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′.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

So it was finally time.

We bought a box truck.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Organic: what it is.

26 Nov

I stumbled across this article some months ago about organic chicken production in Delaware.  This article is the perfect illustration of the organic livestock industry.  The reporting is inaccurate, the customers are confused and the big-ag companies are finding ways to exploit the organic market.

Lets get the problems with the reporting out of the way first.

Here’s the first photo from the story, complete with original caption.

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Mark and Kathy Maloney raise organic chickens for Perdue at their Harrington farm. The chicken houses have windows and doors on the outside and perches and boxes on the inside//Photos by Maria DeForrest.

These are broiler chickens, chickens raised for meat.  They have no roost bars (they’re too big to roost properly) and no boxes (they don’t lay eggs, so no need for boxes).  While these inaccuracies may seem nitpicky, they do contribute to a false sense of “environmental enrichment” that belies the photo.

Indeed, the chicken shown in the above photo is probably not what anyone thinks of when they hear the word “organic”.  Later in the story the reporter briefly touches on the organic chicken’s outdoor access, noting that:

“On nice days the doors are open and the birds are allowed to go outside to peck around in the organically planted grass. Outside there are water troughs for drinks and overhangs to provide shade and shelter.”

Now if that first sentence has got you thinking of happy birds rollicking around on pasture, at least the photographer was kind enough to include a photo that will disabuse you of that notion.

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Look right over this nice fella’s hand.  See those red blobs?  Those are the outdoor water “troughs” they just talked about, situated cozily in the shade and shelter of an overhang.  See the few little white blobs by his fingertips?  Those are the chickens.  All half-dozen of them.

Suddenly the pastoral fantasy of chickens who get to “peck around in the organically planted grass.” seems a bit absurd in this context.  Worse yet, I fear (though this is blurry-photo-based-speculation) that these chickens may have no actual access to grass at all.  The platforms below each overhang suggest to me that we’re looking at an organic barn with “porch” style outdoor access, which allows chickens outdoors only onto a small “porch” area which is either floored completely in wood/metal/concrete or bare dirt.  Sad to say, but this kind of spirit-of-the-law flouting is entirely common in most organic production.

So with reporting like this, is it any wonder that consumers are confused, even the well-informed ones who care about their food?

 

All About Eggs, Part 4: Predator Problems and Solutions

31 Oct

Raising hens on pasture has unique problems. Predators being a major one. In our area, these can include foxes, raccoons, coyotes, domestic dogs, hawks, and eagles. Most pastured eggs producers use mobile electric netted fence to keep their hens safe. It works well for predators approaching by land, but most of our problems have been from predators in the sky. A mobile fencing system will not work for air predators unless you are able to cover the top of your enclosure. Nearly impossible. Additionally, our farm has very few level spots which make mobile fencing challenging.

Last year we had major losses to our flock from hawks and bald eagles; and there is not much we could do to protect them.

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This is what was left after a bald eagle attack last year, basically feathers and feet!

Enter livestock guard dogs, Anna and Elsa.

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Adorable, huh? But not too ferocious in this picture.

We got Anna and Elsa in September 2015. They were promptly named by a certain “Frozen” crazed 3 year old.

Anna and Elsa are Great Pyrenees, a breed known for being well suited to guarding livestock. They have been a wonderful addition to our farm. The breed is slow to mature and they still have training to do, but we love their gentle nature and protectiveness.

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Elsa, on the left. Anna on the right, sleeping on the job.

Our first challenge was to discipline ourselves into treating them like working dogs, not pets. We are dog people and this was hard. Livestock guard dogs must be trained that the chickens are their “tribe”, so ours live with the chickens 24/7. Even in winter, they stay with the chickens in the coop. It is quite a symbiotic relationship.  I have witnessed the chickens “grooming” the dogs by pecking burrs from their coats.

The best part? We have had no losses due to flying predators this year. 
Thanks Anna and Elsa!

 

 

Chicken Cafeteria v1.0

3 Oct

Features:

60# feed capacity (two 5-gallon buckets) accommodates 125 pastured layers.

Weatherproof and resistant to other species of livestock.

Dual tow-points for easy moving by hand, ATV, truck, tractor or unicycle.

