(Note: actually, because of the weather… early May was unusually frigid this year… we put off the move about a week to a week and a half. The chickens in the picture are actually a little older than normal.)
Hopefully, you have your mobile chicken coop all built at this point. If not, you had better get on that!
The process of moving itself is not complicated. First, drags the mobile coops out to where you’re going to use them. Usually, this will be at one end of a nice mown field.
Next, you need some sort of method for actually moving the chickens. A cardboard box placed in a wheelbarrow works just great. As my brother points out, it also serves to illustrate the point that “Dell = Shit”. I whole-heartedly endorse Lenovo, Toshiba or Asus, instead. But I digress.
Chickens inside the box.
Chickens in the coop.
Newly-hatched chicks, just like human babies at the beginning of their lives, cannot maintain their own body temperature and so are susceptible to cold or over-heating. This lasts until their fuzz is replaced with feathers, at the age of 4-5 weeks or so. In the wild, chicks are cared for by the mother. However, if you’re hatching eggs in an incubator or ordering day-old chicks, you don’t really have that option — not to mention the fact that domestic hens often make terrible mothers, because of breeding that focused on egg-laying rather than mothering skills.
This is where a brooder comes in. This can be something as simple as a big cardboard box you keep in your bedroom to a setup like we have: an 8′x9′ manufactured wooden shed. The principles are the same though.
Equipment you will need to operate your brooder:
Set up is pretty easy. Lay down your dropcloth, put up your enclosure, lay down the paper towels or shavings and hang the heat lamp (about 2-3 feet off the ground works well). Fill the waterers and feeders, and add chicks.
When you are putting chicks in the enclosure, it is very good practice to dip the beak of each in a waterer to make sure they know where the water is.
Setting the Optimal Temperature for Chicks
The optimal temperature for a newly-hatched chick is around 82F (28C), and this is what you should maintain for the first week. The best way to test for the correct temperature is by placing a thermometer under the heat lamp. After the first week, you should bring the temperature down about 2-3 degrees per week.
A heat lamp is not a precise method of heating, and the brooder can get either too cold or too hot through the day-night cycle. If it is too cold, all the chicks will be huddled directly under the heat lamp and pressing up against each other. If it is too hot, they will be as far from the light of the heat lamp as possible. You want the chicks to be under the lamp, but not huddled (as in the pic below).
After 4-5 weeks, your chicks should be all covered in feathers and ready for a move to the great outdoors. Now is a good time to start thinking about making that mobile chicken coop!27e5 ]]>
This Monday, we faced an entirely new kind of predator: Chickenhawk! Specifically, a Cooper’s Hawk. (Photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.)We hadn’t been worried much about hawks as they rarely go after full-grown chickens. A Red-Tailed Hawk (which also live in the area) only weighs 1-1.5 pounds, while an adult chicken averages closer to 6-8 pounds. A Cooper’s Hawk weighs only 0.5 to 1 lb. Yet, Monday afternoon we heard terrified clucking coming from the chicken coop. My dad went to investigate and saw the culprit, whom at first he mistook for one of the chickens. The hawk darted under the nest box, then sped past my dad and took off. One chicken was dead, right in the coop:
The others ran for the hills:
Here’s the interior of the coop after the attack:
The next day, the hawk was back and was again after the chickens, though this time my mom managed to foil him before he could kill. Clearly, we’ve got a problem!
Scaring hawks away using owl decoys seems to be ineffective, at least based on the information found on this forum. The only effective way is to cover the area where the chickens range. However, we let our chickens out during the day and there’s no way we can cover the whole area where they go.
We didn’t want to hurt the hawk either, partly because we like hawks, and also because it’s illegal. One of my friends suggested firing up into the air to make noise. That sounded reasonable, so that was what my brother did next time we saw the hawk. So far, it has not been back, so maybe that worked. I shall keep this blog updated with how the situation develops.
Here you can see my brother doing his homework while he watches the sky.
Although the chicken hawk attacks have dominated local headlines, this week also saw the arrival of the first batch of 50 Cornish Cross chicks. We’re planning to raise 4 batches, or 200 chickens this summer.
