Archive | 2017

Winnebeggo v2.0

13 Jun

Well, it took us two years, but we outgrew the Winnebeggo v1.0.  Ok, we really outgrew it last year, but I needed a winter to come up with the next iteration.  So, everyone, it is with great anticipation that I introduce the Winnebeggo v2.0.

We start the whole thing off with the same base frame as the Winnebeggo 1.0, a 10′ x 20′ frame bolted to the top of an old running gear. The top structure is going to be made of 10′ hoops of 3/4″ conduit that we made with our hoop bending jig.  Hoops (and their accompanying crossbeam on the base) are spaced every 4′.

 

IMG_20170424_152015

 

After all the hoops and their uprights are witness marked and labeled(zoom in on the pic to see them where the upright 2×4’s meet the base), the whole upright and hoop part can be taken back down.  Through the middle you may notice that smaller crossbeams have been added every 16″ where the walkway will be.  Oh, and you’ll also have noticed all the boards running lengthwise that we added to the base; those are some 1×3 furring strips (which are really cheap) that will serve to distribute the weight a little bit.

Notice that we’ve left a nice wide, well-supported aisle down through the middle of the Winnebeggo.  That ought to let us walk down the length of the whole contraption to get access to all the nooks and crannies.  Believe me, you’ll need to eventually and sooner than you think.

So after that little carpentry project, we’ll take all the uprights down, stripping it all back down to the base.

No really, take them all down, because that’ll make the next part much easier.

 

IMG_20170424_152836

 

We took delivery of this lovely 200-plus pound roll of wire mesh.  This stuff is 1″x1″ mesh that is 5′ wide.

Roll it up onto the wagon using a ramp made of extra boards and get ready to staple.

 

IMG_20170424_154725

 

Two passes is all it should take, for a total of 40′ of mesh.

After it’s all down you can go back and cut out the holes where the uprights will need to go back in.  This is where all the witness marks and labeling will come in real handy.

 

IMG_20170424_171615

 

Skin the whole contraption in sheet metal and it really starts to look like something.

 

IMG_20170508_154542

 

Next up, add in a whole lot of roosting bars.  Ideally this shelter will accommodate 250 hens, so at 1.1′ of roost bar space per hen you’ll need 275 linear feet of roosting bars, or just under fourteen 2″x4″x10′ boards that have been ripped in half.

 

IMG_20170511_132506

 

Last year we ran into trouble with the Winnebeggo v1.0 when we tried to put out all our hens on pasture.  While we had plenty of roost bars for everyone, but lots of our hens were not going into the Winnebeggo at night.  We figured out that the problem was that the hens were feeling a bit cramped.  Everything started working a lot better when we removed about half the hens.

As with most things I build, I try to look online for the correct values to tell me what size to build things.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the information I was looking for.  Turns out there aren’t a whole lot of pastured-roost builders out there, and fewer still who put all the technical details online.

So here you go internet, here’s my hard-earned research on the subject.

Winnebeggo v1.0

Volume – 660ft³

Hen capacity – 220

Volume/hen – 3ft³

Winnebeggo v2.0

Volume – 800ft³

Hen capacity – 250

Volume/hen – 3.2ft³

 

A post shared by Andrew (@greenmachinefarm) on

So we’ve been using the new Winnebeggo v2.0 for just over a month now, and other than a little nestbox-training that was necessary, we’ve been really happy with it.  I cannot emphasize how nice it is to be able to have a full-size human walkway through the length of the Winnebeggo.  It is inevetable that one will need to access some seldom-used corner of the Winnebeggo, so it’s nice not to have to crab-walk awkwardly through a confined space to do so.  The chickens seem pretty happy in the new Winnebeggo too.  And in a final measure of improvement, the percentage of chickens who have trouble figureing out how to go in at night has dropped, from 10% with the Winnebeggo v1.0 down to a mere 3% with the new version.

What about the nestboxes though?  We got rid of the integrated nestboxes of the Winnebeggo v1.0, so we had to figure out something a little different.  Stay tuned for that riveting saga…

 

Brooder/Broiler House

5 May

We decided it was well past time to get a handle on the Broiler side of our operation.  Our various brooder setups through the last few years have never been any good.

