Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘composting manure

Final Step

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It starts out as luscious green grass. The horses eat it and their bodies process it. They spread it on the ground for me to scoop up and shape into big piles. In the piles, microorganisms take action and the temperature climbs to around 160° (F). Eventually, things settle down and the pile cools.

At that point, it’s ready for use feeding growing things which puts that luscious green back where it came from at the start. The final step is loading some bags for sharing our wealth with others.

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My project yesterday was a little more involved than usual after the chickens showed up to offer assistance. Their version of helping seems to always involve getting as much in the way as they possibly can. I tried negotiating with them, but it seems as though they don’t understand English.

Compost work was interrupted by lunch, after which our attention shifted to the north pasture. With Cyndie assisting, we pulled the posts with a chain and the loader bucket of the diesel tractor, which cleared the way for me to mow the overgrown field.

Well, not exactly. The evergreen trees in that field have gotten so big, the tractor doesn’t fit between many of them anymore. It becomes a maze of weaving around groups of trees that are often too close together to provide easy weaving.

It was certainly more trouble than I could manage, in terms of getting the field to look decently mowed. I did achieve a wonderful version of the ‘bad haircut.’

The night ended with a small setback, as the chickens made their way into the tree over the compost piles again before we could entice them to the coop. It seems as though the training for that may not have a final step, but will be a repeating exercise for some time to come.

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Written by johnwhays

July 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

Dust Bathing

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While I was busy sprucing up the property, the chickens were sprucing up themselves with a rousing dust bath yesterday afternoon. Apparently, two of them had simultaneous interest in the exact same spot of sandy ground. If it hadn’t been for their two different colors, I wouldn’t have been able to tell where one left off and the other started.

The three of them were pretty cute in their companionship earlier in the day when I was turning the piles of compost. They would climb up on the pile I was working on, startling a little bit each time I tossed another scoop on the heap. Not intending to alarm them, I would switch to a different pile to work, after which they would migrate over to help me on that pile.

After a few hours of compost management, I pulled out the Grizzly with our towable grader/rake and did some laps in the round pen to disrupt the uninvited weedy grasses that love taking root in the sand. Maybe the chickens will take a liking to the newly raked sand over there.

Finally, I cranked up the lawn tractor to mow the yard and all the nooks and crannies from the house to the road.

I feel ready to return to the day-job. The next big task demanding attention is the labyrinth. With Cyndie reduced to one working arm, that garden has been mostly neglected. It is something I can probably do after work one of these nights, if I have any energy for the project. The grass and weeds have gotten tall and thick, so it won’t be a quick and easy job.

When that is completed, I need to get after the north pasture, where Cyndie has already removed the fence webbing. I want to pull the T-posts that remain standing and then knock down the shoulder-high growth with our brush cutter. That will be an adventure in mowing what you can’t see.

Sure hope the chickens stay out of that field.

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Lonely Three

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We are really missing our lost chickens. The three that remain are doing a good job of carrying on, but we get a sense that they are still feeling ill at ease over the disruption and fatalities that befell the flock a week ago Friday. On the most recent Saturday and Sunday nights, when we arrived to close the door on the coop, they weren’t all inside.

Of course, that quickly brought on fears of another predator, but we found a favored tree branch over the compost piles has become a new alternative go-to spot.

Last night we saved ourselves the extra step of plucking them from the branch at bedtime by heading down a little early and serenading them toward the coop. A sprinkled treat of cracked corn, grains, and meal worms won their favor and lured them into the safety of their shelter.

We are contemplating a few options to fill the void and get the numbers back up. If we are lucky, the killer(s) that visited was/were not local and simply took advantage of the birds while passing through. The more ominous alternative is that it was a local predator that will return as long as we keep buying more chicks.

I need to refine my trail cam setup to improve my results of capturing uninvited intruders in the act.

Oh how I like to dream of being able to use Delilah to protect the chickens from all threats. In reality, she will never master the nuance of first protecting them from herself.

It sure is a treat to watch them pecking away at the compost pile. I like to think that each hit is one less fly tomorrow. Their efficiency may not be that high, but I’m happy to just go on thinking it is.

How would we ever know the difference?

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Written by johnwhays

June 27, 2017 at 6:00 am

Working Through

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Some chores don’t wait for nice weather, so we ventured out into the constant drizzle on Sunday to open space in our compost area, despite the inconvenience. Cyndie had moved the horses indoors out of the wet on Saturday night, which resulted in soiled wood shavings in their stalls at a time when we didn’t have space in the compost area.

Luckily, there is a spot next to the barn where we’ve been using composted manure and old hay to fill in a drop in the landscape. The area had been a too convenient runway for water drainage that was problematic. Bringing it back to level with the surrounding area will spread and slow water flowing from above.

