Readers’ tips about transporting goats, teaching kids through nature, local lumber mills, and more.
These slabs found at a local mill could be used to make beautiful live-edge furniture.
Photo by Janice Irwin
I needed to transport my two French Alpine goats to a farm 40 miles away so that they could breed with an Alpine buck. I have a pickup truck that has a full 8-foot bed with a liner, and I was trying to figure out how to rig it so I could transport the goats safely. I thought of building a cage around the truck bed using stakes in the stake pockets along the sides. However, I already have tie-down anchors installed, and I really didn’t want to remove them because I use them all the time.
I searched the web for ways people make livestock cages out of different materials, and I found the classic cage made of sections of wire cattle panel. Basically, you cut sections of the panel for each side and the top, and then join them with zip ties. That sounded easy enough, but it would take a little work cutting the panel, and I’d need two panels to do the job.
I went to my local Tractor Supply Co. to see what was available, and found a variety of panels. All were 16 feet long, but they differed in height and the spacing of wires. I decided to buy a cattle panel that measured 16 feet by 50 inches. My next task was to figure out how to transport it to my farm. The young gentleman who helped me load it had the perfect solution. We stood the panel up horizontally and formed a U-shape that fit perfectly into the truck bed. It struck me that I could put the goats into the space formed by the “U” and then pull the two loose ends together.
I have collars and leashes for the goats. So, when it was time to transport the goats, I attached their leashes to a lower rung of the panel by passing the working end of the leash through the loop. I then snapped the leash to the collar of the goat. After the ends of the panel were tied together, I tied the cage in several places to my truck’s tie-down anchors. This way, the goats were tied to the cage, and the cage was tied to the truck.
I assumed the goats would lie down during the trip, but they stood the whole way and watched the sights go by. This cage also had ample room for them to move comfortably, but it’s good that there wasn’t too much room because there was less chance of them being thrown around by the movement of the truck.
I can store the panel at my farm and use it for moving animals anytime I have to. I’m thinking about getting some young calves in the future, and the cage should work for that as well. If they’re too big, I could move them one at a time. I think I impressed myself with how something so complicated in my mind got resolved with a very simple solution. By the way, I think this would still work if you only have a 6-foot bed, but you might have to leave the tailgate down.
Do you need true-dimensional lumber to repair your barn? How about mulch, sawdust, cordwood, or large timber? If so, go to your local sawmill.
I first learned about the benefits of sawmills when I was looking for D-Log timbers (generally used for building log homes). The timbers were tough to track down, but when I found them at a local mill, I was thrilled to discover all the other various materials I could get there. As I sourced from additional sawmills, I was excited to see what each mill offered for gardening, farming, and construction. I found sawdust and mulch, slab siding, 8-foot logs, bar tops, kiln-dried lumber of nearly any dimension, and more.
Some sawmills don’t have a stockpile but will fill custom orders for things like fence posts, flooring, and millwork. If you’re renovating your barn and can’t find material to match the existing structure, they can likely make it. Plenty of sawmills can order types of wood that may not be readily accessible to you. Some sawmills will even deliver your order.
I was surprised that one mill sold ready-made picnic tables, and another sold steel roofing. One place even had a pile of scrap wood that consumers could have for free. Ask around, explore, and discover a great resource you may have overlooked.
Coeymans Hollow, New York
If we want our world to change for the better, we need to make it happen, and we can do that by fostering a love for the things around us, especially when they involve nature. That’s why I wanted to plant the seeds of curiosity and wonder in my children. One way that I’ve done this is by having our own backyard safari.
Any season is suitable for a family safari. For our safari, we used single-use 35-millimeter cameras, glue sticks, and writing utensils, such as pens, markers, pencils, and crayons.
Armed with two cameras on a warm spring morning, my twin 4-year-old daughters and I set off into the great outdoors. With our eyes focused on the growing bushes, weeds, birds, and insects, our backyard safari was in motion. The girls took pictures of everything that interested them, from close-ups of flowers to swooping birds off in the distance.
On a rainy Saturday, I pulled out the developed pictures, and the second part of our project began. Using the glue sticks, my daughters glued the photos onto journal pages, leaving space for descriptions. We noted the name or type of subject (such as bird or plant), its color, where it lives in nature, and, if applicable, what it eats. When we needed more information, we pulled out reference books. If we still needed more information, we used the web. After the pages had dried, I used thread to stitch them into a book, which my daughters loved.
