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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label farm. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farm. Show all posts

July 9, 2016

The Day The Sheds Flew: Farmpocalypse 2016

As I was preparing horsey dinners last Wednesday, I never imagined the building I stood in would be torn violently apart 30 minutes later.

So many stories are overdue, but this one must be vexed about not getting a full telling, since it revisited last night!  I hope you'll forgive my job for swallowing me whole -- wildlife don't seem to courteously time their activities to my convenience, alas.

It Seemed Like A Normal Day 

Just home from work, I noticed the darkening sky, but it wasn't unusual for an early July evening.  Carolina summer frequently includes late-day cloudbursts, when hot, humid air blows its soggy overload.

Glancing west as I carried buckets to the boys, I was arrested by this...thing:


I know just enough about clouds to be afraid, very very afraid.  Convinced the Hand of Sauron itself was coming for us at an unsettling speed, I secured horses & hay in a record 7.8 seconds.  My ears popped as the temperature & barometric pressure went into freefall.  The passing Coast Guard rescue chopper you can hear in the video did not seem like a good omen.

My run-in, hayshed, & house are all engineered for 120 mph windstorms, my construction default here in hurricane country.  Feed & tack I keep in smaller kit sheds, but both have weathered much larger storms & are stuffed with heavy objects.

So while I wasn't thrilled by less than five minutes of warning, I hunkered down in the house feeling that all major bases were covered.  NOAA weather alerts showed this particular beast hurtling SE at interstate speeds, with angry windshear.  And hail.  (Some news photos of aftermath in the area here)

Run with the Tolkien theme
Fortunately, I keep 17 water bottles filled in the fridge, because I had time to run a whopping 1/2" of water into the tub before the power blinked out.  I was a little surprised, as in three years, I've lost power (>5 mins) exactly 0 times.  Hazarding a guess from the perfectly horizontal rain out the front windows, I'd say there were probably some trees down already...

But Solo & Encore have their safety walls I built during our first brutal winter.  I uneasily watched the now-rain-hail-mix swing 180 degrees from West --> East to East --> West in 10 seconds, but I was glad they were protected.

A half-hour seems a lot longer in the dark.

I went out front as the rain stopped, to attempt salvage of my now-shredded hay tarps before the next band moved in.  It was then I noticed the horses standing in the farther corner of their paddocks.  Which they only do if something scares the bejeezus out of them.

Like, I don't know, flying walls?

The remnants of Structure Formerly Known As Feed Shed

Priority One:  Horses

Both horses were luckily unscathed.  It's always a dilemma of intense storms:  flying debris risk vs. building catastrophe risk.  Sometimes you get both -- along with storms that don't read textbooks!

Incredibly, both fencing tape & posts held.  I called my Miraculous Rescue Neighbour as I had to get buildings off the fences & important gear/feed under cover immediately, because more rain was on the way.

Tack shed flipped off foundation

My big lag screws had been ripped out of the walls, but stayed in the brackets, so I made sure to account for each one as I dragged scattered panels out of horse areas.  Red arrows in the pic show locations over about 3/4 of an acre.  The last thing I needed to add was a punctured hoof.

Priority Two:  Additional Waterlogging Prevention

Homeless things
Gear got hurled into vehicles as quickly as possible.  I was grateful I hadn't unloaded three bags of feed in the backseat of my truck.  Although improbably, feed lid bins had stayed on & watertight!

We only had about an hour before it started raining again.  Just enough time to get pastures cleaned.  And just enough time for the full weight of the damage to begin sinking in.

Bathed in exhausted sweat, I was very glad it was at least 9 pm & NOT 100 degrees as no power = no shower.  And given the chorus of sirens in every direction, it wasn't returning anytime soon.

We gonna eat it all!
The horses were ok.  I was ok.  Major structures & vehicles were ok.

But rain had blown UNDER my hayshed walls in seemingly impossible ways.  I finally got the tarp off the roof, but some of my beautiful bales were decidedly wet:  not ok.  And it's pretty hard to keep mice out of a building with one wall, which didn't bode well for feed security.

Two words echoed in my head:

December 25, 2015

There's No Present Like The Time*

Holidays & I have mixed relations, but there is still no repressing my smile at Solo’s unfailing welcome nicker as I step out the back door.

So I relish every opportunity to lean on that massive shoulder & giggle at his never-ending fascination with nuzzling feet.

I’m filled with gratitude for this time off work to continue Operation Encore (v. 6.0?); we’re on day 9 or 10, I think, of my modified fitness regime. It’s some pretty thrilling stuff, like 20 minutes of walking while on the bit, or adding in some trot transitions on our longer hill walking sessions.

