Category Archives: Livestock

As winter blows in

Even though the temperatures are starting to slip down towards the freezing mark, I’ve kept at it out in the barn. Why not? I’ve got the rocket stove out there now. For now, there isn’t a lot of heat retention as the walls are basically just a bunch of reeds bound up together. Around the edges, at the corners and the top, the wind can still come right in.  I’ve wrapped the outside of the addition with tarps and some old old greenhouse plastic. I’m not trying to seal the room up completely, that will come later. My efforts are simply in order to block out the worst of the wind and to keep the snow out of the room. In any case, every bit helps. The door to the outside has a removable window and a little sliding door at the bottom so that the birds will be able to get in and out without having to go through barn. More than that, I would very much like to get the birds to stop turning the yard in front of the barn into a mud pit. My intention is for them to go out this new door and turn the side yard into a mud pit. Hence the little door. Figuring out a door that is able to resist the intentions of a skunk or raccoon isn’t as simple as I first thought. But after about an hour of staring at the bottom of that door, I had a solution. The little sliding door actually nests inside the outer casing. Only time will tell if it will do the job. It feels like it should. I hope it does.

The walls, as I stated, are simply bundled reeds. So anything I do on the inside of the barn will have to be relatively removable. That and I want them off the floor. I don’t know if you can tell from the images, but the nest boxes are actually attached to the window cases with a brace at the bottom to hold them off the wall. When the time comes to finish the inside, the boxes will need to be removed. The way I attached them allows that. The red/white/green along the top of the boxes are small sections of metal roofing that was left over from cutting in the roof. This will allow the birds to use the upper boxes without getting pooped on. More importantly, the slope will make it so that the birds won’t be able  hang out on top. Anyone who knows chickens knows that they crap almost constantly. The slope will dissuade them from hanging out up there. It worked pretty well on the old boxes.


The perches are set. The way I’ve done them this time is to set boxes/braces on the wall that the perches can be set in. The perches aren’t actually attached to the boxes. This will allow their removal when I need to clean up under them. Instead, I ran wire through the wall and secured the boxes in place so that the cob/plaster layer will come right up to it. I think it was something I saw in one of the straw bale books that I have. The bottom 2 perches are most likely going to get replaced with straighter poles. If I have the energy to do so. In the current coop, the perches are actually secured in place. Until you have either been crapped on while mucking about under perched birds or simply felt the (literally) crappy perches rubbing along your head, neck and back as you try and work, you haven’t lived. It’s a not obvious in the image but there is also a window (same size/shape as the one in the door) set high in the wall. This will allow paper level ventilation in the summer and just a little more light year round. I’m just trying to make the space as light and airy as I can. Not that the chickens will let me know if they are content or satisfied with what I’ve made for them. If any of you can speak chicken, please please please come over and help me talk to these birds.


my Rubber Biscuit, the liar

As for the animals, Biscuit has apparently shown her true colors and a full on liar. I’ve been waiting on her to show signs of an imminent birthing and she as more than willingly taken the feed I’ve been giving her as if she is owed the sweetness. In fact, when I contacted the family that sold her to me (and assured that she was due “any day now”) they informed me that their other doe was also not showing signs of imminent birthing. What this leads me to believe is that their Pygmy buck simply isn’t up to the talk. In Biscuit’s case, I think that I mean it literally as well. I think he just couldn’t reach. She is a fairly big girl as far as it goes and he was just a little guy. The other nanny was his size though so who (besides the goats themselves) knows? As for the chickens, I now have 4 extra roosters and a young hen that is laying an egg a day. Another hen lays maybe 4 or 5 times a week. Everyone else seems to have stopped completely. 2 eggs in a day (at best) with 28 birds is pretty pathetic. There is a bit of electrical work to take care of and then I’ll hook in the timer and try and get a few more of them to start laying again. At least I hope they start back up. Time will tell.

Mud floor gets a leg up

coop floor surveyours mark

Tuesday was a big big day. There were 6 people, a dog, 2 goats and most every single chicken at some point helping out. The 4 leggers and the birds mostly just crapped on things and knocked stuff over. Like normal.

