Pasture Status

I know… odd title, and it probably sounds boring.

When you have grazing animals, however, it becomes one of the most fascinating of topics.  One of those topics where the more you learn, the less you know.

I know nothing about it.  Except that other people are grazing their animals year round.  In the Yukon.  I want to know how to do that too.  And so I study.

I was talking to a local rancher’s wife who told me that around here, the best grazing anyone can get is 5 acres per head (of cows).  That was after I told her we thought we could get around 8 or 9 animals on our 10 acres of pasture.  I think she snorted on the inside.

I don’t think my numbers were too far off though, based on the grazing we got from the lower pasture last fall.

These pictures are a progression of snowmelt over the last month of so.  All the same section of the lower pasture.

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The property, as it stands today, could not handle 8 or 9 head, but I think the potential is there in a year or two with better grazing management.  There are patches of “grass” that haven’t recovered in the 2 years since they were overgrazed, other patches of mostly canada thistle, and areas with large burdock plants taller than me.  I have another garbage bag worth of burrs to pick off the lower pasture, and then I can start on the upper pasture.  The canada thistle is impossible to remove, so it will have to be choked out with lots of healthy grass.

The biggest problem I see with the traditional ranching methods is they don’t take into account what the grass does when it’s grazed.  The first bite is fine.  That’s when the roots “cut” themselves off to mirror the new size of the top of the plant and start decomposing, feeding the plant.  The next bite, taken a day or a few days later, is detrimental to the plant’s health and it has a hard time recovering.  If the plant is grazed to an inch high, the roots are only an inch long, making the plant susceptible to drought, trampling, or erosion.  The plant needs time to recover between bites and restore the root system.

I’ve seen this principle at work everywhere.  Have you ever noticed that ditches have the thickest, lushest, greenest grass, even in dry weather?  They might get mowed once or twice a season, and the grass clippings stay right there.  Compare that with a lawn.  They get chopped once or twice a week, and they need plenty of water and fertilizer to stay green through the summer.

When we lived in the bush, by daily rotations we were able to graze 2 horses for the summer on just over 2 acres of grass that was pretty thin in places.  We saw a huge improvement in the thickness and drought-tolerance of that grass over a few seasons.  We did have to rotate irrigation daily the first year and probably could have grazed longer the following year if we’d kept that up.  I spread composted manure on the main pasture every spring.

We moved here in the middle of August and set up a grazing rotation right away with electric fencing and step-in posts.  We didn’t move the fence behind them, so they had a new patch of grass everyday but still had access to the whole area.  We gave them a new strip the length of half the pasture every day, and once they were done one half, we let them into the other half and blocked off the first half completely.  Not the ideal way to do it, but we didn’t have enough posts at the time to build them an alleyway to reach the water trough at the gate.  Even so, before we moved them to the second half, the grass in the first half had started recovering and quickly grew to 6+ inches high before we started getting frost.  That lower pasture is probably around 2 ½ acres.  The second half was half thistle.  We grazed the cow and horse from mid August to mid November.  Three months.

If we never grazed the upper pasture, we could get a 3 month rotation from the lower, giving the grass 90 days to recover from the first bite.  By year 2, we would need more animals to keep up with it all.  Or we could hay it.  But that causes other issues because you’re removing all those nutrients off the land.  But that’s a whole other topic.

If we grazed 3 head, we could get a 60 day rotation.  If we pretend the upper pasture has the same amount of decent grass overall (it has a few issues), that would double our numbers to 6 head.  Next year the grass should be even better and the 6-ish acre upper pasture should allow us to handle a couple more.

There are other variables to consider.  We began grazing in mid-august, the driest time of year, except that last summer happened to be a wetter year.  We will get more posts so we can follow the animals with the fence and avoid that second bite before the grass recovers.  There are more nutrients on it now thanks to the animals, and the thistles have had a good trampling.

I’m so impressed with the grass coming back this spring in the lower pasture.

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The snow barely melted and it’s coming up thick and fast.  Better than anywhere else on the property, other than right beside the house where it didn’t get trimmed last year and it gets water every time it rains.  Last year’s grass is still there, protecting the soil and slowly adding nutrients as it decomposes.

We have lots of plans for animals this year, including turkeys and ducks and hopefully more cows.  But right now we’re trying to keep as much water (and nutrients) on our land as possible.  All the runoff is draining right through the property and going to the lake.  And with the little amount of snow we had, it might be a dry summer.

What Do We Do All Day?

