Archive | December, 2015

Winter Outerwear

30 Dec

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At long last winter is upon us.

151215-IMG_20151215_095939We’ve endured an extra month or two of very warm (above freezing) weather to kick off winter this year. I, for one, am thrilled to have below-freezing temperatures here to stay. Frozen ground is lots easier to deal with than nonstop mud. I’ve got three years of farming in Minnesota winters under my belt so I thought I’d take the opportunity to bloviate about winter clothes to those of you who care to listen, or read as the case may be. Winter clothes have been on my mind lately because I just had to replace my entire getup because I wore all of it out at the end of last winter. 151218-IMG_20151218_122020874

This jacket has seen some stuff.

So, jackets…
My old run-of-the-mill Carhartt jacket was pretty awesome for a number of years before it ended up looking that bad. The rip-stop Carhartt jacket only made it one year. I’m now trying out a new (much more heavily insulated) Polar King jacket that’s working out dandy so far. As best I can tell the Carhartt stuff is all the same duck (canvas) shell with different linings that make for the different price-points. The Carhartt “active jackets”, which are reasonably priced, are not exactly very warm. I just took to wearing a heavy fleece jacket under it when the weather dropped to the freezing point. Sure, they make jackets that are warmer, but they run 50% or so more.

My first winter here in Minnesota I happened upon some insulated bibs in a farm co-op the next town over. They were Polar King bibs and I LOVED them. They lasted two years until the main zipper blew out. That’s not all-together disappointing given how hard I can be on clothes. I promptly replaced them with the exact same thing. If it ain’t broke…

The other big peice of winter gear is insulated boots. I started off with a pair of Kamik boots, which were fantastic for a while. Unfortunately they didn’t stay fantastic for very long. They’re insulated with a thick felt liner which inexplicably breaks down or wears thin fairly quickly. They also have the annoying habit of accumulating any stray bit of hay or straw in the felt lining which can only be removed with a ritual sacrifice or two.

Oh, and one last bit of *almost* winter gear. When it’s not quite freezing you may encounter a condition that I like to refer to as “snice” some may use the more widely-accepted term “sleet”. Either way, it’s somewhere between snow and rain and it’s terrible. Wearing the typical winter getup in snice will only result in overheating wile being soaked to the bone.

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Rain gear is therefore essential for these few weeks (or months in the case of this year). The best rain gear I’ve ever found has been a German military surplus “flecktarn” camouflage gore-tex suit. The hood is epic, hands-down the best ever. The only problem is that the chickens are scared of it for some reason.

 

Oh, one last tidbit.  I’ve been buying most of my stuff through the Working Person’s store but I’m pretty ticked off at their pricing.  I noticed that every time I add something to my online shopping cart the price goes up.  See a jacket for $64.18, click “buy” and suddenly it’s $79.99.  Not cool guys.

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Winter Chicken Accommodations

23 Dec

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With winter coming on (though very slow to arrive this year) we’ve moved the chickens into their winter abode, the chicken coop.  Since we’re getting close to the maximum capacity of this sized coop this winter at about 400 hens, we’ve been paying special attention to the care and feeding of said hens to (hopefully) keep them in prime condition over the winter.

Eggs have always been in high demand so expanding our egg production has been of keen interest.  This is the first year that we’re going into the winter with a chicken coop that’s pretty well sorted out.  We recently did the last of the major work on the coop, as well as overhauling the chicken’s feeders and waterer.

We’re finishing up the last of the chicken’s list now, adding new roosting bars and nest boxes.

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As well as adding the last 12″ of steel roofing that someone neglected to put up years (if not decades) ago.

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We’re adding a few extra feeders this year, one each for a few extra supplements to keep the chickens healthy and happy.  One feeder holds grit, basically small rocks, that the chickens need to help grind up their food.  One holds oyster shell, a major source of calcium – think egg shells.  And the third holds barley.

We raised a lot of barley this year and it ought to work out well as a supplementary feed for the chickens over winter.  Chickens need a bit more energy during the cold months, and barley fits the bill as well as anything.  It’s even supposed to cut down on feather-pecking and cannibalism which would be an excellent side effect.

We’re still using deep litter bedding for the chickens, but with 400 of them the litter is building up much faster than before.  It’s already about time to clean out the coop and I anticipate a few cleanings will be necessary throughout the winter.

Everything’s going pretty smoothly so far, between the deep litter and the increased number of birds the coop stays pretty toasty inside even though it is not heated.  The temperature has been fairly consistently at least 10°F higher inside the coop than outside. Most of the time it’s been 15-20°F higher inside, meaning that it’s never been below freezing inside the coop so far this winter.

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Comfy chickens lay more eggs, at least that’s the theory.  And right on queue our young hens who we got as chicks in July have just started laying their first pullet eggs.  Don’t worry egg customers, eggs are coming!

Portable Roost Bars

18 Dec

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With a few hundred more chickens than we had last winter we’ve run out of roost space in our chicken coop.

The ceiling-mounted roost bars are great, but the outlets, light fixtures and chicken feeders all mounted to the ceiling get in the way of adding more.

So I got a small pile of lumber and turned it into portable roost bars.

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The materials list is two 2″x4″x10′ and five 2″x4″x8′ Chop the 10′ boards in half and bolt them together 3.5″ from the top, now you’ve got the support legs.

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Then get ready to practice ripping 2×4’s in half, turning them into a pile of 2″x2″x8′ boards which are your roost bars.
Much ripping, very wow.