Where did everyone go?
We spiced it up yesterday with some radical Guinea Cutting & I think we’d have scored very well, successfully isolating the same bird three times in a row! You may not have heard of this discipline yet. That’s probably because I invented it yesterday.

Don’t worry, there’s still time to qualify for the Championships the next time Neighbour Vanessa’s flock wanders over (ride times are subject to change at the whim of pea-brained fowl).

It may have rained 427 inches in 24 hours, but at 75F, no one’s cold OR dehydrated.

For all these moments & many more, I say an inadequate thanks. Solo hates it when I press my face against his neck to absorb him with all my senses – so I try to do it often. At least he doesn’t mind my irritating chest congestion visitor (blech).

I hope I get many more chances to harass both of my ridiculous redheads in the coming year. But one thing all of us can do without fail is to seize the wonderful gift of Now.

Our bests to you from Flying Solo Farm -

My highlights
*Yes, I totally stole this from a movie.  No, I do not feel any remorse.  ;P

September 27, 2015

TFS Time Machine: My Life's Lullaby

On these quiet evenings, having walked out to groom the horses as the weekend rain subsides, I'm reminded of a constant.  That balm which soothes pain, fear, worry, even exhaustion, which has been the solace of my life as far back as memory can reach.

So I share it anew, as I think it cannot be possible to ponder it too often. 

Striking: five years ago seems another lifetime, yet some patterns persist, before & since.  This text is excerpted & slightly updated, you can find the original post here.

Little Melodies

I often feel sorry for people who never know the companionship of animals, outdoors in their own realm.  Their playlists are missing the sweetest music I know.

Just today, I am struck with the notes:  embraced by the gathering dusk, my left hand rests on warm, red hair while my right guides a soft brush in its particular rhythmic chord over Solo's side.  Pay attention to that sound next time you groom:  there is a real, earthy caress in its tone.  


Prairie Warbler surveys FSF
Sheltered alongside us, there is the ever-present, ever-pleasant undertone of Encore pulling at his hay.  A barred owl throws his signature announcement to the evening sky, following the burbling arpeggio of an immature bluebird snatching gnats from the fenceline.  

I can feel my heartbeat slowing & my subconscious finally allows the tension to leak out of my muscles.

It's a quiet symphony, syncopated by Solo's tail, a gentle, slow, swishing counterpoint.  The growing chirps of the crickets, the string section of all Southern nights, adds a higher harmony.

 
You will never hear it on the radio, although it's not because such peaceful music is rare.  But drinking it in doesn't cost a thing beyond allowing an inviting silence, through which the song may enter your life.  


Take a sip; you may find yourself enriched in ways you never knew existed.  You too can know the wonder of feeling your pulse hum in tune to the ancient song of horse, of nature, of life.  It is always there, just waiting for you to listen.
 

July 10, 2015

Pool Party: Solo Style!

Don't you hate it when it's too sticky to ride in the afternoon?  BUT!  There is still equine entertainment to be had that doesn't result in sweat!

Although I didn't get an invitation.  Typical.  They probably snuck the beers in after I went inside...

Who needs hosing? *apology disclaimer for lack of real camera in pocket*

Aaaand that's why I call him my hippo.  I've been known to scramble on bareback with a neckstrap & swim him around a pond or two:  So. Much. Fun.  Although he's a very powerful swimmer, gotta keep your legs clear of hooves...

Solo:  "C'mon in, bro, nothing bites except me!" (Encore is the clothed one)

Finally, the temptation is too great...who can resist the full head-dunk??

I believe that is Encore's first, adorable, tiptoe pond swim.

i did it image

June 15, 2015

We Have A Winner!

From CBS Sports
Well, yeah, there’s that.

My apologies to the patient (& hilarious) entrants to our SmartPak gift card giveaway for not posting sooner.  Jobs & sad things both tamp one’s ability to keep up with it all.

Hey, some work!
It was very educational for me as well.  I learned that HorseWorld has no faith in my redneck ideas either, ha!  I kid, I’m sure (at least, I’m telling myself) the guesses at my ETA to failure were based on personal experience.

However, apart from the eventual smashing of aforementioned magnet (which I maintain doesn’t really need a shape anyway, now it’s just unique), my Bucket Magnet actually worked!!  Well, I didn’t find any nails after a very thorough search, but the mechanism stayed intact for the entirety of the search area. 

