The Hay Is In!

The Hay Is In!

Hay. It seems simple. Cut it, rake it, bale it and move it up and out of the pasture. Voila! Food for the critters all winter, right? Yeah, not so much. Here at The Old Mason Homestead, we try really hard to be realistic about farming and living a self sustaining lifestyle. It’s hard work! This is our first year processing our own hay and we were starting from scratch so we knew we’d have a heck of a story to tell when it was all said and done. And we do aim to please!

Haying can be especially grueling, if only because of the fact that here on the Oklahoma prairie, hay time comes along right when the sun is attempting to boil any living thing into a hot mess. So as you read about this particular adventure, picture it all happening while the participants are sizzling like bacon in a cast iron skillet. We wanted to cut our own hay for a number of reasons, but the biggies were a) having top quality food for the cattle, b) cost of course, I mean, who wants to pay through the nose for feed if you don’t have to? and c) rehabilitating our fields so that we can implement an intensive grazing program.

It turns out, all hay is not created equal. Who knew? There are thousands of species of grasses and each has its own benefits and downsides. As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I have a relentless “need to know” everything I can on a subject before I start a project. I won’t bore you with the specifics on all the different grasses because frankly, according to my much less curious sister, all that information is just plain mind numbing. We knew going into this grand step in homesteading, that our pastures were not in great shape. It wasn’t until I hopped on my trusty steed (the side by side) and headed out to take a look, that I realized just how bad it was. IMG_7646

The Old Mason & Camo Cowboy think it is okay to commandeer my trusty steed!

Our land had been VERY heavily overgrazed, so it took some doing on my part to figure out how to fix it. But with some time and a lot of effort, we ended up with enough pastures that were actually growing hay we deemed cow worthy. That’s a simplified version, but if you want to delve deeper, shoot me an email. I am happy to share what I have learned.

IMG_7626 20160531_185619

Before and after pictures. We still have pastures like the first,but it is getting better. We have had to work really hard to get rid of an introduced plant called sirecea, but we are slowly winning.

Now, on to the fun part! We wanted to be able to cut it as cheaply as possible and knew we were investing in the future, so we went on the hunt for equipment.  And did we have fun! I love auctions and consider myself a true auction junkie.  So this was the obvious choice for us to find just what we needed and still have some hope of staying on budget. Hunting for good deals at an auction should be an Olympic sport. I would be in GOLD city! The key is to be patient and ready to pounce at a moments notice. You also have to be ready to bow out. I had to learn the hard way that if you cant keep your hand out of the air, or your subtle, all knowing nods to yourself you will have a hard time getting good stuff for an amazing price.  It means going to lots of auctions, but hay, it is a great way to build a supply of mason jars too…and who doesn’t need more mason jars, right?


We figured the logical way to start was at the beginning. There were lots of options, but I was really focused on the sickle mowers, and when we found the right auction, we scored big time. We were able to pick up two umm…very experienced John Deere sickles for $60 each. The good old #5 was in the least need of repairs, so we got right to work and had it up and running pretty quick. The Old Mason would surely scoff at my definition of ‘pretty quick’.. When you are dealing with equipment that is well over fifty years old, you just have to learn to look at break downs as an opportunity to run to town and pick up a few necessities while you are out scouring the plains for parts. Needless to say, we are fully stocked up on necessities here on the homestead now!


Here is Old #5, the Bale Monster, No troubles Hay Rake and…necessities!

The next piece of equipment needed was a good rake. We were fortunate enough to come across one for $600 that needed about a dozen tines. No work there. Sometimes the stars do shine just right and we definitely needed some luck after the Old #5 experience. Now we really fell into a deal on the baler.  keep saying that and the Old Mason keeps smacking his head. This monstrosity came into existence back when Bananarama was singing about cruel summers (We definitely know a little about that!!) and break dancing was not what the Old Mason does when the cutter breaks a tooth and he hops around saying things that make the heifers blush. But we were able to pick it up for $750 and all it needed was some new bolts, and a couple of bearings. It still needs new tires, but we had it on the ground and baling for under a $1000. So while we were looking to economically bale hay in future years, we actually came out pretty good on this year’s hay as well. Total cost of equipment and parts was $1720. If we had hired someone to cut it for us, it would have cost $1320. So we spent an additional $400 this year, with only the cost of upkeep in future years. Pretty good, right?


Tires…gently used. 

