Blog Archive

This is an archive of the blog posts I’ve put up over the past few years that still seem like they might be useful.


Chicken Feed

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What do they eat, anyway? That’s one of the mysteries, and one of the things newbies wonder and worry about (at least if our experience is typical). On the one hand, you want your chickens to be healthy and happy, and grow, and not die. On the other, you don’t want to spend a fortune feeding them. If it costs three times as much to raise a backyard chicken as it does to buy a frozen bird at the coop, then it’s a much harder sell. And there’s a fair degree of disagreement between the respected, authoritative chicken guides. Storey’s Guide leaves you very doubtful you’re being a responsible chicken-keeper unless you buy the Starter crumbles, followed by the Grower and then the Layer, etc. On the other hand, Harvey Ussery grinds his own grain and says his birds get a large percentage of their needs off the pasture. So which is it?

Our birds are about a month old now (looking back at the blog I see they arrived on
August 8th — it seems like much longer!), and they’re living in their henhouse. They’ve almost got their full compliment of big-kid feathers now, just in time for the change of weather. So what are they eating?

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We are feeding them on (non-medicated) Starter from the coop, but from the first few days we’ve been supplementing that. Many of the birds got pasty butts in the first few days, and there were several heat-lamps on them, so I don’t think it was from being too cool. The other cause (according to Harvey Ussery) is their diet. I gave them some corn meal (actually, the Masa we use for tamales), and some greens from the kitchen and grass clippings from the lawn. These seemed to help — and then when we started giving them grasshoppers, they were all better!

Grasshoppers have been a big part of their diet because there are so many in the lawn and fields. The kids have become expert at catching them, and regularly bring the chickens jars filled with treats. This has resulted in the chicks running toward us when they see us coming, rather than away, which is nice. And now they’ll take food from our hands.

They’re also getting cracked corn from the coop, and since they moved outside they’ve been eating grass and the bugs they can find. Now that I’ve got them tilling the area that’s going to be the hoop house, I’ve been mowing a small piece of lawn each day, and giving them a bag of clippings. They seem to like this, and they’re really practicing their digging skills, turning over these piles.

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Today I gave them some leftover pasta that had spent too long waiting to be eaten, and some old spinach. The birds don’t understand transparency: if they can see an object, they think they can peck it. So I had to tip the container on its side. They liked the pasta, and treated it like grasshoppers. A bird would grab a piece and run with it, and the others would give chase. Some of the chicks even went outside to try to get away from their pursuers!

At some point, I think some of these birds will be dedicated compost specialists. We’re still getting used to the different temperaments. But I can definitely see the Jerseys as kings of the pile…

Winter Gardenagerie

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The sun’s shining and it’s still shorts weather, but those days are numbered. Time to start to preparing for winter up north. We’re going to choose the best among the cockerels and put the rest in the freezer, but that will still leave us with at least a couple dozen chickens to take through the winter. And after reading Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook, we want to start trying to grow a little food in the “off-season.”

Coleman writes a lot about temporary structures called cold-frames and high tunnels, which he distinguishes from greenhouses because unlike greenhouses, you don’t heat them at all. These structures provide shelter from freezing rain, snow, and wind, but they don’t get any more heat than they can trap from sunlight during the day. In spite of this, Coleman claims you can grow a variety of hardy leaf-crops — so that’s what we’re going to try.

There are plenty of prefab hoop houses and high tunnels to choose from. Most are made of galvanized steel, with poly sheeting. I looked at several on
Farmtek’s website, but I wanted to start a little smaller. And a lot cheaper. So I started thinking about PVC.

In addition to the selection of PVC pipe sizes and connectors you can get at
the Depot, there are a growing number of websites like Creative Shelters and Formufit, offering what they call “furniture grade” PVC connectors in a very wide variety of sizes and shapes. I was originally thinking about a semicircular “hoop” design, like most of the steel tunnels I’ve seen (it’s amazing how many of these things you start seeing all over, once you’re aware they exist!). But the weight of snow concerned me. And obviously, if snow is lingering on the top of the structure, light isn’t getting through.

