Overgrazing? Grassland Management? Pasture Rotation? What is it? Does it Matter?

Yes, it matters. Your livestock depend on you to keep them safe, healthy, and well-fed. If you don’t manage your grass and hay properly, then they will not live at optimal health. One of our goals is to avoid the use of medications on our livestock. Just like for our human lives, preventive measures work best.  Your pasture fields matter.

 

Once grass begins to appear in the fields, it is easy to think that we can stop feeding hay. This time of year, the calves begin to be born, and our cows need more nutrition, not less. Here in WV, keep feeding hay as you did all winter until mid-April, at least. During calving season, we always liked to keep our herd in a relatively small field to keep track of our ladies. They like to wander off to a private place to give birth, and it could take us awhile to find them and take care of them properly. So, we kept them in a smaller field near the barn & house so we could keep a close eye on all of them. This is one more reason it is necessary to feed hay, so that they could all get good nutrition to keep the mamas healthy. Keep the ladies well fed and the babies will do better, too.

In mid-April, the cattle are turned out into one of two fields. These two fields have a good water source. You know that you need three things for the health of your herd … plenty of grass, plenty of water, and salt blocks or high-mag blocks. They always need to be able to access these three things. This is the key to proper herd health. There are other things, of course, but without these three, other interventions become necessary or the herd suffers. When the herd suffers, so should your heart and so will your profit margin.

Feeding hay until the grass is well established, and still giving them access to the grass in the field where they are, enables the cattle to get used to green grass gradually, reducing the incidence of grass tetany. When it is so easy to avoid, why not use this procedure?

So, now you might ask why we don’t just turn out early? If you let your cattle out in the pasture when the grass is new, there is a strong possibility they will eat the grass down too low and it won’t recover. They will struggle to get enough grass all summer long. We are looking for abundance of grass and super good healthy cattle, remember? Keep them in the lot until the grass grows well. Get through the spring thunderstorms first.

In the fall, after the final cutting of hay, it is fine to turn your cattle in to let them pasture in the hayfields, but they are still going to need full access to plenty of water. Water is a big factor in Pasture Rotation, or Grazing Management. No matter into how many plots the pasture is divided, free access to water is necessary for your livestock. Strong fences are also an important factor, but I won’t be talking about them in this article.

One thing I will add, though. Before you turn your livestock out into their pastures, you need to walk your entire fence line. Repair and rebuild where necessary. Drag all fallen trees to the lot to cut them up for firewood. If your woodshed is full before Spring Gobbler Season, you can enjoy the hunt! It is good to be prepared early. It gives your firewood time to season and it isn’t a task that nags at you all summer. What’s not to love about another reason to be in the woods in the spring?

Solar Clothes Dryer, aka Backyard Clothesline

What’s old is new again. Our mothers, our grandmothers, and our aunts all hung clothes out in the sun to dry. Matter of fact, so have we.  I really like to hang my clothes, towels, and sheets outside. They smell better, and frankly, I prefer the way they feel against my skin.  Would you like to do this, but don’t know where to start? Let me help!

Location. Location. Location.
Choose a site that gets plenty of sunshine each day, and has room for a breeze to blow. My clothesline is in my open backyard.  Previously, my backyard was about 5′ wide, and that worked fine for the clothesline, too. Now, it runs east-west, but the old one was north-south. It still worked. Even more important though, is that your clothesline is placed conveniently where you will USE IT! Mine is just off the back porch, and the laundry room is near that door.

I’ve never used an Umbrella clothesline, so I can’t comment on the efficacy.  If your site is limited, give it a try. I think they would be great for camping locations and I see they even make portable options.

Retractable clotheslines are great if you have a porch or indoor location for your clothesline, or if you need to hang your clothesline from building-to-building and you don’t want lines strung out all the time.

In movies, many people have seen the Pulley-style clotheslines that were used inside cities, way up in the air, over an alley. These are still available, but look for a clothesline spreader, if you go this route.

I have the most experience with T-Post style clotheslines, usually available in galvanized steel. Set them yourself in a hole in the ground and reinforced with concrete. You will need two posts and will hang several lines from them in parallel rows.

