Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Usually we have limited our offerings to working cattle and occasionally responsible living. There are other things going on out here. As I am sure you have picked up, we have a relaxed relationship with lots of other animals.  For example, the local flock of turkeys knows that I feed the oxen and that they will get the scraps. OK, so I do throw them an occasional handful of grain from time to time. They have not been hunted here for two decades. So they have no fear of me and are willing to come very close to steal a bite to eat.

The deer come to our salt blocks and eat out of our hay feeders. Since they intermingle with the oxen, and the oxen act like we are safe, they think we are safe. Another example, I had a doe give birth an hundred feet from me the spring before last.  Deer almost walk up to us. I’ve posted this before, but Maria thinks it is because we are vegetarians we do not smell like predators. Certainly the local bird population thinks we are the source of food.  I have to brush birds off the feeders to fill them.  We just got a laugh out of a determined Titmouse that continued to feed at the tray of the feeder while I was filling it. They are pretty sure we are safe. Our barns are home to two Rat Snakes, both have no fear of us at all. So this is a strange little chunk of the country. I am going to post more about this in the future.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When times are tough, you want oxen. We had an unusual string of weather. The forecast for Sunday was some sleet followed by snow flurries. Instead it rained heavily for hours then froze and ended with a dusting of snow. The rain washed down blocks of ice from up in the hollow and blocked both bridges. Everything was covered with a quarter to a half inch layer of ice. It flooded enough to leave two logs on the Delk Branch Road bridge. It took me five minutes with two sets of pliers to get the gate latch open to let Floppy (our milk goat) out to be milked. Four of the oxen met me by the barn to tell me they wanted hay. They weren't out of hay, it was frozen so solid they couldn't eat it. George knew we would move hay and stayed by the feeder at the other end of the pasture. I fed them and William went immediately to the sledge. I could not get the frozen hay off the sledge by hand and had to use the oxen and a logging chain to pull it off. The sledge was frozen to the ground. George and William leaned into it and it didn't move. Then before I could give another command both leaned back in unison and lunged. That broke it loose. The outer layers of the round bale were frozen to the ground and peeled off. It took three tries to load the bale. The bridge was so icy that I didn't want to risk the oxen on it. It is a low water bridge with no railings or side walls. I extended the chain and had them stay on the bank and pull the logs off. That was yesterday. No matter how hard things were they just patiently stayed with me. Love oxen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

This is the hay feeder in use yesterday. That was the second day with this bale on it. It is down about a quarter today. I should get four or five days out of a bale with this system. The advantages are we built it largely with scraps that were around the farm. If you bought everything it would cost about $150 or about half the cost of a store bought hay feeder. Then, the cattle can move it. They load it by rolling the bale onto it and pull it into the pasture. It is a lot less work than trying to lift up one of the steel round bale feeders and move it over a roll. The drawing is rough, basically I just wanted people to see how I did it. I don't think anyone is going to want to slavishly copy my design. With the images here and on the last blog post you should have a good idea how to make one of these and I'll give any advice I can.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Moving Hay

Our old hay feeders have fallen apart; a combination of age and really big cattle.  I decided this time I would make my own and combine the feeder with a sledge the oxen could move.  I built it last week, and today was the third time I have used it.  The first test run had a glitch.  The eye bolts were not strong enough.  So I bought some ½ inch eye bolts at the local hardware store and tried it again.  Sunday’s feeding went perfect.  We photographed today’s excursion just in case it would help anyone.

The sledge is eight feet long by five feet wide.  I used four 2”x12”x8’ for the runners bolted together in pairs. I looked at the old hay feeders and the barrier was two feet high. I thought this was a wise starting point to keep the cattle out of the hay. It worked. It is double ended with eye bolts at both ends so it can be pulled in either direction.  It has sideboards to keep the cattle from standing or lying in the hay. I also added eye bolts on the sides in case I wanted to tie a load onto the sledge.

 The way we use the feeder is to have two oxen take it to the hay yard, roll a bale on the sledge, pull it back to the pasture, I unhook them and we are done for a half week or so.