Alas, the universe always seems to hear when you start getting all proud of yourself.  Across the final slope of the evening, the edge of the bucket juuuust brushed the rising ground mid-turn enough to produce that ego-popping bump.

So congratulations (and thank you very much for your vote of confidence!!) to Abigail Powell, charming  author of The Maggie Memoirs, for coming the closest the optimum time of 0.8 hrs (48 minutes; you were only 3 minutes off, I see a bright eventing future!) by tractor hour-o-meter!!!  You can click the little green email envelope at the top right of the page to contact me or leave your email in the comments & you get $10 to splurge during sale season at SmartPak!

May 24, 2015

Prize Giveaway! Guess The Time To “Brilliant Redneck Solution…Fail”


It seemed like such a good idea at the time…

I know, you’ve probably never used that sentence.  Heh.  But here’s your chance to profit from yet another of my ingenious ideas!

Your prize:  a $10 gift card to SmartPak…and my admiration for your thorough knowledge of idea fail.
My endless love...

To Be Fair, It Was A Good Idea

Arriving home from work a couple weeks ago, I discovered that apparently a chupacabra had attempted to jump my fence.

Drawing by Michael Lee (2007)
SRSLY!  It was the only conclusion I could draw from the evidence.  For newcomers, my fencing is primarily the pre-existing & perfectly built hi-tensile wire, lined with a strand of bi-polar HorseGuard tape (Best. Product. Ever.); only the tape is hot.

I walked out the back door & found the top two wires (this is heavy-duty 12 mm galvanized wire) were snapped clean off about 1” from the corner & the tape had been snagged & stretched. 

Fortunately, HorseGuard is extremely well made, so while stretched, no wires or nylon fibres were broken, so that was a simple 5-minute job to re-tension.  Wire…less simple.

Epic Richard being epic
Thanks to Solo’s awesome Minion & wonderful neighbour, Richard (who has the big, professional wire crimpers), I spliced the wires back together & was able to repair the tensioners (I can’t remember if I’ve posted my discoveries about the amazing safety features of correctly-installed hi-tensile [post#17 in link]– but there are a lot, thank goodness!) that gave as designed when Mr. Chupacabra barged in.

What Really Happened?

Honestly, I still don’t know for certain.  Our deer are fairly small.  The damage was exactly the same as when Solo jumped through the fence when we first moved in.  :/  But he was still in (unless he jumped out, then back in?), there were no hoofprints of any kind on the outside, & neither horse had a mark on them.

See – chupacabra.

Let The Games Begin

The final missing piece was a pair of nails that held the wire insulator to the post.  At least I think so.  The insulator was pulled off, meaning the nails would have been ripped out.  However, because the wire fence came with the land, a few of the insulators are not nailed on anymore.  Naturally, I don’t remember if this was a loose one before or not.

Thx, Northern Tool!
But horses…nails…I had to do a thorough search.  I’d returned the borrowed giant draggy magnet I used to clean up after house construction, but I do have a very strong magnetic dish for studs that is also handy for random “I dropped another steel thing” jobs. 

Just holding it though, means I have to walk around bent over, holding it close to the ground.  Back arthritis.  Ow.  And it’s small.  So “let’s get creative, what can possibly go wrong?”

You’d think that’d be a warning flag, would you?

Tell me that's not genius
Brilliant Idea

Hey, it’s a magnet – why don’t I stick it to a shovel & then I don’t have to bend over?  OH SNAP!  I have to bush-hog that field, why don’t I snap it to the bottom of the tractor bucket:  TWO-FOR-ONE!

I was oh-so-careful, sticking the dish to the bottom corner of the FEL (Front End Loader) so I could see the edge from the driver’s seat.  I needed to keep a careful eye on it because it would require keeping the bucket extremely close to the ground to work, with frequent adjustments in order to not bump the ground & pull it off.

Because one of the first Laws Of Tractor Use is “anything you attempt to attach/use with a tractor will inevitably fall off/be dropped & you will run it over.”  Yeah, I bet you’ve done it.  But NO!  I was not going to let that happen, I was going to be vigilant!

Well, the Tractor Laws are like the Laws of Physics:  non-negotiable.

How To Win

In case it’s not blindingly obvious yet, yes, my dish is now, um, a different & distinctly flatter shape than it once was.  Hey, why does a magnet dish need edges anyway, it’s still magnetic?!

To enter:  in the comments, you get to guess how long I was proud of myself before I felt a thump & yelled “NOOOO!”  The closest person to elapsed time between idea implementation & idea fail wins!  You will have ten days from the time of posting to put in your guess.