Many of the women of the previous generations would hang these pretty far apart and prop up the center of the long lines with support poles. I am not a fan of the props because they work at a slant rather than perfectly vertical. If the wind catches my sheets, for instance, the line swings, the poles slants too far, and my sheets end up dragging the ground anyway. Ugh!

So, what do I have?  Discarded telephone poles, set in concrete, with a crossbar that is 2×6″ board almost 6′ long. My clothesline poles are set about 22′ feet apart, stand about 6′ high, and the poles are notched to hold the crossbars. I have four lines, which in the summer hold 4 loads of clothes at a time. In the spring & fall, they hold 2-3 loads. I’ll explain the difference in a bit.

This size and distance has worked perfectly for me for decades. I try to have all the clothes on the line by 9:30 am and take them down about 3:00pm. That gives me time to fold & put away before the children and I have a snack about 3:30, and begin supper prep about 4:00. Remember, I like routines. This is a routine for most days.

I can wash & hang clothes easily in the midst of other morning chores … breakfast, sweep & vacuum, etc., and before we start homeschooling for the day. Then, they dry while we do whatever else we are doing. If we go out, I plan to be home by 3-4pm, and start that late afternoon routine. I like to bring in the clothes in the middle of the day so that the insects haven’t landed for their nightly repose.

How to hang the clothes? I like my lines to be neat & orderly, so I will hang like things together: all the bath towels, then the kitchen or hand towels, then the washcloths, or adult tees, then kid tees, then pajama pants.

I started using the spring-type wooden clothes pins because the slip-on got to be too expensive. Plastic clothespins are available, but I still like to use wooden pins, because the sun degrades the plastic and makes them brittle.

I start by hanging my first item with two pins. Then, I hang the second item on by unpinning the second pin, put the second item on and use that pin to hold both, then add another pin to the second item. So, two items and three pins. I keep that up all the way down the line. If a line holds a dozen tee shirts, I’ve used 13 pins, not 24, and I’ve saved room on the line.

My typical rule is to hang from the waist: shirts are hung upside down while pants are hung right side up. My kids prefer to hang their jeans upside down because the waistband can be uncomfortable after being crimped from the clothespin.

Towels. You are thinking about how stiff and scratchy your bath towels are when they are on the line. Here is a hint … shake them. Before you hang them, shake them. I don’t mean a little wiggle, I mean snap.it.hard! It fluffs out the fibers and they dry less stiff. No, they won’t get dryer soft, but you will probably find that you like how much better your towels dry your body after they’ve dried on the line.

Oh, goodness!  I just realized that I didn’t mention the line itself.  Tried and true clothesline is made of plastic-coated wire, because it doesn’t stretch.  Plastic or even cotton line is also available. You may want to use a turn-buckle at one end of each line, but it isn’t necessary if your line is made of plastic-coated wire.  Plastic-coated clothesline wire is available at your local hardware store in 25′ or 50′ lengths, or even a box with hundreds of feet in one coil.

Even in the winter, I hang out the blankets on fair days to air out, and if the sun is going to shine all day, I still do my sheets.  I really dislike the smell of sheets from the dryer, so I watch for these nice days.  If you want to air your blankets, you don’t have to wash them first.  Just hang them to get some air & sunshine.

How do I hang more in the summer?  I hang them a little closer together.  In the spring and fall, the sun just doesn’t operate at full power, so I hang things about their full width, but in the summer, I can reduce that distance, making a bigger drape and getting more on the line.  This is especially important for large families using extra-capacity washing machines.  Maybe I’ll talk about washing machines in another post.

For now, have a great day!

Gardening by the Moon Signs

I’d like to dispel the myth that using the Moon Signs for your Gardening is somehow practicing astrology, which is a false religion. Instead, we are told that the moon & stars (constellations) were given for Times and for seasons.

Even though the current names are Ancient Greek in origin, I hasten to assure you that the results for gardening are the same as if we named the signs Jim and Mary.

There are two parts to the reckoning. One is the PHASE of the moon, commonly known as New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, Third Quarter. During the New Moon, we want to plant the fruits and vegetables with seeds on inside and “bolting” vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, barley, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, corn, cress, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, leeks, oats, onion, parsley, and spinach.