The process starts by calling George and William in to be yoked. The other cattle are supposed to stay out of the way, they don’t always.

The boys are awfully cooperative about  yoking and going to work.

Next I hook the chain to the sledge with clevises.

And I hitch the chain to the yoke using another clevis. I know we could use other systems, but I've never had a clevis fail.


With the boys hitched we open the gate and tell them to go.  They have no problem getting a five foot wide sledge through a six foot wide space. This shot also gives you a view of what the chain looks like without a lot of clutter.

The boys position the sledge next to a bale.

I unhook the chain.

Next I pull the sideboard off the sledge next to the bale.

I drive a barn spike into the bale,

And snag it with the grab hook of a logging chain.


The boys know exactly what they are doing and it takes minimum direction to get them lined up on the chain and bale.


We didn't get a good picture of it today but this is how we are hooked to the bale.

In a second or so it is up on the sledge.

I put the sideboard back on.


Pull the spike out and put it and the chain on the next bale.


Tell George and William to go to the other end of the sledge.

 Connect the chain and we head for the pasture.


Where, of course we are greeted by my starving cattle.


I unyoke the boys on the spot, giving each a good scratch and telling how good they did.  I put the yoke and chain away and we are done.  I think the only correction was telling William he could not munch grass once when he was waiting.  There were minimum commands and a lot of “Good!” The process took about fifteen minutes.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The oxen have worked four out of the last five days.  Big jobs like moving hay, small stuff like moving tools and equipment, pulled a tree down that was hung up on another tree and hauled a stack of hog panels out of the woods where a neighbor had disassembled a pig pen.  When they are working like this they get good.  The mud was so bad that the sledge was sunk up to the floorboards with average size round bales on it.  They did it perfectly, putting everything where I wanted it, never faltering. It had to have been tough going.  I had to use two of them to pull the hay rings out of the mud.  Loading the bales, George and James had to hold them in place because otherwise they would roll off the sledge; never a mistake.  Yesterday, pulling the hog panels down, it was an obstacle course, threading their way through the trees with twelve sixteen foot panels behind them.  We never even brushed a tree.

When we have done something like this, George in particular watches me until I tell him he did a good job.  His body is tense.  The others do it too, but it is less pronounced.  They don't relax until I reassure them that they did it well.  I find myself wondering if all my oxen were like this and I just was too dumb to see it.  This bunch really works for praise and reassurance.  That may be the key to working any animal.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


The spring travel season is over.  I now have a summer to get things done around the farm and write.  I am armpit deep in writing a novel about the Viet Nam War.  Hated the War.  This is going to be an ugly, dark novel that will never sell, but it is cathartic.  I have never written anything else on Viet Nam, but I need to get this one off my chest.  The tentative title is, No Name.  Probably only a quarter ofmy titles survive the rewrites.

While I am on writing, By Lantern Light is on Kindle.  Some Thoughts on Scouts and Spies continues to do reliably.  An article on the oxen, entitled “The Four Kings” will come out in the July/August issue of Muzzleloader.

The oxen have treated us wonderfully.  They certainly have been reliable.  They have worked eight times this spring.  We have a new milk goat, Daisy.  She is a Boer.  I know Boers are not known for being good milkers, but Daisy gives about a quart a day and it does not have that goat smell or taste.  We got lucky.  She is an absolute sweetheart and follows us around like a dog.

There is a pair of wild turkeys that have figured out that I have grain in buckets and wil not run from me any longer, instad they wait for me to give them a scoop.  Now they have influenced another Jake who is not running.

Jake Yoste is in the Army at Fort Sam Huston taking Medical Training.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


After a nice winter of hibernation (mostly writing, I have finished a book of short stories and another novel set in Colonial Virginia) it is time to come out of the cave.  Two litters of pigs in the same day.  The oxen are rusty even though they have done some logging and moved hay regularly.  I now have four weeks to prepare for Shiloh.  We will be part of the march from Corinth.  So, we train animals, condition them and hopefully in the process get me back in shape for a good long walk.