Farm Gates

When we were only considering moving to the country, I knew I didn’t want a gate. I hate gates. I hate stopping for the gate, getting out of the car, opening the gate, getting back into the car, driving through, getting back out of the car, closing the gate, getting back into the car. Heaven forbid you forget something and have to go right back in. Don’t think bringing kids along with you makes it any easier. There’s mild complaining with one child, and endless fights and arguments about who has to get the gate when you’re actually at the gate, and then even more arguments and seat maneuvering during the trip to ensure they don’t have to get the gate on the way back home. It’s a necessary evil though, unless you aren’t planning on keeping animals, and even then it’s important because there are a lot of people out there that think a semi isolated farm house is easy pickings. You don’t want to make anything too easy for them. So we got a gate.  And we hated it.

A couple years ago my mother got an automatic gate opener. It was the greatest thing ever. The only problem for us is that it was pretty expensive and we have a “crushed crete” driveway and she’s got an asphalt one. Meaning hers was reasonably smooth and ours was a bumpy mess. For Christmas this year she took care of one of the problems for us, she bought us the opener. Little did I know I’d end up paying a ton on the supplies and the aggravation levels would be pretty high too.

2016-01-08 004

The completed gate system

The Mighty Mule gate systems are created to work on a “hanging gate” only. That’s a gate where nothing actually touches the ground. The main problems with that are trying to keep the gate level because gravity is working against you and animals just love it when you leave huge gaps in your fence line (Or under the gate) because the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side. In order to circumvent this we got the highest rated MMGS which is the 500. It’s rated for a gate of 850 lbs and up to 18 feet. My gate is about 250 lbs and about 12 feet, so it’s well within the opener’s parameters are should give us a bit of extra power so it can work using the wheel.

The first thing I needed to do was build a better wheel system. There are reasonably inexpensive gate wheels out there but they have a few major problems. The first one is they just don’t last very long. About 6 months down the road the locking mechanisms that keep the wheel on rust out and the wheel falls off.  No one really advertises replacement wheels/locking mechanisms and there’s not really an easy way to attach a new wheel and the whole set up is only $20 so you just add more junk to the landfill (or your yard) and buy a new one. The second problem is they are just hard plastic so they rattle the gate on every bump. Mechanical things don’t like to shake rattle and roll every time they’re used so we needed to make the gate have a smoother opening and to be able to replace the wheel when it fell off.

2016-01-08 006

Completed re-vamped wheel system

The whole wheel thing could its own entry, but suffice it to say I wanted an air filled tire that I could connect to the standard $20 gate wheel assembly. Many, many stores later, I found one at Harbor Freight and my gate was opening relatively smoothly over the crushed crete driveway. Unfortunately it still wasn’t smooth enough.

The wheel had already created a trench in the driveway so I knew the path of the wheel pretty well. It was even reasonably smooth but every time someone drove through it a rock or some other debris would fall into the trench and create a speed bump. This wouldn’t work for the opener.

I first bought the red bricks shown in the pictures, but I put them down longwise, and created a small 4 inch wide track. This was a little too wobbly and I ended up having to reposition the bricks after almost every trip through. This was a pain in the butt, but not horrible and was easier than getting the gate until too many people went through it without checking the path and the gate hit a snag.

2016-01-08 009

The gate bar after the “snag”

I needed a better plan.

I ended up doubling the metal bar to strengthen the bar and stabilize the gate while it was being dragged across the driveway. I think this is going to be the best way to go, as I’d rather the bar give way than the gate itself or the gate opener. Both are far more expensive than buying another $15 bar.

2016-01-08 007

The double bar and the opener connected to the gate

I also turned the bricks shortwise and added some other paving stones to the trench to give the trench stability and smoothness. I dug out the rocks under the paving stones and made everything as smooth as I could.

Now the only problem is the paving stones aren’t rated for car weight and they’re already starting to crack under the pressure.

2016-01-08 005

I think my only recourse is to lay some actual concrete in a raised bed to keep the rocks and debris from falling into the trench. For now, it works, and I bought some extra paving stones so I can replace the ones that get too broken for the gate to use. Hopefully the concrete will be easier to work with than installing this gate.

For now everyone is happy, the gate is working, and there are fewer fights. How long that will last is anyone’s guess. The kids will just find new things to fight about, like whose turn it is to push the gate opener button.

 

Advertisements

An Exploration into Rendering Lard

We recently took our 400+ lb Berkshire Hampshire Hog to the “Freezer Camp” and got her made into food. This was our second large pig to slaughter, and the first time we got back fat to render into lard.

All the fat from the pig.

All the fat from the pig.

My first try didn’t work very well. You’re supposed to cut the pieces into small pieces so the fat will melt out and you’ll be left with the cracklings. I didn’t cut the pieces small enough and I ended up with no cracklings and very little (comparatively) fat.

2015-10-23 090

Chopped into small, but not small enough blocks

After the fat was drained, there's still a lot of rat that didn't get rendered and there's no crackling. All of it should look like those dark bits.

After the fat was drained, there’s still a lot of fat that didn’t get rendered and there’s no crackling. All of it should look like those dark bits.

So the first attempt did get some lard, but not nearly enough, 8 hours of cooking and still most of the fat is in the pieces, not in my container.

For my next attempt, I decided to grind the pork fat and render it that way. This was much more successful.

Fortunately I had an electric grinder, really sure I'd want to attempt this with a hand crank. Unless I could get the kids to help. ;)

Fortunately I had an electric grinder, really sure I’d want to attempt this with a hand crank. Unless I could get the kids to help. 😉

My big pan of ground fat

My big pan of ground fat

Starting to render

Starting to render

So this worked a lot better. I baked it at 250 degrees for the majority of the day. I poured off the fat frequently, and stirred after every pour. This helped keep the fat white and therefore less porky smelling tasting. When I started getting down to the end, and the fat started getting darker, I left it for longer because the cracking needed it to properly cook.

The

The “cracklin” has begun.

2015-10-24 031

The cracklin

The different colors of the fat I rendered. Far left is the whitest from the ground rendering. The middle is from the first day with the large chunks and the last one is from the cracklin, much darker and porkier.

The different colors of the fat I rendered. Far left is the whitest from the ground rendering. The middle is from the first day made from the large chunks and the last one is from the cracklin, much darker and porkier.

The whitest is supposed to be the least flavor, it’s for your desserts and sweet applications, the darker is for your savory products, maybe a pot pie crust or general cooking. I got about 8 pounds of fat from the first two days. I’ve still got another day to go.

Take aways –

  • Wear latex/nitrile gloves. They give your hands a lot more grip. The first day I didn’t wear them and ended up with a bunch of micro cuts all over my hands from so much knifework.
  • It’s easier to cut the fat when it’s thawing. Not too frozen and not too defrosted. My fat was frozen at the butcher’s and I cut off slices that had thawed until I got to the frozen solid parts, and that was how much I rendered that day.
  • Stir your pork every time you pour the fat off, but not before. When it cooks it starts to clump together and makes the pour easier. Stirring breaks it back up into tiny pieces.
  • The darker you let the pork get, the darker the lard will be. You can always use the light pork in savory foods. (I’d say a bacon flavored cookie would be bad, but honestly I might have to try it..)
  •  Most of the places I read said to put the fat in mason jars, but honestly, take a minute and try to imagine scooping the fat out of a mason jar. That’s why I used big plastic containers.

I’m happy to add one more item to my “prepper” arsenal, I doubt I’ll ever need to use this, but I and my family now know how to render fat and if TSHTF we can still have cookies. (Well, if we can find the flour 😉