of neighboring trees and local beekeepers reported maple trees blooming and honey bees coming home with pollen baskets full. I found a honey bee floating in a water bucket last week on one of the warmest days, and rescued her so she could get back to her hive.

We’re about halfway through the back shelter grid project, and hoping to finish it today before a cold rain rolls in tonight. We also quite suddenly hired a crew to replace all our gutters and repair some rotting fascia board. They are here today working hard. We have opted for seamless gutters with guards and hopefully this means no more leaves in gutters. It was a needed home repair but not one that is very exciting. They went ahead and replaced the gutters on the barn as well - the ones we added a couple of years ago were seamed and already leaking, and with all the rain and snow we’ve had this past year it has added to the muddy areas near the barn. This time the barn gutters will be seamless and they are also running drains out to the fence line to carry the water well away from house and barn. I think we’ll see a big improvement.

Next week when it dries out after tonight’s rain I’ll be bringing in stone screenings to add to some areas that need them. That’s all that’s on my to do list for January, as I’m trying not to overbook myself and make sure I save days where nothing is going on except being at the barn with the horses.

This week I’ve cleaned the rest of the tack and it’s so inviting to walk in there and see it nicely clean and oiled. 

Mostly it’s a dormant time on the farm, which I appreciate and intend to enjoy. 

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Bringing Cal Newport’s concept of “deep work” to the barn

I’ve decided that in 2019 one of my aims is to build in two “deep work” days a week: one at my writing desk, and one in the barn.

If you haven’t read Cal Newport’s book titled Deep Work, I recommend it. He comes at it from a business perspective but I feel it’s a Jungian concept at its roots. In a nutshell, it’s giving yourself the space and time to allow your creative mind to do what I call “puttering.” Which means you’re not trying to do ten things at once, you’re not racing through a to-do list, you’re just letting yourself float, but with purpose, within a specific context of work.

With writing, it means ditching social media and email, the smart phone, house chores. It means settling in with your work in progress and staying with it for a good chunk of the day. Working, pondering, woolgathering, focusing. It’s what writing retreats provide easily, but I need to find a way to get that at home, for a day a week.

Deep work at the barn is somewhat of a puzzle. Just being at the barn generally thrusts me out of time, in that I feel like I’ve been there an hour and it’s been an entire day. I’ve lost that this past year, the luxury of just going to the barn without a list of things waiting for me in the house, or places I have to be, or getting caught up in doing a big barn chore and nothing else.

Today I started my deep work barn day. I went out there with no real plan, except to have fun. I ended up grooming two little donka boys, who were happy to join me in the barnyard and get some special donkey time. I had a pocket full of treats to share and that made them happy too.

After awhile the three big guys offered to join me in the arena, so we had some liberty play. Eventually Cody got tired of being bossed by the pony, so he left, then the pony got tired of having no one to boss, so he left. Keil Bay and I did some free lunging and he looks wonderful. Cody joined us on the outside of the arena fence and I shared treats all around.

Seeing Keil moving so well and feeling so good inspired me to go clean his tack. His saddle and bridle and girth and pad are now ready to roll. (A note: with all the rain we’ve had I expected to find a moldy saddle but happily, the Damp Rid bucket I put in the tack room apparently works! Not one bit of mold.)

The donkeys rejoined the horses and pony and got busy with their hay pillows. (Another note: if you need slow feeder options, Hay Pillows are the very best thing I’ve seen, and we now have 10 of them.)

The Corgis came out and helped me finish cleaning tack. We walked, we played, we enjoyed the 65 degree sunshiny day.

For the barn, for me, this was deep work. I got things done, I took steps toward a larger goal (riding), and I came in happy and smiling.

Give it a try. Wipe the mundane tasks off your plate for a day and let yourself get to the good stuff.