This year seemed like a splendid time to get away from the ad-hoc brooding and get our hoop house really set up properly.  I attended a good pastured poultry seminar in Northfield this past winter and that got me motivated to get all the numbers dialed in on our hoop house.

I decided that we need to get a standardized batch size and figure out all the numbers from there.  I figured that a batch of 300 or so chickens will fill up our stock trailer nicely, add a generous 10% for mortality and you’ve got 330.

330 chicks * 0.5 square feet per chick (1-6 weeks old) = 165 square feet.

That looks awfully close to 1/3rd of our hoop house, each third of which measures 12’x14′ or 168 square feet.

Conveniently, the other 2/3rds is pretty close to the 1.1 square foot/bird requirement for the second half of a broilers lifespan.

Fortunately the hoop house is pretty easy to divide up, the walls are, after all, a simple sheet of plastic.

IMG_20170327_122208

The brooder part of the hoop house needs to be kept at a very warm, very stable temperature for the first few weeks of the chicks life, (80-90F).  For the temps we have to be prepared for in Minnesota, we have completely abandoned electric brooders.

IMG_20170405_091738

We now use a propane brooder, which married to a 100# LP tank, can keep chicks toasty warm for a week before the tank needs a refill.  Two refills per batch of chicks, as the chicks won’t likely need supplemental heat after week two unless the weather gets really ugly.

In an effort to concentrate the heat a bit, we made a “tent” over the brooder with a bit of extra greenhouse film.

IMG_20170328_105743

I know from experience that our hoop house has some really fun water infiltration issues when it rains. This is a serious problem when raising chicks as there’s nothing that will chill a chick faster than getting wet.  To ensure that the chicks will stay dry, we built a false floor under the brooder with a few spare sheets of OSB and 2×4’s.

We got some hemp bedding to use in the brooder, and I’m in love with the stuff.  It’s insanely absorbent and a lot more friable than pine shavings.  It also has a smaller, more consistent particle size that the chicks can more easily keep mixed up through their scratching.

According to the numbers, our 330 chicks need 4 of the 48″ feeders, and we’ve given them 20 nipples to drink from.

IMG_20170412_091327

I discovered in the pastured poultry seminar that I’d been seriously overlooking the water situation for our chicks, so we have a dedicated 50 gallon reservoir for the brooder which makes it possible to get the chicks started on electrolytes as soon as they arrive.  We can also more easily dose them with Apple Cider Vinegar or probiotics as needed, apparently it’s a whole thing.

The last bit we did for the brooder side of things is to address the ventilation issue.

IMG_20170504_084350

Sure, it needs to be buttoned up pretty tight to keep warm, but air circulation is still neccessary, so we added this lovely thermal vent stack to the end of the hoop house.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this, but it still has a pretty good draw through it 24/7.

Anyway, over on the other 2/3rds of the hoop house is the second (grower) stage.

IMG_20170328_113755

Once the chicks have reached 4 weeks of age, AKA: old enough to withstand sub-freezing temperatures (kind of a big milestone here during a Minnesota spring), they’re moved out of the brooder and into the grower stage.  The grower stage is a lot less demanding (at least climate-control-wise) so it’s just a matter of hanging the appropriate number of feeders, providing a few places to roost, and getting plenty of water.

Again, water is fairly important, so plenty of water looks like a 275 gallon reservoir and 20 nipples.

I put a nice big door on the end.  During the day we’ll open it up and let the chickens go free-ranging around.  This part is very dependent on the breed.  If you did this with Cornish cross then don’t expect them to actually go free-ranging very much.  When we decided to switch over to the red ranger broilers we did so because they can really be relied upon to go out and hustle up the green portion of their diet all by themselves.

I’m not a big fan of carting around a bunch of couch-potato chickens every day in an effort to force them to eat their veggies.  The red rangers get it done of their own volition.

To finish the whole thing off, we got a tarp to cover the hoop house.  The greenhouse film made it entirely too warm in the hoop house when it was sunny, so we threw a big tarp over the whole works. Temps are reasonable, two layers are all insulation-y and it’s still typically 5-10F above ambient in there most days.

 

Box Truck

16 Mar

rp_33443114586_138c65cd0a.jpg

So it was finally time.

We bought a box truck.

