Back to the land...
This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .
I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.
[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.
[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .
[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Bringing Rita Home
The vet confirmed on Friday that Rita was bred. We were going out of town on Saturday, so Sunday was the earliest we could go pick her up.
Rachel and I worked all Sunday morning into the afternoon on a stall for her in the front right corner of the barn. We decided to do a board stall, with 2x6's around the outer stud walls, and 2x8's in the interior where there's a 12' span to a central post. I put in one treated 4x4 post at the center of each of these 2 long spans to break it up into 6'. I dug down 30" with a post hole digger till I hit hardpan, then centered the 8' post inside and filled the hole with mixed concrete.
Rachel left around 1 or so to go pick up the cow. The friend who'd showed us how to hand-milk was bringing her horse trailer to pick up the cow [we later cleaned out her goat house on a work-exchange].
I worked fast to finish the stall while they went to pick up Rita. The front of the stall has 2x8 boards that slide open and shut and lock with bolts. It took a while to get all this assembled as I was as usual making it up as I went along. I got everything but the blocking done on one of the small inside posts which the boards slide through.
They backed the trailer pretty close up to the barn. Rachel led Rita out of the trailer to her new stall. Rita pitched a small fit pausing and bucking as she was led to the barn, but it was momentary, then Rachel led her in to her stall.
Rachel has years of experience with big animals having had different horses. I've never had any experience with big animals, so Rachel helped me with what to do and not to do around such an animal.
We locked Rita in her new 12' x 12' stall. They say cows can become plaintive and unhappy in a new place and will bawl for hours. Rita only mooed once or twice. The one time I asked her, "So do you like your new home Rita?" she immediately threw her head up and let out a terrific moo - which I guess meant 'HELL NO!' And I think she mooed once more the following morning. But since then, never got a moo out of her.
We used our large galvanized washtub for water for her. We'd gotten a heavy-duty bin for her feed from Tractor Supply which hangs on one of the boards of her stall. Her previous milking schedule was 5:15 in the morning and evening. We milked her at 7 the first night by flashlight - we wanted to move her to a 7 and 7 schedule, she didn't have a lot of milk, and by what we saw at her last place, where they practically dragged her from the pasture into the barn to be milked - she was in no hurry to be milked.
Rachel tied her up with her lead line to the center post and went in to milk her. Rachel had had the best success training to milk on the last cow, so we thought we'd put the best person on the job for milking to keep Rita's production up [milk production usually drops 50% when the cow is moved]. I doled out the feed from outside the stall while Rachel milked.
Rachel first cleaned out her stall with a manure fork. She started grooming Rita with a brush which Rita hated and resisted. Rachel washed her udder and teats with a warm water vinegar solution. Then the milking began.
To give Rachel plenty of time to milk and preoccupy Rita, I doled out the feed one scoop at a time into her feeding bin. Rita fidgeted and kicked at the milk pail with her left foot this first milking [we milked on the left side as that's how Rita was milked before, and cows are obsessed with routine].
The next milking Rita went from kicking at the pail to kicking directly at Rachel. Rachel got kicked once in the shin, and from thereon brought in a long piece of plastic electrical conduit to whack Rita on the hock every time she kicked. The first milking was a series of a few squirts, kicking, Rachel whacking her, then a few squirts again, over and over. Rita kicked like a demon. The whacking seemed to have little effect. After around 30 minutes, Rachel got 3 cups of milk out of her.
Rita's behavior in the evening was the same. The plastic pipe seemed to have no effect on her, so Rachel got an old split wooden rake handle. This Rita seemed to feel, and she began to get the message. She still fidgeted, and kicked, but not quite so freely.
Rita kept knocking the bin around with her head and for a while I'd thought this was the wrong feeder for her - that we'd be better off with a tub on the ground. But we made some changes to everything which improved the situation. We got about a quart in the evening, and a half a gallon a day seemed to be all she had or would give.
From then on we chained Rita up to the back corner of her stall with a heavy-duty chain and clip, allowing only enough head motion for her to eat from her bin. I buried each scoop of her feed in hay in her bin so she had to dig around with her snout for it - buying us more milking time. Rachel 'shooshed' Rita over to get her to line up against the back of the stall - she used the command "Shoosh Rita!" and pushed on her hip to move her back end over to line her up against the wall. If Rita's being stubborn and won't move or takes a step or two then leans back, Rachel takes her broken stick handle and pushes on her hip with this - it tends to be very effective.
We'd gotten a long tough rope for tying up her kicking leg to the other side of the stall. She fought the rope madly at first, kicking and flicking her hoof - she got it off once - but eventually Rachel got the loop positioned just right around her shin and Rita couldn't get it off. Rachel made a loop at one end of the rope, the rest of the rope pulls through it around Rita's leg, and is tied with a saftey slip knot to the post. The loop tightens when she kicks but loosens when she stands still.