Then I noticed that in addition to all the T-connectors, Formufit has a 45-degree angle elbow connector. And they offer all this stuff in a range of diameters, including inch and a half, which I was starting to think might be better than one inch, for a largish structure that’s meant to stand up to northern winter storms. It occurred to me that 45 plus 90 plus 45 again equalled 180, which meant I could build something that looked like a house using off the shelf parts! So in the end, I redesigned our first experimental house so it has a pitched roof.

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This structure is going to fit right behind the henhouse, so the chickens can get into it via their pop-hole. Part of it will be devoted to them, and part will be fenced off for the garden. It will be about 25 feet long, and just under 15 feet across. I messed around with the dimensions until I was able to get the most for my money, using 10-foot sections of PVC pipe I could buy at the Depot. So, for example, the “roof” pieces are seven feet and three feet long. They’re separated by a T-connector that allows me to tie them all together with pipe running lengthwise; and also to intersperse them with the supports that hold the building up.

People call this stuff tinker-toys for adults, and it’s true! Designing this and putting it together, I felt like a kid with a new Lego kit. I bought about 45 pieces of pipe for a bout $4 each. The connectors were about $270 (I bought a few more than I needed), and the poly sheeting and clip connectors to hold it on came to about $100. There’s some additional lumber for the ends (I’ll put together a detailed parts list and plans sometime soon, if it all works out as planned). So for about $600, we’ll have an experimental winter gardenagerie. That’s about a thousand bucks less than a
comparably sized round cold frame from Farmtek.

So far, I’ve cut and assembled the frame, and run chicken-wire around it so the birds can start tearing up the sod. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll build the ends, put all the posts into their measured bases, and throw on the poly. And start planting the winter garden…

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DIY Electricity

Part of preparing for winter this year is preparing for power failures. Although the “last mile” of phone, cable, and power wiring to the houses in this part of town is all underground (a big improvement over New Hampshire, where even the posh neighborhoods were festooned with old-fashioned telephone poles and overhead wiring), that doesn’t prevent lightning from striking a substation or other types of power failures. So we’ve got our own source of short-term electricity.

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There are two types of small-scale generators on the market. The older-fashioned ones are basically gasoline engines that spin a much smaller version of the bundle of coiled wires that generates electricity at Niagara Falls or the local coal-fired power plant. The gas engines are fairly efficient: when the power goes off, you flip a switch, open the choke, and give the starter one pull. Then you plug in your lights and appliances and you’re off to the races.

The newer type of generator is called an inverter. It is advertised as “broadband” technology, to the old generator’s “DSL.” But this isn’t a useful analogy, because the two devices do quite different things. Inverters, as the name implies, are all about changing the form of energy: specifically, they change alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), and vice versa. The point of this is that DC can be stored in batteries, whereas AC can’t be stored at all (which is one reason our national electrical grid is so complicated, centralized, and inefficient — but that’s a story for another time). As a result, inverter type standby power supplies incorporate batteries as well as motors. They use the motors to charge the batteries, and the batteries to power your appliances. (for a more detailed explanation by a sales-guy, look
here)

One result of this process is that the inverters are often much quieter. The motor isn’t constantly running, so you’re not using gas the whole time and you don’t have to listen to the constant hum. And you’re not running a 3500-watt motor to power 350 watts of load, so in the long run the inverter is more fuel-efficient. Another advertised benefit is that the power is “conditioned” as it goes through the inversion process, so you get a very smooth wave-form instead of the noisy, jagged signal produced by the generator. This is seen as beneficial because computers and other high-tech devices prefer “clean” power. A third result is that inverters are often several times the cost of a comparably-rated generator.

