Archive | May, 2016

Chuck Wagon

29 May

We recently refitted the Winnebeggo to include a lot of new roost bars that were needed to accommodate all the new hens that will be calling the Winnebeggo home this summer.

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All the new roost bars made it necessary to remove the 55 gallon barrel that was the heart of the winnebeggo’s watering system.  Couple this with the fact that accessing the 30 pound hanging feeders under the sides of the Winnebeggo was becoming a pain in the neck, and we began to dream up a different solution to keeping the chickens fed and watered out on pasture.

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And so the Chuck Wagon was born.  We acquired an extra running gear last year for a good price, so we promptly added a few 4×4’s to form a solid base and strapped on the single biggest water container that we have.

The chickens now enjoy a massive 325 gallon water reservoir in the form of a big IBC tote that we intended to use this past winter for the Mega-Waterer 2.0

As with anything that’s going to be bumping around the pasture, keeping things in their place is always a concern.  We (probably) addressed this well enough with a big handful of conduit clamps.

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The water distribution is pretty simple given the relatively compact layout of the chuck wagon.  The IBC tote feeds two waterers, each housing 10 nipples each.

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There is also a hose with it’s own valve.  The hose has the Plasson quick-connect fitting that allows us to fill the tote with water from any of our pasture water fittings.  This also allows us a hose to fill up the dog’s water bowl, or give something a quick rinsing-off out in the pasture.

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And that brings us to the other half of the chuck wagon equation, the feed.  Bedecking the chuck wagon in a dozen or so hanging feeders didn’t sound like a great idea, so we had to come up with another kind of feeder.

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We ended up with a pair of big hoppers made out of 1/2″ pressure-treated plywood.  The hoppers are 4′ wide, 21″ across the top and 3″ wide at the bottom.

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Oh, and each hopper has a bottom that’s made out of a 1″x10″ on the bottom and 1″x6″ sides.   To keep it all upright during it’s pasture travels, both hoppers are braced together and to the 4×4 beams.

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After adding a few bits of roof to the feeders, it was nearly time to fill them up with feed to see how much they’d hold.

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The answer we got was 21 buckets, or about 650# of feed in each feeder, for a total of 1300 pounds.  Between the 1300# of feed and the 325 gallons of water, we’ve cut down our labor in feeding and watering chickens significantly.

The Chuck Wagon was not without it’s shortcomings. The first few days of use saw several intense rainstorms, which pointed to a need for more protection for the bottom of  the feeders.

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We quickly sorted it all out with a few extra scraps of metal roofing.

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The chickens approve.

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All 450 of them have been out on pasture for nearly a week now and they appear to be quite happy.

Spring Grazing 2016

18 May

At this time last year our cows had been out on pasture for a little over a week.

This year, due to a mild winter, they’ve been out on pasture since April 27th.  They even had 17 acres of winter rye stubble to nibble on before the real grazing kicked off.

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And while the weather did open up the opportunity for earlier grazing, it was the three-years of infrastructure that we’ve built (fences, improved pastures, water lines) that have allowed us to capitalize on the early grazing season.

We had our first cow sent to the butcher on April 8th, which seemed a bit optimistic.  Finishing a cow after a Minnesota winter without grain or lush grass seems like a completely impossible task.

Much to my surprise I picked up these ribeyes from the butcher.

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I have no idea how we pulled that off, but those suckers are more marbled than they have any right to be.

Piglet Brooder

15 May

Since we got the new brooder all setup with a propane brooder, we’ve not had need of our old Hover Brooder for the chicks.  But this being Minnesota in the spring, we did have a few cold snaps that left us in need of supplemental heat for our piglets.

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All but one of our sows have farrowed (given birth) so far this spring.  The piglets and their mother spend the first three days inside the barn in a farrowing pen.  On or about day three, when the time of greatest danger to the piglets has passed, they’re processed and turned out into group housing with their mothers.

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This year we’re using our three-sided pole-barn for community housing for all of our lactating sows. The pole-barn doesn’t have electricity, but it’s close enough (one extension-cord length) to the chicken coop that an electric hover brooder is an option.

The hover brooder for chickens is a pretty good starting place for a piglet brooder, but there are a few important modifications, because pigs.

First up, piglets don’t need to be as warm as chickens.  Chickens need brooder temps of at least 100°F, pigs can get by with 80°F

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Since we needed less heat we pulled out two of the five sockets in the chick brooder, leaving us with three sockets in a straight line.  With three bulbs we can go up to 750 watts, but we used smaller bulbs to end up with 375 watts of heat.  That turned out to be plenty to keep the piglets cozy.

The next problem we needed to address was the porcine propensity to play around with absolutely anything they can lay their snouts on.  In a situation where a heat lamp is in proximity to said porcines, the heat lamp bulb will presently meet an untimely end.

Which is to say that piglets will break every heat lamp bulb.
Every. Dang. Time.