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Then get measuring and marking. The support legs get a mark 5″ from the top and four more marks every 10″. The roost bars get a mark 2′ from each end.

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Line up the marks and sink some screws. Once your done with one side, flip it over and do the other side making sure not to screw into the same support leg.

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Now just introduce your new creation to some chickens. Assuming you didn’t screw two sides to the same support leg it should unfold thusly, giving those chickens plenty of places to get up off the ground for a snooze.

Mega-Waterer v2.0

14 Dec

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After two (or is it three now?) years of experience with the Mega-Waterer under my belt, there were a few improvements I’ve been mulling over.

131224-IMG_20131224_125842The main problem continues to be excess water dripping from the nipples down onto the floor and all the bedding.  The water heater pan from version 1.3 hasn’t really helped in the winter.  We just get these lovely ice-stalagmites. Sure this is only a problem during the winter now that we have the Winebeggo, but the inevitable wet bedding is a nasty, smelly mess and we’d like to avoid it this winter. Add to that the fact that we’re up to over 400 hens, and we needed something with a bit more capacity. 151102-IMG_20151102_165755666

Enter the Mega-Waterer 2.0
It all starts off with this 9′ long mess of 1″ PVC pipe (with nipples, of course) and a 10′ section of vinyl gutter.
Now this all may look an awful lot like our Pastured Chicken Waterers, but there are a few important differences that make this worthy of a Minnesota winter. First, a return leg and second, the gutter. The return leg allows us to circulate water through the pipe, keeping us from having to use an energy-sucking heat tape to keep the pipe from turning into one big ice cube. The gutter is going to catch all the drips and give the chickens a second chance to drink up all the water they spill. Since the return leg (which is full of above freezing water) is down in the gutter, it should prevent any water in the gutter from freezing.

151112-IMG_20151112_141255426Now in order to make this work we’ll need a water pump. Nothing fancy, this little $9 water pump from Harbor Freight is more than up to the task. Attached to a bit of 1/2″ID 3/4″OD tubing and it’s ready to go, that size tubing fits nicely into the back of a 3/4″ Barb/MPT fitting. 151112-IMG_20151112_154807045

My first idea was to use an empty 325 gallon IBC tote as the reservoir for this particular waterer. More is better, is it not? But then I ran into two rather unforgiving dimensional challenges. An IBC tote is too big to fit through the chicken coop door. To make matters worse, the hole in the top of the tote is too small to accommodate a stock tank de-icer.

151121-IMG_20151121_123455711_HDROh well, I just had to settle with a measly 55-gallon reservoir. Drill one hole for water going out, another for return and drop the pump and de-icer in. A few weeks in service and there is absolutely NO water on the floor and all bajillion hens are drinking happily from the same waterer with no squabbles over space at the trough. 151123-IMG_20151123_112024243

As expected, the chickens drink any water that accumulates in the gutter first.  Let nothing go to waste.

Feed Mixes – Sow & Layer

6 Dec

I get asked all the time what we feed our chickens/pigs/cows. People want to know, and rightfully so. So here it is. This is the feed mix I came up with that I’m about to order for the chickens (the vast majority of which are pullets who are just starting to lay).

Green Machine Layer Feed
Corn – 750#
Barley  –  500#
Roasted Soybeans – 300#
Linseed Meal  –  200#
Alfalfa Meal – 100#
Oyster Shell – 100#
Premix  –  50#

CP – 15.5%

Openness and transparency and all that.

But mainly I’m just an internet-dependent fellow who knows that if I put my feed recipes up on on the internet then I will always be able to find them.

Green Machine Gestating Sow Feed
Oats – 1750#
Linseed Meal – 100#
Alfalfa Meal – 100#
Premix – 50#

CP – 12%

I’ve been messing around with feed rations for a while now, trying to work as much of the corn & soy out of the mix as I can. The most frequent request from customers and prospective customers is that the feeds be GMO free. As I can’t buy any non-GMO corn or soybeans around here, that leaves me to experiment with the non-GMO feed ingredients I can get locally. The list is pretty short, though it’s a lot better than it was a year or two ago.

Oats – 11% CP
Barley 11.5% CP (farm-grown)
Alfalfa Meal – 18% CP
Linseed Meal – 34% CP

Chicken Feeders

4 Dec

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We keep getting more chickens, which means that we keep outgrowing the chicken equipment that we already have.
No sooner than I found a newer better brand of 30lb. chicken feeder did we move on to 40lb. feeders, and lots of them.

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If you find yourself in the market for a 30lb. chicken feeder you can’t really do better than the Harris Farms free range feeder.  They’re mostly identical to the standard Miller/Little Giant 30lb. feeder but they do have one much-needed improvement.

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The Harris Farms feeders have a little spring integrated into the hooks on the pan.  The springs may not look like much, but they keep the pan attached to the tube when empty.  My biggest complaint about the Millers is the constant need to reattach the pan to the tube.

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That being said, we’ve recently moved on to the 40lb. Miller/Little Giant feeders which are quite a lot better than their smaller brethren.  For some reason they don’t have the same problem with pan-tube detachment even though they lack springs.  They also have a slightly wider and deeper pan, which makes it harder for the chickens to waste feed.

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I’ve got my method of hanging chicken feeders pretty nailed-down by now.  I use a hook in the ceiling of the coop, a bit of small chain and a double snap hook to hang the feeder.  Cut a long enough piece of chain that your smallest feeder will just touch the floor, that’s as much chain as you should ever need. The feeders can be slowly raised over the course of the winter as the bedding builds up.