Archive | November, 2012

Arduino Hydroponic Goodness

28 Nov

It’s been some time since I’ve revisited the Farm 2.0 idea around here. Trust me, the gears are still turning, but there’s a lot of other (higher priority) work to do around here for the time being.
For now, enjoy this video tour of an Arduino-automated Aquaponics setup in Oakland, California.

The best stuff is the indoor grow space: oodles of sensors all controlled by an arduino that tweets system updates out to the web!
Collecting solar power to light a grow lamp baffles me (leaves do it for free!) but it’s otherwise a really cool setup. Imagine that level of control in a full-sized hoop house.

Thanksgiving 2012

27 Nov

I’m just now digging out from my turkey-induced Thanksgiving coma.  It was quite a time here in Zumbrota, we had my whole family up from Missouri (or Colorado as the case may be) to celebrate.  It sure was good to see everyone and hang out for a few days.

But we did run into one real conundrum.  What to do with the 32 pound turkey that we raised?


We got a few turkey poults this past spring, and despite losing two of them, those little poults turned into full grown toms. Having never raised turkeys before, we weren’t exactly sure how long to let them grow before they were ready to butcher.  Turns out we let them get a little large.  After being plucked and cleaned we had a 32lb bird, and a “small” 29lb turkey.

Turns out that finding a roasting pan for a 30lb turkey is a bit of a problem.  Roasting-pan manufacturers are more inclined to offer models to accommodate the normal 15lb birds.  The biggest roasting pans we could find weren’t even going to come close to holding this behemoth.

Time for plan B.

Cut the turkey up like a chicken.


Half a turkey in each pan just fits!
We’ve got to keep on top of this turkey weighing situation next year, a 15lb bird will suit me just fine next time.
BTW, the turkey turned out delicious! Hope all your Thanksgivings went as well!

Chicken Feed Trials

20 Nov

When the chicks first arrived I was in a bit of a hurry.

I dropped by the local feed store and picked up a 50# bag of their chick starter and called it a day.  Only later, after setting the feed out for the chicks did I take the time to read the tag.  It’s a nice 18% protein starter, but it’s chock full of Aureomycin. Great, antibiotics are definitely something that I want to stay away from in animal feed.

So a few days later I called them up and asked if they had any unmedicated chick starter.  No dice.  Although they do have a 20% protein Duck and Goose starter that ought to work.
Sounds good to me.

I swung by and picked up 200# of unmedicated Duck and Goose starter for the chicks.  They’ve gone through two bags of the stuff, and only now have I bothered to thoroughly read the label.  Just the usual stuff, corn, soy, and…animal protein meal!  Yuck!  What kind of animal does that come from?  No telling, not good.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice…shame on…

Well, point is, you won’t fool me again.

I’m pretty disappointed with the selection from the local feed-store thus far, most all of their feed is from US Feeds in Iowa.  I still want to go back and double check to see if they have any other feed that would suit, but I’m not holding my breath or anything.  Too bad, because having reasonably priced feed only 2 miles from my front door is a darn convenient thing.

There is another feed store in Pine Island, about 5 miles away, and several in Rochester, a 25 mile drive. I already looked at a few places in Rochester, and while they have suitable feed, it’s more expensive at the locally-owned place, and I’m not that fond of patronizing big chains like Fleet Farm if I don’t have to.

The Barn

16 Nov

The Barn


So straight ahead we have the main door to the barn, a dutch-door wouldn’t you know? Up at the top-left you can see where the electrical service comes in. There are a couple loose wires up there that aren’t hooked up to anything. After further nosing around, it looks like those wires go to the chicken coop, and will need to be reconnected for the coop to have power.


From my best guesstimation, the barn is probably just as old as the house (1890) because they both have the same fieldstone foundations, at least in the oldest parts of each building.


The galvanized pipe sticking out of the wall used to be fed by the cisterns just uphill from the barn, that is until they were filled in. Oh well

A little further in, we run into this big old Fairbanks livestock scale. It’s just missing the main counterweight. If I can find that somewhere we can weigh all the cattle we want.