My hat in hand, I must thank Stephanie and John from Red Beet Row, Gretchen from Cherry Valley Ecological Farm and Patrick from Octagon Acres. This floor has been staring me in the face for months now. Not doing much of anything but drying out and getting burrowed into by the chickens in their eternal quest for the perfect dust bath. And what have the goats managed to hurl to the floor and smash now? With all these people coming to get the floor done, I no longer had any excuse to put it off, so we did it. Half of the floor the first day any how. It went down quite well. We could mix the cob a bit wetter than I would like to for walls. It didn’t really need to stand up to anything. And this is just the first goat anyways. coop goat prints

With having just finished the first layers on the Syrup Cooker and Mary’s Grotto (later), I’ve found some success with increased durability to the elements by adding a couple of scoops of hydrated mason’s lime, NOT farm lime. This is the same stuff that I used on the outside of the Seedhouse. Only there, the mix with only lime and clean white sand. Here the mix was 50% yellow clay 50% bank sand (both thru a 1/2″ screen) 2 scoops of lime, and a flake of last year’s moldy hay because I don’t have any straw at the moment. I found that not only does the lime harden the clay enough to shed water, the mycelium grows through the clay as it dries, binding everything together in one final explosive embrace. I haven’t actually read too much about what people use in their earthen floors, beyond using elephant dung which is polishable and antiseptic. Who knew? I have lime. So I’m throwing it in everything. I just imagine how the chicken poo will soak into the cob. The smell will be in the floor no matter what. The hope is that the lime will keep the floor together longer with all the shoveling and scraping that will happen in there. It’s not cement. I accept that. I also accept that I can’t grow more lime. The closest mine is in Genoa, Ohio. Closest supplier is in East Cleveland. What will happen in 5 years? Dunno. 50? Beats me. It’s a floor. It’s a dirt floor. In a chicken coop. Whatever happens to it will be WAY worse than anything that will happen to a floor made of the same recipe in my house. I want to see what it does with 50 chickens living on it. Just to see. Same with the Rocket stove. I just want to see what I can do with one in a building that I go into at least twice a day, every day. Or someone does. I got a warning about lighting the stove at -20 F. They apparently hammer out every bit of moisture in them at once and lock the system up after about 30 minutes. It makes sense. 2 different barns. 2 different builders. It’s only set in dirt at this point. coop rocket

As you can see in the above image, I went back out to the barn the next day and finished off the rest of the floor. I had to go back across the street for another load of sand, but by the time I got to the doorway, I had used up all of the clay and sand that we had brought floor dust box

This is the SW rounded corner of the room. The Phragmites bundles are shown as the basis for future earthen plaster work. I left a corner of the floor exposed to the tamped dirt with a treated 2×4″ frame is set flush with the floor surface so that more dirt can be added as they throw it around all winter. If I hadn’t put this dust box in, I wouldn’t have had enough cob to get the floor as close to the opening as I eventually did. The floor is within 3 or 4 inches of the doorsill, whenever that gets figured out. In addition to filling in the thermal battery and around the firebox on the rocket, I’ll need to go over the entire floor with a finish layer. This will mean I need at least 1 more load of clay and 1 of sand, so I figure there will be enough to get the floor out as far as I need it to be. I figure to set bricks in the cob under the door. Between them and the lime in the clay, I hope to discourage diggers.

Another deterrent to diggers and chicken killers is the mesh that I put up over all 4 barn windows today. This has allowed me to remove the windows from their sashes and allow even more air to move through the barn. There is an actual breeze through the barn now. And I’m content knowing that the varmints can’t get to my birds. And the 6 chicks that hatched 3 days ago. It’s nice having broody hens. She seems to know what she’s doing. There is food and water just out of the frame, and the box has some extremely expensive chopped straw that I paid way too much for at the BIG BOX FARMY STORE. I can make myself feel better by saying that it’s a business expense and I can write it off.


Baby barb in Bubba's Shrine

Here is Mary’s Grotto as it appeared in my Mother’s parent’s front yard in the spring of 1967. The child is not me as I wasn’t born yet. My folks were dating, but weren’t married till later that year. The brown sticks to the left of the image are/were beautiful roses that surrounded the Grotto by the time I came along. I am currently wearing the belt of the man who is taking the picture. He passed away last year. This is my Uncle Mike taking picture of his first child. A little girl, Barb. It’s a good belt.