A post shared by Andrew (@greenmachinefarm) on

We’ve been doing farmers markets for 3 years now with our trusty farmers market trailer which is dutifully pulled around by the farm pickup truck.  The truck/trailer combo served us well, but now we’re trying to reorganize our market days and we decided that a box truck would be a better solution.

After a whole winter of shopping around, we landed on this 2003 Isuzu NPR box truck.  Now we just have to change it from a plain-ol’ box truck into a farmers market truck.

First up on the list of must-haves is electricity.  Freezers don’t stay freezy on their own, so we needed a way of getting all that 120 volt goodness inside the box.

IMG_20170315_170037

We learned from experience with the farmers market trailer that a plug-in style outlet on the box isn’t really the best solution, when you inevitably forget to unplug before you drive away there’s a good chance of breaking something.

A post shared by Andrew (@greenmachinefarm) on

Inside, again learning from our experience with the trailer, we put an outlet strip on the wall up a good 3-4 feet off the floor.  Freezers need to be unplugged and plugged back in a lot and having the outlet strip easily accessible helps a lot.

The one outlet we put in the trailer ended up behind a big freezer down at floor level.  Over the years much cursing resulted from the contortionist ritual that was unplugging the freezers.

IMG_20170315_170754

All the farmers market fixtures get the same treatment:  tie-out rings, a bumper board so nothing important rubs against the wall, and a couple of boards on the floor so that it can’t go rolling around everywhere every time you hit the brakes.  We put a lot of work into having nice-looking fixtures and freezers, so we like to make sure they don’t get too banged up in transit.  The display freezer gets the same treatment, but with one of the coveted spots nearest the electricity.

IMG_20170315_174443

And of course, after all that talk about how we’ve outgrown the trailer,  the box truck gets a trailer hitch.
IMG_20170315_171944

For all it’s shortcomings, we’re still going to be using the trailer this year.  We’re hoping to make our farmers market outings a bit more efficient this year, attending two markets per day on Saturday and Sunday.  That’ll leave us more time to get things done on the farm during the week, while keeping us at 4 markets per week.

The plan is to drop our trailer off at one market, take the box truck to the second market, and pickup the trailer on the way back home.

2016: the year of the Chicken

19 Jan

Yeah, I know, 2017 is the year of the rooster.  But your humble farmers apparently skipped ahead a year.

Although we had big plans to finally tackle some long-overdue pig fencing, we ended up spending most of the year dealing with chickens.  As it turns out, scaling from 175 laying hens up to 450 hens is kind of a big change.

We had several big chicken-related projects planned for the year, from a hoop house to brood chicks in, to new pastured poultry pens. We got all those projects done, but we never could move on to the other big items on our to-do list.  As soon as we were done with one chicken project, another issue would raise it’s head. So this year I got to design, build and troubleshoot a few different chicken feeders (one of them even works!) waterers and nest boxes.   The running joke around the farm is that this is all research for our book “Idiots guide to raising chickens.”

One semi-interesting thing that has kept popping up this year is the number 500, as in a flock of 500 hens.  In all of my research this past year I ran across several disparate sources that all talked about a 500-hen flock as being the biggest flock that you’d expect to find in a pre-industrialized-ag egg-laying operation.  I found it while looking through old books for feeder ideas.  It cropped up (chicken pun alert) when talking to our new egg-carton guy; and it popped up again when shopping for an egg washer.

It seems to me, having been around the 500-hen mark all year, that it’s a pretty good number.  As we’ve been discovering, starting with a flock of 50 hens, if you take all the same equipment and scale it up to 500 hens you’re going to have a bad time.  Sure, the equipment is cheap, but the labor costs get out of control pretty quickly.  Cleaning all those eggs by hand is not exactly a winning proposition once you cross the 400-hen mark.

We’re planning on keeping our flock at about the same 500-hen level for another year before we expand again.  We’ve got most of the kinks worked out, but we need to focus on other things for next year (like that darn pig fencing) before we get too carried away with chickens.   Thanks to a recent MDA rules clarification, we now know that we can go as big as 3000 hens without incurring any extra regulation.  Three thousand hens sounds like more than enough to me, but I could see going up to 1000-1500 hens in a few years once we get our system all figured out.