Archive | February, 2013


26 Feb

My little baby chicks are growing up!

One of the Rhode Island Red roosters has started to really feel his oats.  He’s earned the name “Cocky.” That’s him in the background.

Cocky has started to defend his territory from intruders, such as my boot.

Not me, just my boot.

And yesterday, he learned to crow.

So with a crowing rooster, laying hens can’t be far behind.

It was time to build a nest box.


I made this 8-hole front-rollout nest box, based loosely on these plans.
I didn’t really change much, I just made it a bit simpler with fewer small cuts.

The bottom of each nest is removable for cleaning, and the bottom and roll-out portion are all covered in cut-up bits of a $10 moving blanket as not to crack any eggs as they roll out.


And, of course, there’s an egg door at the front to collect all those eggs that I’ll hopefully start getting any week now.
I still need to make some roosting-bars so the chickens can get in the nest-boxes better. Hopefully I can make some fold-up ones so the chickens can’t sleep in the boxes at night.



Oh, and here’s a gratuitous baby picture.


Chicken Mega-Waterer v1.2

24 Feb

So I’ve had the Chicken Mega-Waterer up and running for the past two weeks, and as I feared, a problem arose.

It turns out that with the nipple-waters at a 90° angle, there isn’t enough water pressure to keep the nipple “shut” when the water level gets low.  I filled the barrel up with about 40 gallons of water, and everything went great.  That is, until the water level dropped to 15 gallons.

With 15 gallons in the barrel there just isn’t enough water pressure to shut the valves after the chickens peck them open.  That means that once you dip below 15 gallons, the rest of the water leaks out from every nipple ’til there’s nothing left.  Water everywhere.  Not good.

So, say hi to the chicken mega-waterer v1.2.


Starting with a fresh barrel (don’t worry Tim, the old one is getting recycled into a feed-barrel).
The only difference is that I put the nipples in at a 45° angle around the bottom edge of the barrel. Same measurements, same hole size, pipe dope, easy.


The only problem is that you have to make a special stand to put the barrel on so that all the nipples are accessable.


It’s not too hard, just a 21″ circle cut out of some 1/2″ pressure-treated plywood, resting on top of some 4″x4″ legs to get it up to chicken height.


The chickens were happy to have their mega-waterer back, and it didn’t leak at all, even with only 5 gallons in the barrel.  At a 45° angle, the nipples have the weight of the internal rod/valve and all the water pressure to keep them closed.  Much better.

UPDATE: see Chicken Mega-Waterer v1.3 for the most recent version.

First Seeds of 2013

12 Feb

I have no idea how this new climate zone is going to work out in Minnesota.  We’d pretty much figured Missouri out, and then we went and moved up here to Zone 4b.

From our roadtrips up here last year, we figured that the weather is a full month behind in the spring & summer.  Since we’d normally start our seeds in mid January in Missouri, I figure that mid-February ought to be about right for Minnesota.


So out come the seed trays, peat discs and boxes of seed. I even had a helper, as my mom (heretofore referred to as Big Cathy) was up to visit.

We mainly started our hot-weather plants, tomatoes and peppers, with a few brassicas thrown in for good measure.  We’re not really focusing on growing vegetables for market, we’re just trying to keep ourselves fed.  If most of what we started germinates then we’ll be in big trouble.


We’ve got 1 tray of Cal-Wonder bell peppers, 1 tray of Amish paste tomatoes, 1.5 trays of Cherokee purple tomatoes, and 0.5 tray of a few other tomato varieties.  Figure 50-60 starts per tray, and we run the risk of being overrun by tomatoes if all goes well.
If we have too many extra tomatoes we can sell them, though I hate to take them to a farmers market. It seems that every summer there is a glut of tomatoes at the farmers markets, to the extent that the farmers who rely on vegetable production for their income really can’t make any money off of tomatoes.  Often there are a lot of “weekend warrior” veggie growers (which could include us) who are selling off their excess at below the actual cost of production.  Hard to compete with that.

Maybe we’ll just sell them from the farm store, or just sell the ugly ones as canners.
And in the worst case, I’m sure the pigs would love to dispose of some tomatoes.

