Category Archives: Building on the Farm

New BMW Kicks!

My motorcycle is a 2004 BMW F650 CS and I love her more than most people. Sorry folks, but she’s super hot. I’ve gone out of my way to look after this little beauty with dealership maintenance and frequent trips to the spa. After six years she’s like one of my children, but I only pay attention to her in the summer.

In early June 2011 Brent and I jumped out of bed, rushed out the door and mounted our bikes at seven in the morning to head south in search of new motorcycle tires. The temperature was hovering around 11 C (50F), but with the heated gear we were very comfortable. Brent actually kept the heated vest on and opened the vents in his jacket to get the right temperature.

Wearing the heated gear made me want to ride in cold weather. It’s like watching a good storm from the safety of the house. It’s like watching rain fall from under an awning. It’s like a disappointing Christmas morning, it might not be what you wanted, but it’s still a great day.

We arrived at the shop and the sales crew were very friendly, but the shop folks were a little rude. No matter! They had cheap tires and were willing to install. I will sacrifice customer service for money on this particular adventure.

We went to the coffee shop across the street and had coffee with our favorite peanut donuts. I don’t know they stopped making these beauties in Canada, but if you’re listening Mr. Horton: we want our peanut donuts back! It seems that tires and donuts go together.

Brent and I spent our time enjoying our treats and talking about motorcycles. Which to buy? What we were looking for and how to get it? We’re still looking for another dual sport. I don’t want to take the BMW down to Florida and ride it hard on the dirt roads. In case you’re new to the story, Brent and I go to Florida every winter for a few weeks and escape the cold. We take as many toys (and puppies) as we can carry and play.

Brent and I would like a pair of dual sports we can ride the scrambles and down the trails. My BMW is not built for this type of riding. She’s a straight up street bike that’s far too pretty for a layer of mud. Luckily, my bike and I often have different trains of thought on mud. There’s a time and a place to get a little dirty.

With fresh sticky tires we head back home riding side by side enjoying the special moment. You can smell the fresh cut grass and dampness of the lake. The world seems a little crisper with the wind in your face and a big vibrating machine under you.

I never feel unsafe on my bike. I don’t ride reckless or excessively fast. I take my time and enjoy the handling and the power of quick acceleration. Remember: I drive a SMART Car which is not going to win a bicycle race, so my bike is how I get my power fix. I am also vigilant on my bike. I watch everyone, see everything and move away from even the remotest potential danger.

Brent and I work as team to protect each other and keep each other safe. We love our bikes and want to keep riding them for years to come.

We decided on an extra treat and stop for pizza at a little restaurant in Lewiston, NY. We meet a friend for lunch and have the most delicious chicken pizza and a single beer. We get caught up in converstation as we sit on the patio not quite ready to go home, but ready to ride.

We take the long way home along the river and I always get the that wonderful feeling of joy when I return to the farm. We ride into the drive to the sound of engines competing with yippng, clucking, snorting and nickering. It’s the sweetest music. The farm is so comforting and welcoming. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Kicks for the Ford

Do you know what scrubbing is in terms of truck tires? The term was thrown around my house between several men as I stood in the kitchen making eggs. I knew scrubbing a pot or the toilet or the floor, but not on tires. I felt so out of touch as they discussed what would happen to the truck, like she wasn’t mine.

It turns out my big one ton Ford dually was scrubbing front tires. She needed a front end alignment and new tires. Too much scrubbing it seems. The sheer size of my truck makes it impossible to take it to just any garage for an alignment. A heavy equipment lift is only one of the requirements. I can hear the dollars adding up as we go on our search for truck tires.

After two days of internet and phone calls Brent declares he’s found the best deal and we do a little road trip for new fronts and an alignment at a popular heavy duty truck shop. As we pull up I notice the garage has ten bays and nearly every one of them is full. The place is rocking.

Little did I realize that there’s a secondary garage down the road strictly for alignments with six bays of it’s own. We’re told it’s going to be over an hour, so Brent and I start walking towards the local Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a treat.

We talk about all sorts of dreams and plans. We have so many ideas that sometimes we get lost in our ideas and they morph into crazy thoughts that become unachievable. I love these talks.