We thought so, and are glad we went this route, even if we did have to spend some time in the shop getting it into shape. But shouldn’t we add in our labor to find the actual cost? Heck no! I prefer to keep my sanity! I think instead we should just sit back and count the bales of hay instead of analyzing profits and losses. I feel way richer that way. We now have the pride and security of knowing we are sitting on 101 bales of top grade chow for our bovine fertilizer machines. If only the haying machines were so reliable!


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Like 95 more times.

P.S.  Now that we have this new, forever homestead up and running, you should begin to see more regular posts! Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know if you would like to see more of these types of articles. Feedback is always welcome.

Growing Your Own Garden Veggie’s And Why You Should!

Let’s talk nutrition, Specifically Enzymes!

Metabolic Enzymes

  • The main function of metabolic enzymes is to build, rejuvenate, and repair the cells in your body. Metabolic enzymes also are capable of digesting nutrients that haven’t been fully broken down to their smallest possible ionic size.


  • When the metabolic enzymes get involved in digesting these undigested particles, repairing the body becomes secondary.


Digestive Enzymes

  • Enzymes are found in raw food and in particular, raw vine ripened food.
  • So if this raw food is picked green and ripened as most of what we eat is, it has about 10% of the enzymes it would normally have. Vine ripened food is what we need to get the enzymes we need and frankly we just don’t get enough of that food out of our gardens and in particular during the cold months of the year.
  • Practically all of our food is cooked and there are no enzymes in cooked food… There are no enzymes in processed foods. This means that our metabolic enzymes start converting to digestive enzymes and pulls them away from our immune system.


  • This happens because the human digestive system developed on a diet of raw foods containing active enzymes. Your body isn’t equipped to handle a diet of mostly cooked food. It causes us to age quicker and fall ill more often.


  • Have you ever noticed after a large meal that you feel the need to take a nap or just get really draggy, and have no energy? This happens because your body is converting metabolic enzymes to digestive enzymes, and has none left over to do its metabolic job.


And this is why I love to see people growing their own gardens! You get raw, nutrient and enzyme rich foods right at your fingertips! It is a health and longevity issue!

It’s BABY Time!


Spring is the time for baby’s on the farm! It is one of the busiest and most fun times of the year. Are they girls? Do we get to name them? Or are they boys and get a number? This is one of the ways I deal with who has to go eventually. Yes, girls have to go sometimes too, but I know pretty quick whether I am allowed to get attached or not. For instance, I have a young heifer (Bernadette) whose mother surprised us all last year and gave us a calf on December 18, when she was slotted for the sale barn if she did not calf by the next spring calving season. Although I knew it would happen if she didn’t give us a calf, I also have a soft spot for her, so I was really happy when she did, even if it was the wrong time of the year. Bernadette and I like talking to each other when we get quiet time. Which doesn’t happen very often because all the other cows like us, especially if they think I might have a treat somewhere in my pockets. Anyway she gave us a beautiful  little heifer who is turning out just like Bernadette. Not pushy, just happy to come stand or lay by the fence when we are working close by.  So we named her Brownie…And I get to keep her!IMG_7633b


While I already have chickens…this is the year I will decide what heritage or rare breed I will begin to breed here on the farm. I have narrowed my choices down to Wyandotte, Brahma, or Cochin. I have raised and love the Wyandotte and Cochin, but I like the size of the Brahma, and I hear it is a gentle breed as well. Let me know if you have any breeds you would suggest!


And turkeys! I simply cannot make up my mind what breed of turkeys I want to raise! There are some beautiful rare breeds out there that are just stunning.  Maybe I can get an expert or two to give me some articles to post on this subject to help me make up my mind!

Hogs. I am not quite ready for hogs this year…too much fence to fix for the livestock I have already, but I am trying to do some research about the Tamworth. I really do not want to have to confine them, and want a hog that can be safely run in a pasture type environment and this so far seems like the best choice for me. They do not mature as quickly from what I understand, but if the winter feed bill is lower, they will probably be worth the wait.

Please send me your comments and suggestions if you have any ideas on what the best breed of hog would be for me! Turkeys too!

Don’t forget to Smell the Flowers!

