Thursday, May 29, 2008

28 days out of warranty

our "show" husqvarna tiller failed catastrophically. i was remiss to not blog about it but we were so ruined that i was scared to confront the reality of not having it. we bought it just over two years ago and it was twice as much as we could afford at the time. we did it anyway justifying the purchase "it is a longterm purchase." we bought it from a reputable company not a big box store.

i must say it was magic what this thing could do with hellish ozarks soil. it would tear rocks from the ground that wouldn't fit in a five gallon bucket. i admit that i worked this thing beyond any realistic expectations. tearing roots and rocks from virgin ozarks soil is no easy task and this thing did it time and time again only asking for a little bit of petrol and a dry place to live.

when i took it back for an autopsy i plead with anyone that would listen. "we live from our garden." "we must have this tiller." "anything that can be done for it must be covered by warranty" it was twenty days too late, they would say. after spending a few hours there pleading my case over and over they finally let me talk to the manager of the repair department. i gave him my best plea ever. he said, "he'd do what he could do."

i thanked him and slinked from sight with tristan in tow. i'm sure his sad eyes shored my story. i called two days later and asked if they knew anything yet. mark said he'd call me. i felt chastised. that was two weeks ago.

today mark called, personally. he said that he got them to cover the entire repair under warranty.


we are so blessed.

husqvarna really came through for us. mark at race brothers is the man. i sing an ode to them both if i could sing. the best i can do is to recommend them both as highly as my status allows. they are of yesteryear stock. the disposable economy we currently live has so few companies of this stature that it is a pleasant surprise to do business with them.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

spring growth

jerusalem artichokes are growing like crazy.

chard, broccoli and cabbage

cucumbers and squash

tomatoes coming to the front

tabitha's hive just waking up. we will put the new hive bottoms on very soon.

this is the "not-lot". i brush hogged it and we set up a perimeter electric fence for the cows to graze in down. most of the electric fence isn't really shown. it is just a two strand step in style. the cows really appreciate it.

the asparagus let to grow out. we'll need to weed, amend and mulch it today.

the peach tree is very happy here.

peaches are so tasty

one of the kittens

hermoine is teaching them to be real farm cats. they are already hunting and fighting over the carcass of the moles and stuff.


did you say hello?

happy chickens make good eats.

boca is back. we are going to feed her out and eat her. boca burgers;)

rory is officially pregnant with a show-bull semen. hooray

nimue is due in september

Friday, May 23, 2008

farm photos

Kids picking a dinner salad

the bounty

i love kittens but i love them even more now that they are outside kittens.

kassi is the great flower hunter. she stalks the place for every bloom within reach.

pole bean arches with double tomato rows behind.

for those of you who were paying attention, no this layout doesn't follow my detailed plan of winter dreams.

cucumbers, squash and summer squash



toly loves kitties

the tomato cages look like they need razor wire


i added photos to the chicken tractor post too.

i haven't been able to post since tabitha hurt her leg. there has been a real upset at the pile. her leg has been hemorrhaging into it's self. she has been trying to get as much rest as possible. sorry to say but blogging is the first thing to get cut from my schedule when things get covered up around here.

a storm is coming...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

how to build a chicken tractor cheap

A chicken tractor is basically an open-bottomed movable pen that houses chickens. We use our chicken tractors to raise meat birds (Cornish-X broilers). I have a few criteria for our tractor design. First, my pregnant wife must be able to move it easily. Second, it must hug the Ozarks' steep and rocky terrain. Last, it must endure for several years in the weather.

This chicken tractor (plans to follow) was years in the making. I perused several books, searched the internet high and low and consulted with my father-in-law. The final result is simple and elegant. The thing that makes it elegant is that it is light and easy to manage.

My six year old son can move it easily, feed and water them for the day with just one visit. Being based on electrical conduit was my father-in-law's idea and the cornerstone of this tractor. Electrical conduit -also called EMT (Electrical Metallic Tubing)- is inexpensive. This chicken tractor uses 1/2" EMT and cost us around $100. EMT is galvanized and should last for upwards of ten years in the caustic chicken raising environment. People have asked me why I don't use PVC pipe. It won't hold up in the direct sun, it is heavier and isn't as strong as EMT. I also considered pressure treated wood but rejected it because it is treated with poison and chickens will try to eat anything. I don't want to eat pressure treated wood even once removed.

The dimensions of our chicken tractor are 8' by 10' by 2' high. These dimensions are to optimize the materials--EMT comes in 10' lengths. Normal chicken wire comes in 4' widths and hardware wire mesh comes 2' wide. This size also fits through our farm gates and maneuvers through our small paddocks easily. People have made narrower versions of this tractor with great success.

Some of what our tractor is made from is found materials; I collect stuff. We live fairly near an attraction that supports plenty of billboards. Billboard tarp is a godsend. We use it everywhere and it is almost free. Chickens need shelter from the hot sun and rain. Billboard tarp is our answer. You'll need to find a similar solution. Lumberyards usually have surplus lumber tarp.