Turns out it’s not exactly a new model, this is a catalog from 1906.

Fairbanks Scale Catalog 1906

Then there’s this headgate. We initially thought it was a headgate for sheep or something. But after talking with the previous owner of the farm (who owned it from 1966-2004) He said it’s the headgate he used for his Charloais bulls. I really don’t want to know how anyone convinced a 2000lb Charloais bull to stick his head in this little thing.


Not much else inside the barn, a few dairy-cow turned horse stalls, but that’s about it.

Here’s the back corner of the barn. On the left you can see the doors that I replaced to the room that the brooder room. Every wall of the barn is either wood, stone or concrete block except for the South-West corner, which is tin.  Strange…


Just inside, a giant circular cutout is the tell-tale sign that there used to be a silo attached to the barn. When it was torn down, the new tin wall was erected to keep everything enclosed and whatnot.


Under the lean-to addition you can see what used to be the exterior wall of the dairy barn. Complete with the textured cinder-block walls and dutch-doors like any good Minnesota dairy barn should have.


On the uphill (North) side of the barn there is a nice big sliding door to the hayloft. Notice the sag in the roof?


It’s quite roomy in the hayloft. Plenty of room to store some hay. And judging from the number and size of the rafters and pillars underneath, it can probably support the weight of a tractor (maybe two).


Oh, and that sag in the roof? Yeah, that’ll happen when the sidewalls on either side of the door come off of their footings. That’s a good kind of problem to have. Easy to fix.


And last but not least is the newest addition to the barn is the Pole-barn style garage that was added on to the West side facing the house.


It’s got one regular garage door and one RV-sized garage door. We might be able to fit a tractor in the larger bay, but that’ll depend on the width of the tractor. Either way, it’s a nice building. It’s got a concrete slab floor and electricity, so it’ll make a nice shop.
While it does share part of the back wall with the barn it does not have a working door to go directly from the garage to the barn.


In the back corner there is this teensy little door, but they poured the concrete right up to the door, so it won’t open. And when I say teensy, I don’t mean it’s a 32″ door instead of a 36 incher. This thing is probably only 18″ wide, you’d probably have to walk through it sideways as to not scrape your shoulders on the doorframe.
And there is something else unique in the picture. This is the only electric panel on the farm that has actual circuit-breakers in it. Nice to know I don’t have to buy fuses for at least one panel.

November 1948

13 Nov

It got down to 13 degrees last night, so this morning I went out to the well house to check the temperature at the well head.  It was all fine, but I noticed something hanging on a nail in a dark corner as I was leaving.

It’s a Minnesota Breeders Co-Operator newsletter from November 1948.


This particular edition seems to be focused on promoting and selling dairy bull semen.  On the front are a few articles about the “cutting edge” practice of artificial insemination.

“Pioneers in artificial insemination gave this new phase of breeding its first breath back in the years 1940-1941-1942 when the ground work was laid for the Minnesota Valley Breeders Association at New Prague and Southern Minnesota Breeding Federation at Owatonna.”


The other eleven pages of the newsletter are filled with bull profiles.


I found the one at the top right to be particularly interesting.


Born December 5, 1939

Proven in St. Mary’s Hospital Farm herd at Rochester, Minn.  Richly Carnation bred.

lbs. Milk    % Test    Lbs. Fat

21 daughters average    13,630    3.4    461

19 daughters average    13,461    3.4    455

19 dams average    12,436    3.3    415

Difference    +995    +.1    +40

Sire: Rosehill Perfection Progress  728186.  A Proven Sire.

Dam: Pietertje Homestead Grahamholm 1673656

St. Mary’s Hospital, the largest of the hospitals that make up the Mayo Clinic, used to have it’s own farm with it’s own dairy herd? I’d never have guessed it by looking at it today.

View Larger Map

A little more digging turned up St. Mary’s Hospital in an old Holstein herd book.

And compare those milk production numbers to the current averages, over 21,000 lbs.