This winter has been unique, not just because we moved to a new house in the middle of Nowhere BC.  We have other unique circumstances this season.  Darryl was laid off his construction job at the end of November and we’ve been living off EI since then.  He’s applied at the mine and the mills in town and had a couple of interviews and medical tests by one of the mills, but they may not tell him if he gets the job for up to several months!  Despite that, our winter has been awesome!  We love having Darryl home with us, and we’ve grown so much closer as a family.  God had been teaching us things that used to be such a mystery to us, and He’s opening our eyes to what we’ve been missing.  We are so grateful for His Word and for His amazing provision for us!

This new lifestyle agrees with us so much more than when we lived in the big city.  Our neighbours are becoming friends, we have TIME to do the things we love doing, and those things don’t usually require a lot of money.  We only need one vehicle at this point, and though we think a truck would still suit us better for getting hay and firewood, how else would we get to know the neighbours?

I find myself having a fuller social life than I did living in the city.  I play badminton at the hall across the lake once a week, attend a mom’s group at church, a home group at a friend’s house, and now started attending a ladies bible study just down the street.  There’s also a kids play group at the hall once a week, but I don’t usually go to that.  Those are just the regular functions.  I go riding with neighbours once in a while, and chat with the librarian when I return my books.

When I’m not out socializing, I can be found sitting by the fire…

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…improving my domestic skillz…

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…drinking earl grey (caffeinated or decaffeinated, depending on the time of day.  I’m not addicted to caffeine)…

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…playing with the kids…

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…reading to the kids (a major part of Sadie’s schooling)…

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…curating the art wall…

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…honing my craft…

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…taking goofy shots of the kids…

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…and self portraits (see the reflection in the eye.  No, I don’t think I look like a horse)…

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…and of course, making food…

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…and cleaning.

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Yep, that’s about it!  I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except the cooking and cleaning part.

Winter On The Farm

We are totally enjoying living here.  The view is incredible, the house is cozy and warm, the people are welcoming, the drive to town is relaxing and the weather is lovely.  At least, this year it is.

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A snowblower came with the house so Darryl was able to clear the driveway with it for most of the winter, until something on it broke.  Luckily we haven’t had a serious snowfall since, and it doesn’t look like that’ll happen until next winter.

One of the great things you can do with a snowblower is make mountains.  Right in front of the carport is a turnaround with bushes in the middle.  Darryl blew the snow into the middle every time he went around the driveway and got that hill close to 9 feet tall.  The kids LOVE climbing up and sliding down.

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Here’s Chad sliding down the snow mountain.

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We got about 2 feet of snow at the deepest, but with all the warm spells this winter, it didn’t last long.

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I used trees to make the front door look more like the front door.  It turned out to be a convenient place to store the snowshoes too.  We strapped those on a few times.

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This is the lower pasture in the morning, taken from the upper deck.  The lake has been frozen over all winter.

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While I was up there getting that picture, I snapped one of Darryl with the milk pail.

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Moola and Banner have lovely thick coats.  They’ve done well this winter.  They have run of the whole upper pasture, but Banner has one path up to the top by the neighbour horses and Moola doesn’t venture beyond the water trough.

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Kai can’t get enough of chasing snowballs and he’ll spend 4 hours straight following the snowblower around, leaping into the air to catch the snow coming out the chute.

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Then he can’t move the next day.

Deer wander across the property almost every day.  I caught a few pictures as this group of 9 walked up the driveway one morning, stopping to sample hay by the barn and check the bird feeder.

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This winter has gone by so fast!  It’s been gorgeous.  We love being able to see so far, and watch storms coming in.  We’re getting pretty good at predicting the weather by watching the smoke from neighbour’s chimneys, the outside temperature, and the barometer.

On sunny days, the house is bright and airy inside, and on cold or cloudy days, we’re cozy and warm, though it’s usually too hot to sit by the fire very long and we have to open the back door for a few minutes to cool off.  I haven’t been able to wear a sweater in the house all winter.

Hope you enjoyed these photos of our first winter in the Cariboo!

Kid’s Bedroom Update

This is what the kid’s room looked like before we moved in.  It was a guest room.

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We decided to lighten it up a bit.  When I painted the first wall across from the window, I thought I’d made a dreadful mistake because the yellow was VERY bright.  Like almost fluorescent.  Then I painted the same yellow on the other side of the wall, in the big upstairs room, which used to be blue, and it was a much nicer yellow.  So I stopped panicking.  The sunlight streaming in the kid’s window just makes it look fluorescent.  No biggie.

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The kids switched places, so Sadie is on the bottom bunk and Chad is on top.  We put princess curtains across the front of Sadie’s bed (the curtains were made using one $7 panel from walmart, cut in half and hemmed to slide on a tension wire).

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This chase for the chimney is not in a good spot, but it’s pretty hard to move, so we have to work around it.  I have big plans for the dresser alcove, but this is the set up for now.  The kitchen is from IKEA.  I was pretty surprised at the quality and thought put into the design of it.  I have more plans for that alcove too.