Mary's Grotto

The intervening 50 years were harder on the grotto than they were on Mary. It was the roses and the rose light filtering down on her all those decades. The bottom of the Grotto crumbled to pieces as I picked up, leaving 2 bent sections of rebar hooked out the bottom of the long cement curve. These I torched and bent straight. The cement chunks are left over from the patio/sidewalk/driveway job. I drilled a hole in each of the 2 front slabs of cement and filled in around the rest of it with lime cob. I made the small bowl out of what was left.

Once everything has a chance to cure a bit, I’ll go back and apply a final coat. Depending on how froggy I get to feeling that is. I just never know what I’ll be doing next. Oh yeah. Just so you don’t think Viann didn’t get in on the action. Here is her contribution.

coop floor no good deed

Never one to let a good turn go unpunished, she must have had a great time once she found the bag sitting there uncovered this morning. She beat that thing into submission. I don’t think all that much got wasted as there was a half a bag there when she found it. When Leah saw it this morning she just asked, “what did you think would happen?” No answer. I knew that she did it because of the white powder coating her horns and powdered down her neck, to her shoulders. Every error, every misstep. Goats, they find them.

Not hot bees

hive hot hot

Leah came and got me yesterday with a note of panic in her voice. “I think the bees are getting ready to swarm!” she cried. Okay, so she wasn’t panicked or crying out. She just sort of said it with some concern. The image is what we found. We sent some messages around and got word back to just chill out, just like they were doing. And to open some doors and windows in order to help ameliorate the situation.

hive hot not

So this morning we did just that. Granted, the first image was taken at the heat of the day (mid to upper 80s ) with almost 90% humidity. This put the day somewhere between what other people define as “Miserable” and “Why do I live here?” The day was a cooker, don’t get me wrong, but for days like that, winter’s -13 degree kiss becomes all the more unbearable. So if you were a bee, wouldn’t you want the doors and windows open too?

Come to find out, the hive was all out of order in the first place. Apparently the “top” is the thin sheet with the oval cut into it. This goes under the “lid,” which is exposed to the weather. This oval holed sheet does not separate the inner boxes. My mistake. Also, we hadn’t removed the “door reducer” from across the bottom lip of the box. That hive had to be screaming hot, with only the one way in and out. Also, I drilled a 7/8″ hole in the upper frame. This will provide a lot more cross ventilation and it will create new travel patterns inside the box. I hope it helps.

Here’s the trick. Part of me thinks I’m a complete idiot for doing this, but the entire time I was drilling and opening and prying and examining the box and it’s parts, both Leah and I were totally unprotected. No mask/safari hat. No hazmat suit. Just open it up and go about the business at hand. We were out there first thing in the morning so everything was cool and calm at the box when we got there. My memory of my Dzeda working the his hives will be forever with me. He didn’t not care if he got stung. He just knew how to not get stung. Don’t upset things any more than necessary. Do what needs doing and be decisive though gentle about it. Much like doing a head to toe, full body assessment on a trauma patient in an ambulance. Thorough, complete, no mucking about. As apposed to getting all weird about it. Be it hesitance and fear, or ill intent and mischief. These critters would know the score. They smell me more than I smell me. If they smelled even a hint of malice or fear, they would have nailed me. I never gave them that. I was just something that was repeatedly getting a little too far into their flight path. This, however, changed once I started manipulating the hive itself. I knew that I was upsetting things when I was working at getting the door spacer out of the way. They had already glued it into place pretty good and I needed more than a little effort to break it free. All the while, the buzzing around my head got louder and louder. I don’t know if everyone came home and were blocked from getting through or as a response to an alarm call. But they were there. Leah, wisely a step or 3 back away from the hive, said that the bees were a cloud around me. From my perspective, just a little less than arms length from the bottom of the box, I saw some extra bees, but traffic didn’t seem to slow down or speed up all that much at the door. As soon as the spacer had been removed, I stood up, and the cloud was gone. PooF! The angry buzz was gone. Everything was just as suddenly “Okay.”