The First Quarter is for planting fruits and vegetables with seeds on the outside and some cucurbits, such as beans, eggplant, muskmelon, peas, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.

The Full Moon is for the root crops, such as beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, and turnips. I also like to plant my ornamentals on root days. I figure that a few years of root growth will give my shrubs the strength they need to grow well.

Finally, the Third Quarter is for destroying weeds.

The Phase of the Moon is only one important part. The astrological PLACE also matters. One year, we ran out of daylight when planting our tomatoes. It worked that the first bed was planted on the right phase and place of the moon. The second bed was planted only during the right phase of the moon. There was a marked difference in the yields of these two beds of tomatoes. The second was acceptable, and actually quite normal. The first bed had more than double the yield. We’ve been believers ever since!

So, I use The Old Farmer’s Almanac to find the Moon’s Astrological Place each year. Most calendars already have the phases marked on them. Sometime in January each year, I plot out the entire year’s dates for planting & sowing.

My method is quite simple. I get the chart in the almanac and mark the CAN, SCO, PSC, and TAU dates in one color. This year, that was blue. Then, I go through and mark all the dates in GEM, LEO, VIR…the orange ones. The first four are good days for planting for growth, the last three are the best for killing weeds. So, when I combine the Third Quarter dates with those last three, then I have the very best days for tilling or plowing.

In my Garden Calendar then, I mark the phases and their appropriate planting days. Less than an hour, and I have my entire year planned out! It would be wise to mark the last spring frost and the first fall frost, too, if that applies.

Academics – ‘Rithmetic – Four Basic Operations

Let us begin with some terminology.  Mathematics is not arithmetic.  Arithmetic is a tool used with Mathematics, but Math doesn’t actually begin until Algebra.  Before that, it is arithmetic, which is our Four Basic Operations … adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing … with whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percents.  Arithmetic also includes measurements … length, weight, time, money, etc.

Adding and Subtracting.  These are flip sides of the same coin.  One will undo the other, so it is great to learn them together.  2+2=4 and 4-2+2 can be learned at the same time.  I found with the youngest ones to use the terms “and” and “take away” or “less” instead of “plus” and “minus” made far more sense to them.  Also, saying “are” instead of “equals” or “is” is also grammatically correct.  Two and two are four; four take away two are two.  At first, it seems awkward, but it will begin to feel natural to you quite soon.

This is also a great place for the dreaded “rote memorization.”  Spending a few minutes each day reciting some arithmetic facts will actually help the children learn them faster and better.  For this, I took my cue from “Ray’s Arithmetics” published by Mott Media.  The top of a page will have all the “twos” written out.  I would say a line, the child would repeat it.  For instance, two and three are five; three and two are five; two and four are six; four and two are six. We did this over and over.  It did not allow for making any mistakes, so the correct facts were learned.  They “heard it” and they “said it.”  Double the effectiveness.  Incidentally, that only takes a few minutes each day, but it works.

Concentrating for just ten minutes, and everything said is correctly, will result in better retention than dreading the half hour or hour of traditional arithmetic time, where there is too much busy work and mistakes are common.  Once you get the hang of doing it this way, you will be amazed.

Academics – ‘Riting – Penmanship

For many of us, when we think of “writing” we are thinking about writing compositions, because that was our experience for most of our own academic career.  But for the “Three R’s,” writing has to do with Penmanship, the formation of letters so that others can read what we’ve written.

The first part of that is simply “stylus control.”  Of course, by “stylus,” I’m meaning pen, pencil, marker, crayon, chalk, etc.  Until one learns to hold it correctly, it is difficult to make legible marks.  The correct hold is to place the pencil on the first portion of the middle finger and control it with the thumb & index finger, without gripping tightly.

Some artistic children will insist on a different hold.  I suggest requiring the correct hold for penmanship, but allowing the alternative hold for artistic pursuits.

I recommend the program ReadyWriter for stylus control. It helps your beginning writer make straight lines, wavy lines, zigzag lines, etc., with a fun story for each practice page.

