Monday, December 26, 2011

New Years Resolutions

Our last artificial Christmas Tree!
Kim and I are celebrating our last Christmas in the Bay Area and are very busy preparing for our move to Sundog Ranch in late Spring of 2012.

First and foremost, we are working on our physical fitness.  See our new Health and Wellness page for details!

We are also working on our ranch improvement plans.  We have a lot of work ahead, I'm afraid.  In addition to redoing most of our electrical wiring in the house, barn and garage, we also need to replace our gas fireplace with a wood burning one; look into adding a wood burning boiler for heating the garage, barn and other outbuildings so our animals don't freeze; replace all our roofs; and fix the break in our water line so the animals in the barn have water.  We will also be refurbishing the house by replacing kitchen cabinets and appliances, updating both bathrooms, repainting all the walls (inside and out), and updating the floor coverings.

Let us know if you want to help!  In the mean time, may New Year's Day find you and your loved ones happy and healthy, and may 2012 bring you a series of wonderful surprises!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We Found Our Horse Trailer!

Kim and I were very excited to find this 1966 CM Circuit Champ two horse trailer for just $995!  It is an oldie, but a goodie, and we plan to restore it to its former glory.  A nice winter project for us here in the Bay Area while we look forward to moving next Spring!

Friday, November 11, 2011

End of the Year Cleanup Complete

Some folks do Spring Cleaning, but on a ranch where it snows you also have to do Winter Cleaning!

Like most remote places, we don't get trash service where we are, so every scrap we don't want needs to be either burned or hauled off the property to be recycled or deposited at the dump.  Since this is a big deal, you wait until you have a pile large enough to be worth your while.   However, before the first snows of winter, you have to take care of all the piles you have been ignoring lest you create wildlife habitat under all that snow where little babies can be born in the Spring!

Our little bonfire burned for 3 days!
Burning is my favorite way of disposing of paper and wood.  Who doesn't love a fire?  This is the method that most folks use up here since they are bulky and you have to pay $20 per cubic yard for the Transfer Station to take them.  I was shocked to hear this since untreated wood and paper are so valuable in the Bay Area, where we come from.  However, the long haul distances makes it uneconomical for recycling here, so it just gets dumped in with the household trash at the transfer station.  The same is true for glass.

When we are up here full time, we will compost all our paper and cut used lumber up for our wood fireplace.  However, we resorted to burning these this year to get rid of the piles of debris before the first snow.   

Though paper and glass are not recyclable here, metal and plastic are, and it is big business.  Everyone in the community visits the recycling center.  This has been quite an education for us.  All that plastic covered wire we pulled out of the house that the rats ate?  Full of RECYCLABLE COPPER!  Who knew? We got $85 for it!  All those old and greasy metal cabinets that were in the garage?  RECYCLABLE!  Broken light fixtures, toasters, screen doors, twisted window frames, tangled blinds, smashed scraps of hardware cloth? Yep, those too, as long as they are mostly metal, the recycling center here will buy them.

Kim and I took a trailer load of mixed metal in hoping to get $20 for it, and walked away with a $139 check!  We also took a load of painted wood and plywood (stuff you should not burn) to the dump, and $60 flew out of our hands to pay the dump fee. (Ouch!)

There were several things that were just too big for us to handle (including a surplus army generator that weighed a ton and no longer worked).  Just looking at it all made us depressed, so we decided to call a local guy to haul away everything else on the property (including the pile in the photo below) and paid him $200 to cover the dump fees.  He was happy to do it for all the metal he received.  The generator alone was worth about $600 as scrap due to the huge amount of copper it contained.  It took him all day to cut it up in small enough pieces to haul away, and he had to come back twice more to remove all the remaining debris.  I'd say he earned his money!

One of three junk piles that needed to be removed.  All are gone now!  Hurray!
But junk was not the only thing needing to go before Winter.  Kim and I spent 10 days setting out live traps and catching all the remaining "varmints" in our house and garage - 6 more Wood Rats and a young Grey Squirrel.   I sealed the property up by installing two new doors (on the garage and pump house), replacing and patching vents, and nailing metal plates and boards over every opening I could find.