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Materials list:

1x    2″x6″x 12′ pressure treated board

1x    12′ pro-rib panel (steel roof panel)

1x    24″x 10′ section of 2″x 4″ horse fence

2x    2″x4″x 12′ pressure treated board

2x    5″x 10′ steel K-gutter

4x    2-hole 3/4″ EMT conduit straps

4x    5″ K-gutter end caps (two left, two right)

6x    3/4″x 10′ EMT conduit

6x    1/4″x 4″ carriage bolts

8x    1/4″x 3″ carriage bolts

12x    Gutter hangers

 

All that ought to run you just about $115 nowadays.

So now that we’ve got all the stuff we need, lets build one, shall we?

 

Step one:  lay out 4 sticks of conduit along side your trusty tape measure and mark them at the following points  6″ 20″ 22″ 24″ 36″ 48″ 72″ 106″ 114″

Step two: fetch your 3/4″ EMT conduit bender and get bending as follows

1 – @6″ bend 90º+

2 – @7″ increase bend to 110º-115º

3 – @24″ bend 90º

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4 – @36″ bend 75º  (you’ll need to get the piece up on a workbench to make this bend, so be careful up there)

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5 – @48″ rotate conduit 90º and bend 90º  (bend two of them one direction, and two of them the opposite direction, you’ll see why in step 5)

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6 – @72″ bend 45º

7 – @106″ bend 30º from opposite direction

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Step three: fetch your 5/16″ drill and drill holes at 20″ & 22″

Step four: mark out and drill holes in each end of your 2×6 as follows

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Step five: bolt your noodly-looking conduit to your 2×6 with the 4″ carriage bolts

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Step six: drill holes in the conduit at 36″ and drill corresponding holes in your 2×4’s and bolt them all together with a few 3″ carriage bolts while you’re at it

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Step seven: drill holes in the big fat middle of the foot rail (should roughly correspond to the 114″ mark on the conduit) and bolt it together with a 4″ carriage bolts.

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Step seven and a half: Make a little brace to help hold up the middle of the foot rail.  Just a 24″(ish) bit of conduit bent at about 90º in the middle ought to do it.  Hammer the ends flat, drill some 5/16″ holes and attach the middle of the brace to the 2×6 with a conduit strap.

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Step eight: attach gutters flush to the top of the 2×6 with all those lovely gutter hanger screws, don’t forget to wedge that bit of 2×4 wire fence in there too.

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Step nine: Slip a 1.5″ length of 1/2″ EMT conduit into the 3/4″ hole in each end of the 2×6 and loop some #9 wire through there.

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Step ten: Make the roof.  Bend three (approximately) 24″ pieces of 3/4 conduit in the middle so that they roughly match the angle of the feeder base.  Attach the bend bits to a full length stick of conduit with conduit straps.  Attach this conduit “skeleton” to the sheet of steel roofing and you’ve got yourself a feeder roof.

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Step eleven: Attach the roof.  Two bolts for hinges, two bolts for “stops” and a bit of chain to keep it all from flopping about.  You get the idea.

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And now you’ve got yourself a genuine Chicken Cafeteria v1.0

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Earlier this summer as I was in the midst of refining this design I happened across a mention of a similar feeder in Lucie Amundson’s book.  She talked, in passing, about a chicken feeder made out of rain gutters that they’d learned how to make from a farmer in Delaware(?).  That immediately sent me looking about on the internet for more information, which was a frustratingly fruitless endeavor.

This brings me to a quote from another recent read: The Secret of Our Success: how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species and making us smarter by Joseph Henrich.

“With the spread of the internet, our collective brains have the potential to expand dramatically, although differences in languages will still prevent a truly global collective brain.  The other challenge to expanding our collective brains on the internet is the same one that we’ve always faced: the cooperative dilemma of sharing information.  Without social norms or some sort of institutions, self-interest will favor individuals who cream off all the good ideas and insights from the web without posting their own good ideas and novel recombinations for others to use. Right now, there seem to be sufficient incentives, often based on acquiring prestige, but that may change as new strategies spread that allow people to get the informational benefits without paying the costs. A key issue will be the degree to which prosocial norms for information sharing can be sustained on the internet over the long run.”

