Building a new barn on the farm

So this project has been several years in the making. I actually started looking at buildings in 2016 and finally was able to purchase a used metal building out of a guys field near Virginia. By used, I mean it had been erected for 20 years, then torn down, moved to this guy’s field, then it had sat in pieces for another 10 years or so where I found it, with trees growing out of it. Now it has been moved to my field, where it has sat for another year. At least no trees have started growing through it yet.

Normally I don’t like things to sit like this, but the area where we want to put the building has some issues. The biggest one being that it sits too low, and is therefor susceptible to water intrusion. “But Farmer Dan,” you say, “A barn with a concrete floor wouldn’t matter about a little bit of water. You are storing hardy farm stuff like tractors and, um, concrete blocks, and I’m, I don’t know… farm stuff.”

Alas, you’d be correct if we were only storing tractors. But in this case, we are storing stuff that cannot be wet. Things like a bunch of my machining tools from our metal shop. Those things are not only heavy and expensive, but they really enjoy rusting. It is their favorite activity. So I keep them as far away from water as a ring bearing Labrador that is supposed to walk cutely down the aisle in his little tux at the wedding, but no. The fool girl insisted on both having the dog involved AND having her outdoor wedding in a park with a pond. What was she thinking?!…..

Um, anyway. So water is bad, even for a barn. The easiest thing to do is to bring in dirt to raise the level of the building pad. This not only gets our feet out of the water, it also raises the barn up to a more level position with the pasture, meaning we aren’t sliding downhill into the barn or having to be winched out of the barn when things are wet/muddy/snowy/etc. A win-win.

The good news is we have lots of job sites ongoing around us so all we need is a contractor who needs to get rid of some dirt to hook up with us and we can take his dirt. He gets it off his jobsite, and we get it for free. So I started that process and found a guy in Garner needing dirt gone. Perfect. He hauled about 5 truck loads of dirt in March 2020 and then all the dirt magically disappeared off his job. Ugh.

So we set out again.

We had several false starts till a job on Old Stage happened not a mile from us. Perfect! The contractor said not only could we have the dirt, but he’d come and build the pad for us too, no charge. Woo hoo! Now we are talking! Just give him a few weeks.

And some more weeks.

And some more weeks.

And a few months.

Finally I said what if I came and got the dirt and built the pad myself? “Yeah, ok, that works.” So I arranged trucking, loading, etc.

And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul.

So we took a few weeks off and planned for the next time.

And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul. Yes you read that twice. No it was not a mistake.

And then another contractor called. He had dirt for days and he’d haul it. And he’d start ASAP! Except instead of 2-3 trucks, he was going to send 15 trucks at once! Argghh!! We don’t have the equipment to handle that much dirt that quickly. I called my friends at James River to get a bull dozer as quickly as possible and they came through with something from my past, a genuine John Deere 550K dozer.

John Deere 550k dozer on truck
A little slice of my former life

Man it was like coming home getting in the seat of that dozer. I’ve run every model of dozer they’ve made since the 80s.

This was several weeks ago and against all odds, the dirt began to actually arrive. I honestly didn’t believe it till the trucks were done hauling on the first day.

dump trucks dumping in the dark
Early morning dump trucks
Two trucks at once
Two trucks at once

We started at 6am. The road we were using was barely above grade. It was an old road that was here when we moved here in 1980. We’ve never really used it or maintained it. We did go in and fix it up a bit with some drainage last year in anticipation of this but its height above the surrounding area, and associated water would be akin to walking along the beach just above the water line. Sure, you’re above the waves, but not by much.

Road looking a little rough
Or little road, after we’d already improved it some but far from being ready for what we were doing
fog and cows at the farm
Early morning fog and cows

The cows were completely unimpressed with all the work we were doing. Multiple dump trucks. Tractors zipping hither and yon. Yelling, both good natured and urgent (ask Miguel about the yellow jackets), the munched merrily away as if this was just another day.

Unfortunately our promised 15 trucks per day has never materialized. We’ve been averaging about 5-6 per day running, which equates to about 25-35 loads per day delivered. That means that instead of having this dirt hauled in and being done in a few days, we are on week two of running a dozer, roller, backhoe, etc.

Also, since we are able to get the dirt for free, and the equipment is all already here, I figure lets get all that we can while we can. So we have one to two more weeks of hauling before we are done.