Bring the noise.

April 18, 2015

Stagger-By Update Ramble -- At Least It Has Photos!

Even the jump panels are perfect...
Horses offer many gifts; chief among them -- you will NEVER be bored.  In fact, you may come to beg for boredom...

As some of you know, I have a serious problem with overcommittment been working for the past year as the Sponsorship Coordinator for the 2015 Southern Eighths Farm Heart of the Carolinas (HOTC) 3DE.  Oh, and I'm making an amazing program.  And updating promotional materials (view epic new brochure here).  Because, you know, just showing up & doing 10 volunteer jobs over the event weekend was too easy.  Heh.

Combine the fact that OMG THE EVENT IS TWO WEEKS AWAY with the mad rush of Teh Inconvenient Real Job to prepare for field season, which starts in one week...and there you have my posting lapse.  I am open to applicants for Personal Assistants.  Position includes free entertainment, watching me run around like a blind, rabid squirrel, unable to complete sentences!

CD Tremaine Cooper offers steeplechase tips
The event itself is shaping up to be another spectacular experience.  Carla Lake, a fantastic new acquaintance & correspondent for adult ammy central, aka Horse Junkies United, was brave enough to chat with me.  And talented enough to turn my ramblings into a great article introducing HOTC to the interwebz!

Even more special:  our suite of awesome sponsors & supporters this year includes some of our very own from HorseBlog world!  I thought, what better partners for an event by & for the adult amateur than some of the incredibly talented entrepreneurs who are part of the same community??  More brags on them to come, I bet you'll recognize some names, but you can see the current list here.

I suppose not EVERYone in pinned to their seats for my desperate attempts, after very long worksdays, to share the beauty of "So8ths" and the unique & vital long format events I have dedicated myself to.  However, I will give you a sneak peak at my draft "clearinghouse" page:  your go-to lauchpad for event information, updates, & coverage.  It shall continue to grow!

The Orange Monsters

Yeah, that lack of boredom?  Well, Solo is in great need of revamped shoeing, his front feet have changed & he's developed a sore shoulder...except when throwing pasture galloping fits.

Encore, despite my immediate initiation of Operation Hydroxyzine as the spring tree sperm explosion commenced, alongside the return of the myriad of Carolina Bitey Things, has proceeded to rub the skin off his throatlatch.  No sooner did I calm that with the Majykal Butacort Creme, did he come in this morning having rubbed the hair off two large swollen bites on the side of his neck, surrounded by hives.

That could be a start; orderable from premierequine.co.uk
He was obviously depressed, as allergic reactions are no fun.  I was a bit concerned, as his face was quite sad & he stood for some time in a corner after breakfast (at least he did eat). 

Majykal Creme seemed to do the trick though.  The cortisone relieved the burning itch & his hives & swelling went down.  He took a big drink about an hour ago & resumed grazing.

So in a moment, I'll be shopping for some form of insect body armour that is cool, yet somehow indestructible in the face of Solo teeth, along with ground flax seed to add to his already-six-ingredient dinners.  Oh, he has fly boots & a fly sheet already.  But the latter is held together by two jury-rigged broken snaps & is too heavy for our humidity. 

Did I mention he's getting shoe additions too?  Outside hind trailers to help with his stifle rehab.  I'm trying to see if I can buy everything on my farrier's truck at once.

The Farm

Because buying food is tedious, and really, who wants to spend money to do...fun things, I need to make sure there are no hints of positive financial balances anywhere near me!

Worth. It. And it matches runin!
Due to expiration of temporary hayshed (it was only meant to stand in for a year, two winters was a valiant term of duty), emergency order of permanent hayshed was finally completed (roofs are sort of non-optional).  Happy, because we all know hay is THE most valuable equine asset & must be guarded at all costs.  Sad, because I lied, I really would like to go somewhere fun someday, sigh.

And because the universe has impeccable timing, My Precious pony puller was due for its tranny fluid service (not cheap, but waaaay cheaper than a new tranny & the stress toll of ending up on the side of the highway!).  I adore my diesel guy & certainly want him to stay in business.  But was it really neccessary for the water pump to die at the same time?  Yes, it's a wear part, no big deal, but I appear to be missing the door that leads to NOT ALL THE THINGZ IN LIFE AT ONCE.

7.3L Precious gets everything she needs!
Tip learned from several previous vehicles (which thankfully saved my engine; had I not known immediately what the problem was, Very Bad Things would have resulted):  when your heater stops blowing heat, it means you have no coolant.  Bad.