Usually snapping the bulb off at the base, leaving it to your friendly neighborhood farmer to painstakingly extract with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

Not cool pigs.

So you see my problem.  Fortunately, I figured that simply covering the bulbs with a bit of 2×4 fence wire would be enough to keep the pesky piglets at bay.

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As it turns out I had an even better bit of fence-type-stuff to make a bulb-guard out of.  Once upon a time we had a baby crib that was broken by an overly rambunctious toddler.  This toddlers father, being a connoisseur and collector of choice junk did endeavor to save the wire frame that held up the crib mattress because it looked an awful lot like a heavy-duty bit of 2×4 fencing.  Waste not, want not and all…

And don’t forget the usability considerations, the wire guard needs to swing out of the way for easy bulb changes (heat lamp bulbs have the life expectancy of a mayfly, so there will be lots of bulb changes).  We used three eye screws and three hooks to keep the thing in place.

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Obligatory piglet pile photo.

And Margo, because sometimes a momma just wants in on a piglet pile too.

 

Little Hoop House on the Prairie

9 May

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Look!  We built that.

It’s really not so big of an accomplishment, having now built one I can assert that hoop houses are quite easy to build (relatively speaking).

So without further ado, here is the whole process.

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We decided that we’d love to have a semi-mobile hoop house and that required building said hoop house on skids.  Here we’ve got a trio of 4″x6″x14′ timbers (pressure treated, of course) that make up one skid.

The hoop house is a 14′ wide, 36′ long contrapion that we bought from FarmTek.

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The FarmTek kit is supposed to be anchored by pounding these big pipes into the ground.  Having chosen skids, this was obviously going to have to change.

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We chose to drill some big holes (1.75″ holes to be exact) into, but not all the way through, the skids to accept the pipe.  There was just the small matter of cutting off most of the pipe to get rid of the bit that was supposed to go underground.

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To make sure it all doesn’t come apart in a stiff breeze, the pipe is “pinned” to the skid with a nice big lag bolt.   The rest of it goes together pretty much according to the instructions.

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After looking at the High Tunnel Hoop House Construction Guide [PDF] from University of Illinois Extension, I’m convinced that I could do another hoop house for cheaper, but the FarmTek kit was a pretty nice place to start for a beginner.

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The Hoop House Construction Guide got me all adventurous and made me try out a roll-up side.  That ended up being a fantastic decision.

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The FarmTek kit pretty much leaves you to finish the ends of the hoop house as you will.  One end of ours got a big window, about 2’x6′.

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The other end got the old screen door that used to grace the side of the farmhouse.

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After a few days of waiting for the weather to cooperate (winds gusting to 40mph aren’t ideal conditions) we managed to get the greenhouse film stretched over the frame.

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The film, which is really a fancy name for 6mil UV-stabilized plastic is held in place by this nifty stuff called “wiggle wire.”  Ripping down 1″ lumber for battens is certainly cheaper than using the aluminum channel and wiggle wire, but the wire gives you the ability to go back and fix any mistakes without ruining the greenhouse film, a hefty advantage to us hoop house n00bs.

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No building would be complete without a little sharpie art by the flamboyantly-dressed artist-in-residence.

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After skinning the ends with greenhouse film there wasn’t much to do but wait for the first order of chicks to come in.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait for long, having had only finished the hoop house a scant 24 hours before the chicks were due to arrive.

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The next day, when the chicks arrived we got a crash course in solar radiation, thermo-regulation and the promise of a much less fossil-fuel-intensive manner of brooding chickens.

I quickly found out that the hoop house (with the window, door and roll-up side closed) is capable of reaching internal temperatures in excess of 120°F in the sun.  While chicks need some pretty stifilingly-warm temperatures to be comfortable, 120°F is too darn warm.  Thankfully the roll-up side makes a quick work of ventilating such a space.

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The rest of the chick-comfort problem was solved by the addition of some additional shade via an old tarp hung in the big fat middle of everything. The big metal disc under the tarp is our propane brooder that keeps the chicks warm at night.  In it’s former location inside the barn, the propane brooder had to run all day as well. This year, thanks to all the free solar heat in the hoop house, the brooder never kicks on during the day.

All told the hoop house is working out well for a brooder, it just demands a fair bit of vigilance in getting the ventilation setup every morning when the sun comes out.  This already has us kicking around ideas about building a dedicated brooder-house sometime in the future, something with a little more thermal mass and insulation.  The hoop house (and a warm spring) have allowed us to start chicks over a month earlier than last year.  We’re always looking for ways to brood chicks earlier, because that means we can have chicken to sell earlier in the market season.

 

Chicks are here!

4 May

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We’ve been working hard to get our new brooder house setup because today was the deadline.  Today is chick day.

I’m happy to report that everything went off without a hitch.

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The chicks seem pretty happy with their new setup, and we’re happy because it’s one more thing to scratch off the to-do list.

Stay tuned for all the gory details about the hoop house we built for the little critters.