Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

A Solid Foundation

The college camper had a squishy floor upon arrival at the farm. The previous owners had tiled it and the mortar base was the only thing keeping anyone from falling through.

Bedroom floor torn out.

We researched all the options for RV flooring and settled on a few necessities. We wanted the floor to float above the decking, it needed to be water-resistant, and it needed to be very thin to work under the walls and doors. With those requirements in mind, we found Traffic Master Allure flooring sold at Home Depot. The flooring is available in tons of colors, but we chose Khaki Oak since it was sold in the store and available immediately.

Hubs installed the floating floor in about 6 hours. The planks have glue tabs that allow them to adhere to each other but not the subfloor. Cutting into all the tight corners is easy since the planks can be scored with a utility knife and snapped to the correct size.

The gray edging is the sticky strip that allows each plank to stick to another once pressure is applied to the seam.

A week later, the floor is handling the construction traffic really well. We walk in and out with rocks and butyl tape stuck to our shoes and the floor takes the wear beautifully. It’s easy to clean with a shop vac at the end of the day. Perfect for a college student.

A Facelift

“Just slap some paint on it.”

Sounds easy, right?

*Bangs head on wall.*

Sure, painting takes just a couple of hours – or faster if you’re trying to beat a rainstorm. But the prep work for painting a 30-year-old travel trailer?

Six weeks.

Butyl tape, silicone caulk, latex caulk, and decal all in one spot.

No joke. We scraped, scrubbed, and conducted science experiments to discover the correct chemical remover for all the different adhesives and caulks on the trailer for six weeks. Lucky for you, I now have a list:

liquid nails = DAP Caulk-Be-Gone

Butyl tape = plastic scraper for the chunks and mineral spirits on shop rags for the residue

decals = heat gun and plastic scraper

clear silicone caulk = WD-40 and a scraper for the thick stuff, then “sand” off with scotch brite pads on a die grinder.

latex caulk = Goo Gone Caulk Remover

rust = scotch brite pads on a die grinder

general metal cleaning = acetone (don’t use on aluminum siding – it just takes the paint off)

Be prepared for lots of ripped fingernails, cuts, and skin coated with mineral spirits. Funny side note: I started adding Collagen Peptides to my coffee everyday and noticed that my cuts heal really fast now. If you are taking on a trailer remodel you might want to try the peptides. Oh, and get a tetanus shot.

Seriously.

Buy the shop towels listed above in bulk. And nitrile gloves. You’ll use a lot. And be sure that the scraper is plastic – metal will damage the aluminum siding. If you don’t have an air compressor – get one. You’re going to need it for sanding, scrubbing, and painting.

Steps to paint the exterior of an aluminum-sided RV:

1.) Remove all the doors, windows, trim, and side rails.

2.) Scrape off all the chunks of butyl tape and wipe clean with mineral spirits and shop towels.

3.) Remove any decals and other kinds of caulk.

4.) Sponge-bathe the entire outside of the trailer with shop towels.

5.) Sand the edges of any holes you intend to fill and any rough spots. Clean those spots.

6.) Fill holes with Bondo.

7.) Sand Bondo spots. Clean those spots.

8.) Tape off any part of the trailer you don’t want painted, including the window holes. Don’t forget the tires.

9.) Spray auto primer on Bondo spots and any bare metal spots.

10.) Prep paint sprayer with 6 parts paint and 2 parts acetone.

11.) Spray light coats of the paint over the body of the trailer. We sprayed 2 coats.

12.) Spray a light coat of clear coat according to the manufacturer directions.

13.) Remove any tape or plastic from trailer and wait to dry. We waited 5 days before re-taping for stripes to make sure the new tape didn’t remove the new body paint.

14.) Repeat steps 10-13 if you want a different color accent.

Body paint done.

I must admit that it turned out better than I expected. It’s not perfect – there are rough spots where we could not remove certain adhesives. I would wager that our previous owners were not handy. Murmurs of “idiots” were frequent during the cleaning process.

Grant opted for a white body accented by red and black stripes that will match his 1993 F-150 tow vehicle once it’s painted.