Here’s an outside view of our brooder, which is an 8′ x 9′ wooden garden shed. You can see my dad and some of the chicks inside.
Here is the author, busting the sod like some brave pioneer of yore.
In the kitchen meanwhile, we’re making our first attempt at bacon. Depending on how that works out, I may be coming out with another how-to.
I’ve also started to prep for the camping season with this home-made camping hammock. It might not be as fancy as commercial versions out there, but it also cost only about $30 to make, including a built-in mosquito net. How-to coming soon.
But for now, we’re back to rain:
You can see the finished version on the right. The bright lights contrasted with the dark interior of the room make it kinda hard to photograph this thing well. However, you get the general idea. Materials needed (everything is pictured in the photo to the left):
Assembly is easy! First, assemble the shelving unit. Second, hang up the light fixtures. The ones I bought came with little chains for hanging up in a garage or workshop. You can push a 3″ screw through a link of the chain, and then wedge the screw between the wires of the shelf above the lamp. See the pictures below to see what I mean.
This is great because you can easily adjust the height of the lamps above your seedlings (and that’s important; you want to keep the lamps just a couple of inches above the plants to maximize the light exposure they receive).
That’s pretty much it! You’re done! Pat yourself on the back for saving yourself some $400. Our first seedlings are already in the grow stand:
Important note: because these were the cheapest fixtures I could get, they have old-fashioned magnetic ballasts, not electronic ones. This means they have that slight fluorescent flicker and buzz annoyingly. This is not a problem for us as we keep the stand upstairs and out of the way. However, if you’re cramped for space and fluorescent buzzing bothers you, you might want to invest in fixtures that use electronic ballasts (somewhat more expensive).]]>
An important piece of equipment for any gun owner is a stable gun vise to enable you to clean or tinker with your firearms safely, easily and without damaging them. You can buy one, of course, but frankly most of the products out there are either made out of flimsy plastic or over-priced. With the help of this guide, you can build a nice wooden vise in just a few hours.
I got my inspiration from this page (scroll down until you see the heading “Gun & Gear Review”). My version has one or two extra features. The materials I used were:
You can see how it all comes together on the schematic to the right. Here is an overall view of the end result:
An overall view from another angle:
All the wood parts are just glued together. It would be stronger to use screws together with the glue, but frankly, wood glue dries tougher than the wood it’s bonding. It’s plenty strong for these purposes. Here’s a close-up of the forend:
It might have been smarter to put the support on the opposite side of the forend to give the gun more clearance. For the purposes of cleaning, I haven’t found this to be a problem.
Here is a close-up of the padding on the wood worker’s clamp.
This is a feature I didn’t draw on the schematic: a 3″ well for holding solvent bottles. While it’s a little large for the small 8 oz bottles (though it will still prevent spills), it fits the 16 oz bottles perfectly as you can see on the picture below.
Here’s another view of the Marlin, securely clamped in place and ready for cleaning:
Our first batch of Cornish Cross’s is set to arrive on April 6. This is a photo of a chick from last year.
Meanwhile on this photo you can see a new project of ours: a grow-light system for starting seedlings indoors. On the left is a shelving unit, on the right is a 10-pack of daylight spectrum (”full spectrum”) fluorescent lamps, and on the bottom are 4 fluorescent shop light fixtures. Soon, I’ll have pictures explaining how they all go together.
I’m calling it a “growth chamber” or, formally, a “grow-light system for starting seedlings indoors”, as above. Anybody know the proper name for one of these things?]]>
Clearing the driveway next morning is my least favorite part of any snowstorm. On the farm, we have a very convenient driveway that loops all the way around the house, making it really easy for multiple cars to get in and out. Easy, that is, unless it’s packed with about 20 tons of sticky, wet snow. This was the situation we awoke with this morning.
In the past, we’d moved snow the hard way with either a good old-fashioned shovel or a cheap, bad snow-blower (which actually saved no time or effort, as the thing is underpowered and clogs ALL THE TIME). Inspired by something I’d read on the TractorByNet forums, I decided to put our Kubota L4630 to good use.