Most often means radiator failure (I bought two of those, learning the expensive lesson that an appropriate pony puller is about WAY more than tow ratings), such as crack through which coolant escapes.  A rattle in a belt pulley led me to my water pump & the observation that it was covered in coolant residue.  That's not supposed to be on the outside...

Conclusion

I think I'll just start eating the horses' grain in milk.  In smells good, can't be that different from granola, right?  Hmmm, do you think I'd have any luck with a tip jar taped to the mailbox?

Gonna need more pennies than that!

February 28, 2015

You Know That Day You Were All Like “Imma Be A Hero!” Pt II

Here Come The Awesome Points!

After meticulously clearing spaces around all levers & pedals, I slip the tractor into 4x4, put the transmission in (s)low gear, & begin the crawl towards my road.
 
Snow, hay, it all drags, right???
Hold on to your panties, because…it’s working!  I keep the drag teeth adjusted at just the right height so they don’t reach the fragile, saturated soil beneath.  They break up the tire tracks so there is no risk of creating packed ice.  I move to the side of my path every few minutes to lift the drag, dropping accumulated snow so it doesn’t get too heavy.

Richard’s house is very close to the street, our driveways connect, so as I turn (about 20 mins later…I wasn’t kidding about slow) onto his section to make my entrance as Epic Rescue Neighbour, I see him with snow shovel in hand, having just cleared the edges of his carport.  He waves & walks down the hill, so I stop & switch off the tractor to chat.

Begin Subtraction Of Attempted Awesome Points

I excitedly point to my Ingenious Solution & proudly announce that I could finally repay him for…at least 1% of all he’s done.  Richard grins & replies.   

*insert trademark NC retiree accent here*

Great!  I was just about to start up the skidsteer.  I was just gonna plow a quick loop around our driveways up here by the pole barn & the street so it’ll get down to that black surface & melt faster.

Oh, yeah, he also owns an industrial skidsteer to which he added a 5’-wide bitey bucket of his own.  And a 10,000-lb excavator.  And pretty much anything else you can think of (except a drag!!).

Aww, Richard!”  You’d think I’d have learned my odds of success whenever I start to think I’m awesome.  “Dang it, now you ruined it!  How am I ever going to be helpful when you own every toy in the world??!”  I’m laughing at the same time, so it wasn’t as heartless as it sounds, hee.

As Richard is also the trademark, old-school southern farmer-type (of the best subspecies in that genus), with a heart of gold & an enormous Compulsive Helping complex, he, also laughing, insists that, no, no, my Ingenious Solution is still helpful.  ROFL.
 
Stubborn Woman Will Help You Whether You Like It Or Not

And once she has started, she’s not stopping just because you can swoop around 30 times faster on your all-terrain tracks & clear everything better than a snowplow because you have 80,000 hours of experience.  Nope, she’ll follow you around with the drag, breaking up & smoothing the skidsteer tracks.  Hey, it looks prettier & it will increase meltage even more.  Go team!!

Naturally, Richard’s Helping complex also kicked in, so when he finished his loop, he proceeded to polish off my entire driveway, including my tractor path back to the run-in.

Endgame

Me = 100 points for good intentions, 10 points for actual usefulness

Richard = 1,000 more Awesome Points to add to his already uncountable total, all of which are also 100% actually useful

TL;DR:  My personal slogan may be something like, “Dang, I tried to help,” but I am possibly the luckiest farm owner ever when it comes to neighbours.

Just for pretty factor, our much more well-behaved snowfall from January, which melted in two hours, like proper NC winter should!
shadowfx01's Jan 2015 Snowfall album on Photobucket

February 26, 2015

You Know That Day You Were All Like “Imma Be A Hero!” -- Pt. I

Richard w/ hydraulic driver = epic
Where you could finally pay back Epically Awesome Neighbour for the ten million things he’s helped you with?

Just face it, you’re never going to be the hero.  But you get an A for effort.

Back Story

Ok, I am heinously lucky & have two Epically Awesome Neighbours. 
  1. Vanessa, professional horse trainer & former 1* long-format eventer, kind, generous, helpful, &, along with her husband, welcoming from the very start.
  2. Richard, professional fence-builder/bush-hogger/idea-generator/general-rescuer-in-chief.  Technically retired, although he still works at LEAST as many hours as his thoughtful & entertaining wife.
I owe you many stories (I am so very sorry, work…there is not even an adjective), but this story is about Richard.

I could not have built this farm without him.  Because this is Richard.
Teaching me PROPER hi-tensile wire repair
 And this is Richard.