Hover Brooder Mod

11 Nov

A few weeks ago when I was getting ready for the new chicks I made them a nice little hover brooder.  I got the basic idea from Bruce King’s hover brooder, but mine’s only 3’x3′ because I was a bit short of a full sheet.

The hover brooder was working great until I went out to check on the chicks this evening.  The brooder was dark, and both bulbs were on the ground outside.  All the chicks were huddled together underneath.


It looks like the little buggers got feisty and decided it would be great fun to jump on top of the heat lamps. Natrually, the heat lamps are not designed to support roosting chicks, so they broke off at the base.


Fortunately, these bases were much easier to remove from their sockets than some I’ve dealt with lately.

To prevent any further chicken-stupidity I added one little modification to the brooder.  Two bits of hardware cloth now wrap around the bulb and socket to prevent any chicks from getting on top of the bulb.



Post-Election Day Goodies

10 Nov

Mercifully, election day has come and gone.  No more political ads on TV, no more incessant campaign coverage on the news. And there is one more awesome thing about the end of campaign season: truckloads of free campaign signs.


I’ve been calling tbe local campaign offices for both parties since the day after the election.  They take a few days to go collect all the signs from their supporters yards.  If the candidate won’t be running for re-election, or if the signs have the year printed on them, then the campaign has to throw the signs away.  Usually this means paying to dispose of them in the landfill or a recycling facility. When I called, they were more than happy to let me take all the signs I wanted for free. So this afternoon I headed into Rochester to pick up as many signs as they’d let me have.

As you may recall, this spring I built a prototype pastured poultry pen. The pen looked pretty nice to start with.

Broiler Pen

But after a month, and a few storms, it looked like it had seen better days.  The tarp that I’d used to cover the cattle-panel structure was about 3 years old and UV-damaged in a few places.  But even with a new tarp, securing it to the structure was a problem, as tarps are quite prone to ripping if you give them even a small hole to start with.


Add to that the fact that 3 cattle-panels and a suitable tarp are fairly expensive, and I was on the hunt for a better solution.  I quickly hit on the idea of using coroplast instead of a tarp to cover the structure. Coroplast is more rigid, very difficult to tear, and most varieties are fairly UV-resistant (more so because of the double-layered construction). I inquired about the price of new full-sized (4’x8′) sheets, but was taken aback by the price at $14 per sheet.

Today I made it home with about 70 quarter-sheets (2’x4′) of coroplast for free.  And they’re going to call me back (or possibly deliver) when they have more signs to get rid of!

That should be enough to keep me busy this winter making a new pastured poultry pen v2.0.

After visiting the Sullivan’s farm this summer I think I’ll try one with cattle panels and one with EMT conduit and see which one I like better.

Farm Store

8 Nov

Alrighty, I’ve got a strange one for you today. This is the future Farm Store, it’s the red building on the map near the house.


Now on the outside this appears to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill detached single-car garage.


But when you open the garage door things get strange in a hurry.


8′ ceilings, paint and wallpaper? Strange.
Trim & Baseboards? Stranger…
Hardwood floors & a picture hanging on the wall? What the heck is going on here?


Add to that the two small closet-sized rooms with shelving that are on the West side of the building.


Looks like some sort of secondary living space; like a mother-in-law unit with no plumbing. But it has recently been converted into another use: a dog kennel.


Someone cut a hole in the door, another hole in the wall and hastily erected two dog runs outside. That will all need to be ripped out.

Oh, and remember that first picture of the inside? You know, the one with the pallet of shingles and two rolls of roofing felt in the foreground? Yeah, turns out that’s not there by accident.
There’s a bit of a roof leak. Oh well, add one more to the list.


As soon as it’s cleaned up and has a new roof on it, it should make an ideal Farm Store. It’s close to the house, has plenty of room, wired for electricity for freezers and refrigerators. Plus I’m sure I can make one of those closet-rooms into a walk-in cooler. I’ve already got my eye on the back room for a farm office.