Anyhow, back to seeds, we haven’t had much luck germinating pepper seeds in the past. Peppers especially need to be warm when they’re germinating. I’ve been wanting to make a heated seed-starting mat, but haven’t got around to it.

But I came up with a pretty good spot to germinate the seeds anyway.


The tomatoes and peppers are all hanging out by the windows above the living room. We keep the woodstove going during the day, keeping it at a toasty 80°F or so.
I doubt they built the shelves for starting seeds, but it’s about perfect for that purpose.

Now it’s just a small matter of getting the garden ready. Just a bunch of tilling, hoeing, amending the soil…
And figuring out what to do with all the greenhouse film that the UPS guy is going to be delivering in a few days.

Chicken Mega-Waterer

9 Feb

I’ve been using Little Giant double-wall poultry founts for several years.  They’re the best commercially-available founts that I’ve found so far, but they leave a lot to be desired.  The double-wall founts are durable, large-ish capacity (2, 5, and 8 gallon varieties) and have the ability to be used with a heated base to keep them from freezing up in the winter.   I’ve been using a 5 gallon fount with a heated base all winter, and I’m getting tired of it.


Chickens are absolute masters at finding creative ways to poop in their own water, which they do quite easily with the double-wall founts.  That big lip on the bottom must make an awfully inviting chicken-poop target because they seem to hit it with some regularity.  Getting the fount off the ground helps, but you can’t hang the bigger 5 and 8 gallon founts by the handle, per the manufacturers stern warnings.

Plus, at this point, I’m refilling the 5 gallon fount every day.  Our 55 or so chickens totally drain it when it gets cold, which makes the heated base not work so well.


To it’s credit, the heated base is only rated to keep the thing thawed to 10° which is pretty accurate if you keep the fount full of water.
However, here in Minnesota we’ve got our share of days that don’t see a high temperature of ten. On the coldest days I’ve been out trying to defrost the thing with a propane torch enough to get it open so I can refill it.  That’s easier said than done, especially at -10° when my propane torch quits working due to the cold.

Anyhow, this got me thinking about making a new mega-chicken-waterer.  I used some small nipple-waterers last summer with the broiler chickens with great success.  Chickens, in spite of all their pooping creativity, cannot figure out how to poop on one of these little things.  But what vessel to attach them to?


This 55 gallon plastic barrel ought to do quite nicely. You’ll want a food-grade barrel, you know, one that used to hold some sort of food product. This one used to have Anatto food coloring in it. Back in the day I got one that had caramel flavoring from a Quaker Oats rice-cake factory. It smelled purdy.

Then get yourself a few of these bad boys.


I got 10 of them for this particular waterer. They’re supposedly good for 10-12 birds each, so that should put me at a 100-120 bird capacity with this one waterer.

So there are already some handy rings around the barrel demarcating the volume. All that’s left to do is mark 10 evenly spaced holes to be drilled.


I measured the circumference of the barrel with a string, then measured the string: 71 inches. 71/10=7.1
So if we make a mark every 7 1/8″ then we oughtta be pretty close to evenly spaced. An alcohol prep-pad totally takes off the permanent marker if you screw up like I did…

Anyhow, then you gotta drill some holes. Ten of them to be exact. You need a 11/32″ drill bit for the job. I know it’s a strange size, but don’t risk the leaking, just go get one.


Now it’s time to install those little dudes. Get them all doped up first.

Yes, pipe dope, a.k.a. Teflon pipe thread compound. It’s thick and pasty, it seals better and is generally a lot less of a pain in the butt to use than Teflon tape.

Now about getting all that water in there…
Let’s cut a big hole in the top, shall we?


That ought to help fill it up with water. But what about the freezing? That’s what stock-tank de-icers are for. I’ve got one for the pigs that I really like. It’s made by Farm Innovators and the guys at the local Co-op say they’re the bees-knees. They look well-built, and the pigs water has remained very liquid even when it’s -10° so I’d say they’ll probably work for the chickens as well.  The box claims that the 1500w heater will keep 50 gallons of water ice-free down to -20°.  That oughtta work.

To save some energy I wanted a cover for the top. Heat rises, and if I can at least insulate the top then it will cut down on the energy needed for the de-icer. I thought about making a lid out of 1/2″ plywood, but then I found this handy-sized trashcan lid just lying around.