Out came the Grizzly, after putting air in the leaky front tire, and the metal grate trailer for an increasingly muddier series of loads from the compost area. Very similar to working on moving innumerable bales of hay, as time goes by, the loads seemed to get heavier and heavier and I started to move slower and slower. Cyndie pushed back against my increasing moments of pause, with a goal of getting the job done as quickly as possible so she could get in out of the cold and wet.

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When she proclaimed we were down to just two loads remaining, I corrected her with the estimation of four loads. After I tried to take out a small load to assure my estimation would win, she suggested we could toss some of the last bits into the woods around the compost area, leading to an outcome of three loads completing the task. It was declared a tie.

We were wet, it was muddy, but we had worked through the nasty weather to accomplish a necessary chore. We now have open space for composting again.

And not a moment too soon.

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Written by johnwhays

May 23, 2017 at 6:00 am

Author Captured

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Before we moved the chicks out to the coop, we had dumped some of their droppings in the manure pile and noticed how hyper it made Delilah over the scent. Thinking it might do the same thing to natural predators, we decided to move the trail-cam to monitor the pile for a few days to survey for night prowlers attracted to the new chicken smells.

The only thing we captured was the author of this blog in his natural habitat.

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Written by johnwhays

April 21, 2017 at 6:00 am

Tidying Up

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With temperatures climbing into the 40s yesterday, Cyndie and I saw an opportunity to do a little tidying up around the property. After the most recent bouts of quasi-winter rain-sleet-snow precipitation, an annoying icy, glazed mass of packed snow had become the surface of our driveway.dscn5785e

I took out an ice scraper and pushed away at the soft, wet edges of the ice pack in front of the house. The portion that will come up without resistance is visibly obvious. I focused on that, picking the low-hanging fruit. After working the edges and then pushing the crumble of snow and ice to the side with my shovel, I looked back to see there was already a whole new measure of visibly obvious portions that begged attention.

How could I not keep going? After three times around, I had the whole upper platform of our driveway clean to the pavement. The  melt was happening at an amazing rate.

Cyndie was down with the horses, planning to give each of them some individual attention and grooming. That was my next stop, thinking I could hang out with them and clean up manure while she brushed them out. Even though there was a cloud cover painting the day with a hue of gray, the air was absolutely calm, allowing the warm temperature to feel perfectly comfortable without getting hot.dscn5784e

Legacy’s tail has always grown long, but Cyndie noticed it had reached a point where he was stepping on it, so she decided to give it a trim.

After scooping fresh manure from under the overhang, I fanned out a little further around the paddock and picked up some of the newly exposed piles emerging from the melting snow. Like the last couple of winters, we have been dumping much of the season’s worth of manure right inside the paddock.

Since much of the manure is frozen by the time we get around to scooping it up, there isn’t much in the way of composting that goes on in the pile, so it just keeps getting bigger and bigger with every passing day.

dscn5782eContinuing with the theme of tidying up, I decided to try giving the giant mass a little more shape by cleaning up around the edges. I was surprised to discover over the last few winter seasons that despite the dark color of the pile, if it starts out frozen, if left alone, the center can stay frozen well into May or June.

We placed this pile at a spot that we would like to fill in effort to reduce the amount of slope, but it becomes a long slow process to move from an ugly pile of manure to an unnoticeable natural ground cover nicely filling a low spot.

All part of the ongoing process of running a neat and tidy ranch operation, regardless what the weather presents.

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Written by johnwhays

February 12, 2017 at 11:18 am

Growing Accustomed

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I had a moment over the weekend when I became aware of just how much comfort I am developing with many of the things that were beyond my sphere of exposure just a few years ago. That’s not entirely a surprise. I expected to get the hang of things in time. But, there is relief in being able to notice the progress.

I changed the oil and replaced the mower blades on the lawn tractor on Saturday. Detaching and sliding out the mower deck has become so simple and routine for me that I laughed to myself over the change of perspective about the task.

When we got the horses, I didn’t have any experience caring for a horse. It was a daunting feeling to be responsible for their well-being when knowing so little about them. I’ve grown a lot more comfortable reading their general health in the ensuing years.

I have been composting the horse manure long enough now that I am getting much better at recognizing progress, both when it’s happening, and when it’s not. It was interesting yesterday to discover that I needed to add water to piles I was turning, even though we had been receiving rain showers throughout the preceding 18 hours.

IMG_iP1340eThe micro organisms that generate intense heat while breaking down the manure, do an amazing job of drying out the material at the same time. If I neglect to turn the pile often enough, the composting process doesn’t transpire nearly as efficiently as it otherwise would.

Luckily, I’ve grown accustomed to having manure management be a significant part of my contribution here.

What can I say? I’m good at shoveling it.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2016 at 6:00 am