Horse Barn / Woodshed

5 Nov

So next up on the farm-buildings-tour is the Horse barn, which I’m going to be using as my woodshed.  On the map this is the green building that’s right next to the well house.


I initially referred to this building as the horse barn because it has quite a bit of horse manure under the lower awning, and there was, at one point, lots of tack and saddles stored inside.

This is probably the building that’s in the worst overall shape, or at least will be the hardest one to fix.  The roof is good (metal) and it has electricity, but the foundation and lots of the structure have seen better days.

I have reason to believe that the building was erected in July of 1941.  Don’t ask me how I know.


It’s got this nice big sliding door on the upper side, easy to back up and unload firewood. But you might notice that the wall is kicking out on the near corner, no longer square with the sliding door.


The first firewood that I stacked in the building was from right outside the front door. There was a tree that had grown up right next to the building so that you couldn’t even open the door all the way.


On the upper side the entire concrete foundation looks terrible. There are some huge 2-3″ cracks in the slab with lots of chunks of the slab heaved up out of place. According to the date inscribed in the concrete, it was poured in 1949.


The wooden floor is in equally bad shape.  I don’t walk on it for fear of falling through into the lower level.  Still, plenty of space for storing cords of firewood while they season.  Lord knows I’ve got enough junk trees to cut down to keep me in firewood for the next decade or so.


Anyway, here’s a view from the lower portion of the building.  There’s this awning, under which the horses hung out.


These horses were apparently cribbers, so anything they had access to looks like this.


There are two rooms on the lower level of the building, and besides being full of old boards and junk, they don’t look half bad.


Shockingly, the concrete even looks good from down here. The lower wall is kinda bowing out a little bit, but it’s not THAT bad…yet.  The power for the stock tank de-icer also comes from the lower part of this building, and it’s a bit of a mess.  The mess works, but it might get re-wired sooner or later.

So there it is in all it’s glory.

It’s a mess, but since I don’t really need it for anything, I’m not going to spend much time on it just yet.  It’ll do for keeping the firewood dry, and that’s good enough for now.

Well House

4 Nov

I’ve been trying to make a mental priority list of what needs to be done to get all the buildings on the farm whipped into shape.  Already it’s quite an undertaking.

Then it occurred to me that it might be nice to put up a “tour” of all the farm buildings.  If nothing else, it will be nice to look back in a few years and see how far we’ve come.

Since it’s already been a long day, I’ll start with the smallest building on the farm: the Well House, represented here in Orange.


The well house is a tiny (around 8′ x 8′) building located between the barn and the “horse barn.” As you may have already guessed,it houses the well.  That’s about it.  Nothing terribly exciting, but it sure is cute.


That is, until you get around to the back side.  Then you may notice that the roof is completely shot.  Shot to the point of not being there anymore in places.


Good thing it’s small.  I’ve got this tiny roof to learn on before I have to tackle larger roofing projects. It’s looking like I won’t even get to it this winter, but I’m sure going to get a tarp over the roof before it starts snowing.  Want to know why?  Just look inside.


That’s right!  Roof leaking around lots of electrical wiring.  Not just any wiring either, the wiring that supplies the well with power and us with potable water.  This project just got bumped up the list…

Nothing much going on inside the well house, just this plywood box-looking thingie on the floor.  Pop open the top of the box, and voila!  There’s the well.  And a bunch of insulation.  And hey! What’s that 250 watt heat lamp doing there?


Apparently there have been issues with the whole wellhead freezing up, hence the heat lamp, and the old 500w halogen worklight down in the bottom of the well pit.  250w seemed excessive to me, so I switched it for a 125w heat lamp and lowered it into the well pit. I’m betting on my physics that heat will rise…  I’ll monitor the temperatures in there once the real cold weather arrives.  I don’t want to waste any more electricity than neccessary, but I sure don’t want frozen pipes either!

Other than all that there’s not much to tell about the tiny little building.  It needs a new door (what building around here doesn’t?) and needs to be slid back squarely on to it’s foundation.  Again, good thing it’s so small.