Unlike a lot of the people who buy generators (many of whom are campers, I guess, on the basis of the way these things are marketed), I’m more concerned about keeping the fridge, freezer, lights, water heater, pump, and (in a longer term outage) washer and range working, rather than my computer or entertainment center. I figure if there’s a major outage, I’m probably not going to be surfing the web anyway. And as far as clean power goes, we already have surge strips between the wall and the computers.

Also, if I’m buying a generator, I’m mostly interested in its generating ability. Batteries are something else. When I want to store electricity, I’ll buy batteries from a battery specialist, not from a small engine manufacturer (sorry,
Honda). And I may be interested in doing that at some point down the line. Wind and solar installations would both use an inverter and a bank of batteries — so it seems like it would be smarter to get them when the time comes, and think of the generator as just another source of raw power into the system. That will be the real, permanent DIY electricity story — this is just a small step on the way to that final goal.

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So in the end, we got a generator that should keep the household appliances and lights on if the grid goes down temporarily. It will run for about half a day on a tank of gas — so in addition to the unit itself, I need to store fuel. I’ll be keeping and running it outside the main house (carbon monoxide is an issue as well as noise), and connecting to the house using two 100 foot extension cords. This unit has two 120 volt plugs, as well as a 220. So if there was a longer-term outage and we got tired of eating leftovers out of the microwave, we could connect the kitchen stove. Now I just have to track down where the well-pump gets its current from, and make sure I can attach a couple of the basic household systems so we can function when the lights go out.

Beulah Carlson

We lost a baby goat this week. She was a real cutie, too.


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We got a second batch of animals last week, on a Sunday morning. Steph went to see her friend, and came home with two doe goats and a little white ewe. The littler of the two goats was a black and gray two-month old. Unlike the other goats we got, she wasn’t bottle-fed, but was raised on the field by her mother. So we expected her to be a little less tame. Even so, when Steph managed to catch her she was fairly friendly and not too skittish.


All the animals spent a night together in the barn, and things seemed to be going fine. The sheep and the goats seemed to be getting along. The little white ewe lamb was the most timid, always keeping the other two, larger sheep between us and herself. The goats seemed to be getting along well.


On Tuesday morning, when we opened up the barn and prepared to let the animals out onto the pasture, the little goat was laying on her side. She let out a cry when she saw us, and we knew something was wrong. Little Beulah was stiff as a taxidermied goat. Her legs were all straight out, and she couldn’t move them. She followed us with one eye, but couldn’t even crane her neck to look at us.


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Beulah probably had tetanus. We still don’t know for sure, although in addition to what we were able to find out, we had an experienced farmer and a vet look at her. If it wasn’t tetanus, she might have had polio or have been poisoned. But tetanus seems like the most obvious conclusion. Apparently it is common in goats, and although the farmer we bought her from says she was vaccinated along with the rest of the babies, the shot didn’t work on her.


The most amazing thing about the situation (not counting the frustration and sadness of trying to help the little animal and failing) was that we were pretty much on our own. Most of the vets in the area only do small animals. One of the two large animal vets did not have the appropriate drugs, and the other (who did) was over an hour away. We were able to get hold of another sheep/goat farmer nearby, who was incredibly helpful and even met us at a nearby restaurant, since we aren’t that familiar with the area yet. He took a look a Beulah and
gave us some of the medicine he kept on hand for his own flock. Unfortunately, we later figured out that the antitoxin he gave us was for a different strain of clostridium (the one that attacks the animals when they overeat), so the shots we gave her over the next day were ineffective on the tetanus.


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The next day or so were spent giving the poor little animal shots. Penicillin, antitoxin, and when she stopped being able to swallow the water we were squirting into her mouth, subcutaneous water. The penicillin may have helped her a bit the first time we gave it to her, because she was able to stand and walk a bit on her own for a few minutes. Then she stiffened up again, and we were fighting a downhill battle. We took her to a local retired vet who was a friend of the farmer we bought the animals from. He took one look at Beulah and announced that she had tetanus and the most probably source were the scabbed-over wounds from the de-horning procedure she’d been through a week or so earlier (tetanus normally takes 10-14 days to set in, and prefers the anaerobic conditions in closed wounds). He sedated Beulah and debraded the wounds, but warned us the prognosis wasn’t good. Unfortunately, he was right.