Then we took the boxes apart and moved the ‘top’ to the actual top of the uppermost frame. The “new” frames are all clean up and seem to be getting used, if only a little, so far. Having moved the massive restriction from the box, I’m hoping things will progress at a better rate. Totally for their sake. The honey they are making is all for them. At least at this point. If they make WAY more than they can use, even on a harsh -20 winter, then we might take a frame off once everything is settled. Only time and the season will tell that one though.

On comes the long hot summer

things are still happening at the farm. Chickens are still squirting out eggs, the goat has pumped out gallons and gallons of milk. we are still exploring what to do with our abundance. Turmeric and garlic scape goat cheese is quite lovely. there is a tremendous peace in the daily rituals. I’m fortunate to be able to choose much of the activities in those rituals.

Viann has still not figured how to jump to the ceiling, but most every other horizontal surface in the barn has her prints on it. the thing about barn rituals, especially when goats are involved, if I forget even a single step in the ritual, they will exploit the omission because there is almost always food at the other end if the mistake. My mistake, not theirs. They are quick and thorough. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, Ann is ever so much a goat. It’s not just the “cute cuddly mischievous kid” that gets into everything. She hasn’t gotten another tray of eggs airborne or rocketed a full milk pail off the milk stand for at least a month. I will say, she can pop a garbage can lid faster than I can. She does this inverted J-hook maneuver that ends with her face at feed level. She is a good girl though. I can almost always get through the morning with no mishaps out there. Everyone knows what has to happen.

There is a single addition back there that has been long over-do. One of the original hens (without a name) has insisted for her entire life that she wants to sit on eggs. So I finally figured how to let her do just that. I have her 10 eggs to sit on and mostly kept her locked in the next box for almost a month. She would announce that she wanted out in the evenings. this was new to me. I had somehow assumed that she would just sit on the eggs and not move till they all hatched. But, no. She would pop out a HUGE turd, drink a gallon of water and slam as much feed as I would drop for her. If it was dry and not too late, she would pop in for a dust bath in the coop addition. Then she is directly back into the box. She brought 7 eggs to hatching. One of those chicks didn’t survive the first couple of days. Now there are 6 little peepers clouded around her. It’s good to see. with some luck, the Auracona rooster back there got his bit into one of those chicks and with a little more luck, it’s a hen=blue eggs. at the moment, 3 are dark and 3 are not dark. the eggs were the darkest brown and whitest white ones I could find the day I gave them to her. It’s exciting in it’s way. Never a dull moment back there.

The studio in my garage has been even more exciting. I’ve churned some stuff out that I didn’t know I would be able to make. some of them suck. the proportion of suckyness goes down quick once I’ve made 20 or more of a shape. I started doing stuff with slabs and license plates. It’s astounding. I’m shaken to know that I did these. this is not bragging. these aren’t world class or anything. to hold a single vessel in my hand, I see the problems. I can see where I didn’t smooth something over or flatten something. I can do that with every pot I’ve ever made. But with these new ones, when I blur my already blurry vision, I see so many possibilities. I am simply blown away. Leah has mentioned that when I go out into the garage, it’s like I’m not at the house anymore. I loose time when I’m working. I loose the feeling of time. The passing of time. There is this endless moment that is throwing. hard but not too hard, wet but not too wet. I’m shooting for 3-pull vessels. New forms are rarely done in 3 pulls at first. there is an endless number of ways to screw up a pot. simply endless. double that, because there is destroying stuff on the wheel and then there are all the ways to wreck one after the fact. Statistically, it feels like it’s almost impossible to make pots. the beauty of it is that in amongst those mistakes are these revelation of pure form. A clean pull. a true form. they tend to be at times when my mind finds a path to quietness. when I’m railing away at the things I’ve said and done over the years, the things I’ve heard, the forms sag, the lines are blurred. nothing comes out the way i SAW in my mind. but those moments of stillness are profound. the thrum of the wheel’s bearings sets time. it’s like driving without a speedometer. basing things on the engine noise. sitting on 100 mph through the Montana desert on my 70′ CB750 put me in the same spot. Almost painful. the shriek of the wind has faded and the engine rattle has hammered thoughts into silence and there, buried in all that chaos, is the gentle ting ting ting of the little bell I had hung under the gas tank. THAT kind of quiet. that kind of vastness. held in the 5/32 of an inch between my fingers. the clay snaps and pops. I’ve remembered how to see with my finger tips. Rather, I’ve remember that I used to be able to see through my finger tips. that vision that happens with the eyes closed. it’s like hearing without my ears. there are just so many more possibilities tucked into that 5/32″. I remember. I remember just exactly how little I know about making things out of clay. I remember how long a path I have to walk down to be a Potter. somewhere north of 10,000 hours according to Gladwell. till then I’m goofing off.


