Archive | November, 2015

’15 Turkeys

30 Nov


After the great turkey massacre of 2013 we were unenthusiastic about delving back into turkeys.  We were busy enough with other projects that we didn’t bother to try to raise any turkeys in 2014.

This year we decided to jump back in the saddle, if only because we didn’t want to go out and buy a Thanksgiving bird again this year.

We ended up buying a very small number of Bourbon Red turkeys to try out.  The last two years that we’d grown turkeys we raised the broad-breasted bronze variety, all of which ended up being entirely too big (35-38lbs. dressed weight) by Thanksgiving.    So if Independence day to Thanksgiving is too long to have a broad-breasted turkey around then it ought to be just about right for a heritage turkey right?



The Bourbon Reds were nowhere near the right size by Thanksgiving.  We ended up with 5.5-8lb. turkeys.  Oh well, that’s why we only got a few this year.  We’ll get a few more turkeys next year and get them a good bit earlier.

Brooding turkeys is the biggest challenge for us. Turkeys need to be kept very warm (90-100°F) for the first few months of their lives.  Next year I’d like to start the turkeys in early to mid-May, which will entail a bigger investment in fuel for the brooder.  This is Minnesota, after all, and cold-snaps during the month of May are not out of the question (if not expected).

I kept a tom turkey and two hens (alive) as experimental breeding-stock for next year.  If they actually manage to hatch out and brood a clutch of eggs then that would be ideal.  I’d gladly let the adult turkeys do all the work of caring for young turkey poults, we’ll just have to wait and see if they feel the same way.

Pasture Doghouse

26 Nov


With the little Pyrenees puppies getting bigger by the day it was only a matter of time before they needed a bigger dog house.  I’ve done plenty of reading about livestock guard dogs over the years and most sources agree that they need a good dog house, though they may seldom actually use it.  Apparently it’s extended periods of rain that they don’t like and if you give them a cozy place to wait out the rain then they’re unlikely to abandon their post.


Since we have two soon-to-be enormous dogs I figured that an enormous dog house was in order. It ended up measuring 42″x48″ and it’s on skids so it can be moved around with the Winnebeggo when the time comes.


Both puppies fit in the Dogloo right now with room to spare. They should continue to fit in the big house with room to spare.
The house was completed just in time for three consecutive days of cold, rainy weather.


The pups seemed to appreciate their new accommodations.

There is a full-width door on the back of the dog house to facilitate clean-out.  Next spring when the dogs move out on pasture with the Winnebeggo I’ll mount the dog feeder on the back door and it should be ready to go.

From Tracker to Trucklet

18 Nov


While there is plenty to love about our little Geo Tracker, there were a few things that needed some immediate attention.

Like this ignition key situation.

151109-IMG_20151109_111859479The tumblers on these particular ignition switches are prone to freezing up. The intrepid previous owner just popped the switch off the back of the ignition assembly and left it dangling below the dash. You can start it with any key or similarly flat object. Not having a real key isn’t a huge problem for us, but futzing around under the dash every time you want to start and stop the Trucklet is a pain in the neck. 151109-IMG_20151109_155900531

I took a few minutes to yank the tumbler assembly out, remove all the pins and put it all back together so it looks stock. It still starts with anything remotely key-like (in our case a stubby flat-head screwdriver) but it’s all in the right place.

151112-IMG_20151112_133424706Next up we tackled the four bald tires. My internet sleuthing told me that the biggest tire that I could expect to fit without a lift was 235/75r15, so I went on down to the tire store and asked for the most aggressive tire they had in that size. I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t rub or otherwise require any fender cutting or rolling. 151108-IMG_20151108_215755897

The biggest change we instituted was to make a little truck bed in the back of the Tracker. Trackers come with a little fold-able rear seat in the back. This is a rear seat in the same sense that a Honda CRX has a rear seat: only for children or double-amputees.
The seat, carpet, seat-belts and canvas top all were stripped off the rear of the vehicle.

151114-IMG_20151114_163046485With a sheet of plywood and a lot of careful measuring and cutting we ended up with this bit to separate the front seats from our new truck bed. 151114-IMG_20151114_163110675

It was a pretty good fit, but we secured it in place with a dozen or so of these little “L” brackets just to be safe.


Add a sheet of lexan for a rear window, a few tubes of caulk and a few cans of truck-bed liner paint and you’ve got yourself a trucklet.

The only thing it really needs now is a receiver hitch, but that’s a welding project for another day.

Meet the Trucklet

12 Nov


There’s a new machine rumbling around the farm these days.


Meet the Trucklet, our 1995 (ish?) Geo Tracker.   We’ve had an ATV on the farm for a while, which was quite handy when you needed to get across the farm in a hurry.  It just wasn’t as handy if you needed to take any stuff with you.  A small diversified livestock farm entails hauling lots of 5-gallon buckets, 55-gallon drums and 150-gallon water tanks to and fro.

Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to haul those things on an ATV but it is probably not safe and definitely not comfortable.

We decided to look into something a little bigger and a little more capable.  A side-by-side UTV would be ideal, I suspect there’s a reason why nearly every farmer around here has one, but holy cow they’re expensive!  We ended up with a Geo/Chevy Tracker (nee Suzuki Sidekick) for the princely sum of $1000.

Awesome things about Trackers & Sidekicks:

They’re cheap – manufactured from 1989-2007 (in the US) there are a ton of them for sale and that means they’re cheap. I’ve seen them for as little as $500.  Compare that to $6000-8000 for a Japanese Mini-Truck or $10,000-15,000 for a UTV.

Parts are cheap – With so many of them on the road, you can find any part you’ll ever need at just about any auto-parts store or junkyard.  Compare that to an ATV or UTV where you’ll have to buy parts online or from the dealership and the sticker-shock on those parts might just detach your retinas.

It’s small – Tracker/Sidekicks are only 60″ wide, that’s the same width as a UTV.  They’re just about the same length too. That means they’ll go places where most other trucks just won’t fit.

It’s a truck – they’re built like trucks anyway.  Body-on-frame, hi-lo transfer case, manual transmission, all that good stuff. Plus you get all the creature comforts of a high-end UTV: lights, roof, doors, heat and a radio.


So what’s the downside to this awesome beast?  Well, the main thing is that it’s a motor-vehicle, so if you want to drive it on a public road it needs to be licensed and insured and all that jazz.  Not too big of a deal for us since we plan on it being a strictly on-farm vehicle.

The other drawbacks are primarily related to our Tracker being a cheap used car.  The power steering pump leaks, the brakes are soft, the tires are bald and the ignition switch is messed up.   Those are my kind of downsides.  The easily fixed kind.

Chicken Coop Rehab: Part 4

10 Nov


Even though the weather has been abnormally warm, it’s still obvious that we’re heading towards colder weather.  That means that winter housing for all the critters is high up on the to-do list.

We’ve made lots of repairs to the chicken coop in the past year, but there were still a few big repairs that needed to be knocked out before the snow flies.  After fixing the sill plate of the side wall, it became painfully obvious that the entire back wall needed the same treatment.

151020-IMG_20151020_100725Last winter it was a major point of ingress & egress for trespassers of the rodent variety.  Not a good thing to have in your chicken coop.  So now with that all sealed up there was one other detail that needed to be addressed. 151103-IMG_20151103_135914838

Somehow, in the years since the chicken coop was first built, the foundation walls have pulled away from the floor slab by anywhere from 1/2″ to as much as 2″ in places.  Give rodents an inch or two and they’ll happily take a mile or more.  So we needed to mind the gap.


Mix up some pretty wet concrete and ladle it on in there.  No more gap.

Cowhide Rug

3 Nov


If you are blessed with a better memory than mine then you may recall that I started to make a cowhide rug a little over a year ago.

I may not have such a good memory, but my lovely wife is on the case.  She has made certain that I never forgot the cowhide rug that I promised her.  Much to her chagrin, I have my own timetable for dealing with such things.

But ever since the garage/shop has been filled with new welding projects the space occupied by the salted cowhide is desired for other purposes.

So I finally decided to go about procuring all the ingredients called for in the tanning recipe.  Since the recipe is for somewhat smaller hides, I decided to double it just to be safe.

4 boxes of bran flakes: check.

20 pounds of salt: check.

7 cups of battery acid: check and then some.


The auto-parts store only had one of the smaller 750ml bottles of battery acid (I needed three).  So I had to settle for the next biggest size, 5 gallons. What am I going to do with the remaining 4.5 gallons of battery acid?  I have no idea, although I know some folks with a bunch of huge batteries in their basement, maybe they’ll be able to use it eventually.

After a good soak and several good rinses, the cowhide was ready to dry (again).  This time it only took a week. Then comes the fun part, getting the last of the gunky bits off of the back. 

There were a few remaining bits that had to be cut off with a knife.  I attempted to use a drawknife as a fleshing knife, but it’s not exactly ideal. I ended up doing it the old-fashioned way, with my fingers and a pocket knife.  The acids and salt left in the cowhide were none to kind to my fingertips afterward.  If I were to ever do another hide I’d invest a few dollars in a fleshing knife and make up a fleshing beam.

Instead of manually wire-brushing the back of the hide, I decided to speed the process up a bit and use the big angle grinder with a 4′ wire cup brush to do the job.  It worked out just fine, although I’d be hesitant to use it on a thinner hide.


After the wire brushing I was tired of working on the cowhide and decided that I was ready to call it finished. I dragged it in the house and put it in place to await the final verdict from my wife.


It showed up on her Instagram feed less than 24 hours later, a sure sign of a high WAF.  Now there’s just the small matter of flattening it out a bit.