Sunrise on the dozer
Sunrise on the dozer

Part of the reason I keep hauling dirt is because I remember being Spork’s age and we were building something like this. Dad, normally busy at work, would instead be running a dozer, directing trucks, directing employees, and generally being the head honcho he always was. But instead of a coat and tie, he was in his work clothes, outside in the sunshine, moving dirt. You see before he was an equipment dealer, he was a contractor for 18 years. Sitting in the seat of a dozer was like coming home to him. No phone calls, no meetings, no TPS reports. Just move dirt and get the job done. He was happy. I, as the head gopher in sight, had the unenviable task of running to get this, or relaying this message to that person. Being a stupid teenager, I’d rather have been doing anything else. But I could see the joy in him when he was running equipment. Now, here I sit not much younger than he was then, in the seat of a dozer on this same farm, moving dirt to get us on grade. I think about him a lot as I sit there unable to hear my cell phone ringing and I too am happy. Yeah, keep the dirt coming, I can make the time.

Stuck truck turning around
Stuck truck turning around

Of course it isn’t all peaches and cream sitting in the seat. We’ve had our share of problems. One morning the first three of four trucks got stuck. Not because we hadn’t prepared our road, but because the grass was so slick they couldn’t get traction, even unloaded, to turn around. Miguel and Vicente had to pull every one up and around to send them back outbound.

The fourth truck?

Truck being towed after breaking down
Truck being towed after breaking down

Oh he broke down as soon as he arrived. Brakes locked up. And an oil line popped off the engine and started leaking oil. At least he didn’t get stuck! I mean he would have, but he broke down before he had the chance, so we had that going for us.

So after hauling dirt for two weeks, nearly every day and definitely all day, we’ve counted 147 trucks in and out of here. That is 1,617 yards of dirt, approximately. What does that look like?

Building pad nearly done
Our building pad, nearly completed

The sloping grass is the original land grade. The building pad is the orange clay flat thingy (sorry for all the technical terms). This is only a portion of the dirt. Probably 20 -25 loads of the dirt went to build up the road where it was the roughest, so that we could keep hauling.

building pad height
The height of pad. I’m 6’5″ tall and this is me looking at the pad from my eye level

So you can see that the pad it actually almost 7′ tall at its tallest point. Now it would take rappelling gear to get up the face of this pad, so our next steps are to build out the slopes on three sides to shallow the grade and make it usable by both man and machine. That will take another 20-30 loads at least, 50 would be better. Then we’ll take another 20 loads onto our road to build it up nice and solid. After that, we should be done(ish).

Pushing steaming chips with a bulldozer
Since the dozer is here…

I mean, I do enjoy running a dozer, and our chip pile was getting out of hand. So may as well push 1000 yards of wood chips and reshape those for the future too, right? What would normally take all day with the backhoe I knocked out in about an hour with the dozer. We’d been piling chips in a level pile, with very steep slopes just down from the barn. That worked great for making a flat place to store our hay for this winter, but didn’t work so well in the overall plan. Plus it made for one heck of a drop off that was sorta dangerous. I mean you’d fall in a big fluffy pile of chips so that was ok, but if you were in a vehicle or tractor, there would be a few bounces on the way down. Now we have a more sloped mound with access from both sides.

There is no substitute for having the right piece of equipment and the bulldozers ability to, well, doze, was leaps and shoulders better than the backhoe. A backhoe is kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It does a lot of things, but none of them exceptionally well. In fact, I’m wondering if we don’t need a dozer full time around here. It sure is a handy thing to have….

Blading the chip road, putting some crown in it
Blading the chip road, putting some crown in it

Like I’ve always wanted to dress up our chip road better than it is usually kept. We just can’t grade the road like I would like. We dump new chips here or there, and dress them out with the skid steer or backhoe but basically we are just flattening them out, not shaping the road into the grade we’d like. One morning I had to go get fuel from the barn so I took the chip road to walk the machine over to the fuel pump. Hmm, wouldn’t take much to drop the blade and fix this road on the way there and back.

Two quick passes with the dozer and the road was as smooth as silk. I wonder how I can talk SWMBO into letting my buy a bulldozer….