We spend an hour in a coffee shop on the edge of the bad part of Buffalo eating peanut donuts, because you can’t get peanut donuts in Canada anymore, talking and spending the day together. I like that we can find time for each other in the middle of waiting for truck tires.

We get a phone call while waiting saying that we need a tie rod as well and do we want them to go ahead and do the work? Another couple hundred dollars. We decide to get it done and suddenly we have another half an hour of each other’s company. It might have cost us, but it’s worth it.

We walk back to the garage and pick up the truck with fresh tires, tie rod and an alignment. Instantly, we can feel the truck is happier. It’s driving straighter and not scrubbing tires anymore.

Kicks for the Ford became a pretty good day.

230 Bales of Hay

We got a deal on hay.

In the morning we drove the truck to Wainfleet to borrow a big thrower hay wagon, so we could drive slowly to Vineland to pick up hay. It was a nice drive. It was nice to just sit and talk and sip scalding cups of coffee while the rain turned to snow.

We arrived at the hay barn and everything was very old, but well kept and neat as grandma’s kitchen. The old Dutch guy who helped us load was sturdy. His age was somewhere between sixty and seventy and he was in better shape than both Brent and I put together.

It took an hour to load the 230 bales into our wagon and we were sweaty in the cold morning, but proud as the old dutch farmer pulled the wagon out of the barn with his old massy tractor.

He asked if we were interested in a baler. Sure. Who wasn’t interested in a baler?

He took us out back to his canvas covered barn and we were shocked at all the new farming equipment. It was like a John Deere showroom. Harvesters and double rear wheeled four by four tractors. More haying equipment than I could imagine. While standing in tractor heaven I asked why he was driving the old 1950’s massy and he said “she’s my favorite.”.

Driving home with our load Brent and I scarfed back bananas, almonds and water. We discussed different lifestyles and how a dutch farmer survived all these years and raised nine kids. You don’t have to go overseas to see different cultures. Just ask a farmer.

Back at home we decided not to unload in the leanto where the hay would be used because of the mud, so we unloaded into the slightly less wet back garage. Our good friends Tim and Tanya showed up in time to unload and we owe our friends a debt of gratitude for all the free (paid in beer and food) labour. We chatted with each other, panting as we threw the bales and the boys stacked. It’s a great work out and a great way to laugh at each other. I get to throw fifty pound hay bales at my husband – there isn’t a wife alive who hasn’t had moments where they’d like to whip something at their husbands. It’s a good marriage building experience and trust exercise. No wonder farmers have such good relationships.

We finished the day with a beer and a heaping helping of gratitude. Sometimes it’s dangerous to stop by and you might be wrangled into unloading hay. Just ask Darren V about the second load of hay. He was wearing his good shoes too.

It’s not all Roses, but it is MUD

Life on the farm during the spring thaw is a challange. It’s too wet to use any equipment and too brown for any natural food to be available. The animals are outside more and starting to forage for themselves, but still very excited to see grain or hay coming from their humans.

The rain has been heavy and the sky sadly lacking in sunshine. The waiting continues with heavy hearts as we dream of spring. When the grass is green and full and the trees blooming with leaves. Gardens fill in with beautiful life and flowers open and spread their scent.

However, now is time for rain. Mud. Wet. Clay.

I could use a row boat to feed the animals as the mud is thick enough to pull off my rubber boots. I was carrying a bale of hay across the horse paddock yesterday with Autumn hot on my tail when my boot sunk six inches and stayed. I put the bale down, while Autumn pulled at the hay, and had to use both hands to free my boot from it’s muddy grave.

I wiped my muddy hand across my wet brow and gave Autumn’s neck a gentle push and continued to the tractor tire hay feeder. I was covered and sadly wearing my favorite lambie jammie PJs. I love to feed the animals in my PJs.

The ducks are surprisingly hardy and are seen waddling around the muddy paddock in search of bugs. The chickens are even braver as they wander around the muddiest parts of the field hoping to find a juicy worm.

It seems everything has turned the same drab brown as the ground, trees and fields. It’s a horrible mud brown that sticks to everything. My floors are constantly dirty as is my little Princess Super Tazil Puppy Dog.