The last of seven Wood Rats caught and released this year
Townsend Big Eared Bat hanging in basement

Before sealing up the basement, I checked carefully to be sure our little bat friend had made it out.

I have been told this little guy (who is only about 2" long) is a Townsend Big Eared Bat .  Its ears are tucked close to its head in these photos, so you can't see them, but we did get a good look at them later that day.  This is likely the same bat I misidentified in an early post as a Little Brown Bat.  In any case, it spent several happy days in the basement after he discovered an opening I made in the wall while replacing vents.

Kim and I plan to put bat roosts on the outside of the house and barn next year to encourage bats to hang around to keep our bug population down.  Townsend bats generally like to eat moths.

Photo Note: I stayed about six feet away from this little guy when taking these photos.  I have blown them up for you to see more detail. 

close-up of knobby face characteristic of this bat

We will see how many of our friends have moved back in when we return to stay in June of 2012.  Until then, keep your fingers crossed for us!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wildlife Takes A Bow

This Mountain Chorus Frog looks
like the ones we found
(Internet Photo)
We saw a good deal of wildlife in September!  Most surprising were the two frogs we found hopping around in the garage!  One of the silver-dollar sized creatures was hidden under a tarp by the door, the other was hoping around in the middle of the floor (disturbed from its hiding place by our activities).  

Little Brown Bat (Internet photo)

We also saw Little Brown Bats flying around under our deck where our wood pile will go, in a room that is soon to be our office, and out under the eaves of the house.  There are lots of bugs flying around the ranch, so these are very welcome visitors.

Night Hawk  (Internet photo)
About a dozen Night Hawks (small moth-eating birds) also flew overhead early one evening.  It is very rare to see Night Hawks at all, let alone in a large group.  Kim and I were lucky enough to see one nesting on the ground in Spring.  They nest among the rocks using only the bare ground.  I almost stepped on her before she finally moved!  They are small birds, about the size of a Sparrow Hawk, and very cute!

Most of the chipmunks and squirrels are very happy with our visits as we always put fruit and nuts out for them.  However, one little guy is not so thrilled as we permanently sealed the access he had to our house and stole his stash of nuts, dried mushrooms and dried dog food.  

Wood Rat (Internet photo)

In our quest to reclaim our living area, we also relocated a Wood Rat from our house.  This little gal had been stealing our food at night and nesting under the shower pan which she accessed via a closet. We have been trying to track her down for months, and finally nabbed her and took her a few miles away to live near one of the lakes in the area.  She should be very happy, and we will be happier too.  She was a cutie though!  Looked more like a chinchilla than a rat due to the furry tail and big ears.

The mice looked something like this!

Mice have also shown their cute little faces this trip.  We pulled down a section of drywall in the garage to determine what had caused the hole in the base of the wall, and out fell about a dozen little mice! Tiny little guys!  Probably still very young, but quite ambulatory.  They ran outside and dived under the foundation.  I can see that keeping rodents out of our things is going to be an ongoing battle.  You’ve got to admire their spunk!

Cows also visited the ranch this trip.  We always see them down at the base of the mountain where their owner lives, and occasionally wandering around the National Forest and the unfenced pine acreage that surrounds us.  However, this time they actually walked over a downed section of fence and came onto our property.  It is very odd to wake up and see a herd of cows munching on the weeds near your house!  My boy Cody was in fine form herding them back through the fence opening. It made his day! 

What we have been very surprised and disappointed by is how few birds we have seen.  There are lots of bugs, as I mentioned, but very few birds.  Aside from the Night Hawks, we have only seen a few Stellar Jays this trip.  Oh, there are the usual group of summer migrating pelicans, Canadian geese, and a variety of small water birds down the mountain by the lake and lots of California Quail in the fields near it, but not much up here at the ranch. Odd. 

I think my most delightful discovery was the little one foot long garter snake that visited us near the house.  S/he was beautiful and delicate with thin yellow racing stripes running down her black body.  You hardly ever see a snake up close, so this was a real treat!

RV Gone!

 When Kim bought the ranch three years ago, she brought up an older model Fifth Wheel trailer to live in while she completed some repairs on the house.   

The trailer has sat unoccupied on the property for several years and sustained some damage last winter due to the snow load on the roof.  We tried all summer to sell it since it is clear it cannot survive the winters here.   