Need a telephone pole driven?
 And this is Richard.
Need a log moved so you can build your own XC jump?

He feeds my horses in the mornings when I have to travel (often) for work (to be fair, all three of us have horses & he is the end of my driveway, since the land I bought was his back pasture).  He splits spring & fall farm call fees with me since we use the same vet.  He stands guard as watchdog of my person & property (as well as our entire mini-community back here).

Not. Cool.  Although quite chilly.
Ok, So He’s Captain America

When I woke up this morning to 8” of fresh powder, somehow off-course from its proper destination at Whistler or, oh, I don’t know, anywhere but here (fine, it’s better than 3” of ice), I first said a lot of very bad words fed the horses.  I’d filled their heated trough yesterday & they were content munching hay under cover, but I wanted to at least reduce the depth of the fluffy white devil between their mouths & the master hay shed so I could move some bales tomorrow.


Tractor w/ drag attached in nicer times
Problem:  Tractor is wonderful, indispensible, infinitely fussed-over treasure, but using bitey bucket (aka Front End Loader [FEL] aka 4-in-1 bucket) as plow/bulldozer is near the top of the list of Mortal Tractor Sins (unless you like fixing hydraulic systems).

I fire it up; it needs to run anyway, wake up the battery, circulate the fluids, & when that little workhorse Shibaura diesel warms up, I can at least grab a couple bales of hay.
 
Looking For A Hero?

You know by now that one thing I am never short on is crazy ingenious solutions.  As I broom snow off the tractor (see above BETTER THAN ICE), my eyes settle on the currently-attached drag.  My brain immediately flashes an image of drag links rolling & spreading clumps of old hay in the paddocks.

Safe from my "ideas"
*insert light bulb here - probably also a warning sign*

Not only can I drastically speed driveway melting (it’s 0.3 hilly miles to the road, not that the latter is ever plowed or treated either) with my mad drag skillz (my favourite feature:  it has a welded frame, so you can lift it with your 3-pt hitch & avoid shredding hoses or destroying packed gravel), but I can swoop in with my disintegrating snow gloves blue diesel cape & take care of Richard’s driveway too!!

For, just yesterday, on my way home from my exotic beach conference, he’d mentioned that his tractor starter was dead.  It also does not have 4x4.  Thanks to me, if emergency vehicles are needed, there shall be access for all!


To be continued...

February 7, 2015

Priceless Tips For Working Safely Outside

Still my favourite safety graphic...
All of us have reason to challenge The Great Outdoors.  Some of us even get paid (sort of) for it.  Although we in the latter group try to be certain we only hurt ourselves when NOT covered by Workman’s Comp.  Why lessen the burden on our already meagre salaries??

However, unless you are a cave troll (in which case, congratulations on mastering literacy & internet use!), if you are involved with horses, you will find yourself faced with Outside Tasks.  Whether it be opening a hay bale, removing a loose nail from a fence post, or something else, it is critical to always use all available safety gear & plan ahead to avoid needless injury (the last bit is our horses’ job, duh!).

Because Eventer79 Wants To Keep You Safe:  Things You May Not Have Considered
 
For example, you may have a few pine trees in your horse’s pasture, carrying a collection of small spears dead snags & branches on the lower portions of their trunks.  Should you decide to take care of this on a whim one morning, it is first important to choose an undersized tool.  The more ineffective it is, the more fun you will have!
 
My pines only LOOK innocent
When you engage your tool of choice, in this case, a very sharp hatchet (because borrowing an axe or chainsaw from neighbours within shouting distance will only hinder the insistence of your brain that you are going to do this NOW), try these techniques:
 
  1. Pine trees have brittle bark, which splinters into tiny shrapnel with every blow.  You should definitely not bother walking back inside to get sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Your prescription is already –8, there’s not much to lose anyway.
  2. Make sure & stare directly at the branch when you hit it, preferably with your mouth open, so that all of your mucous membranes can enjoy the shower of bitter, painful pine shards.
  3. To avoid this, you can adjust your position in relation to the branch.  I suggest standing precisely downwind, so now, the shrapnel can be blown right into your face with no effort whatsoever.

Another Easily Forgotten Phenomenon

If you are standing below say, a dead limb, & you whack at it with a sharp, metal object, the limb, being subject to a force called Gravity, will fall down when loosed from the tree trunk.

No worries!  By ducking & cursing, you may get lucky & only part of it will bounce off of your body (layers are your friend).