We also changed the aluminum windows from brown back to aluminum with paint. It took 3 cans for all of our windows. I’m really impressed with the Rustoleum High Performance Enamel paint. It goes on very smooth, levels out beautifully, and is very hard once dry. I can’t even scratch the paint with my fingernail now that it’s been hardening over a week.

Unfortunately, the day after Grant installed the bathroom window, I fell through the sink (don’t ask) and shattered the bottom pane of glass. Good news? I learned that duct tape is great for removing glass from skin.

Next week? Interior floors!

Diving into Adulthood

Our oldest son turned nineteen in June and bought his first house in August.

A house on wheels.

The idea is that he can take his house with him to college, internships, and even his first job. The problem? College students are not known for having much money and our son is no different. He spent most of his meager savings on his travel trailer and it still needed to be pushed off a cliff a lot of TLC.

Dreams of a fresh coat of paint were replaced with the reality of roof repair, replacing the water heater, installing a new sub-floor, replacing corner braces, all new plumbing and all new wiring.

Welcome to home ownership.

For the last month, we’ve endured demo mode in 100-degree heat. This past weekend we finally turned the corner and started putting things back into the trailer. Oldest seems more hopeful.

Probably because he won’t fall through the floor when walking from the bed to the shower.

You know you’ve reached adulthood when you are learning how to rewire your house at the same time you are studying for a Calculus test.

The plan is to have the trailer completely remodeled by the time Oldest transfers to Texas Tech in January. Stay tuned to see if we make it!

A Day in the Life

People always ask me what it’s like living on a farm. My typical answer is “busy” but I finally decided to chronicle a day in my life for your enjoyment.

6:45 am – Wake up to a call from the post office telling me to pick up my mail-order of turkey chicks.

6:45-7:10 am – Drink coffee while checking work email.

7:10-7:25 am – Get dressed, insert contacts, brush teeth, shove hair under a hat and find car keys. Push a sleeping cat off the car before pulling out of the garage.

7:25-7:45 am – Drive to the post office and pick up turkeys. Drive home with a backseat full of chirping.

7:45-8:15 am – Open package to find 10 healthy chicks. Prepare turkey brooder (large old stock tank) with shavings and teach chicks how to drink and eat. Spend three minutes observing fluffy cuteness.

8:15 am – Get a God-nudge to check baby goats but ignore it and start the trek from the barn to the house.

8:17 am – Get a louder God-nudge to check the baby goats so I turn back around and head to barn.

8:20 am – Find a baby doeling covered in diarrhea and very weak. Coccidia. We’ve never had it before but it’s common with babies in goat herds and easily contracted by animals and humans. Grab my medical kit and syringe-feed her Nutri-drench.

8:25-8:45 am – On hold with the veterinarian’s office while checking work email. Vet tells me to swing by at noon for the meds.

8:45-9:00 am – Wake up human kids and tell them to clean the goat stalls. Find electrolytes and syringe-feed to sick doeling.

9:00-9:45 am – Drive to feed store to buy medicated goat grain to prevent remaining goats from getting sick.

9:45-11:40 am – Feed medicated grain to all goats and syringe feed more electrolytes to the sick doeling. Help boys clean a stall. Prep a dog cage in a separate stall and move sick the doeling there. Stab myself in the shoulder blade with a 5-inch screw when I back into the gate. Try not to 1.) cuss and 2.) cry in front of the two younger boys. Fail at #1 but they kindly ignore me.

11:40-12 noon – Contemplate jumping in the pool with all my clothes on but decide to change into swim clothes. Spend the first 10 minutes cleaning the pool and the remaining 10 minutes talking to each of the human kids about what they need to get done. The realization dawns that I haven’t actually done anything on my lists for the day so I begin mentally rearranging them.

12-1 pm – Drive to the veterinarian’s office. Find that I really need a nap but ain’t got time so I crank up a Meghan Trainor song and have a sing-along dance party in my car. Get meds and remember to pick up blood work results from April. Drive home repeating the sing-along dance party. Doesn’t help. I’m still tired.