A winch, a snatch block, and a chainsaw walk into a bar…

Not every day on a farm is fuzzy new born calves and slopping the hogs. There is a lot that goes into maintaining a property this size, even more if you are actively farming it. Things like maintaining roads, fixing barns, cleaning behind hogs and prepping hog pens for winter all have to happen routinely.

Another thing that happens with hogs is wherever we put them in the woods, they trees die within a few years. This isn’t a problem as we have 1/2 of our farm covered in trees and we have areas we’d actually like to clear. So a “simple” solution is to put hogs in the area where you don’t want trees any longer. Once the trees die, you move the hogs, cut down the trees, and split them for firewood. Since we heat with wood in both the house and the shop, we always have a need for more firewood.

Of course, cutting down trees isn’t always a simple process. Sometimes the tree is a bit too close to the power lines. Or sometimes instead of leaning towards the wide open pasture which is RIGHT THERE, it is leaning towards the barn you’d really like to keep in one piece. When the trees are moderately straight forward, Miguel fells them with no muss, no fuss. But when he’s gonna have to explain to the Jefe why there is no power, or we need a new roof, and maybe a new wall on a building, he calls me to cut them down.

Now I’m no logger, but I did work in the logging industry for most of my career. Not logging myself, but selling and maintaining equipment for the loggers. I had a lot of opportunity to attend training put on for the loggers, so I at least have some training.

And I grew up on this very same farm. A farm that about every 7-10 years gets hit by a hurricane. When you live in the middle of the woods, and a hurricane comes through, you learn how to run a chainsaw pretty quickly.

This is some video Miguel took from the truck while winching the trees to make them fall in the direction we wanted. Having a digger derrick on the farm for this kind of work certainly makes things a lot easier, and safer.

Not our digger derrick. Ours is cooler than this one, but I’m too lazy to walk to the barn and take a picture.

We used our huge hydraulic winch and a snatch block to get this huge pine tree to lean away from the barn instead of towards it. Of course we also had to thread the needle between some existing trees, not all of which we missed. But the small trees weren’t the ones we were worried about so no harm, no foul. All the trees that day were ones that were challenging for one reason or another. All were already dead so the danger of falling limbs was also a constant threat.

The last tree to fall in the video above is one that was in a wet area, surrounded by older trees that had fallen around it. It was slippery and a pain. And it was last so I tried to pop it over with wedges instead of using the winch and a chain. After hammering for all I was worth, the tree just sat there laughing at me. Miguel was kind enough to hook up the winch for me while I ran the controls for once. It looks simple, but it is actually pretty technical and mighty dangerous.

Six trees down, about 100 to go. Just another day of farming.

Cow hugging? This is a thing?

So I stumbled across an article about the worldwide phenomenon of cow hugging. I’ve heard of tree hugging. Cow hugging, not so much. I mean, I’ve hugged a cow. It was trying to kill me at the time so I don’t recall it being especially therapeutic but hey, what do I know?

For those of you who want to know how this cow hugging thing works, here you go.

Lamb is in

Today I finally made it to the processor to pick up our first two lamb from our young farmers, The Boondocks Farm, here in town. Before when we were able to get lamb in, it came from a different farmer and they pretty much sent us what they wanted. That meant we didn’t get the whole animal, just the cuts they were willing to send us.

For these lamb, I actually picked the lamb up at the farm, delivered them to the processor myself, and now picked them up. So we are getting the whole animal and we are writing the cut sheet. I dropped these lamb off weeks ago but I just couldn’t get to the processor to pick them up when I wanted. It takes about 3 hours to make the total trip so I can’t just pop over during lunch.

Unlike the 700 pound yield on a cow, a trip for lamb is a much smaller haul. That’s nice for the farmer who has to load it all in the trailer, and nice for Jeanette who has to unload it all.

Not as nice for all of our hungry customers who buy us out of product so quickly!

But we brought home about 85 pounds of lamb, all cut and packaged just the way we like it. Jeanette will have it in the store ready for tomorrow and of course letting everyone with a pre-order know that their order is in.

I’m also picking up our latest cow Friday so we will be restocking on beef again this week. That is with beef still being in good supply in the store so we are finally catching our breath on beef.

Virtual tour tomorrow

With COVID we have shut down our normal tour schedule but in partnership with People 1st tourism and NC State we’ve been conducting virtual tours of the farm. I just received the link for the signup for the virtual tour we have planned for tomorrow morning. You can signup for a tour here.