We like the new view we have without the RV!
Finally, we found the right guy and the right price and it is now off the property!  The ranch looks SO much better without it, and it has gone to a home where it will be put to good use. Yahooo!  

Electrical System Back on Sound Footing

During our September stay we were also able to get our electrical system sorted out with the help of a very good friend and his buddies who are professional electricians.  This has been a big worry for us as it was clear from the get-go that past owners and the resident squirrels, chipmunks, and wood rats have spliced and diced the system badly over the years.  
wire eaten by rodents

My brother, who is an electrical engineer, visited us in August to take an initial look at the system and promptly shut down several breakers pending repair of some grounding and wiring problems.  After our professional electricians took a look in September, the entire system was shut down! 

Although it will take awhile to replace all the damaged wiring and get everything up and running again, our friends were able to get us back on safe footing so we can start the repairs.  I don’t know which was worse, the “work” done by previous owners, or the work done by the resident rodents, but we are putting everything into metal conduit this time! 

New Stairs Up!

Thanks to a local contractor, Kim and I now have a new set of stairs leading up to our front door.  We were VERY happy to see them as we needed to move another trailer-load of furniture up to the house in September.  Three more loads to go and we will be all moved in!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kim's Shadow Full of Fun!

Kim added another useful toy to our barn - a 2005 Honda Shadow VLX!

Yep, this is another of her dreams come true.  She had a motorcycle before, and could not wait to get back in the saddle. When a friend decided to sell hers, Kim jumped at the chance.

Me?  I'm happy to ride shotgun!  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sundog is Now GATOR Territory!

Kim was in seventh heaven last week when we picked up her long-awaited Gator.  She says she has been dreaming of owning a Gator since she was a kid (though I don't think they had even been invented yet!).  Well, she has one now!

We put it to work right away, of course. First, she had to run it around a few trees to warm it up!

Then, we pulled down the old stair case!

It actually didn't take much to get it down.  The wood at the base was rotted through!

But it did take a little whacking to get it broken up enough to go into the trash bin!  Kim and I took turns with our persuasion devices, and it was all in little pieces within an hour.

Now we just need to do something about the house's siding and paint job!

Though I had originally wanted one of these...

I can see we will have a good time with this bad boy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on Donkeys and Dogs

Burros make great guardian animals
Okay, there is one more hoofed animal that has caught our eye - Donkeys!

The BLM rounds up wild horses and burros every year, and Kim and I would love to save some of them.  We may not be able to handle the horses, but a young burro would be a good addition to our barn as a 'herd guardian".

That's right!  Burros are very protective of their herd, and if they are the only burro around, they consider any hoofed animal around part of their herd.

Kim and I know we have wolves, bear, lynx and mountain lion in our woods, and these could be problems for our animals.  Burros have been known to kill mountain lion, so a carnivore-savvy burro may be just the ticket as a guardian for our ranch.

LGD's think of themselves as one of the flock
Another guardian that might be worth considering if we end up with a lot of hooved animals is a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).  There are many breeds that work in this capacity.  They stay out with the livestock, having been imprinted on them as a very young puppy (6 to 8 weeks old).  While leaving a dog outside works against my natural inclinations, these dogs are not alone.  They are raised to think of themselves as a sheep or goat companion, not as a human companion.

We will definitely not be going this route anytime soon though.  First, we will not have enough animals to justify the expense.  Second, we already have four dogs, each of whom will take exception to having another dog on the property!   We'll just have to hope the smell of our dogs is enough to keep large predators away from our Ranch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on Ranch Animals

You will notice that several animals have their own page listings at the top of this blog.  That's because Kim and I LOVE animals, and have DREAMED of surrounding ourselves with animals since we were kids.  So, animals are a MUST.  The only question is, "Which animals?"

