Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pony Power!

We took Gemini out for 2 drives this weekend. Even though he's middle-aged, he still has the potential to have an active working life well into his 20's....assuming we can get him in shape! Just like any athlete or manual laborer, being fit goes a long way towards reaching top physical performance. We've been driving him about 2 or 3 miles, and he's not really breaking a sweat. We're also working on getting him to keep his mind on his job and not the scary roadside distractions like flagging tape, mailboxes, plastic bags, sheep, and most terrifying of all, the giant hog down the road. He's getting much better, and so are we. The more we work with him, the more everyone's confidence level goes up, and we can look ahead to fun stuff like driving him all the way to Everson and going through the coffee stand drive-thru.
Here's a peek at what Gemini's career might have been if we was alive 100 years ago - a Pit Pony. Small ponies, especially Shetlands, were used to haul coal tubs from the rock face to the larger tunnels. Children and women used to do the work, but labor laws changed in 1842, and ponies took over the work. They were stabled underground, fed underground, and in most cases only went 'topside' for an annual 2-week holiday. They worked an 8-hour day, and were reportedly well-cared for.
Shetland ponies are actually one of the strongest equines for it's size, even compared to the large draft breeds. It can pull up to 2-3 times its weight where some draft breeds can only manage half that. A large-ish Shetland can also carry a small rider. There are 2 main "styles" of Shetland pony, the old-fashioned stocky drafty British type, and the sleeker, lighter, more horse-shaped American type. We chose Gemini because his conformation looked a lot like a miniature draft horse, as opposed to a "dwarfy" mini-horse or "racy" riding pony.

Here's the shiny "roadster" coming up on our shopping list this summer. It's called a forecart because it comes before the cart (or other farm implement) and gives the farmer a place to sit and steer the horse from. This is the one piece of equipment that will let us put Gemini to some much-needed work around Seven Trees. The beauty above is made by the Pioneer company and comes in a variety of sizes. It's also tricked-out to serve as a road cart when it isn't pulling anything, complete with brakes, lights, cargo tray, etc. if you're willing to pay for all the options. There is a hitch on the backside that enables us to hook up pretty much anything that an ATV or riding mower can pull.

Here is a larger horse harnessed to a forecart and pulling some kind of 2-wheeled cart. We often use the scythe to cut areas outside the critters' grazing area, and a cart like this would be handy for bringing the cut grass back to the barnyard for them to eat.

A lovely team of Belgians harnessed to a forecart which is pulling a blade. This setup could also be used for road-grading. Gemini isn't big-enough to do this kind of work, but you can see how handy the forecart is for a variety of chores.

The funky thing above is called a chain harrow. It can be used to smooth out rough garden soil, help seeds get down to dirt level when overseeding an established pasture, and our favorite - breaking up cow pies out in the grazing area. Gemini should have no trouble pulling this along.

Here's another dandy farm implement - a manure spreader. Most of the farms around here use a giant motorized one, or spray a liquid slurry on their fields. This itty-bitty one is just the right size for us, and Gemini. As it rolls over the ground, gears in the hopper turn, breaking up manure and spreading it evenly over the ground so it can fertilize the grass. Being able to utilize pony power and manure this way will help us close the loop of inputs and expenses while helping grow more/better food for the critters.

Can't have a cart without the harness. The diagram above is of a driving harness. We have a simple version of that now that we use for light driving. On smooth surfaces without much weight, this is a cheaper way to go. It's crucial to adjust & fit all the little straps and buckles just right so that Gemini can work comfortably and safely. We'll probably invest in a fancier parade style driving harness at some point, just because he will look so cute in it!
This is the kind of harness we'll need to do farm chores with Gemini. It's called a draft, work, or pulling harness. For light work, such as horse show competition where light carts are used, a harness needs only a breastcollar. It can only be used for lighter hauling, since it places the weight of the load on the sternum of the horse and the nearby windpipe. This is not the heaviest skeletal area; also heavy loads can constrict the windpipe and reduce a horse's air supply.
By contrast, the collar and hames harness places the weight of the load onto the horses shoulders, and without any restriction on the air supply. For heavy hauling, the harness must include a horse collar to allow the animal to use its full weight and strength.
Finding pony-sized working harness ready-made is nearly impossible, so we'll be looking for harness-makers at an up-coming draft show in our area. The Washington Draft Horse and Mule Extravaganza is set for August 31 - September 3 during the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.