point and laugh

first load

Drove home from Hogle’s pond with the first load bundled on the roof of my car. What a hoot. When I got to the stop sign at the bottom of the hill I heard a strange keening warble coming from outside the car. Upon scanning my immediate environment, I discovered 3 young children in the front yard of the home to my left, a girl, 8-ish, and 2 boys, maybe 5 y/o. One of the boys way pointing and laughing at the top of his lungs. Great peals of laughter that came across as shrieking for just a moment. A sight to behold was I. And so I was. This load took about 2 hours to cut working alone in a far less than optimal stand of Phragmites. None of the bundles, and I think there were 7 or 8, had been cleaned so another 2 hours was spent rebundling them and filling the air with Phrag seeds. From what I’ve heard, the seeds are terrible when it comes to germination. They mostly spread by rhizome. But to say they are terrible includes space for them to be at least successful enough to spread around the entire planet in nearly every ecosystem that includes at least some liquid fresh water. Which means that they will be fighting it out with the mugwort growing around the greenhouse in 50 or 100 years or at least until the canopy covered the entire area and shades them out. That is only if no one is here to cut any of them back. I won’t be here by then, so it’s someone else’s problem. As much as I love bamboo, that is one plant I’m simply unwilling to bring anywhere near here. It would stomp through our wetland and own it inside of 2 weeks. And likely be at the shores of Lake Erie before years end.

Last night I took my re-bundled phrag and attached some of them to the inside wall of the coop and let me tell you, it looks real good. This will work. The bundles are attached at 4 points. It looks like I imagined it would and I think it will work quite well. With all those hollow tubes and the air spaces around them trapped between 2 hard/dense but breathable layers, heat should move only very slowly thru it.

In the processes described here, I discovered about 85 ways I could save myself time, effort, and exposure. There is a reason that in every picture I’ve seen of “hand cutting thatch”, the people are pictured processing the reeds WHERE THEY ARE CUT. Not in their driveways in front of their houses. Let the waste say in the field. The fields of Phrag are all very tidy and even and there seems to be nothing but fresh reeds standing. Not 2″ of dead reeds laid semi-horizontal among the base of the live reeds. And ONLY fresh reeds. No dead from last year or 2 years ago. I’m working from sub-optimal conditions here. Conditions that will improve over the years though as I return to the same fields and harvest the reeds repeatedly. Even a single good mowing would take care of things. Only problem with that is that the reeds are standing in 6-8″ of water. I’ve never seen a farmer around here with a tractor capable of cutting Phrag and chopping it up, that also floats. Brush-hogs generally follow the tractor. Only Public works and Dept of Transportation have the side mount and arm mounted mower decks. Dave didn’t mow down the old frag because he didn’t want to burry his non floating tractor to the axles to cut a useless (to him) grass that is growing in a place where nothing else would grow. He laughs at me when I tell him we would all should use Phrag for insulation and roofing. “They said that switch grass was the bee’s knees, too. Gunna make ENERGY from it. Ethanol. Huh. Paper plates maybe.”  That stuff is everywhere around here.