Prior to 1935, according to Samuel Blumenfeld, children were not taught to print their letters.  First graders were taught cursive. This has several advantages.  There are no reversals of smaller letters like b, p, d, q … and spacing is automatic as each word is joined together, then a space before the next word.  I like this plan.

There are two penmanship programs that I like and recommend.  One is called “Spencerian Penmanship,” and I recommend using the copybook from Mott Media.  Don’t bother with the instructor’s manual unless you are a calligraphy buff.  It won’t help you teach your children this technique.  In the copybook, I would have my children make the marks on only one line per day.  I had tiny stickers, and on a mark that was perfectly made, I would place a sticker below it.  That would eliminate that space for next day’s work and would encourage them to do better each day.

The other penmanship program that I like comes from Queen Homeschool Supply.  Their penmanship also stresses writing it perfectly each time.  No busywork. They include art work from the old masters in their penmanship copy books.  It is my favorite program.

Neither of these programs are expensive, but you can go with even less expense by purchasing a cursive pad from a dollar store, and use their examples from the cover.  When I used this, I would often show my children the different ways to form certain letters, particularly capital letters.  There is no one right way, there are just common elements.  I had two requirements; make the slant all the same way and make it legible.  I also had the slant go straight up or forward.  Backward slants are difficult to read.

A note about printing or manuscript writing.  I actually taught my children to write with all capital letters.  I know this isn’t the accepted use in schools, but we aren’t in an institutional school, are we?  In the rare instance when a person has to use manuscript in real life, it is usually on a form, and all caps are acceptable there.  All caps are easier for children to write.  They are mostly just straight lines and they are all the same height. As a bonus, I found when I was in college that I could take notes more quickly and more legibly if I used all caps.

In short, in this day of computers, penmanship or handwriting is a still a useful skill in daily life.

 

Academics – Reading & Phonics

Phonics when you are homeschooling.  Teach the sounds of the letters and how to blend them into words.  Be prepared that it will take 3 phonics programs before the child is reading fairly fluently.  This is why we have Grades One, Two, and Three.  During those years, they are “Learning to Read.”  It transitions in Grade Four to “Reading to Learn.”

Do not beat yourself up if your 5 year old isn’t a prodigy.  Most aren’t.  It is okay.  Most of my children were in the neighborhood of 8 years old before they were reading the simplest words, but by 10 were as good as any other 10 year old.  They are all now adults and nobody can tell whether they were late readers or early readers.

One simple idea is to start with their own names, then find other words with similarities.  Suppose your child’s name is “Bradley” … First, I would teach them them sounds of “b” “r” “br” “a” “d” “l” “e” “ey”  Then, we would talk about words that begin with these sounds.  Use a chalkboard or poster board or notebook paper or index cards to write down those words.  Then, do the same with “Mom” and “Dad” and the names of all the siblings and pets.  This is a several month project.  Plan on all autumn, perhaps even through the winter.

Academic Homeschool Scheduling

  • Reading
  • ‘Riting (Penmanship)
  • ‘Rithmetic

You have several children, they are on different academic levels with these subjects, and they all want your attention. The interruptions are making it difficult to teach any of them!  What to do?  What to do?

Start with your youngest, give him your undivided attention for 20-30 minutes.  The older children can occupy themselves productively.  Ideas for that will come below….

Then, the next youngest child.  This one gets you for the same time.  Keep moving up in age accordingly.  Depends on how many children there are just how long this will take.

These are the only three topics that are necessary to teach progressively, line upon line, precept upon precept, and it matters to each student. Whew!

PRODUCTIVE IDEAS

  • Some of the morning chores
  • Other household tasks like wiping down walls or baseboards
  • Straightening bedrooms
  • Playing board or card games with each other
  • Older child helping a younger child develop some skill such as rolling a ball, swinging, riding a bike, using a measuring tape, arithmetic flash cards
  • Learning how to use a hammer, or glue, or coloring with colored pencils

Most of what I suggest involves an older child helping a younger child.  These accomplish several goals … the children are productive while you are teaching someone one-on-one. Older children are sharing their knowledge with someone and as you already know, the teacher learns more than the student. Younger children are learning to respect and appreciate an older sibling.  This also helps everyone learn that they can get help from someone besides just Mom!