In the morning, we found ourselves snowed in. In this photo you can see a part of our driveway that we actually cleaned out the previous afternoon. Compare the amount of snow you can see on the truck in this picture with one from yesterday. Tuna the Bull Terrier does not appreciate it.
I rev up the Kubota. That rear wheel? It’s at least 3 ft in diameter, so there’s probably 18-20″ of snow on the ground.
The problem with using a front-end loader rather than an actual snow blade is that you can’t just plow straight through. Occasionally, especially in wet snow, you have to back up and dump some to the side.
Since our driveway curves around the house, for plowing purposes, I divided it into 4 roughly equal segments which I cleared one at a time. The reason for this is the above-mentioned: snow accumulates in front of the tractor, and you want to push it off to the side of the driveway before the tractor gets stuck. In this photo I’m plowing around the cars.
The finer work does have to be done by hand with a shovel. A tractor is not a precision instrument! Though as this next photo shows, you can get in pretty close.
A little trick maneuvering is involved when you get to the end of the driveway. Passing motorists do not appreciate when a huge mountain of snow is pushed into the road in front of them. Instead, I drove out around the snowpile and pushed it off to the side.
This is what the driveway looks like after plowing (we moved the cars to get to all of the snow). So much better!
Special thanks goes to my brother, Serge, for taking these photos. He seems to have a great knack for catching the dramatic action shots…
… and the inspiring stills…
… and neat sequences.
A good gauge of just how much snowfall we got: that car was clean last evening. In the picture, it has about 8 inches of snow on the bed cover. The snow is still falling as I write.
Shark, our Great Pyrenees is just back from his daily walk with my mom and my aunt. He’s a little upset that I’m going skiing and not taking him. I’ve tried. It does not work. It quickly turns into a disaster when Shark chooses a direction of travel not congruent with my own.
My brother Serge is using an exercise ball to herd the dog home. For some reason, Shark really hates that ball. Yes, Serge isn’t wearing any shoes. I took this because I just love the contrast of the exercise ball against the snow.
There is a story behind this battery of snow shovels (count them… 8!) The first winter we spent in this house, in true democratic fashion, we bought 5 — one for each able-bodied member of the family. Over the summer, in a frenzy of organization, I put the shovels in the barn. Come the next snowstorm, I happened to be at school and the family failed to find my cache. Instead, they purchased another 5 shovels. When I got back, I didn’t realize anything was wrong… I assumed they were using the old shovels (how was I to remember what the old shovels looked like?) The mistake was discovered some time in subsequent years.
The chickens are settling in for the night. They are doing fine. The snow doesn’t really bother them: it’s the cold that gets to them, and it has been a relatively warm winter. Temperatures of -10 to -20 are not untypical for our neck of the woods, but we haven’t seen anything much below 0.
I can’t say the same for this sad group of pigeons, huddled on top of one of our silo towers. You’d think they’d find cover or something?
The most important part of the process and the one that will make or break your jerky is the marinade. Fortunately, it’s pretty difficult to mess up. I use a very simple recipe. For 5 lbs meat, you’ll need:
The Excalibur Deluxe Dehydrator comfortable fits 10 lbs of meat at a time. Alternately, you can replace the Worcestershire sauce with soy sauce, but make sure you cut back on the salt! Mix the ingredients together in a bowl.
Now to prepare the meat. The best cut to use is a round roast, which is usually the leanest. However, a chuck roast, sirloin or tenderloin work well too. You want the meat to be as lean as possible. Some marbling is ok, but you want to avoid too much of it. The picture on the right (borrowed from Wikipedia) shows a steak cut from a round roast. As you can see, there is virtually no fat.
Begin slicing the meat. It helps to put it in the freezer for about an hour before doing so, but if you have a good eye (or lots of practice), it’s not necessary. I usually cut the meat by placing it on the cutting board and slicing horizontally through it from the bottom up. Use whatever works for you. The slices should be about 1/4″ thick. As you slice, place the pieces in the marinading bowl.