1-1:10 pm – Medicate sick doeling and yell at Youngest for not spreading the goat stall bedding around the apple trees after I reminded him. What kind of a farmer wastes free fertilizer?

1:10-2:00 pm – Eat lunch while writing notes for blog, responding to messages from Outdoorsy (where we rent out our camper), checking work email, responding to a bite on a Craigslist ad, responding to someone interested in buying sheep, and logging goat medication and blood work results. Sneak to the refrigerator to see if there is any of my mother-in-law’s famous pecan pie left. Find a piece (a miracle in a house with four males) AND whipped cream. My day is saved.

2:00-3:00 pm – Get through 1/3 of an episode of Good Bones while folding two loads of laundry. Do dishes. Contemplate ignoring the list line clean master shower. Wonder if you can get gangrene from your shower. Decide to risk it.

3:00-3:05 pm – Remove 2 empty milk jugs from the refrigerator and car parts from the kitchen table. Shove multiple pairs of muddy boots out of the way. Remember three new things to add to my to-do list.

3:05-3:20 pm – Syringe-feed the doeling more electrolytes and check turkey chicks.

3:20-6:00 pm – Work for my off-farm job.

6:00-6:30 pm – Make dinner. Syringe-feed the doeling.

6:30-8:00 pm – Weed garden. Pick blackberries. Check sheep. Discover that all of our eggs have disappeared from the coop for the second day in a row. Realize we have a snake somewhere who’s cheating me out of my breakfast.

8:00-8:30 pm – Swim again. Thank God for our pool. Again.

8:30-9:00 pm – Check work email.

9:00-9:15 pm – Clean up dinner mess.

9:15-10:00 pm – Watch TV with Hubs.

10:00-10:30 pm – Syringe-feed electrolytes to doeling and discover that her mom is now sick. Pull sick momma into the stall with the doeling and start syringe-feeding her too. Check all the goats very carefully to make sure everyone else is okay. Try to bottle-feed the sick momma’s healthy buckling since they are now separated. He won’t take the bottle but thankfully another goat momma lets him nurse.

10:30-11:30 pm – Call all the human kids together to explain the course of treatment for the sick goats and how to keep all the healthy goats from getting sick. Warn them that the ill goats might not survive. In our experience, once a goat actually acts sick, it’s too late.

11:45 pm – Finally head to bed.

Update:

The baby goat died the next morning and her mom died three days later. My boys continued to syringe-feed every three hours all that time.

Four days later, we still have a snake eating all of our eggs and we’ve done everything but tear the coop down to find it. Someone finally suggested placing golf balls inside the nesting boxes. Apparently, once the snake eats them it can’t eat anything else. We try not to kill snakes but this one is proving very elusive.

I decided to write this blog the night before the eventful day depicted. The complete change of plans for the day is not unusual for farm-life. Chaos is normal. Sheep giving birth, goats escaping, the livestock guardian dog getting skunked, the barn cat marching into the garage with a 3-foot-long lizard, snakes in the garden, barn, chicken coop, flower bed, a freak storm that litters your property with downed branches, and the electric fence flashing red again. All normal. All painful for this first-born-stick-to-the-plan personality. My advice for future farmers?

Expect the unexpected.

And get an above-ground pool. The snakes can’t get in there.

Oh Sheep!

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Our two ewes. Qui is on the left and Notion is on the right.

Sheep are referenced in the bible over 500 times. Most frequently, they are compared to humans.

That is not a compliment.

Having been a shepherd for a whopping five months, I can testify to the sheer insanity of sheep.

They are afraid of everything. They panic unexpectedly and frequently which causes them to bolt in different directions.

Like fluffy, annoying popcorn.

Metal wall in the way of escape? They will attempt to jump through it.

Don’t believe me? Come count the dozens of sheep-shaped dents in our shed.

 

Patmos

Patmos, our ram. See the dents in the shed behind him?

Hubs has become an expert at catching sheep in mid-air with the crook. Seriously, he’s reached sheep-ninja status.

We raise Barbados Blackbellies, which are promoted by the Livestock Conservancy in an effort to protect endangered livestock breeds.  Lots of research went into our breed choice. We knew that we wanted hair-sheep, which are used for meat and shed their winter wool without having to be clipped.