The poultry fountain and feeder are both items that I spent a lot of effort optimizing. I built the hopper-style feeder from found parts. That is a topic for another day. The poultry fountain is commercially available but needs simple plumbing to make it really useful for an uneven terrain chicken tractor.

The tractor parts list
  1. 13 pieces of 1/2" electrical conduit EMT
  2. 8 pull able 90°s for the 1/2" EMT
  3. 100' of 12 to 16 gauge galvanized steel wire.
  4. 37' of 1/2" squares hardware wire cloth
  5. 21' of 48" wide standard chicken wire (the smaller holes)
  6. 30" length of steel roofing 30" by 3'
  7. 98" length of 1" EMT the axle bushing
  8. 2 wheels with axle extending one foot out one side of each wheel
  9. a handful of 1-1/2" self tapping metal screws I like the kind that have a 5/16 nut driver head.
  10. tarp UV stable 5' by 8' or larger. has to be a rip stop type of material.

tools list
  1. flat head screw driver
  2. hack saw
  3. linesman pliers
  4. variable speed electric drill
  5. drill bit sized to pre-drill for the outside diameter of your metal screws. just a little bigger than your screws.
  6. magnetic 5/16" nut driver bit to fit your drill
  7. 1/2" EMT pipe bender
  8. six year old helper optional

The concept of this tractor is to be flexible and light weight. It needs to follow the contour of the terrain. That is why 1/2" EMT is better than any larger size.

The first step is to take apart the EMT 90°s. Save all the plates and screws, you'll need them later. This is a good job for a six year old. Then, drill out a hole in the exact center of each removed plate from the 90°s.

Cut eight of your ten foot lengths of EMT, two feet off each one. You should end up with eight 2' pieces and eight 8' pieces of EMT. Assemble two rectangles 8' by 10' using the EMT and pullable 90°s. This is also a good job for a 6 year old. Hand tighten each corner firmly--you'd better double check your helper.

Especially since he was only five in this photo.

Mark four of your 2' pieces of EMT in the exact same spot at both ends. You can do this by holding the EMT firmly on a flat surface and marking the top. This step helps keep things lined up. Attach one removed plate to each end of all four pieces of 2' EMT (the corners). They should be 1/2" away from the ends. The self tapping screw can drill right through the EMT without pre-drilling. I put the little escutcheon of the plate facing the head of the screw. Just make them all look the same.

Reassemble the plates (corners) to the 90°s this forms the box shape of the tractor. Five gallon buckets are helpful to keep the other three corners off the ground when first starting.

Cut one inch off the four remaining 2' pieces of EMT (the side supports are 23" long). Make four more side support pieces from the remaining 10' piece of EMT.

Let the drilling begin. Mark and drill holes on every end of each piece of remaining EMT minus one of the 8' pieces. these must all be drilled on the same plane so be sure to use the marking method described earlier. The holes should be large enough that a piece of your 12 gauge galvanized wire fits easily through. Pieces to be drilled should include:
  1. one 10' piece
  2. three 8' pieces
  3. eight 23" pieces
Wire this baby together. The 10' piece gets wired to bisect the top first. Wire it by threading the wire through the hole and wrapping the other pipe and twisting them tight. It is clunky at first but you'll get really good at it. Each wired spot should make a perfect "T". Wire the three 8' cross supports above the 10' on the top at 30", 60" & 90" respectively. Make everything parallel to the edges. Wire the the cross over points together too--wrap twist snip twist some more.

The center needs a support in case any kids or dogs decide to climb on top of it. I bent the remaining piece of eight foot EMT 90° and held it to an edge and cut the tails off. The tails make good handles. Then I wired it to the center support like a swing using the wiring method above. When the tractor is moved it slips around obstacles and rights itself at final resting place to act as support (see second photo below).

Wind protection
Cut the tarp into strips 2x(8' by 30") or one long strip 16' by 30". Choose an end of the coop to have the door and all the heavy stuff. Wrap this end with the tarp leaving the extra width on the bottom to act as a skirt when moving it. The wind break/skirt should cover the entire door end and wrap evenly along the sides. Wire this in several places to the top and bottom. Slightly thinner gauge wire can be used for the tarp covering if you have it.

Wire the hardwire/hardware cloth to the perimeter, overlapping any joints. Wire this securely every foot or so and doubly at the corners. This is your main defense so don't cut any corners here because regular chicken wire won't defend against raccoons.

The top
Stretch and cut the chicken wire to the top. Leave a rectangle on the door end open for the door. Wrap a little extra length around the EMT at the perimeter ends and door. The wire should join at the center cross support. Wire it together and to the 10' cross support frequently--every 6 to 10 inches.

The door

I use a piece of steel roofing material for the door. Hinges are made of wire.

The door, feeder and water should all be on one end--the heavy end. I have a set of small wheels with axles from a kids bicycle trailer. I wired a piece of one inch conduit in such a way to receive the wheels.

I lift each corner by wire handles and slip the wheels on.

If you don't have extremely heavy gauge wire for handles you can thread a stub of EMT less than 12 inches long. This photo shows a threaded bent handle at the move-around end.