Returning To The Brittle Nature Of The Pine

Another special characteristic to enjoy goes something like this:

  1. After whacking at the base of a larger branch with your hatchet for a few minutes, you may decide this isn't fun anymore & your shoulder is tired the connection has been weakened enough that you can now use your body weight to snap off the whole thing at once.  
  2. Nooo...not like that!
  3. Remember your physics:  the farther away from the pivot/breaking point (where the branch joins the tree) you are, the greater force you can exert with the same amount of effort.  So you don’t want to try this right at the base.  Torque = Force x Moment Arm, people!  (No, I have no idea why that one stuck with me, but it's been endlessly useful since 1998.  If you know what a breaker bar is, you know what I mean.)
  4. Pull back hard a little ways out & if you do it correctly, the part you are holding will break off in your hands so you fall down immediately.  Success!  
  5. Even better, the large chunk between your hands & the tree trunk will also break off at both ends & become a completely unpredictable 12” projectile of 2” diameter wood.  Remember:  DUCK & CURSE.

Finally, If You Can Still See

And you have not managed to cut off your ear while scratching your nose with the hand holding the hatchet (sharp end right next to your face, of course):
STOP LAUGHING, PLANT!

  • Halfheartedly whack at poison ivy vines as thick as your arms.  
  • These are even better because instead of splinters, the vine disintegrates into a powdery dust.  Just like campfire smoke, no matter where you stand, this delightful cloud is guaranteed to blow directly into your face & eyes.  
  • In optimal conditions, you are also allergic to poison ivy.
Since you're probably now exhausted due to the completely impulsive nature of this effort, undertaken before you have eaten breakfast (but your horses have!), it is best to just give up after a handful of completely useless cuts.  You may have filled your eyes with poisonous oils for nothing, but you sure told that vine a thing or two!

Oh, sorry, too late...

December 31, 2014

The Home Of Solaris Is Now Officially Solar!

Eventually...
Well, his part is, at any rate.

It's ALIIIVVVEEE!!!!!

And despite the rambling of my previous post, heinously simple & working like a charm.  It all comes prewired, so you just stick the velcro where you want your boxes, slip the ring connectors on your battery terminal, & stuff the panel wires in their labeled ports.

Srsly.  Even laziness-enabled so you don't actually have to mount the panel until you feel like it!

You already saw the photos, so I give you this wonderful gift:  system features in live action.  You might at first wonder, why the heck would I want to watch that?

Because, my dear readers, particularly those who have visited for a while, know that I often forget that camera microphones are not selective.  So the ridiculous commentary at the ends of my videos is my special present to you.

From the woman who has few qualms about online dorkiness (plus it is a pretty cool gadget!), I present for your viewing entertainment:



There is even a button to push!!!  A BUTTON!

December 27, 2014

How To Put Some Solar Power In Your Fenceline (Without Taking On The Solar Charger Headache)

No, you may not steal my horse.  Solo is brilliant, but his charge is non-transferrable.

Why Did You Build It?

So they would come.  Duh.  And by "they," I mean photons.  Because photons are badass, right, my fellow physics nerd homies?

My lovely little Blackside Dace, c. 2003
I'm a conservation biologist by day, so my motivation for using truly alternative energy is fairly obvious.  My graduate research was in the hollers of SE KY, studying this fairytale rainbow of a fish, the federally threatened Blackside Dace.

This project put me face-to-face with mountaintop coal extraction, the horrors of valley fill (scary stuff, check out these photos), acid mine drainage, & the third-world poverty of communities left to rot once Big Coal mechanized everything.

After 10+ years in freshwater species conservation, I've also learned about the havoc wrought by hydropower dams via drowned ecosystems, natural communities decimated by unnatural flow patterns, & rivers run dry by upstream withdrawals.  Add in collapsed bat lungs & migratory birds who look like they've gone through a blender in the vicinity of wind farms and, well, it seems like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I won't wander into the side topic of the many efforts to improve the latter few issues (nor my instense desire to hurl large rocks at "clean coal" billboards, *insert expletives here*).  Or the simple fact that there is no panacea.

Newly installed tape back in February 2014
I am also poor.  My farm on top of a Carolina hill has an abundance of sunshine & my Horseguard bipolar fence tape is amazing.  But it still needs electricity to convince Solo to stay on the desired side of the line.

Non-science geek translation:  I really wanted to use solar power because it's free (after setup) & is the only power generation source I'm aware of that, on my small scale, has no negative impacts (unless Iron Man is willing to share his arc reactor -- sorry, I can't even non-geek without geeking).  But all-in-one solar chargers with the durability & power to give the consistent charge you want over the years in varying weather are very, very expensive.