When you’re done, mix well to make sure that all the meat is coated in the marinade. Then cover the bowl with foil, saran wrap or simply a plate and place the meat in the fridge overnight.
In the morning (or afternoon, or evening… whenever you get to it), prepare the dehydrator by laying down some aluminum foil to line the bottom and collect drips. Then, start loading the trays with meat. It’s kind of like a game of juicy Tetris, except you want to leave a sufficient gap between the slices. Slide the trays into the dehydrator and turn it up to 155 F. Now go find something productive to do for 5 or 6 hours.
At the end of about 5 - 6 hours, the beef jerky should still be flexible, but you should be able to see cracks on the surface when you bend it, as in the photo to the right. If it’s not yet reached that point after 6 hours, you can usually place it in a bowl in the fridge to dehydrate the rest of the way.
How long will jerky keep? I’ve never had the chance to find out. My family can go through 8-pounds’-of-meat worth in 2 weeks.
Firstly, despite the claims of many vegans and vegetarians, meat (ORGANIC meat) is very healthy to eat. Its nutritional value is high compared to its caloric value, which means that you can get the same nutrients, vitamins and minerals for less calories… great for losing weight. The nutrition is well balanced, by which I mean it is close to exactly what we require (after all, the meat of a cow, lamb, pig or chicken is pretty similar, chemically speaking, to the human body).
At the same time, it contains very few teratogens (chemicals that cause birth defects) and very few carcinogens (chemicals that cause birth defects) compared to, say, plants. Teratogens and carcinogens affect mammals similarly, and in a healthy individual, these substances will be at a minimum. On the other hand, plants are interested in fending off creatures that feed on them, and actually produce a wide array of chemicals whose entire purpose is to be harmful (chemicals that cause birth defects or cancer in the higher animals are often more directly toxic to the lower animals like insects, worms, mollusks, and other life, like bacteria or fungi). Root vegetables (e.g carrots, parsnip, radishes, onions, potatoes) are particularly guilty of this. For a plant that keeps a large amount of juicy sugars and other nutrients in the ground, teeming with all kinds of bugs, these defense mechanisms are a necessity.
Furthermore, our bodies were evolutionarily “designed” to eat meat. Our closest relatives, the great apes, live in forests and rainforests and range from being primarily vegetarian (Chimps) to exclusively vegetarian (Gorillas and Orangutans). However, we diverged from them when we began to live on the African Savannah. On the Savannah, plant food is not widely available. There are few edible fruits (fruit grows on trees, and there are few trees on the Savannah); grains cannot be consumed without cooking, and while we’ve had fire for tens of thousands of years, we haven’t had pottery (i.e. containers for cooking) for more than about 6-7 thousand years; and finally, the root vegetables are often poisonous (as explained above) and also need to be cooked. From studying modern hunter-gatherer societies, we know that our ancestors got only about 10-30% of their nutrition from plant food, and 70-90% from meat (see, for example, the book “Man the Hunter”).
Secondly, beef jerky is basically RAW meat, which provides two main advantages:
While many foods lose nutrition value during cooking, meat is actually pretty good in this respect, losing only about 5-10% of valuable nutrients when cooked. Contrast this with vegetables, which can lose 80% or more of their nutrients, depending on the cooking method (see here, for example).
You do have to be careful about bacteria, but drying the meat at 150-155 F (~65 C) for several hours is very effective at getting rid of pathogens. By comparison, the commercial method of pasteurizing milk involves heating to 160 degrees for 15-20 seconds. (This is not to mention the fact that the salt and seasonings you will be using to marinade the meat also act as antibacterial agents.)
Lastly, jerky will keep for a very long time without refrigeration as long as it remains dry. If stored in vacuum, it will keep for literally years. Because of its light weight and nutritional value, it makes a great food for camping or back-packing — not just as a snack, but as the foundation for a complete meal (though make sure you have plenty of water).
The long and the short of it is: beef jerky is pretty awesome. See my guide on how to make jerky at home.