Raising sheep for meat was our number one goal until we discovered the Barbados Blackbellies. Now our goals are split equally between preserving the breed and producing quality grass-fed lamb for consumption. Blackbellies are known for their tender, flavorful meat without the common “gamey” taste of wool-sheep.

Our seven acres of pasture land can handle a large number of sheep using a rotating pasture method. Each ewe typically has two to three lambs over three breeding seasons in a two-year period. If we’re lucky, we’ll get six to nine lambs every two years from each ewe.

That’s a lot of insane beings on four-legs in one area.

We need to be smarter than the sheep.

Thankfully the bible says people also come in the goat variety.

patmosnotionfield

O.M.G. = Oh My Goat

goat herd

Sure they seem cute and innocent with their sweet maas and soulful eyes.

But it’s all a lie.

Goats are smart. Take-you-for-all-your-worth-smart.

They are also great at making up  when they’ve wronged you. So you forgive them. Until they escape again and eat your prettiest rose bush.

Our favorite goat, Skye, has become a master escapegoat. We searched the electric fence for the weak spot. We shocked the bejeezus out of ourselves testing the electric flow. The thing about electric fences? You have to be grounded for the shock to work.

Skye jumps through the middle of the fence. All four hooves are off the ground at the same time. No shock.

She never goes anywhere. She just eats the greener grass on the other side of the fence from her herd, driving them and her livestock guardian dog, Thor, crazy. Her herdmates, Iona and Vaila, are usually the ones who alert us to Skye’s trechery. They sound the alarm that the insubordinate has breeched the perimeter. Again.

Vailia and Iona

Vaila and Iona

One of us walks out to the barn with a grateful Skye running, ears-flopping-in-the-wind-style, to meet us and follow us back into her pen. Why does she escape when all she wants is to get back into the goat yard?

Because she can.

Goats are as curious as cats without all the supernatural balance working in their favor.

We try to be mad at her but she is so darn cute. And friendly. She is the first one to greet you, the first one line up for a rub down.

skye

Skye

We’re toast.

Hmm, toast covered in goat cheese sounds really good. “Babe, do we have any fresh goat cheese?”

thor and goats

Thor and his goats. Don’t let the picture fool you. He’s enormous, more like a baby polar bear.

Chickens on the Farm

Bringing a new animal to the farm takes six months to a year of planning before the animal actually becomes part of the family. First, we watch every available YouTube video made by people who are raising the particular animal. Then,  we read every recommended book about raising the animal. Finally, we build structures and fences.

After lots of research about raising hens, we decided that we needed to have a secure structure since we have so many predators in our area.

Cue one unused deer stand, a tractor, and one brilliant husband.

coopmove

Yes, Hubs actually dragged the deer stand all the way across the pasture with the tractor.

coopnaked

We stripped the deer stand and reinforced it.

The deer stand became the chicken coop and a bunch of woven wire buried twelve inches underground topped with bird netting became the run. Hubs refuses to call it a “coop,” instead it is an “EMP” or “Egg Manufacturing Plant.”

coopinside

Roosts inside coop. I now have curtains on the nest boxes for privacy. The bottom of the coop is normally covered with pine shavings.

coopfinal

Coop and exterior run. Fort Knox for chickens.

cooprooster

The lower roof of the coop houses the nest boxes.

We brought the first six pullets to the farm in February. We originally purchased six different “breeds”: Speckled Sussex, Australorp, Ameraucana, Gold-laced Wyandotte, Silver-laced Wyandotte, and a Dominique. This turned out to be a smart move. We learned that the Ameraucana was very hardy and a great layer. The Australorp, while a great layer, was frequently broody. Since we don’t have a rooster and the eggs are never fertilized, it became a constant fight for the eggs under her rump.

The most important lesson we’ve learned about chickens?

They die easily.

By July, only three remained. Infected earthworms. Wet grain. Snakes in the coop. If it’s a noun, it probably kills chickens.