In my world view, only me, Charles, not anyone else affiliated with me, feel, that things that are designed to save time or make things easier or more productive and efficient, often involve some form of loss of autonomy. Convenience is death in other words. Cutting and bundling the Phrag by hand, and using it instead of a  $4.00 bale of straw isn’t really efficient. But it keeps me outside and moving. If I had a good job with a decent wage, I could make enough to insulate every building on these 2 properties inside and out with not a lot of effort if I were so inclined. Most likely I would be inside all day and no where near the farm. Exactly when I would be able to do such a task is hard to say. Grabbed moments and weekends most likely. Or I can do like I am and find a way to do it for next to nothing. Takes longer. I might get leaches on my ankles if I don’t wear boots, but I’m there doing it and it really feels good opening jars and bottles and being able to best the tightest of them. (Mostly that comes from milking every morning)

Another things Dave laughs about is how “kids these days” are going back to the way his great grandparents used to do thing, simply because no one can afford to get started with all the crazy expensive machines needed to do anything on a scale that is any sort of “efficient.” A dairy is only a hobby until it passes the 500 cow mark. Most contemporary diaries in this area would be cost prohibitive to build new. Like any long standing business, they are built upon the bones of their ancestors. As often as not, the tales of parent handing off the farm to their kids is not happening. A lot of “parents” (eg. property owners), in this area anyway, have been clutching on to their property with Scrouge’s grip. They seem to think that the land has a greater value as an idea, “MY LAND,” than it actually has. To my mind, land really only has the value someone is willing to put into it. Above and beyond the value of it’s actual existence as land as apposed to ocean which is only fine if you are a fish.

What does any of this have to do with the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair and the birdsong in my ear? Not even a little bit.

It’s a beautiful day. We are alive. You and I. Make it count.



Building with Grass, Sticks, and Mud

April 17 and May 1

Sunday, 12-4 PM
Trillium Center, 715 Furnace Rd. Conneaut, OH 44030

Want to get dirty? Here’s your chance to practice experimental building technologies at BLD farm. The first project this year is an addition to a barn. We’ve been filling in the  earthen floor, and the rocket stove is mostly complete, so the walls with Phragmites grass are next. We will be cutting the Phrag on an adjacent farm. It’s going to be wet and muddy, the mosquitos and ticks will be there too, so wear sturdy cloths and footwear.Work parties will happen on Sunday the 17th of April and the 1st of May from 12 PM-4 PM. Send us an email, if you want to be on the email reminder list.


sliced kiwi
sliced Kiwi


where’s the global warming?

This weekend we got a Pass. The big Snow Belt Hall Pass. Reports of 6″ of powder Friday night about 10 miles south  of us. We woke up to less than 2″. And this after several 70 degree F days in a row no less. The snow is all melted and filling all the brooks, streams and Conneaut Creek to their high points. I do so hope we are done with the wintery cold for the season. Still waiting for the ground to dry out so I can go and get the clay to finish the coop floor.

I know the seasons turn in their time, but wow, what a winter. Warm and mild to be sure, except there at the end when the temperature dropped below 0 deg F (not last night)and then just hung around like the last person at the party, not sure if they want to go home, or stay the night because they are too drunk to navigate. GO HOME WINTER, YOU’RE DRUNK.

The last few days have had me either hiding in the house by the wood stove or riding my Shaving Horse. It’s stools and benches for all. They are made out of Black Locust, so they will outlive everything but the hills and they are heavy. Split logs with shaved down legs. Primitive. Leah said they look like something the Pilgrims would have used. That’s close to what she said anyway. I get it. bench stampede

Not sure how comfortable they are to sit on but I built one, not pictured, that is the same 25″ tall as the milking stand. It only has 3 legs like the little one bottom right in the above picture. But at 2x the height, it is a thing to behold. I’ll try and get Leah into the barn at milking time for an action shot but no promises. I ain’t taking no selfie while I’m milking. I simply can’t do such a thing while Ann is caught unawares in an otherwise compromising and vulnerable position. That’s not entirely true. She knows exactly what is happening ‘back there.’ She is pretty used to the position. Not happy about it. Ive never known a goat to just stand there while I milk them. It’s more of a toleration thing. There is still that time between when she is done eating, and when her milk is mostly expressed. I’ve read that this last milk is the fattiest. She was very carefully working at scraping my left hand off her teat this morning with perfect accuracy. Defiantly my hand and not the bucket. We worked it out.

giant flower

Thought I would include this giant flower blooming in the house right now to take some of the edge off my recent cranking.  Not really. But maybe a little. Kind of like the Bearded Saki. This is not a Bearded Saki. That is ridiculous. This is a giant red flower. It may have a latin name and a common name, but I don’t know them. And it doesn’t really matter. It’s big, and red, and blooming.