The reason for this amazing feat was not some sort of manic bout of inspiration. What happened was this: my mom had decided to try making hard cheese (we’d been making soft cheese for several months at that point) and I had promised to put the press together by the end of a week. Naturally, she went ahead and started the cheese-making process. Equally naturally, I completely forgot about the promise. I was reminded when my mom came up to me at 5 p.m. that Friday and told me she needed to put the cheese in the press at 7. Needless to say, cheese-making is a pretty time-sensitive process.
This is how I did it. The design is something of an amalgamation of various designs I’ve found in books or online. I’d give credit where credit is due, but I honestly don’t even remember all the stuff I looked through. There are also many, many solutions to this very simple problem.
It really just took me longer to enumerate all the things you need than it took me to put them together. The total cost of the materials (excluding cheese mold and plunger) was just over $20.
First, I screwed the maple rounds together, figuring that this would be the easiest way to align the holes. I then used a 1/2″ spade bit to make 4 holes around the perimeter of the rounds. Refer to the little schematic on the right for the positioning of the holes. I then took out the screws to separate the rounds.
Second, I covered one end of each dowel with wood glue and inserted them into the holes I just drilled in one of the rounds (this will be the base of the press). The wood glue will drip, so put some newspaper or something under it.
Now, in order to make sure the dowels are straight and don’t lean, place the PVC pipe onto the base round, and then slide the second round onto the dowels. The two rounds, separated by the PVC pipe, will keep the dowels aligned correctly. Wait for the glue to dry. The picture on the right shows the basically finished press.
Finally, coat the dowels lightly with olive oil. This will firstly protect the wood from moisture and secondly lubricate the dowels. Now, you can place the pie pan on the base dowel (to collect drips), place the mold with the cheese on top of it, insert the plunger, place the PVC pipe on top of the plunger (you can see that in the photo on the right), lower the second round onto the PVC and lay the required amount of weight on top of that. Presto!
We used the cheese press to make some basic hard cheeses, though we need a coldroom to age it properly. I haven’t yet figured out a way to solve that issue on the cheap. But I’ll keep you posted!42d2 ]]>
For chickens, Salatin recommends using mobile chicken coops with open bottoms. These allow chickens to free-range (allowing them to be healthier and happier), while also protecting them from predators (we’ve two dogs that are not averse to the occasional chicken) and keeping them confined (ever tried chasing down a loose chicken?). These are step-by-step instructions on how to build a mobile chicken coop.
We did not use the original Joel Salatin design, but what we thought was a much better one by Robert Plamondon. It’s a lot easier to service and, ironically, lighter than the Salatin one, which uses more wood. Lighter is good, because moving these things around gets old pretty quickly! It also keeps cooler.
Materials you will need:
Now I need to note that I came to the whole handyman thing relatively late. While I’ve gotten pretty good at some things, I like to keep everything as simple, stupid as possible. The most challenging part of this project was building the door to the coop, and after tackling that successfully, I was proud of myself for WEEKS afterwards (seriously!).
I also tend to overbuild. While we’ve only had the coops for two years, they are very solid. There has been practically no wear-and-tear and, conservatively, I would guess that they will provide at least 6-8 years of service. So without further ado, I’ll begin with the procedure.
First Step: Assembling the frame.
We laid two 2×4x8s and the two 2×6x8s on the ground in a square. The 2×4s should be opposite each other and so should the 2×6s (funny how that works itself out). The 2×6s are going to be the “runners” on which the coop slides around.
Next, bolt the frame together with the 3 1/2″ screws. We tried using 2″ screws at first because that was all we had, but that did not work so well. The proper term for what happened is, I think, “rapid spontaneous disassembly”. In the photo, the author is on the right. Please excuse the expanse of bare skin; when this photo was taken, I had no idea it would ever be finding its way onto the web.
Next, you need to cut the remaining 2×4x8 to form 4 corner braces. It’s not really important to keep them the same length; ours are roughly 2 feet each (8 foot plank divided into 4 pieces… do the math). Now flip the frame over (carefully, it’s not that tough until you put the braces in): you want the “runners” to be on the ground and the level side of the frame to be on top. Attach the corner braces to the frame using 3 1/2″ screws. We found that our power screwdriver was too wimpy to drive them all the way in, and we had to finish the job by hand. If you have to do this, don’t be an idiot like the author and wear gloves, or you will have blisters.