Rita now tried to kick, but with her left foot tied there wasn't much she could do. So she tried to kick a little with her right foot, at least across at the milk pail, but these kicks weren't dangerous kick-in-your-head kicks and more of a nuissance. With consistent reprimands for kicking and occasional whacks, the kicking began to lessen to more just fidgeting. And Rita definitely came to respect the stick - just the sight of it usually is enough to get her to calm down and do what she's asked.
When Rita gets restless and fidgety and kicky Rachel milks her with a tin cup and sets the pail off to the side so it doesn't get kicked over. She periodically dumps out the cup. With the cow producing only a quart per milking, the cup works fine.
The feed they had Rita on was a cheap bulk cattle mix at $7 a 50 pound bag - not even the right food for a dairy cow. But it takes time for a cow's rumen to adjust, so we've had to wean her off slowly from it and bit by bit introduce alfalfa and beet pellets, corn and oats. Sometimes she gets leftover cream of wheat from breakfast, or vegetables from the garden. She loves any kind of Brassica leaves.
Rita began to improve behavior-wise . . . to kick less, tolerate grooming, stop shaking her head at us and stomping in her stall. We wanted to try tethering her so she could have some outside time to graze. Rachel attached a heavy-duty chain to the front of the barn - not one of the main posts deep in the ground, but one of the doubled studs only attached to the sill plate with a few screws.
Rachel opened the stall and lead Rita out with her line to the front of the barn and attached her to the chain. The chain is over 20', but Rachel tied it up so Rita would only have half that to start - enough to wander a little and comfortably reach the ground to graze.
Rita bit at the grass nervously a few times. Then she did a few twitchy kicks with her right leg - something I'd see her do later when coyotes howl - it was some kind of nervous tic of hers. Then out of nowhere Rita turned and charged at a dead run to be free.
The chain yanked her back, and she tried again and again. The last time I saw the doubled stud move on the sill plate, as we should have attached the chain to a main post, and we knew that was enough tethering for Rita. Rita even tried to hurry back into her stall once. So Rachel unclipped her and led her back into the stall with some hesitation and stubborness from Rita but eventually she went in.
The whole experience had really terrified Rita, and she was perfectly content once back in her stall. So we decided to not bother with tethering for now.
Rita's almost a completely different cow now a month later. She loves to be groomed, and grunts, and buries her head against me while I'm grooming hoping it will go on forever - and insisting I scratch her head. Her milk production has doubled to a gallon a day - sometimes a hair less depending on how much water she drinks and hay she eats. Rachel has the milking down and milks her out rapidly with both hands in under 15 minutes. The milk cup used for the wild Rita has been basically retired - Rachel milks into the pail and Rita only gets fidgety and a little kicky once she's out of food.
I still don't enter the stall unless she's tied up. She's too unpredictable. Rachel will just to muck out her stall quick or something. Sometimes Rita still has cranky days and shakes her head at us and stomps, but she's become far more managable than in the beginning.
BUYING RAW LAND
WINTER IN ATLANTA
SPRING IN TENNESSEE
STARTING A GARDEN
BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN
GRADING THE BARN
PLANTING FRUIT TREES
BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION
THE CONCRETE STEM WALL
BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD
BUILDING A DRIVEWAY
INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES
THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME
FRUIT IN THE GARDEN
THE BARN FRAME
AUGUST IN TENNESSEE
HANGING THE JOISTS
CLEARING THE LAND
PLANS FOR A CABIN
THE LAND IN WINTER
WINTER TREES II
THE STRAW BALE CABIN
THE STRAW BALE CABIN II
HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN
THE POST AND BEAM CABIN
RETURN TO TENNESSEE
DIGGING THE FOOTERS
THE PIER FOUNDATION
FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION
FRAMING THE FLOOR
DECKING THE FLOOR
THE POST AND BEAM FRAME
INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF
FRAMING THE WALLS
DOORS AND WINDOWS
TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH
TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER
THE BARN FLOOR
PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS
THE BARN ROOF BEGINS
'DRIFTERS' PART I
NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE
DRIFTERS: PART II
MY SISTER'S WEDDING
FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE
THE ADDITION FLOOR
FINISHING THE ADDITION
-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.
-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.
-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.
-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.
-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.
-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.
-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.
-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.
-JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
-FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
-JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.
-JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
-FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
-MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
-APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
-AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.
-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.
-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
-OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.
-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.
-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.
-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.
-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.