We learned from this experience that we need to be prepared for animal sickness. We were ready for worms, but not for something as seemingly random as tetanus. This was not something stressed in the books we read, which I suppose were written in a time when rural areas abounded with vets. The situation is not like dogs and cats, where you can just jump in the car and take them to an animal hospital. The regular vets don’t know anything about farm animals, large or small. The fact that lots of people are starting to keep small animals would seem like an opportunity for some enterprising vet to at least keep a few of the most common drugs in his fridge; but it isn’t one that has occurred to anyone around here. Luckily, you can buy penicillin, antitoxin, thiamin (for polio) and activated charcoal (for poisoning) online, and keep a supply in your own fridge.

Which Broussais?

One of the books I catalogued in Charles Knowlton’s estate inventory is a volume listed simply as “Brousair” or “Brousais.”  Looking at the medical texts available at the time, I supposed this might refer to François-Joseph-Victor Broussais (1772-1838), who wrote several books on inflammation between 1808 and 1828.  But I noted in my inventory, it might also be a work on family planning by an unrelated (as far as I know) Alphonse Broussais, published in the late 1830s or early 1840s.

I’m finally getting back to writing my Knowlton biography, after my move and starting the farm, so today I was looking at a book called
An Introduction to the History of Medicine, by Fielding Hudson Garrison (1917).  Garrison doesn’t mention Alphonse, but he has some pointed things to say about François.  He begins by charging that Broussais “did away with metaphysical conceptions of disease only to substitute something worse.” (426)

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According to Garrison, Broussais was the son of a French physician who joined the republican army in 1792 and later served as a surgeon in Napoleon’s campaigns.  As a result, Garrison says, “his methods were Napoleonic and his therapeutics sanguinary.”  The underpinning of Broussais’s regime was a belief that life depends on irritation (friction, heat), and that gastro-enteritis was the basis of all disease.  In this belief, he was a step ahead of the older generation and their “fevers,” says Garrison.  But only a small step.  Ironically, this emphasis on heat and digestion is not all that unlike the focus of Samuel Thomson’s herbalist alternative medicine, which was widely regarded by professional physicians as quackery.

Broussais’s treatment program called on the doctor to “deprive the patient of his proper food and leech him all over his body.  As many as 10 to 50 leeches were applied at once.”  As a result, Garrison says “in the year 1833 alone 41,500,000 leeches were imported into France…Yet in 1824-25 two or three million were sufficient to supply all demands.”  Witnessing these “torrents of blood, students began gradually to edge away from him, until his theories were finally exploded by…good sense and temperate judgment” (427). This doesn’t seem like the sort of physician or regime that would appeal to Charles Knowlton, especially in light of the difficulties he had as a young man searching for a cure for his own maladies.

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Luckily, searching the web today, I was able to find out a little more about the other Broussais.  Alphonse apparently published a sex manual which was translated and published in New York in 1843 as Self-Preservation: or Sexual Physiology Revealed.  The editor was “A Physician of Philadelphia,” and the book was “Sold by all periodical agents.” I got this not from standard historical sources, but from an auction advertisement for a copy of the old book.

This book seems a much more likely fit for Charles Knowlton, whose own sex manual,
The Fruits of Philosophy, was being illicitly reprinted in Philadelphia at about the same time.  I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Self-Preservation, to see if any of the text or ideas are lifted from Knowlton or from his friend, Robert Dale Owen, rather than coming from this untraceable Frenchman, Alphonse Broussais. Also, the value listed in the inventory for this volume was $ .12, which seems more appropriate for a 128-page sex manual you could carry in your pocket than for a medical treatise, even an out-of-date, discredited one. 