The tour cost is $5 so compared to our normal $20 it is a deal. Our last one proved to be well received so hopefully this one will be even better.

Our long running NC State project is live and viewable

I can’t even remember when we started working with NC State and People 1st tourism. It has been quite some time. Over the past years we’ve had several occasions when film crews would come out, sometimes with groups of students, sometimes on their own. They were filming “for their classroom” students I was told. I didn’t really understand what they would use these films for in the classroom but hey, if it helps NC State I’m game.

Then COVID happened and the world changed. Suddenly a filmed project took on special meaning. Once we could get the final shots with all the safety protocols in place, the folks at State were able to put their final project together.

I still can’t say I fully understand how they’ll use this in their lesson plans, but somehow lil’ ol’ Ninja Cow Farm will be part of NC State’s curriculum going forward. Heck, who knows, maybe my kids will take a class some day on the farm they grew up on.

The professor was kind enough to share their site with me so I could share it with all of you. So without further ado, here is the project they put together for their students, and for your enjoyment.

Meatapalooza and shenanigans

So I surprised Jeanette with a gift that I knew she’d enjoy. No it wasn’t a vacation, or a pay raise (although she needs one), or employee of the month certificate. None of that boring stuff. I got her what I knew she’d really want.

Two cows to the processor this month!

Wait! Wait, this isn’t what you think. She was actually happy. It’s not like I got her a vacuum cleaner. I’m good at picking gifts…really I am. Ask my wife!

Ahh, maybe not

Ok fine, she had to put away two tons of beef instead of one like normal so maybe it wasn’t the best present I’ve ever gotten someone. But the good news is you can enjoy her present too because we have more beef than we’ve had since late 2019. Just in time too because the holiday season is approaching and we will need all we can get.

We also were able to get all the rest of our pork back from the processor including the BBQ, along with plenty of chicken so we are in good shape on all kinds of stuff.

Lastly on the farm stuff, thanks to our friends P Dale and Zane we have some lamb at the processor ready to pickup. I just need to find a time that makes sense. Maybe Tuesday afternoon next week will work. Regardless plan on a real influx of lamb in the store by next week.

In addition to farming stuff, I’ve been up to my normal Civil Air Patrol shenanigans as well. This time it was flying for the 82nd Airborne out of Ft Bragg. We’ve flown for them for a couple of weeks lately and I was fortunate enough to fly for them three days this week, and best of all I was able to take some Army personnel up and show them what things are like from the pilots perspective. They weren’t too nervous flying until we were landing which I thought was odd. Later I was relating this story to a friend who was in the 82nd many moons ago and he quickly pointed out that they aren’t used to landing in the airplane. Paratroopers. Duh! Lol! That didn’t even occur to me.

We did end up with a weather issue on Tuesday. The rough weather that came in trapped us at the airport and we had to scrounge a ride (thanks Natalie and Ashley!) back to our home airport. That is home airport AFTER picking up my co-pilots kids from dance in the rain, in the borrowed vehicle, in uniform. Then we drove more than an hour to drop off kids, swap cars from borrowed to our own, and get back home for a party that was already in progress before we picked up the kids from dance. Only to the next day to get up, make my farmer run all over NC, then get home and drive the reverse of the last nights car switcharoo to undo everything, fly all afternoon till the Army called it quits, then fly to Fayetteville to drop off the airplane just before the sun went down, and then drive the hour home WHILE being on a zoom call with my Goddaughter about her upcoming wedding. Whew, what a couple of days!

But the Army folks were very appreciative and we were able to provide some good training so it was worth it.

Thanksgiving turkeys available for pre-order now

This is literally a repost of the previous years post, which itself was a repost of the previous years post. I love it when things are easy!

We again have not changed the process nor the price for our heritage breed Thanksgiving turkeys (all that info is at the bottom of the post). Nor have we changed SWMBO’s love affair with our turkeys.

As we did last year, we are taking deposits on turkeys for Thanksgiving. These turkeys will again be coming from our chicken farmer, Brittany Ridge Farms.