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I wanted to do something graphic on the wall opposite the window, but I wasn’t about to buy and install wallpaper or take hours painting with a stencil.  I’m all for quick and easy.  So I drew on the wall with an orange Sharpie.

This was my Pinspiration.

And this is what it looks like!

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The yellow in the kitchen alcove isn’t actually that bright…that’s what this fun setting on my camera makes it look like.  It’s a much softer, paler yellow.

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As you can see, we still have no baseboards in here yet.

It’s not a complicated pattern.  Everything is 6″ apart, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  I worked my way across the wall, starting at the door, and by the end, I was out about ½ inch from ceiling to floor.

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I have no idea how easy hard it will be to paint over.  Hopefully a good primer will do the job.

But it looks cool, the kids like it, and it cost me 4 hours and 1 Sharpie.  I call that a success.

Would you ever try this?

The Stairwell After

I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen the before photos, so here they are again.  This is the stairwell when we moved in, but after we filled the cat scratches all over the spindles.

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And after!

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We installed the battens and painted pretty much every surface in the stairwell except the ceiling.  Because the walls aren’t exactly square, it took 7 or 8 caulking gun tubes of DAP to fill all the cracks.

We LOVE it!  It suits the house so well and looks so great.  Our landlady finally came for a visit and couldn’t believe the difference.  She loved it too.

We still have a refinished chandelier to hang in the stairwell, and then it will be complete.  Mostly.   I’ll hopefully be able to show you the chandelier up soon.  We also have to continue the baseboards for the whole upstairs except the bathroom, at some point when the landlady wants to buy us the materials.

Next up: the kid’s room.

House Tour – Exterior

Now I can show you the outside of the house because I actually got my butt in gear and remembered to take a few more photos of outside before it snowed, and then finally got around to editing and uploading them here.  The outside is also pretty unique.  Remember, it used to be part of an indoor riding arena, which has since been removed and a carport added.  The den used to be an office for a local lawyer or real estate person (I forget which) and still has an unusable door to the back deck.

From the street.  We’re at the end of a cul-de-sac.

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Still getting moved in.  This one shows the car we borrowed for a month while ours was in the shop.

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The front windows.  6×6 feet each.

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The stall on the bottom and the deck upstairs.

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Darryl washed the timbers in the carport with something that strips the weathered part off, then stained them.  This is the before picture.

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This picture is from one of the higher spots in the pasture.

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From the end, the house looks a little goofy.

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The back deck.

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The backside of the barn.  There’s a sheltered corner in the middle and a “bunkhouse” inside the window on the right (and my dad’s black trailer showing on the far right).  The landlady stores a bunch of her stuff in there.

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That telephone pole in the middle is where a power line used to go to the neighbour’s house.

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The grass in this pasture is literally 7 feet high.  An adult can disappear in it.  There’s a low spot in the pasture behind the barn that stays wet all year long.  At least, we assume it does because it was wet since we got here in the middle of August and the grass was still green until it snowed.

We are hoping, that by managing our grazing well, the grass in the rest of the pasture will improve and stay green longer as well.  It’s been 2 years since these fields were (over)grazed.  We have a few (ok, a lot) patches of burdock and canada thistle to deal with and a healthy population of gophers.  I dealt with most of the burdock in the lower pasture before we moved in (not much to do when you’re camping).  Incidentally, the best way I’ve found of killing those stubborn plants is by pulling the mature burrs off in the fall but leaving the plant (I used to do noxious weed removal for the city and we always had to dig them out…doesn’t work).  Any plant I’ve ever done that to never comes back.  They turn black and  you can pull them out of the ground the next year.  And make sure you bag the burrs and send them to the landfill for a proper burial.  I bagged 2 of the large, heavy duty garbage bags full of burrs so far, and that wasn’t all of them in the lower part.

Anyway, I didn’t mean for a post about the exterior of our house to turn into a handbook for weed removal, but you never know when knowledge like that will come in handy, right?

Just For Fun

I’m always trying to get great pictures of Banner running.  Sometimes I resort to chasing him around the pasture.  But when he starts running for any reason at all and I see him, I grab my camera and quickly switch to the zoom lens.

In this case, Moola had gotten out through the electric fence and Banner thought she was leaving him all alone forever.  So I grabbed my camera.

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Her mooing because she couldn’t figure out what happened only made Banner more concerned.

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He kept running to the fence and back to the barn again.

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Most of the decent shots I got were of him running away from me, so I didn’t include those.  I don’t think he realized (or cared) that he was holding his tail to the side and exposing himself to the world through my camera.

He stopped running so I recruited my kids to pose for me.

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The fences were looking particularly lovely that day, so I got pictures of them too.

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Even though my horse or children aren’t always very photogenic, at least my fences are!

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