As I have been so busy this week, I decided to let you view some of my favorite flower pics to get you motivated to head to the garden! Some are for the beauty of the flower and some are for the texture, but I love them all. Don’t forget to look for bugs! they are some of my favorite subjects as well!

march 2010 085a march 2010 111a march 2010 044a IMG_3805b IMG_1640 IMG_6700IMG_6290bIMG_6302bmarch 2010 083amarch 2010 081amarch 2010 074a

Mulching and Fertilizing

Here are some quick tips about using fertilizers and mulch in the garden.  First, know where your fertilizer is coming from.  If it is coming from animals on commercial feed, the commercial feed may contain GMO plants, which can be sprayed with and contain herbicide. If there is herbicide in your manure, you will not get so much as a weed to grow, and if a few weeds grow, you can bet they are herbicide resistant, and very hard to get rid of…

Mulch follows the same rule, know where you are getting it from, because if it has been sprayed with any type of herbicide, it will remain in your soil for a very long time, which will not be beneficial to your garden.

If you are going to use tree trimmings, a great place to get them is your local county yard. Generally, they do not waste the money to spray them before trimming, so they can be a safe way to get your shredded wood. The trick is to get it ahead of time, let it sit for several months before putting it on your fall garden to finish the decompose before planting the following spring. I like to keep piles of it decomposing over different periods, to use when I start a new area. I have had about a ¼ of my new garden mulched for the last six months, and this is where I will pick up this spring with planting. I generally start with a 4 – 6” layer, and continue to add an inch or two every year after.  If you try this, you will be amazed at the soil underneath! Just sayin!

If you are going to use hay, understand that you must keep it thick at all times. Because it has all the seeds attached, it will sprout quicker than you can blink if your hay packs down. And if you decide to switch methods, be aware that those same seeds will sprout very quickly if the ground is turned and you will have a mess on your hands. (This is EXPERIENCE talking here!)

Straw is great, but again, know where you are getting it from, and be prepared to have wheat in your garden. If it is GMO wheat, it has been sprayed with herbicide. It is always a shock when you get a bad batch of something and your entire garden does nothing! Definitely worth crying about on my part!

In some parts I will till the garden where I am going to plant for the first time, and in others, I will simply lay the mulch down several months in advance of planting. You know your soil and which will work the best. In some areas, I till first to both break up the soil, pull weeds and grasses more easily, and to give a first year boost to nutrients, but this is a short term nutrient fix. You will have to add nutrients back to the soil, the decision is whether to add them every year all at once when tilling, or to add them gradually through the season as you harvest and care for your garden.  I have done both, and am now firmly in the no till, fertilize as you go camp!

Feeding Your Chickens on the Cheep! (Episode 1)

Raising free range chickens is always an adventure. Especially when your birds are as spoiled as mine! My rooster seems to instinctively know when I want to sleep in and crows so early and loud that I am fairly sure he would wake the family on the farm next door if their rooster wasn’t having a crowing contest with him. Once Beakey the rooster starts his hollering, my fine feathered ladies are quick to get moving, which means they want me to spring them from the coop, like now! Whether I am ready for it or not, my day on the homestead has begun. So I throw on my housecoat and step into my mud boots so I can trudge out to the barn to liberate my chickens. Luckily they always cackle a quiet thank you as they shuffle past me on their way to find breakfast. All except for Beaky. He has to stop and give me the stink eye for a second or two (I tell him every day that I came as fast as I could, but I don’t think he believes me) before he lurches off after the ladies in his distinctive jerky gallop.

Beaky the Funky Chicken
Beaky the Funky Chicken

This ritual is only part of what I love about allowing my chickens  free reign of the place. It all works together in the perma-culture symphony we are creating on the homestead. And it makes for super healthy chickens that are so inexpensive to feed that it is almost ridiculous!

With a little extra planning in the garden, you can provide nearly all of the nutrients your feathered friends need to be healthy and happy. It is important for chickens to have a diet consisting of a variety of different foods to ensure proper nutrition. Your birds need about 1 part protein for every 4 parts of carbohydrates to ensure proper egg production. Keep in mind that calcium is also a very necessary component in their diet. They need at least 3% of their total intake to be calcium.


BUGS – Chickens love bugs like a rabbit loves carrots! Your chickens will constantly be on the lookout for a nice juicy bug or two or ten, which gives them the majority of the protein they need. And that my friends, makes it a snap to control insects in your garden. They can clean out a pack of potato bugs in no time flat! It is rare to see a chicken choose to eat your prized tomato when there is a bug to be chased down and eliminated.