Of course, there’s no definitive proof that Self-Preservation was the book in Charles Knowlton’s library.  Just a preponderance of circumstantial evidence and educated guesswork.  But how much of history, I wonder, is just that in the end? 

Things we might want to know about...

The good people at Onlinecolleges.net have compiled a list of 25 interesting facts about higher education. Reading through them, I found that many of them had to do with the history of different types of educational institutions, teaching practices, and what types of people got to go to college (and why). Some of them were no surprise to me: for example, I went to a Land Grant University and took classes in Morrill Hall, so I was aware of how the Morrill Act created the State University system we now have. But people who didn’t go to UMass, Texas A&M or Cornell (and there’s probably an interesting story behind how Ezra Cornell got New York’s land grant money) probably don’t know about that. And there were several points that surprised me, including the one about Colonial America having more colleges than England (although perhaps not more than Great Britain).

An interesting theme that runs through many of the facts has to do with demographics and participation. Who got to go and why they went is an interesting question -- and history might tell us something about how to move forward. Everyone has an idea about what higher ed should look like in the 21st century; how many of those ideas have any foundation in higher ed’s history?

The economic hardships faced by institutions, the explosions of participation surrounding the Morrill Act and the GI Bill (both wartime measures, interestingly), even the transition from being training facilities for professionals (ministers, lawyers, and slightly later, physicians) to being about more general “liberal education” for the masses -- these are all issues where a little look at history might inform the current debate. In any case, the list is interesting and thought-provoking. Well done,
Onlinecolleges!

Hay!

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We got our first load of hay today. Managed to put 32 bales on the back of the pickup, in spite of the fact it’s a short bed. We’ll be getting 100 more, but pulling the hayrack home with that, in a couple of days. Hay takes up a fairly big space in the barn, but more about that later. And it’s heavy. A barn you could drive through would be really convenient at this point. I don’t think I can back a hayrack up into our barn, especially since there’s a slight hill in front of the door, and I won’t be able to see the back of the rack. So we’ll probably be parking beside the barn and carrying that 100 bales in through the backdoor. At 50# each, that’ll be a good workout!

Back to the Farm

I went away for a few days. Drove 2,300 miles, taking our daughter to college. While I was gone, the chicks grew up a bit. They’re definitely starting to look like the chickens they’re going to be. So when I got home I hurried up and made some last minute adjustments to the henhouse, and moved them in. They spent an afternoon on the grass, catching grasshoppers. Then they moved into their new home. So far, so good.

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Electric Fence & Escapees

There’s so much pasture the animals haven’t been on yet! In order to get them out there, though, I need to make sure they’ll be staying where I put them, and not wandering into the next field (or the neighbors’ garden, or down the road…). I got a fence-charger and a long spool of electric twine (it has six stainless steel wires woven in), and some plastic insulating posts. There was an old charger mounted on the barn wall, which apparently powered a strand of the barbed wire that goes all the way around the farm, but I thought it would be better to start with no surprises. And I thought the three or four horses the previous people had were probably more likely to respect the barbed wire and stay where they were put. And too big to try to squeeze through between the wires.

Like many things on the farm, working with electric fencing is completely new to me (barbed wire isn’t, actually: I repaired pasture fencing while working for my adviser when I was an undergrad). But like many things on the farm, it just makes sense. The systems are pretty self-explanatory, and it seems once you get into the right frame of mind, things fit together the way they’re supposed to.

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I set the posts eight small paces apart, going up the hill toward the big pasture. This will be a small paddock, and it is surrounded by our other fenced fields, in case something goes wrong. I pulled the twine through the top set of loops, and realized that the yellow poly was a great way to see if the fence-line was straight. So I corrected my post placement a little, as I strung the top strand. Looped the twine a couple of times to tighten it, and then started back down the hill. Each side of the fence is anchored to keep it tight: the near side to the barn wall and the far side to a post on the barbed wire fence (carefully, so as not to ground the twine).