With a few chunks of pink foamboard insulation under the lid, we ought to be in good shape. I’ll probably end up wrapping the barrel with insulation at some point like bubble-foil or just a water-heater blanket.


All that’s left to do is move it out to the barn, plug in the de-icer and start hauling buckets of water.

Lots of buckets of water…


I was a bit worried when I first started using the nipple-style waterers that the chickens wouldn’t figure them out. That’s never actually been a problem. They see the bright red nipples and their curiosity gets the best of them. The chickens actually seem to enjoy messing with the nipples, so much so that they waste a bit of water for the first few days, then the novelty wears off and they get on with their lives.


This is the first time I’ve used the nipples in a horizontal position. They don’t actually leak any water, but it seems that the chickens are wasting a little more because the water doesn’t “flow” down to the end of the plunger like it does when it’s all pointing down at the ground. I don’t want to have as much water wasted as there’s been in the past few days. It’s not enough to make any difference in how much I have to haul out to them, but it’s enough to wet the woodchips under the waterer. I’d like to keep the chips dry.

It may be a matter of raising the barrel up higher or it might call for a rebuild with another barrel, pointing the nipples down at a slight angle.

We’ll see how it goes.


UPDATE: see Chicken Mega-Waterer v1.2 for the most recent version.

Farm Paperwork 2

7 Feb

I got a big manilla envelope in the mail today from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.  Turns out they sent us our exempt processor certificate for eggs and on-farm poultry processing.



Now we’re A-OK to sell eggs (on and off farm) and farm-processed poultry (only sold directly on-farm).
Eggs: check!
Thanksgiving turkeys: check!

Still to go:
Mobile retail food handlers license
Retail food handlers license (Farm Store)
County building permits to remodel the Farm Store.

I’ve been talking/emailing our regional MDA inspector and have learned that there are some flatly ridiculous requirements that the MDA has for selling meat and eggs at a farmers market.

Eggs really aren’t that bad, at least compared to meat.  To sell eggs at a farmers market, you must candle and grade them, label them and sell them from a cooler with ice packs  (reasonable so far…)

BUT  If you’re going to have that cooler out for more than 4 hours total (and what farmers market isn’t more than 4 hours including transport time?)  then the MDA has decreed that you’ll need to have your eggs in a commercial refrigerator that is constantly plugged in, even during transport.

Apparently requiring that eggs be kept under 40°F just won’t cut the mustard around here.  After your arbitrary 4 hours are up it’s into Mr. Fridge with ya!


As I mentioned, meat is even worse.


First: there is something called a P-L Exemption for selling meat.  The P-L Exemption (as far as I can tell) allows you to sell meat at a farmers market without getting a Mobile Retail Food Handlers Permit.  The problem is that the P-L Exemption doesn’t apply to bacon or sausage (or similar multi-ingredient products) because not every single ingredient was produced on the farm.

Why does the provenance of the salt or spices in the sausage or bacon matter?  I have no idea, but MDA says it does, so tough cookies.

Since bacon and sausage are part of the plan, a Mobile Retail Food Handlers Permit is in the cards for us.


But a P-L Exemption won’t get you around the other lovely requirements that MDA has outlined.

Selling meat out of a cooler?  Not in this state pal.

The MDA requires that meat be sold from a commercial freezer or refrigerator (depending if it’s fresh or frozen).  That appliance must be plugged in all the time, even on the road.

But the best part is:

"It is best to keep your meat items at the
licensed processing facility and pick them 
up when you go to the Farmer's Markets, 
as we do not allow folks to keep product 
at their home."

That’s right!  We can’t even be trusted to keep our own meat at home in a freezer (even a commercial one)!   So we have to drive all over the state to pick up our meat EVERY TIME we go to a farmers market.  And then, presumably, drive back to deposit what we didn’t sell before heading home.

I got a little clarification, and the MDA requires meat to be stored at an establishment with a Retail Food Handlers License (apparently mobile licenses don’t count for storing things).  So we technically could find somewhere close to home that already has a license and lease freezer space from them.

That or get our own Farm Store…


I’ll just keep reminding myself that it could be MUCH worse.

We could be trying to sell raw milk in Minnesota.