Perhaps you only have one child.  Make sure to include this child in all your household tasks.  Do not shunt him or her away to “play” or “watch tv” while you do the work.  Let each person in the home feel needed and wanted. Besides, someday you will appreciate the trained helper you are raising.  Be sure to schedule in some ‘alone’ or ‘thinking’ time.  Everyone needs to know how to entertain themselves.

Perhaps you only have two children, so that will leave one child idle while you are with the other.  The second child can have certain items that are only used during the first child’s ‘academic training,’ such as, certain blocks, or a coloring/activity book, laptop or tablet time, play dough or special books.

Three children can be ideal for my idea.  While you are with the youngest, the two older ones can finish cleaning the kitchen.  While you are with the middle child, the oldest one can play with the youngest.  Then, during time with the oldest, the two younger ones can play together.

Everyone learns that they all get time with Mom, so they need to respect the time when it is someone else’s turn.  Of course, you talk with them all during those few moments of transition between children.  That is a good time to praise or encourage, or put out fires, or clarify the plan.

This plan worked very well for me for several years, even if a I had an infant in my arms.  Some will recommend that you homeschool the older ones while the younger ones are napping.  I don’t.  If they nap, you nap.  You need down time, too!

Daily Homeschool Schedule

Last Monday, I was thinking about our daily schedule when we homeschooled and how it changed over the years.  I’d like to share a few ideas with you that worked for us.

Have a “get up” time.  Doesn’t have to be 6:00 am, it can be 8:00 or even 10:30 or noon. Whatever works for your family.  That is one of the beauties of homeschooling.  You can work it around the work schedules of the parents, or even the grandparents.

At any rate, have a set time that everyone gets up by and gets the day started. Of course, anyone can get up earlier.  You may want to have the rule that they can go to the bathroom, but then back to their bedrooms until the appointed time. And they cannot wake up the others, either!

These are daily habits that you help your children develop. This will carry over to their teen and adult years.

  • Bathroom stuff
  • Grooming
  • Getting dressed
  • Making the bed
  • Simple breakfast

Next, “Morning Chores” to get our home in order.

  • Laundry washed & on the clothesline
  • Floors swept
  • Dishes washed
  • Stuff like that

When there were animals to take care of, that was done before the home was cared for.  Our family principle is that the animals (pets, farm, or 4-H/FFA) are captive and dependent on us.  We care for them first.  Of course, if you have animals to milk, then that schedule is paramount.

So, if “getting up” is at 8:00, the morning has progressed to about 10:00 or 10:30 by the time all of this is done.  Please don’t get discouraged by this.  As I’ve heard it said, “It isn’t the lack of a perfect math curriculum that puts kids back in school.  It is the frustrations of not being able to maintain some order in the home.”

You and the children work together to maintain some order in the home before the academics begin for the day.  Next week, we’ll talk about what & how to do the academics.

 

WELCOME

Welcome to The Old Timers blog!

Farmer Graybeard is the 7th generation on our family farm in WV.  He is now disabled from 40 years as a surface coal miner.  His mind & heart still want to farm.

Grandma Honey is the oldest of five, mother of seven, grandmother of eight, and now even a Great Grandmother!  “Bossy” is part of the job description.  Haha

We want to use the term “homesteading” as a catch-all term for all the things that happen on a mostly self-sufficient family farm.  We’ve raised beef cattle for market.  I guess it is called a cow-calf operation.  We just call it cattle farming.  We will share our methods with you.

In the years our children were growing, they had a variety of animals for 4-H and FFA.  We will share thoughts about raising those animals, too.

In addition, we’ve raised most of our own vegetables, put them up in jars, and stored them in our own cellar for use the rest of the year.  We’ll share our “once-a-year” cooking methods.

This lifestyle includes hunting, fishing, and foraging.  We will talk about those topics, too.

Add in homeschooling (which we’ve done since 1985) and Doctor Mom topics, and we hope to keep you entertained while educating you about this lifestyle we would do all over again, if possible.

Now that WE are The Old Timers, we will share wisdom and knowledge that we received from the people we called old timers!

Welcome!