There are five strands in all, and I used up about ¾ of the spool, which surprised me. The cool thing about electric fencing is that you don’t have to close the circuit. You can just end anywhere. The ANIMAL closes the circuit, by connecting the fence to the ground. This is what produces the shock – and it’s why it’s so important to drive ground stakes as the instructions specify. I didn’t, actually – I’m using the ground stakes from the previous installation. But if I don’t end up with the power I need on the fence, those old ground stakes are the most likely culprit. It’s on my longer-term to-do list…

The fence fired up when I plugged in the charger, with the classic tick-tick-tick. I tested the fence with a loop of grass, and it was working. But I thought I’d be on the safe side, so I mowed beneath the fence to minimize the grass-grounding along the way.

The fence was running when I brought the sheep back to the barn, and Bob made contact and yelped. Then he ran through it a few minutes later, in a bid to avoid going inside for the evening. But I think it would deter animals that aren’t in actual flight mode. We’ll see, I guess.

This morning I let the sheep saunter out the back door of the barn into their new paddock. They browsed calmly and I congratulated myself and went off to do some other chores. When I checked on them a while later, Bob and Bella had made their way into the back pasture (not Elsie, of course. She was right by my side all morning), where I didn’t really want them to be. Someday, but that field goes over the hill and continues an eight of a mile to the road. We want to walk before we run.

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The sheep squeezed between a couple of strands of barbed wire, at the back of the paddock. I found the spot easily, from the tufts of black and brown wool the two sheep left on the barbs of the fence. There’s a lot of good eating in the paddock I made for them, and cool shade under the evergreens, so I had hoped they’d stay there. But for whatever perverse reason, they disappeared. I don’t know whether they went into the woods or crossed the fields and took off through the neighbors’ yards for greener pastures. But they were gone.

I spent a fair amount of time today walking the property – part of the time with puppies and goat in tow, then they got tired and opted to stay on the porch. It’s possible the sheep are still closeby, even on the property. If they went into the woods and decided to hide, I’d have a hard time finding them with all the underbrush. Likewise in the stands of trees that separate the fields. The nursery rhyme phrase “leave them alone and they’ll come home” came to mind. But I was not holding my breath.

I think it’s interesting that the sheep escaped through barbed wire and not through the electric fence. But if we keep sheep at all (and I was leaning against it most of the afternoon), we’ll treat them as maximum security convicts. There’s a certain look Bob gave us that I won’t mistake again. It was a “you’re the predator and I’m the prey, and I know it” look. He was right of course. In the long run, he was destined for the stew-pot or sausage mill. But that would have been in a couple of years. As it is, he may be wolf-food within the next couple of days.

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Update: in the early evening, one of our neighbors from the development behind the farm came over to tell me she had a couple of sheep in her backyard and supposed they were ours. I was surprised and pleased – I guess there’s some truth to nursery rhymes. It took a little bit of creative herding to get the sheep back on our land and then out of the open fields and ultimately into the barn. The trick was, I herded them into the garage and then closed the door. The sheep, not knowing there was a backdoor, just stood there looking at me like, “Oh, shit.” While they were confused, I was able to grab Bob and guide him out the backdoor and over to the barn. Once in the barn they headed straight for their stall, and I rewarded them with some sweet feed. This procedure would not have worked on Elsie, of course, because she knows where all the doors are. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be needed for Elsie – which is something to think about when we’re planning for how many goats vs. sheep we want to keep…

Update

It’s midmorning and I’m sitting on the deck, catching up on getting my impressions down before I forget. A lot has happened in the last few days.

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First, we got a couple of sheep and a goat. The sheep (a ram and a ewe) are a mixture of Border Leicester, Karakul, and (I think) Shetland. They have nice open faces, and no personalities at all; but Steph says the fleeces will be good for felting, rugs, and heavy sweaters. Their names are Bob (Baahb) and Bella.

