Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chicken Tractor 1: The Coop

If you are fairly computer literate and want to design something, the I recommend downloading Google SketchUp. There is a learning curve for the program, but they have videos to help you with that. This will help by allowing you to see what you are putting together before you commit materials. I used it to generate a parts list as well. The drawing is not complete, but it's complete enough for what I need it for. Converting a pile of lumber into a chicken tractor with this picture as a guide would not have been too difficult if that was all I had to deal with.

The doors open wide and at 4 feet deep, it will be easy to clean.

I was hit in the lungs by some virus so hard that by day 2 I was wondering if I needed to go to the hospital. After a week I was not ill anymore, but my lungs itched and I continued to be short of breath and cough for a full month. In addition to this, our unusually dry and warm winter turned into a record breaking wet spring. While the chicks were ready to leave the brooder at 3 weeks, they had to spend an extra week in the brooder while I continued to build.

A sliding door between the coop and chicken run allows chicken control.

I put a 2x3 piece of plywood in the front right corner to put their food and water on. Some of my available information said that chicks don't do well on the 1/4 inch wire mesh floor, so I tacked a 4x4 piece of plywood over the left side of the floor with two screws.
I was unsure whether the chickens could reach the roost, so I added a lower second one.

The openings in the doors are for nest boxes. The triangles on either side are for storage.

I ripped 2x4s in half for 2x2 purlins to hook the roofing to. I used old sheets of galvanized roofing on the roof.

On the last day they were in the brooder, I forgot to open the windows on the car until near 11 AM and nearly cooked them. Finally late that day we moved them from the now over crowded brooder to the coop. Somehow I have managed to not loose a single chicken.

I printed off a chicken silhouette I found on the internet and cut the shape out for a decorative window.

This relieved the crowding problem for a time, but I was left with a feeding problem. They were consuming and loosing through the floor an entire bag of feed every couple of weeks. Manure build up in side the coop was also an issue I could do nothing about, because I had nowhere for the chickens to go. I had to get the chicken run done.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Tshimakain Herald

I am starting a new endeavor I call The Tshimakain Herald. It is similar to many of the newspapers of a hundred years ago that would often be one man shows own and operated by someone with no journalism education or experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Farm versus Land

The key difference between having a farm, instead of merely land, is that a farm grows something useful. Since we are not so much farmers as engineers with land, we have not really done much to make the place a farm. I am taking steps to remedy this. The # 1 issue limiter is climate. While the land looks lush, we only get about 20 inches of precipitation a year. Worse, the wet moths are November, December, and the remaining winter months. Summer time only sees about 2+1/2 inches. The temperature in turn varies across the year from 100F or hotter to -20F or colder. Some years we don't get a full 90 days between killing frosts. This limits the wild vegetation to sparse weeds. After some consideration I have come to the conclusion that the animal most likely to survive on this ground are chickens.

The smart thing for me to have done is to go to Polyface Inc. and bought and read their book Pastured Poultry Profits before I made any plans. Instead, the first thing I did was order some chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Actually no, I did some research on chicken breeds and their attributes. I figured the biggest challenge would be the cold, so I ordered Jersey Black Giants, which also happen to be the worlds largest chicken breed. I really should have built the brooder first, but lacking time and materials, I ended up converting the back of this old Subaru station wagon into a brooder. I cut a slot in the top of the brooder for the thermometer so it could be read from outside.
I Following the advice in the early chapters of the book, I put an inch of sawdust on the floor to absorb the ammonia from the bird droppings. This worked very well. I bought a cheap $20 thermostat and hooked up four light bulbs to it. I had to trim off a plastic stopper inside the thermostat to get it to go up to 95F, but other wise this also worked well. The temperature varied by 10F, but this caused no problems. I rounded up a mismatched pair of metal hopper feeders we had and attached them to the wall with a single screw. They also have a piece of 1/2 inch plastic water pipe attached across the middle of the feeding tray to prevent the chickens from scratching too much of their food out. A pair of water trays that screw onto mason jars fit in nicely. It was all ready for the chickens not a moment too soon.

A phone call at 7:30 AM from the post office announced the arrival of my chicks. All 26 of my ordered chicks plus one free rare chick arrived alive in their cardboard box. This is when I began to figure out that a car is the worst place ever to brood chickens. Solar heating will push the internal temperature of the car well over 100F in a big hurry. Opening the windows fixes that but the cats found the chicks in short order. they didn't get any, but I had to install a wire screen above the back seat of the car to keep the cats out. At the same time a layer of fine dust covered every surface of the car's interior. I'm not entirely sure whether the smell will come out either. I will not be using a car as a brooder again if I can help it.

According to the very helpful graph in the book, I began turning the thermostat down 2.5 degrees a day beginning on their fourth day here. After they were 2 weeks old, I turned the thermostat down 5 degrees each day. All the while I was building the chicken house. Hoo boy. That is a story all it's own. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weather Cycles

The weather has been cycling between 1 to 3 inches of snow, to warm enough to melt and saturate the ground, to freeze hard. It's cycled 3 times now. The ground is highly saturated and frozen solid like a brick. We are starting a week that is supposed to have highs around 40F. This has already resulted in a lot of water that has nowhere to go. I'm considering building a bridge in the low spot in my driveway. I could just put in a culvert, but that is boring.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Economic Planning While Under a Failing Economic System

There are a lot of talking heads telling you where the economy is going these days. Many will listen to the ones telling them what they want to hear. If you want something else, if you want someone that has no vested interest in your liking what he has to say, no monetary incentive to lie, and a reasonably good track record, I believe the guy over at Vision Victory has a better grasp on what's going on than anything any of the network TV news has to say. The essence is: The economy is screwed. Don't make money based plans for more than about 10 to 15 years, because the value of US dollar will have tanked by then and enough economic chaos and change will have happened by then that you'll have to make new plans based on whatever economic system reconstitutes after the crash.