We have two new cameras and are ready for our next safari. The girls have decided to do a journal for each season. Perhaps this activity can help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their children and come up with even more fun activities.
Seven Fields, Pennsylvania
I have a solar home in the eastern plains of Colorado. July temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s great in the winter, but in the summer, although my windows are shaded by roof overhangs, I still get a lot of solar heat from my south windows.
Although I have blinds, I tried to think of an inexpensive way to reflect the sun in the summer. I’ve found that the foil-like car shades work wonders for blocking solar energy from entering my home windows. And they’re springy enough to stay up in the window frame. The shades also come in different sizes, which work great for different sizes of windows. This fall, I’ll take them down and put them in a box. They’ll only take up a little room, are lightweight, and will last for years. I love ’em.
Pueblo West, Colorado
When I change the oil in my vehicles, I tear a flap off the oil filter box and write down the current mileage, the time-to-change mileage, the date, the oil filter number, and even the wrench size for the oil plug.
No more crawling under my vehicles several times until I find the right socket, or having to look up my oil filter numbers every time I buy them. (All three of my vehicles take a different size of wrench, with one being metric.) I store the flap with all the info on it in the ash tray, which doesn’t get used for the purpose it was designed for, so it’s always handy.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a messy cook, and I tend to slop grease, oil, water, and seasonings all over the inside of my oven. The worst part: The next time I use my oven, the entire kitchen fills with smoke. It’s a mad dash to get the windows and doors open so we can actually breathe again.
I didn’t want to use any of the harsh chemicals that are sold in stores for oven cleaning. If the chemicals are so bad that I should be wearing a mask when using them, then why would I want that anywhere near where my food is going to be? So, I came up with a way of my own to get my oven clean that also works on my glass stovetop.
I take approximately 2 tablespoons of baking soda, some hot water, and some citrus essential oils, mix it all together, and put it in a spray bottle. Before each use, I shake it up really well, and then spray it on the burnt-on food in my oven. I let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then wipe it clean.
I usually use the rough side of a sponge to get all the grime loose, and then I use a rag to wipe it dry. The same method can be applied to cleaning the top of a stove, whether it has a glass top or not.
I feel that this is a much better way of cleaning your stove, and it has so many uses. This mixture can be used to clean around your home, and the scent of the essential oil is super-nice, too. It makes your whole home smell fresh and clean!
Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania
You can imagine how I felt leaving our 30-acre ranchette and our compost-rich raised-bed gardens for a small suburban plot of Bermuda grass in a newly developed community. But within a few months, my husband and I developed a raised-bed system using eight galvanized cattle troughs. Our property borders a city park and a walking trail, and our neighbors and friends enjoyed watching our progress. Here’s how we did it:
David drilled eight large drainage holes into the bottom of each trough, which we filled with a 4-inch layer of peat moss, 4 inches of compost, and the remainder with good-quality garden soil. We mounted 8-by-4-foot cattle panels so we could trellis tomatoes, pole beans, and other climbing crops. We inserted a galvanized stovepipe in the space between each trough, and we filled them with potting soil and compost. We planted marigolds in them to deter the garden pests!
I also dug a hole in the soil of each of the troughs and buried a perforated drainage pipe coupled to a section of solid pipe (which stayed above the soil). Each tower received a handful of shredded paper, a cup of compost, and a handful of red wiggler worms. I placed a small plastic pot with an attached drainage tray over the tower opening to keep out scavengers and flies. We push all of our kitchen and garden waste down the towers, and the worms consume it quickly. We have no pest problems, and no odor.
Our first growing season was in 2016. We planted two of the troughs with perennial asparagus and mulched them with straw. We harvested potatoes, onions, green beans, tomatoes, and bell peppers in several plantings throughout the season. We grow our herbs in hanging baskets on our wooden fence.
Not only did these raised beds solve my need for growing, but our gardens have become a source of conversation and motivation for several would-be gardeners. Our galvanized troughs are long-lasting and attractive, hold moisture well, and raise the gardening level to suit my aching back and knees. Our worms survived and multiplied in the mild northern Texas winter, and this spring, we were rewarded with wonderful soil enriched with worm castings and compost without the need for a garden spade!
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