The goat is named Elsie Hatfield, and she has decided to be my constant companion. She’s a
Kinder, which is half Nubian, half Pygmy. Elsie was an orphan, so she was bottle-raised and got a LOT of attention as a baby. She is currently standing next to me, chewing cud. Sometimes she nibbles a bit at the flap of my pocket as if she’s trying to rob me or leans her head against me. Often, she’ll lay down at my feet, if I’m sitting in one place long enough. If I disappear she’ll call for me. When I’m in the house she stands patiently by the screen and waits. This is an improvement over the first day, when she’d bellow at the top of her lungs until Steph or I returned.

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Steph bought the animals from a local woman who singlehandedly runs a farm of two hundred fowl, a hundred sheep and goats, and I don’t know how many cattle (maybe a dozen). We’ll be getting a couple more goats and another ewe in September. Steph picked them up using the dog crate, and we originally put them in the old garden, which is overgrown with grass, weeds, raspberry canes and little birch trees after a couple summers of disuse. The idea was that the sheep would eat the grass and the goat would take down some of the weeds and saplings, to make it easier for me to till. And they’d leave behind a bit of fertilizer.

The plan worked well with the sheep, who contentedly work away at eating until it gets warm – then they lay down until it gets cool again (Very smart). But the goat managed to squeeze herself through the six inch openings in the garden fence, and escape. Luckily, she didn’t want to go far. She wanted to find us. Same thing happened when we put her in her pen in the barn, so we doubled the security and plugged the holes.


Henhouse roof

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With some much-appreciated help from Sofie (who’s going away to college in less than a week), I got the Suntuf roofing material installed on top of the henhouse. This is an experiment – I don’t know how this stuff will perform in a northern winter. But if it works it will provide lots of light and turn the henhouse into a much brighter and warmer place. I might even put some plants in there (above the nesting-boxes or on the rafters, where the birds won’t get them) until I have a greenhouse.

The Suntuf panels are eight foot by 26 inches, to allow for a two inch overlap. They are supposed to be mounted on special
plastic pieces that are molded to the correct shape, but the Home Depot had never heard of these. The “Pro” desk people checked one of their books and told me I could order them, but only by the case (of 100). so I opted for pine 1x2s instead. The panels themselves are fairly easy to install, except for the ridgecap, which in my opinion is the weak link of the system. It is not a trivial task, getting the top on evenly. I didn’t actually manage it, so there’s a little bit of waviness to the top of the building. But the roof is sealed, and that’s the main thing.

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Standing on the top rungs of a twelve foot stepladder took me some time to get used to. Toward the end of the day, I had stopped thinking about the height (except when I dropped a screw and watched it fall), which was good, because several times I had to get up over the panels and use two hands to steady the ridgecap so I could screw it down correctly. That meant releasing my death-grip on whatever joist was available. Sofie said afterward she couldn’t believe I didn’t fall, but I never felt like I was going to.

This henhouse was a learning experience for me. I’ve never built anything on that scale before, so about half the time I was just guessing. It looks like I guessed right, but time will tell. The chickens are growing fast – later this week I’ll probably start bringing them out to visit their new home, a couple of dozen at a time.

There are a few little details to finish yet. Cosmetic things like trim on the corners, and functional things like windows. But the building itself is pretty much complete. It even has a door that locks!

Been Busy! More Details Soon...

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Chicks!

Well, if it’s really a farm when you have animals you’re planning on eating, then we started farm life today. The first batch of chicks arrived today! I got a call from the Post Office midmorning, and drove down to the loading dock in the back where they were waiting in their box, peeping up a storm.