He and I share similar plans for the next 10 to 15 years, but there are differences. Here would be my recommended plan by order of importance:

#1: God. Religion is a controversial subject. Many don't believe in God. Regardless of this, I will unapologetically tell you that if you don't have Him on your side, every other thing you are doing is futile. Getting him on your side requires that you do your own homework. Don't assume that conventional wisdom is going to get the job done.

#2: Skills. Develop skill sets that make you a vital organ to society. Luxury items and skills intrinsic to them are the first to become useless.

#3: Basics. Warm Dry Shelter. Clean Water. Food. Work toward obtaining a low maintenance, energy efficient house on two to five acres of land that can be developed in to farm land. Learn to farm. Learn to harvest wild foods. If you can grow food, if you can walk into the wild and find shelter, water, and food with your bare hands or with simple tools, you will have an edge over the vast majority of people that in habit the US today. It's a simple skill you can develop now that nobody else is learning.

#4: Tools. Tools for building, tools for fixing, tools for your skill sets, these are obvious. Guns and knives may not be obvious to you. They are usually seen as weapon, not tools. While they can be weapons, and some are good for little else, the type of gun or knife you buy makes a difference. If you buy an assault riffle and a sword, you are pretty mush stuck with them being weapons. A K-bar and shotgun, on the other hand, are much better suited to being tools. There are a number of things that can be made with just a good hunting/ camping knife, and a shotgun can be used for both hunting and for shooting animals that would eat your livestock or crops. Think utilitarian, not commando and become familiar with your tools.

#5: People. Surround yourself with level headed like minded people that are pursuing a similar plan that can be trusted. The hive effect is a very potent force to be reckoned with. Make it work for you, not against you.

#6: Stockpile. A stockpile of food, water, ammunition, and other consumables is impervious to inflation, but not time, so don't go crazy. Ask yourself: What are the chances of you having to move it without a car? Will it rot before you can use it? Can you stand eating the food you are stocking? Is their enough variety in your stockpile to keep you healthy? Can the ammunition be used to do what you need it to do? More than a year's supply is probably excessive. After a year, you really need to have a developed an income strategy that doesn't rely on your stockpile. If you haven't, you are in a type of trouble no stockpile in the world is big enough to fix.

#7: Investing. So, you you have a small farm with a reliable well that is paid off. It has an energy efficient house on it that can operate off the electrical grid. You have it packed with a variety of canned foods. Enough to last you and your family for a year. You have a couple of utilitarian guns and you practice with them weekly. Yet you still have income you wish to invest. What do you do with it? Gold and silver are (mostly) inert minerals. As such, their long term real value is reasonably stable just like the ground is reasonably stable. The reason the price of gold has been rising for years is because the dollar has been loosing its real value to inflation. Gold and silver have had a significant value for several thousands of years. The bad news is that in a very small, primitive, crisis economy, gold and silver is frequently valueless for the obvious reasons. You can't eat it, you can't burn it, they're just an inert minerals. Energy on the other hand is always useful, though stored energy is more difficult to store and move. The nature of the stored energy you invest will matter a great deal in a crashed economy. Flammable gases require special containers and special equipment to store and use. Liquid fuels are more stable, but still require containers and some, like gasoline, have additives that will separate and foul the fuel, but with some effort they can still be used in machinery. Solid fuels don't serve well in machinery, but are the most stable and the easiest to store and use. Fire wood must be kept dry or it will rot. Coal it hated by environmentalists, but it is probably the most perfect fuel to stockpile. It is impervious to everything but fire, it won't leak or rot if you just dump it on the ground or bury it in a hole. It will sit around a wait for you longer than you will ever need it too. Governments and thieves will break in and steal gold and silver, but when was the last time you ever heard of someone breaking in and stealing coal? Sure it happens, but it's a much more difficult and desperate act. You will need a place to store it all though, and the amount of space it will take per dollar of investment will be much larger than gold or silver, and reconverting coal into cash could be an unreliable process. Moving your stockpile will be harder as well. Still, I would be far more comfortable stockpiling coal than gold.

First Snow and the Were-Llama Flu

The first snow has arrived today. It's not catastrophic, but it is on the early side and it's sticking. Snow tires aren't legal for another 3 days. Fortunately the snow is supposed to turn to rain by tonight. I'll be staying to let people re-learn how to drive in the snow. Still, I predict that El Nino will make this a warm and dry winter.

The flu has hit here again, but after 2 weeks, I think I may be getting better. I'm dubbing it the Were-Llama Flu.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Ugly Sumer of 2009

Well it's become apparent that finances will not allow me to build even the foundation of my house this year. It just as well though, as I have decided to re-engineer the foundation to do double duty. I'll write more about that later.

The good news is my new business has be gun to transform holes in the ground into swimming pools. If it continues to bring me some work, then I may just have the money to lay that foundation come Spring. In the mean time, I will begin sharing images and tips on how we have built the current straw bale buildings and other useful projects we have going on.