Once the wheels are on the entire thing moves around like a wheelbarrow. The chickens follow along and are happy to dig-in to the newly exposed area. It is amazingly light, anyone can move it, even a six year old. This feature is surprisingly important since during the last few weeks of occupancy it is best if you move them twice per day. I find that if I have to muster my courage to attempt farm chores they easily slip to the back burner until just shy of too late. We raise twenty five broilers twice per year per chicken tractor--we have two of them.

The wonders, benefits and sustainability of chicken tractors are the subject of a few books. Here are a couple of them.
Pastured Poultry
Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil

Thursday, May 15, 2008

due to popular demand

i am going to try to compile a parts list and instructions for a chicken tractor. admittedly i should give something back to the internet from whence much of my invaluable homesteading education stems.

today i have to go get our tiller fixed (three week wait), pick up our bulk food order, run tons of other errands and take tristan to the dentest (the final visit). maybe i'll try to start the "how to build a chicken tractor cheap" post this evening

Saturday, May 10, 2008

whew, compost sorted

having emptied my compost bin into the garden to amend the soil for the tomatoes left work to be done. while tabitha was milking i paxied* toly. we went trough the clover field--previously known as the wishº field--previously the cows only pasture. i took the covers off the three stage-one bins and sized up our task.

the contents of the three bins were very different. one was obviously comprised of large whole cow pies. two was made of a finely broken up mix of cow pies and straw--from the loafing shed foor. the third was large cow pies and lots of straw. their respective states of compost was also different. the large cow pies were the least composted. where it was composted it was wet and hot--steamy. the finely broken matter bin was almost finished composting. the third was also very composted but only in the center of the bin. the composted matter was white hot and probably would have burned my hand had i touched it.

i forked all three bins into the center (big one). i did my best to blend the three evenly and break all large cow pies into small chunks. finally i had to get toly off my back because the full silage fork was heavy enough. kassi came out to the field to play so toly could be entertained somewhere besides my back. then the chickens descended upon me. they wanted into the long neglected bins to eat the bugs and larvae. at every rest break they would go crazy on all four piles. the bin that was mostly cow pies had the most larvae in it.

i took several breaks to give the chickens a chance to rid the bin of as many bugs as possible. lots of bugs makes rich and tasty eggs. i am not sure what the chickens think of me. they hang underfoot while i'm working on the compost and splitting wood but flee from like crazy the rest of the time. maybe it is because i chase them down until exhaustion and toss them out of the garden whenever they manage to trespass there.

tabitha weeded the beets--sorely needed. toly and kassi almost made it the entire two hours it took for me to combine bins. somehow toly managed to climb the orange gate and break into the garden. stomping freshly planted tomatoes was the first order of business--he only got a couple.

i covered the center bin in preparation for the impending storm. rain and compost bins don't mix. i've had it happen in the past--a huge festering mess.

as i forked and forked i imagined an aeration solution. if i were to bury several pieces of pvc pipe with holes in them exposing the ends to the outside, would that do the trick? i have some old drainage pipe that would work perfectly. next time i fill a bin i'll have some pieces of pvc ready. has anyone heard of anything like this? mostly i'd like to cut out the need to turn the compost more than once--or not at all.

this bin should really get cooking over the next few days. i wonder if tabitha would mind if i were to swipe her show kitchen thermometer. it has a probe on a cord that could sense the temperatures deep in the bin. maybe i should get my own "dirty" thermometer.

* (put toly in the ergo-back-back carrier)
º (dandelions gone to seed are wishes)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

the tomatoes are in

or, it is too late to plant tomatoes. the handle on the tiller started to crack. i took it apart and brought it to work with me. after much calling and asking advice i ended up with someone from the phone book. he was great and fixed it straight away. i only had twenty dollars and he accepted it and a promise of some tomatoes since he was instrumental in their planting.

tabitha planted while i prepared the soil and ran interference for the kids.

this is our sweet potato planting. we used the mowed winter wheat clippings from the tomato rows.

the kids managed to keep themselves busy.

our newly sewn clover is coming up really nicely in the resting pasture. the cows are out on the new pasture until this gets a chance to grow a bit.

here is my empty compost bin.

here they all are. the three outer ones are going to get turned into the center larger one very soon. my composting collecting endeavors have all but halted since the cows are fertilizing the new paddock. the chickens have been scattering their manure most efficiently.

this is the new chicken tractor hunkered down for the coming rains--that are conveniently timed to water our newly planted tomatoes.

beets beets and more beets. yum we love beets.

pretty little leafy greens and onions in a row.

cabbages and broccoli.

here is the swiss chard--our staple leafy green.

here is the newest hive. it has a second swarm combined with it. if you look closely you can see a light green debris at the front door. it is the news paper that separated the two groups of bees during their combining.

this is our elderberry tree. tabitha planted two smaller ones just around her. she, the tree, protects our house. the trash can is my attempt at a temporary rain barrel. the rock beds have dead wisteria and trumpet vine. we'll try again as soon as time allows.

these are our lovely jerusalem artichokes from tansy. i can't wait until we see how they produce here. we loved having them for dinner at her house.

i secretly stole away to the berry patch.

so tasty.

these are the tomatillos from sugar mountain.
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