Taz is constantly in search of mud. You can put all three dogs in an area with one mud puddle and Taz will lay down in the middle. Gizmo will walk gingerly around and Poco will get wet, but only if it’s something valuable.

How can one little eight pound pup bring in so much mud? She actually waded into the pond today while frog hunting and was a filthy shivering mess when I went to check. She’s devoted.

I wait with little patience for Summer, but then the bugs and heat are our newest complaints. Thank goodness I live in Canada where the seasons are constantly changing.

The Round Bale Beats Me

Brent’s been working and some of the chores we usually do together have landed gently in my lap. For example: I picked up three 4×6 rubber horse mats at an old farm in Dunnville and managed to get them into the leanto to keep Autumn and the goats dry. The mats are heavy and dirty, but I managed. I finally wrestled them into position, but when I went out the next day the ground water had flowed over the mats and caused a bigger mess.

I pulled up the soaked mats and raised the floor up, so the horse and goats have a comfortable and dry place to rest. Thankfully we put down clear stone in January in front of the lean to, so Autumn has a dry place to stand. Actually, I saw her laying down out there basking in the sunshine. It filled me with warmth, but that’s not part of this story.

Today my chore was to move a round bale into the horse paddock. This is normally a fairly easy job since Brent and Tim built a bale spear.

The selected round bale was sitting in the pig and chicken paddock. I thought maybe they’d have a little taste, but after a few months they haven’t touched it. We’re a little short on hay this season, so I wanted to make the most of what we had left.

I had the backhoe running and slid the bale spear into place. I checked that the pigs and chickens were inside the barn before I opened the gate and prepared to spear the bale with the backhoe. I rolled the dirty round bale in front of the gate. This was no easy chore given the round bale was wet and extra heavy.

With the gate precariously open I jumped into the running backhoe. I lowered the bucket and advanced on the round bale like a warrior from the movie 300. As I pushed the backhoe into gear and leaned forward, it died. Out of fuel.

I was unable to close the gate and could hear the pigs squealing. Running to the back of the barn I  grabbed a piece of plywood and a three foot piece of 2 x 6 to block the animals in the barn. I ignored the angry snorts and clucks as they tried to move the barricade. Once that act was done I felt a little more secure. I asked myself why I hadn’t done that before and couldn’t come up with a good answer.

The paddock gate runs perpendicular to the drive and the only way to fit the backhoe through the gate was to position it across the driveway. With the backhoe blocking the entire exit and only the F350 pick up truck to take to get fuel I felt a little stuck. Little did I know that I was about to be a lot stuck.

It had rained and then snowed. The snow gave a false sense of freezing and I realized the ground was too soft as the dual wheels of the ford dug into the mud of the front lawn. If this had been Brent I would have been really upset, but it was me, so I was just mad.

With two tires a foot deep in muddy lawn I shifted into 4×4 and got out to lock the front hubs. I’m really proud of locking the front hubs. I drove around the hoe and only managed to scratch the driver’s side with a small tree. Hopefully, Brent won’t notice.

I paid twenty bucks for barely a ten gallon container of fuel and was fuming as I drove home filled with the desperate hope that the backhoe would still start. Diesel engines don’t like being run out of fuel.

I imagined Brent slamming into the backhoe that was parked precariously across the driveway. It was very near the end of the driveway and the drive is wide and happily accepts fast moving vehicles off the eighty kilometer highway. He might not see the backhoe blocking his way in the dark.

I climbed up on the backhoe with one foot on the front tire and the other on the step into the cab I balanced the ten gallon fuel container and managed to get the nozzle into the hole marked gas. I kept thinking as I listened to the diesel fuel gurgle into the tank… is this a gas engine? No. I’m sure it’s diesel. Then why does it say gas? Eventually, I concluded that gas has fewer letters than diesel.

With one hand on the key and the other holding a can of starter fluid I turned and sprayed. After a few fitful seconds she turned over, but didn’t stay running. I jacked up the fuel intake, started spraying, prayed a little and turned the key.

She started and I nearly wept with relief. I let the backhoe run for a minute and then speared the round bale and picked it up. I backed out of the paddock and rolled down the driveway with the five hundred round bale balanced on the front bucket with a spear in it’s belly.