I'll save the technicalities to consider for another day, because the point (if I ever make it there) of this post is supposed to be "How To Make It So With Tools & Free Stuff & Hay String & Shit."

Well, it is a farm, we do have shit.

The previous set-up (& dumpster-diving validation!)
What You Need
  • One pre-existing battery-powered system:  mine = one Parmak Magnum 12 DC [battery]-powered fence charger connected to a heavy-duty deep cycle battery (hey, I still wasn't going to pay for power...).  
  • One quality solar panel & charge controller that is rated for more than 12V (see above reference to technicalities post) - guess what Awesome Mom got me for Xmas?!
  • Something to mount all this crap on, including a vertical or horizontal surface with good sun-exposure (preferably south-facing...unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Best. BFF. Present. Ever.
  • TOOLZ!  If your charger is already in a good spot, just a drill & screwdriver to mount the panel (and that's only for eventual permament mounting, because they include options for temporary setup for indecisive people).  The panel kit I used even included screws & velcro.  Yes, velcro - they obviously get horse people.
  • Enough colour vision to distinguish red (positive) from black (negative) & enough literacy to match up the right wires with the little plus & minus signs.  Hee.  This is my third single panel installation; my first was at 22, so trust me, it's not rocket science!   
How To Do It
(My Way, Which Naturally Has Extra Steps; Easy Life Would Be Boring, Right?  RIGHT??)

A:  Know your sun/shadow patterns throughout the day.  Badass photons are powerless in shadow.

B:  Realize your current perfect battery/charger location & precision-engineered setup are conveniently close to...90% shadows after the morning.  And no way am I taking on mounting that panel 12' in the air on top of the run-in.
Dammit.
C:  Resign yourself to moving the charger to the opposite side of the run-in, within easy reach of 99% sunlight all day & a perfect mounting location on the back of the feed shed.  Of course.  You must only move...nearly everything you store there.

D:  Move the charger in just a few "simple steps:"

The new wall
(1) Install new custom Equi-Flooring material & rustic pre-assembled decorative Pallet Wall base unit .  For security, make sure your base unit is secured by AT LEAST four pieces of hay string.  This way, it will never, ever fall.  *snork*

(2)  Get creative!  That scrap of treated plywood Encore knocked down in an itching fit?  Provides perfect weather protection screwed on to the inside of the Pallet Wall.  In addition, you now have your surface ready to re-mount the charger, along with any additional parts.

It's aweeeesomeeee...
(3) Carry your specialized Battery Support System to its new location & you're set!

(4)  If you want to go wild, you can pull nails (& make sure you don't lose them thanks to your awesome new magnetic wrist wrap thingy) from some spare lumber & connect the Pallet Wall to, say, another solid object in case of hay string failure (even though we know this never happens).


Photon-ready, Captain! Yeah, there's a couple wires...
E:  Now that your original system is restored to "action-ready," stick (literally, I told you there was sticky velcro!) the solar charge controller & battery condition monitor in your desired arrangement.  Make sure the controller wires are within reach of your battery & the controller itself is within reach of the recommended wiring range for your solar panel (in this instance, 5 feet).

Controller (left) & monitor (below controller)
F:  Install your solar panel:  either in a temporary setup configuration if offered or mounted in its permanent location.  Remember that panels are designed for weather exposure, but NOT to be trod upon by humans or horses.  It's still glass!

G:  Wire the panel to the controller; this is as simple as connecting the positive & negative leads to the labelled holes.  Make sure the panel is covered at this time & NOT PRODUCING POWER WHILE YOU ARE FIDDLING WITH THE WIRING!  Safety is important, as is protecting your battery & charger.  (ok, I don't have a photo of this yet)

H:  Step back & dramatically spread your dust & sweat-smattered arms so you can loudly pronounce "TA-DAAAA!" to your horses, who couldn't care less.  But your fencing is now power-independent!!

Remind Me Of The Advantages Of Doing This?

The critical element, the controller, will prevent your panel from overcharging or draining your battery.  The condition monitor will let you test your battery whenever you like (for example, when you want to show your friends how you single-handedly harnessed badass photons to run your fence & keep your battery charged for free...just an example...).

No sun?  No problem:  my battery will run my charger on its own for over 30 days.  

That system will also keep your battery in better condition for a longer life, so you get to spend your valuable time & money -- playing with your horses, as you should be!!  

To be continued, so you shall be fully educated whether you like it or not, BWAHAHAHHAHA...