COVER CROPS – Yup! I’m talking about weeds. Really more like plants that we see as weeds and chickens see as a smorgasbord of yummy greens and flowers. If you strategically plant things like Comfrey, Clover, Nettle and of course Chickweed around your garden, your chickens will gravitate to those plants instead of wiping out your strawberry patch. The best thing about these plants is that they provide the exact nutrients your chickens crave and need.

Comfrey - Chicken Feed ala Free!
Comfrey – Chicken Feed ala Free!

GARDEN VEGGIES – It is a simple concept. But it is dang hard to let happen. A free range chicken IS going to partake of all the yummy vegetables growing in your garden. After all, a chicken has to do what a chicken has to do! But there are a few things you can do to mitigate the damage they inflict on your main food crops. One of the biggest things you can do is to plant extra. If you have planted a perimeter of cover crops around the garden (especially on the end of the garden that the little cluckers will hit first) then this little bit extra ‘for the chickens’ should be enough to keep them satisfied. Not to mention that one of the cutest things I have ever seen is watching my chickens jump up to reach the beans I planted especially for them!

Chicken Feed

CALCIUM – This is a BIG deal! It takes a lot of calcium for a hen to crank out nice, strong shelled eggs. She simply must have the extra calcium left over to keep her own structure strong. Luckily, it relatively easy to supply all she needs naturally. Those weeds we were talking about earlier? They have tons of calcium. No oyster shells needed, especially in the summer months.

Eggcellent Eggs!
Eggcellent Eggs!

I could go on forever about my feathered flock. Certainly they are not just food. They are an integral part of this homestead and it’s constant evolution toward a self-sustaining eco culture. They are a true pleasure to care for in a natural way. And it is wonderful to only have to run to the chicken palace instead of driving all the way to town when I run out of eggs! Please comment or leave questions below. I always love hearing your best chicken stories as well. Also stay tuned…next time I will show  you how to feed your chickens on the cheap in the wintertime!


Don’t Forget to Look Up!

With Storm Season upon us again I thought I would share some of my favorite Photo’s! This was taken a few years ago when we had a multi-vortex system come right over the house. Don’t worry, we were standing right outside the storm cellar! But Rena had to point out the reason we should have already been in the cellar by this point!





The lightning decided to take a walk!

weather nature 094


This was a little tornado that fortunately did not do much damage, but had us calling my brother in law to make sure they were aware it was heading their way right down the road.


What an amazing formation!











rosemary2As for Rosmarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem of our funeral wakes and in our burial grounds.” — Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I use it in my cooking multiple times weekly when in season, which around here is March through November. I plant it in several places around my garden as a pest confuser. the strong scent keeps them away from my valuable vegetables. It takes its name from the Latin ros maris, which means “dew of the sea.” It is also associated with enhancing memory and recall. Shakespeare’s Ophelia petitions Hamlet with, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember.” Scholars of ancient Greece wore wreaths of rosemary about the brow to help improve recall while taking exams. This reputation has earned the herb a place among traditional wedding herbs used to grace the bride’s bouquet, headpiece, and dress. Wedding guests are also given sprigs of rosemary to wear to help them remember the occasion. It was also once common to add rosemary to the couple’s wine to help them remember their sacred vows to each other. At one time, it was customary for the bride and groom to plant rosemary near the marital threshold on their day of matrimony. However, the old saying “where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled,” prompted some husbands to pluck the plant from the ground lest anyone should think he wasn’t fit to rule the roost. Perhaps this is why the practice fell out of favor by the late 15th century.



Medicinally, rosemary has a wealth of uses, both old and new. In one of the earliest herbals known to be printed in England, Rycharde Banckes recommended that one gather leaves of rosemary and “…boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body.” Indeed, rosemary was once thought to be a cure for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. In fact, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was reputedly cured of semi-paralysis when she sipped a concoction of rosemary to ease her painful joints. Hence, this formula came to be known as the infamous Hungary Water.

Today, rosemary is recognized as possessing several medicinal properties.  The plant contains salicylic acid, among others, the forerunner of aspirin. This may explain why massaging the oil of rosemary into joints effectively eases arthritic or rheumatic pain. It also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial agents, and is used by modern herbalists to treat a variety of skin disorders, including dandruff. Rosemary is also being studied for its potential anti-cancer effects since initial studies indicate that its compounds inhibit carcinogenic chemicals from binding to cellular DNA. Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

Take the time to do your research on Rosemary, you will be glad you did! And more importantly, chop a sprig of it up on your next salad!