I stopped in front of the barn to release the angry pigs and chickens after I closed the gate. While in the barn I heard the plaintiff cries from the backhoe as she stalled and became frighteningly quiet.

I took up the familiar position with my arm through the window of the backhoe as I balanced with my left foot on the step and my right foot on the front tire as I leaned forward and sprayed starter fluid into the intake while turning the key.

She fired, choked and then started. I did a little driveway dance.

I wasn’t taking any chances as I drove full speed up the muddy hill toward the horse paddock. I didn’t stop until I ran over some rough cut 2×6’s on this side of the fence. With all the grace of a drunk teen I managed to dump the round bale into the right side of the fence. I examined my exit as I pushed the backhoe into reverse and slid back down the gentle slope until I reached level ground.

My heart beat leveled as I backed the machine behind the barn, turned the loader towards the ground and turned the key off. I didn’t look up as I made my way towards the house exhausted, wet and muddy, but proud. The ground was covered in ice that I’d walked over at least ten times, but this time my feet went out from under me and I hit the ground on my right shoulder.

I laid on the wet ice trying to determine if I’d broken anything. After a moment of hesitation I got up and figured this was one of those days when I should have just done laundry.

The Mailbox

There are two seasons in Canada: Winter and Construction.

Snow and snow removal is the big winter thing here in the north, but we get a reprieve from construction due to the extreme temperatures, horrible conditions and frost making everything heave. Often times the snowplows will hit a mailbox and absolutely destroy everything mail related.

This happened here at the farm last week.

I called the town and left a few messages, but never got an answer. After four days Brent and I decided we needed to fix the mailbox. That was a long time to go without mail when the electric bill, gas bill and phone bill was due.

We rummaged around the farm and came up with some scrap steel, tape and baling twine. I fired up the backhoe and Brent grabbed the rest of the tools. Giggling like a couple of kids we headed out to fix the mailbox. One of the tools Brent grabbed was the video camera.

I can’t say much more than: enjoy the show. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The Bale Spear

When we acquired Autumn we decided we’d free feed large round bales because it was the easiest thing to do and Autumn is not a glutton. All we had to do was put a round bale out in the field every two-three weeks and she’d eat without us having to throw out flakes of hay several times per day – tough to do when you work 12 hour shifts.

We purchased the large round bales from our neighbour and farmer down the road. This was our first experience with the high density bales. The high density bales weight about seven hundred and fifty pounds, where the low density bales weight about five hundred and fifty pounds. Obviously the high density bales are, well, denser. Thicker. Harder to puncture.

It was a good cardio workout to manually roll the round bales into the field and it would have been quite manageable if we’d only had to do it every few weeks, but we took in two horses for a brief period of time to help out a friend.

We were now going through a round bale every three days. I didn’t mind the cardio, actually I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something I could do by myself. I needed help from the heavy equipment.

Brent and his best pal Tim decided they’d build a bale spear to go on the front end loader of the backhoe. Tim is welder, so between the two it should have been easy.

Unfortunately, not much on our make shift farm is easy. The steel rod they used wasn’t sharp enough to pierce the high density bale and, if it did go in it would bend immediately. The spear was warped after it’s first use and never picked up a bale.

It took several weeks, much internet research and a few phone calls until they found the solution. It was suggested that they use an axel off a heavy duty truck as the spear.

Brent and Tim were excited when they made the trip to the local scrap yard in search of their future “bale spear”. They came home with a handful of scrap metal and an axel off a piece of heavy equipment. It took some time to cut off the end with a torch and then grind it down to make it smooth and pointy.

Several days later Tim came by and welded the new holder onto the top of the backhoe front end loader (sorry dad). The new bale spear was ready for use. After a few attempts, some sharpening and refining they managed to pick up a round bale.

The welds held. The spear did not bend. The bale was moved with a combustion engine.

We got the bale spear working three days before the two boarder horses left for their new barn.

Isn’t that always the way?

Now, we move the bales around with the machine simply because we can. Special thanks to my farmer neighbour Steve for the axel idea. It would have cost about $300-$500 for a factory made bale spear or fork and the boys managed to do it for about $40 – not counting time and labour. Thanks Tim!!