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We got four varieties: Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Jersey Giant, and Buff Orpington. I can’t tell the Jerseys from the Rocks — they both look like little penguins to me. They’re in a brooder I built in the garage, where the kids can go out and see them whenever they want. The kittens (who are living in the garage too until they’re a little older and the barn is ready) haven’t noticed them yet, despite a day of peeping. But just in case, there’s a wire lid on the breeder to keep the little guys safe. We lost a few in transit, but they’re guaranteed, so I imagine we’ll get credit for them. After some water and starter (which they really preferred to gro-gel) and a nap under the heat lamps, they’re looking bright-eyed and happy. A couple of the Reds have even caught flies already!

More details soon: in the meantime, here are a couple more photos:

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Barn Security

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Today we worked on basic barn security. I drove some stakes into the ground and Steph made an enclosure for sheep and goats with found materials. The gate panel in the photo was conveniently attached to the wall, so we used it as one side and used some heavy, quarter-inch wire panels for the front. I trenched out below the outside walls and put down some half-inch hardware wire to discourage rats and other pests. There was a doorway that was basically boarded up, that I thought might be useful for getting animals to the side pasture, so I made a bottom sill, and then attached the hardware cloth to it. I used stakes to keep most of the hardware wire down, and a little quikrete in holes and corners where the old wood was damaged. I suppose that’s cheating, but anything that helps keep out unwanted night visitors is good at this point.

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In the afternoon, I went back to the henhouse. I finished the back and started the front, with the help of a rented 12-foot stepladder. Since that’s rented, I’m going to try to get a lot of use out of it tomorrow too. We also rented an industrial strength bolt cutter, to deal with the quarter inch wire panels we’re using in the barn. It’s nice to have a well-stocked rental place nearby, since we’re new to the area and don’t know anyone we could borrow a ladder or a bolt-cutter from. And it’s great that there’s a lot of material left around from the previous owners’ projects, for us to scavenge and use. There’s a lot here to work with, which gives us a bit of a head-start. It’s not the coziest, most rustic looking barn, but it’ll do for now -- and Steph and the kids have spruced it up nicely so it looks much more inviting than it did. In any case, it needs to be ready. Animals are coming later this week!

Rest and Food Prep

So it’s Sunday morning again. Got up late (after the sunrise) and drank a couple of cups of coffee while playing with the kittens and puppies on the back porch. Then Steph and I came inside and did our Sunday morning chore, preparing a week’s worth of food for the two pups and three kittens (the old indoor cats prefer their dry cat food and an occasional can of tuna).

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The process is becoming a little more streamlined, now that we’ve done it a few times. The kitchen counter is a disassembly line. Whole chickens enter on one end and packaged meals exit the other. On the left, two two-packs of whole chicken, which we picked up again for 95 cents a pound at Walmart. I cut the birds on the board (with knives I’ve remembered to sharpen!), and Steph runs them through the machine. Along the way, there’s a loop, as the meat first gets cut into pieces that can be sent through the grinder, and then it all goes through twice. Then on the other end, they go into reusable plastic food storage containers.

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The rough grind takes less time than it takes me to cut up the four chickens. After two birds, Steph cleans out the auger of all the cartilage that piles up there, so I have a chance to catch up. Bone goes through just fine, but the cartilage gets hung up there and after a while sounds like knuckle-bones popping as the grinder turns. So we clear that out, and it doesn’t end up in the final mix of food (which is probably just as well, since I don’t think it adds a lot to the nutritional value of the food). We get two big bowls from four chickens, and next time we’ll clean the auger between each of those bowls as we’re feeding it through again, too. By the end of the second run-through, the grinder was slowing down a bit.

Working together, we managed to make the process fairly efficient. Steph was even able to catch about half the meat as it came out of the second grind, which decreased the amount that had to be packed from the bowl at the end, and also eliminated the need to reuse the bowls from the first grind. After about an hour and ten minutes, we had 29 meals for the freezer, and a little pile of fresh meat for today. Then came the deep-cleaning of the kitchen (because, after all, we’re talking about raw chicken bought at Walmart), complete with bleach on the countertops and floor. The meat goes into the chest freezer, and we’re good for another week!

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