Here's poor Gemini, after a long cart drive, putting up with a human on his back. He needs some work, but it won't take much to get him saddle-trained. We won't be able to ride him more than for training puropses, but it will be nice to have him ready in case visiting kids want to hop on.
And below is Gemini in cart mode. The noise in the beginning of this clip is a tractor that just passed him. He's getting used to all kinds of road traffic, and it didn't faze him a bit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Slipping into summer.....

Another busy weekend, and the weather finally cooperated! Here's Doug & Buddy, lounging in all the grass they haven't eaten yet. Looks like they are both headed to 'freezer camp' in November, but we won't be cow-free for long....
The bees are doing great, but not ready for the honey super yet. This is one of the outer frames of the upper deep hive body we put on last week. No eggs in it yet, though they are drawing out comb and filling it with honey/nectar/pollen as fast as they can.
Check out the girl-next-door! Isn't she cute? This is a couple-week-old Shorthorn/Galloway cross heifer, who might just end up moving to Seven Trees when she's a bit older. This coloration is a newer one for the Galloway breed, but Shorthorns & Galloways are old Scottish cattle that do well in our climate, put on good weight on grass, and if you're lucky, still have some milking ability left in them (though they're mainly used for beef these days).

These precocious little bean plants are now planted outside and getting ready to tackle their bamboo pole teepees. The other pots are full of cuke, squash, melon, pepper, tomato & herb starts. It doesn't look like it in this pic, but in one warm sunny day, nearly everything sprouted at once. Hopefully all these plants will keep at it once they hit the dirt so we can have a bumper crop of good food.
Here's the genius himself, with his lack-legged sidekick. Nothing says love like a fresh tennis ball...
Gemini took us for a nice long drive this weekend. There were all kinds of 'scary' things going on, like motorcycles, pink flagging tape, hay trucks, tractors, kids, mailboxes, chickens, his own shadow....but most terrifying of all was the giant pig at the hog farm down the road. Who knew that pony-boy has hog-phobia. But we spent some quality time walking him close to all the spooky things, and he's really getting the hang of being a reliable cart pony no matter what is going on around him. After we got him home & cooled off, I just had to see if he'd hop in our utility trailer. No problem! He's pretty willing to try anything if you ask him nicely.
Last, but never least, Stewart demonstrates proper chewing technique on his tennis ball. We have to buy these by the case because it doesn't take him long to shred one with his monster grizzly-bear jaws.....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekend Doings

Weekends go by way too fast. While we got a lot done, seems like there was a lot more we'd have liked to do. At least the sun was out, which made a hive check that much easier. Here's the intrepid beekeeper inspecting a frame.
We were both excited to see that the brood were starting to hatch! The open cells on this frame are where baby bees recently emerged.
This is in contrast to the second super where the bees are just starting to draw out comb. The mostly empty frame below has a few bees getting started on this.

Contrast again with another frame showing signs of hatched bees. Under closer inspection we could see some very young bees who must have just recently emerged! Despite the cool temperatures all last week, looks like we added that second super at the just the right time to make room for all the new babies hatching.

The grown chickens and babies here. Babies are at the waterer, while the grown lady hens are under the house watching them. After this weekend, the older hens are now only able to access their coop or in the barnyard, while the babies get most of the actual chicken run. They love the larger space and tear around it most of the day chasing bugs or each other.
Here the boys are hanging out after a lovely grass lunch. The paddocks have greened up nicely and the animals are glad for some new spring grass.
But we still serve hay at least once a day for those that want it... even if they prefer to lay on it over eat it.

Pony is napping under the old apple tree while being tethered out for a bit. He no longer gets the run of the house yard owing for his goat like tendency to eat fresh growth on fruit trees or other landscaping. He seems to have a particular fondness for the front yard's Rugosa rose! Fortunately we caught on before the damage was too bad.

And last but not least the garden, looking a tad scruffy yet. Many things were either started in the green house or planted out this weekend. Potatoes are up and the onions look quite good!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Presenting her majesty, the Queen!

The bees are already so protective of their hive that when we went to refill their food Thursday night, we both got stung. No more skipping the veil & smoke!
Most of these cells are filled with babies, and being capped off. Some of the perimeter cells have honey & pollen in them.
And here she is - the queen! She looked really active and healthy and was in one of the outer frames, hopefully getting ready to lay more eggs.
We added another deep hive body so they can stock up enough honey to see them through the winter. The shallower box on top is where the food goes right now, and later this summer it will hopefully be filled with honey that we get to harvest. You can also see our most important tool, the smoker, on the ground to the left.

As usual, Magnus shows how classy he is. No shame.

And a little home movie of the hive, doing their thing on a Saturday afternoon...