Since we cannot afford to be an animal sanctuary, my policy is that every animal we add to the Ranch must benefit the Ranch in some way.  While this pragmatic view does take a little of the romance out of our ranching dream, if we can stick to it most of the time, it should allow us to keep our ranching reality alive and thriving. 
My Dream Horse

Horses, of course, are IN!  I could justify them easily by saying we have many square miles of forest to explore at our doorstep, and riding those miles makes more sense than walking.  We also have a friend that has cattle drives twice a year that needs our help (and might trade our help for hay), so obviously horses will be very useful to us and might even earn some of their keep.  However, I have to admit that their primary purpose is to fulfill our childhood fantasies of being wild forest princesses with secret powers!  So, horses need no further justification.  Hey!  Dreams get to peek through into reality every once in a while, right?

Our dogs fall into this "special" category as well.  They are our buddies first and foremost, and if they can fulfill the roll of guarding us and our ranch from goblins and other scary things, BONUS!

However, these two exceptions are all we can afford.  I am afraid all the other animals we add to the ranch need to pay their way.  So, we presently plan to bring in just chickens and a cow or two. 

Buckeye Chickens are great mousers!
Chickens add eggs, meat, and bug and rodent control. They also will help us finish off extra fruits and vegetables we have on hand, and produce salable products (eggs, meat, chicks) if Kim and I decide we want to earn a little extra money. 

Cows add milk (and therefore cheese) and meat, and can graze off the land to some degree.  Again, the milk, cheese and meat (as well as young calves) also have some commercial value should we want to make the effort to market them. Since Kim and I both like cow's milk in our coffee and adore cow milk cheeses and beef, cows are a better choice for us than, say, goats or sheep.  However, there is the issue of size.

Kim has made it very clear that the only animal she will kill for meat at the Ranch is fish.  Since I don't want our stock to be frightened before they meet their end, I do not want anyone else killing and butchering them. So, it looks like any warm-blooded animal butchering is going to be done by ME.   That means, our meat animals have to be small enough for me to handle on my own.  This fact started me looking at Mini-cows!

"Miniature" Jerseys produce great, creamy milk!

Miniature Nigerian Goats produce great milk too!
Other Animals are being considered since our "let's have an animal menagerie" gene is firing our imagination.  So, just for the record, I will tell you that we are also considering a few goats, sheep and pigs!

Yes, I could justify them all as they each could add meat to the table, and young ones for the sale block.  Goats and pigs have the added benefit of eating everything you put in front of them so table scraps of all kinds will find happy faces to feed, and our weeds and brush will not know what hit them!  Pigs could also help with any broken eggs we find, and they are great at getting the ground ready for planting in your garden! You can even get  miniature or pygmy varieties for easier handling and amped-up cuteness!  There is also a variety of sheep (the Katahdin) that does not need shearing!  What could be better?  My head is spinning from all the choices!

Vietnamese (Pot Bellied) Pigs are great for the small farm (photo by Wind Ridge Farms)
Katahdin Sheep are easy care and hearty
On the other hand, there is the reality of the work required to care for them, the cost of feeding them and keeping them healthy, and time and emotion required to "process" them.  Hmmm, I think we will take this one animal at a time.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Starting Something New

It is a time of transition and preparation.  Though Kim and I are living in the Bay Area right now, we are preparing for our move to Sundog Ranch.  I have closed my Australian Cattle Dog Rescue, Cattledog Dreams, and am officially retired.   Kim is finishing her last year as a delivery driver for UPS, and will retire in May of 2012.

The Ranch House at Sundog
Kim has been planning for retirement for some time, and purchased her dream retirement home (a five acre property in the California mountains) several years ago in anticipation of the big day.  She named it Sundog after the atmospheric phenomenon that fascinated and delighted her in childhood, feeling this would be a good omen for her future there.  It is, indeed, a wonderful spot that will undoubtedly live up to all her expectations, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to enjoy it with her. 

First, we have to get all our stuff up there!  Kim and I will make the long trek to Sundog many times this year to haul our belongings up in preparation for our final move next year. 

Looking toward the barn and house at Sundog
Once we arrive to stay, we will have a lot of work ahead of us!  The buildings on the property (a house, garage and barn) have seen better days, and the range cattle that roam the surrounding forest land have destroyed most of the fencing.  However, the buildings are sound, and Kim and I are looking forward to making repairs, updating the kitchen, installing new flooring, painting everything in sight, clearing out the barn and getting new fencing installed.    We have already hired a company to install a new garage door, and ordered Kim's pride and joy - a new GATOR!  More on that later...