Here is the completed frame, in case you needed a visual. Mostly it’s an excuse to throw in another photo. Please note how there is a roughly 2″ clearance under the front and back walls (the right and left walls in the picture).
Second Step: Building the dome.
This is where those cattle panels come in. The easiest way is to lay them along one side of the coop as you can see on the photo, attach them and then fold them over the top. Make sure you attach them to the 2×6s! There are probably numerous ways to attach the panels (Robert Plamondon uses heavy-duty staples). I chose to use pipe clamps. As I’ve said, I tend to overbuild.
After you’ve got the panels attached, fold the panels over the top, as you can see my brother doing in the picture, and repeat the attachment process on the other side. We chose to overlap the cattle panels a little bit (4-6″) for sturdiness. In the second picture, you can see the author standing under the finished dome. There is plenty of headroom!
Third Step: Door and Rear Frame
These two are built from the 1×4’s. The frame for the back is pretty straightforward, as you can see from the picture. You can probably get away with using 2 verticals rather than three. If I were doing this again, I would do so, as weight becomes a huge concern when you’re lugging these things around every day. Here’s your opportunity to improve on the design.
The design of the door and the frame is pretty basic. It’s a wooden square inside a second, bigger square. I was very paranoid about getting the dimensions nice and even, but only because that’s exactly the sort of thing I would screw up. I laid everything out on the ground first, checked the corners with a square, and screwed everything together with 1 1/4″ screws. I also attached the hinges at this point, but not the latch, as I knew the door would sag slightly once it was vertical.
Then, I attached the door to the front of the coop. This step is a LOT easier if you lay a 2×4 right under the spot where you’re attaching the frame (remember, the front and back of the coop are raised off the ground!). Here is the door right after it was completed. I was VERY proud of myself. Almost immediately after it was finished, we realized that it needed a little more structural integrity, so I added a diagonal, which you can see in the pictures below. After we actually began using it, we made two further modifications: a 1×6 plank screwed across the bottom of the door, to prevent chickens getting their necks caught between the door and the frame (don’t ask how we found out that that is a danger :-/ ), and a spring to pull the door shut if it is released.
For extra strength I fastened the dome to the front and rear frames using left-over pipe clamps.
Fourth Step: Where You Have Chickens, You Need Chicken Wire
The next step is attaching chicken wire. A 50 ft roll is enough to completely cover the front and back and 4′ up the sides, with some left over. There is no need to cover the dome completely as you will be laying a tarp down over the top of it. I found the best way to attach the chicken wire is to start at the doorframe, go all the way around, then do the door and finally cover the gaps left on the front and back. By far the easiest method to attach the wire is to use electrician’s ties. You can see that Tuna, our bull terrier, is enjoying the proceedings immensely. He’s one of the major reasons we need the coop in the first place.
Final Step: Cover with Tarps
To do this, we used more electrician’s ties. We used two heavy-duty silver tarps for the dome. They overlap 4 ft at the top—where they are needed most—and they can be rolled up in warm weather. For the back we used a lighter blue tarp. The coop is very weatherproof, as we’ve numerous chances to observe in the often less-than-clement weather of Upstate NY.
To drag the coop around, we tied a 3/8″ braided polyester rope to the front. Slipping a length of hose onto it makes it much easier on the hands. When moving the coop, it is important to take care that none of the chickens are caught under the rear wall.
To prevent anything getting in or out through the gap under the front and back of the coop, we used two 2×4x8s.
That’s about it! You can start raising chickens.
We opted to install an electric fence system on the coop to deter predators. This is costly (about $150 extra, which is more than it costs to construct the entire rest of the coop), but we have a lot of predators in our area, including foxes, mink and coyotes, so we wanted to be safe rather than sorry. I will describe the procedure in a later post.41a ]]>