There really was no question on us getting turkeys again this year. Not because you lovely people ordered all we could get plus some. No, because SWMBO fell in LOVE with her turkey. I’ve given that lady vacations, jewelry, romantic dinners, a vacuum cleaner and even a blender. NONE of them (still kinda sad about the blender) elicited as good of a response as the turkey I brought her last year from Brittany Ridge. She was EXCITED beyond all reason (now you understand why I married her).

Last year, after Thanksgiving, I  found out that Christy had one turkey left in the cooler. After having just consumed a 23lb bird, SWMBO sent me back for the remaining bird and then asked if there was another one left after it was gone.

What can I say, the girl likes her some turkey.

Carving the Thanksgiving turkey with David Spohn
Carving the bird with my brother-in-law David. And of course sampling along the way.

The turkeys are the same as before. Heritage breed. No GMO feed. Pasture raised. No anti-biotics. The turkeys are delivered fresh and chilled having never been frozen. 15-20 pounds is the target but they are the size they end up. Fair warning. Two years ago they were big. Last year they were on target.

Thanksgiving turkey.
The before shot of our turkey….Ok, it’s a Google image. I forgot to take a picture of before.

I don’t know how many Christy will let me have this time, but I’m sure we’ll sell all we can get. Heck SWMBO might buy half the allotment. We’ll be taking deposits from now till when Christy cuts us off. It’ll be first come, first serve. Deposits are $40 payable in the store. The price per pound will be $7.99 per pound.

Welcome to our new website hosting

Over the years we’ve added and removed (mostly added) lots of material from our website. Over time, things have gotten slower, and slower, and s…l…o….w….e….r. It has become quite depressing and frustrating. I’ve upgraded our hosting over and over, spending ever more money on faster processing but no matter what I did it didn’t seem to get any better.

Just recently, it was time to renew our hosting and I called our host, GoDaddy. They once again decided that I needed to upgrade to a new hosting platform and once again I said ok. But this time, rather than some back end witchery they supposedly did after charging me more money, I was being moved to an entirely new server. This required moving the site lock, stock, and barrel.

I don’t know how you go about moving, but when I pack up and move, the first thing I do is figure, “What the heck can I get rid of and not have to move.” Maybe that analogy doesn’t work on websites, but it is the way I think. If we are going to new hosting, lets go with new stuff, and by new I mean “less of.”

I’ve blown away everything from our site that isn’t part of the core site. Mainly that means WordPress plugins since they seem to be the major culprits in most performance issues. That means we lost our recipe page (an orphaned plugin that is no longer being updated) and a myriad of other things like our author auto signature (there is only one author anymore) and other things like that.

The result of all this is you should be able to time the loading of our site on something more timely than a sun dial. We may creep in with some new goodies over time, but right now if I can just get the pages we have updated and working that would be a win.

This move has been weeks in the making so even though you don’t see a lot of new content, there was quite a bit of back end work to get to this point. I hope you enjoy the faster speed.

Lamb and beef are back and stock, along with general updates

This week we received a surprise shipment of lamb from our errant lamb farmer. Unfortunately we have no control over what our lamb farmer does or doesn’t do and we receive product whenever it shows up. This week we received a whole glut of lamb and most things are back in stock for the time being. We are still working to get a better source but at least for now we have something for all of you who are looking for lamb.

We also were able to sneak an extra cow into the processor this month. This means we finally have some inventory on beef that we’ve been short of. While we aren’t busting at the seams, the hope is with the extra injection of beef into the schedule, combined with the lessening demand, we should start being caught up heading into fall and can more readily supply you with normal inventory. The steaks we are getting lately are as nice as I’ve seen and overall beef is looking good as we head to the holidays. No idea if we’ll need standing rib roasts this Thanksgiving. Between COVID restrictions and politics, I don’t know how many families will be sitting down together this November. Hopefully we can all have some healing between now and then and remember what we are thankful for.

We also received some pork back from the processor. If you recall, our normal processor burned down so we had to go to a new processor. Well it took us over a month to get any of our pork back. Normally it takes about a week to start getting the first cuts back. No explanation, it just didn’t get done. Sigh. Anyway, the first bits of pork (by bits I mean several hundred pounds) showed up Tuesday with more to come next week.

Chicken is at normal stocking levels, along with dairy, cheese, etc. Overall, things are as well stocked as they have been in months. Stop by and get some goodies for dinner.