By September, we felt ready to raise a new brood of chicks. We purchased four Ameraucanas and six Barred Rocks. The Ameraucanas lay enormous blue and green eggs while the Barred Rocks are reported to lay throughout the winter.

We brooded the chicks in the basement in an old stocktank until they were 8-weeks-old. We then spent a week hardening them off to the outside in a dog cage inside the run. This allowed the adult chickens to be around the chicks without being able to peck them.

babychicks

We finally turned the chicks loose and, other than normal pecks from the adults, everyone got along famously.  Our coop is now home to thirteen laying hens. Four months and so far, no losses.

The adults have stopped laying for the winter, but come Spring time, we should be egg-rich. I can’t really explain how much fun it is to watch happy chickens run around and catch bugs in their run. How gratifying it is to peek into the coop at night and see chickens roosting. Not to mention opening the nest box door to discover a pile of different colored eggs waiting to be harvested. Like Christmas morning every day of the year.

eggs

Yummy!

 

 

Farm Update


Want to know why there been so few blogs in the last year?

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Yes, I actually read them all.

Chickens, goats, gardens, orchards and a barn … oh my! Seriously, if you had told me six years ago that my life would include raising chickens and dairy goats I would have laughed in your face.

I’ll write blogs on the individual projects going on but I wanted to give an overview. A teaser if you will. Really I’m just begging y’all to forgive my absence.

Barn.

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Front of barn.

Back of barn and goat pens.

Back of barn and goat pens.

Goats and Livestock Guardian Dog.

Livestock Guardian dog, Thor and his goats, Iona, Skye and Vaila.

Livestock Guardian dog, Thor, and his goats, Iona, Skye, and Vaila.

Chickens.

Australorp, Silver-laced Wyandotte, 5 Ameracaunas, and 6 Barred Rocks.

Australorp, Silver-laced Wyandotte, 5 Ameracaunas, and 6 Barred Rocks.

This?

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Oh just a little light reading 😉

Backseat Driver Rehab

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When I was fifteen, my grandfather took me to the county fairgrounds to let me practice for my driving test. He made a big show of leaning his seat back and pulling his hat down over his eyes. He grumbled, “don’t hit anything,” and then pretend to go to sleep.

As I enter the stage of instructing teen drivers I have renewed respect for the man.

Ain’t no way I could pretend to be asleep. I can barely keep up the pretense that I’m not in the passenger seat wetting my pants.

It’s not until you are at the mercy of a child-driver that you realize just how insane we are to cram our very breakable bodies into metal boxes and hurtle ourselves at each other at high rates of speed.

The hyper-vigilance I now experience as a driving instructor to my children has made me the worst kind of backseat driver. I tell everyone how to drive: my friends, my family, people in other cars (yes I know they can’t hear me but it makes me feel better), even Hubs. As you can imagine, that does not go over well.

Is there such a thing as driving-instructor rehabilitation? A dimly lit room where parents can declare their names and admit that they are backseat drivers? A circle of chairs where parents can share their horror stories without judgment? A quiet, windowless room where you can escape the steady cries of, “stop telling me how to drive,”  or my favorite, “the state says I’m a good driver so leave me alone!”

The worst part is knowing I have to do it all again. Two. More. Times. So when you run into me in a few years and I stare back with glassy eyes beneath my one remaining gray hair, twitching every time a car passes, you’ll know I gave it my all. I may end up a shell of my former self, but my kids will be good drivers.

You’re welcome.

 

Fun Fact Friday: Texas Bigfoot

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Did you know that the National Geographic Unites States Atlas reports that Texas has a Texas Bigfoot Research Center?

It’s true.

According to National Geographic publishers, Bigfoot (a.k.a. Wooly Booger), has been reported in Texas since the land was primarily inhabited by Indians.

And those other states, like Washington, that have laws against hunting and killing Bigfoot? Nutters. It’s perfectly legal to bring big guns for the hunt of a lifetime in Texas since Bigfoot is indigenous to the Lone Star state.

Want to find out if Bigfoot has been sighted in your area? Check out the Bigfoot Field Research Organization’s chart for sightings by state and county.

 

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