 

So go share some information on the internet or sumthin’

All About Eggs; Part 3: Chicken Behavior and Other Miscellany

23 Sep

Since raising backyard chickens has soared in popularity, there are many blogs about chicken behavior. A lot of that is different when you are raising large numbers of birds and moving them between homes in summer and winter. We are constantly learning how best to deal with our chickens.

Winter is not a fun time for chickens. They don’t really like getting out and about if there is too much snow. Because of this they spend a lot of time with the coop doors open, but very few venture outside. This can cause some stir crazy chickens. When chickens get stir crazy, they start pecking on each other. (Think of your kids being cooped up in the house too long.) Pecking can quickly get out of hand. If blood is drawn on a chicken, everyone joins in and can peck a bird to death.

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Inside the winter coop.

We have tried many things to keep our chickens entertained in the winter, some kind of silly, but the best seems to be having scratch grains available all the time. Enter; barley. We have been feeding free choice barley for the past year and sprouting it in winter for fodder, and have had very few pecking issues.

When spring arrives and we move chickens from their winter home to the Winnebeggo, they are really befuddled. We prepare to move the chickens in early spring, by parking the Winnebeggo next to the chicken coop the day before, then wait until dark when the girls have roosted for the night. Andrew and I then don headlamps, catch sleeping chickens, and put them in the Winnebeggo. Early the next morning, we move the Winnebeggo and accompanying gear to pasture. We have to make sure to move the Winnebeggo far from the chicken coop, or the chickens will find their way back to the coop and we will spend much of our summer trying to catch chickens in the coop and shuttling them back to the Winnebeggo. It doesn’t matter to the chickens that living conditions are far better on pasture; they are creatures of habit.

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Winnebeggo’s maiden voyage.

One of the first issues we encounter when moving to the Winnebeggo, is that the first few days in it, the chickens are clueless about where to roost at night. They figure out the nest boxes fairly quickly, but when night falls we are faced with chickens roosting mostly under the Winnebeggo. We spend several nights crawling under the Winnebeggo, catching chickens and putting them inside. In an earlier post I explained there is usually a manure buildup under the Winnebeggo, therefore, catching these chickens is not a pleasant job. Luckily, after a few nights of doing this they start to figure out we would like them to roost inside.

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Chickens roosting under the Winnebeggo.

Egg eating can be another problem. Like us, chickens love the taste of pasture raised eggs. If an egg breaks, which they do sometimes, they will race to eat it. This can develop into a habit of chickens breaking eggs themselves and eating them. We try to control this by keeping next boxes very dark, so they can’t see the eggs. They prefer dark nest boxes to lay in anyway, so this seems to keep egg breakage and eating to a minimum.

Because they are allowed to free range, our chickens like to find other places besides nest boxes to lay their eggs. I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where they might have lain their eggs and have found clutches of eggs in some unbelievable places. These eggs can’t be used for human consumption, so when this happens, our dogs usually get a treat. We had a chicken hatch 8 chicks last summer because she hid her nest too well in an abandoned pig waterer.

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Broodiness, or a hen trying to hatch a clutch of eggs, is a problem we deal with regularly in spring and summer. When a hen “goes broody” she doesn’t lay eggs, neglects her own health, and takes up space in the nest box. Some breeds are more prone to broodiness, so we take that into consideration when choosing a breed. We have tried many methods to try to break a hen’s broodiness, but what seems to work best is Chicken Prison.

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Chicken prison is built with a small mesh wire floor to allow for maximum air circulation. When chickens are broody, their chest/breast area is very warm to the touch due to hormonal changes that prepare them to incubate their eggs. The theory is that if you can cool them down and not allow a comfy dark space to nest, they will get over being broody. Usually a week in chicken prison will do the trick. We also use chicken prison for injured birds.

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Someone on this farm is a comedian.

 

Last in the Series: Part 4: Predator Problems and Solutions

Kahlua Pulled Pork

15 Sep

Although we love smoked meats, our time in the summer is very limited, so we take shortcuts. If you have the ability to smoke your pork in a smoker, this recipe is not for you. After searching and trying several pulled pork recipes, we have come up with one we think is best, and easiest. The recipe uses liquid smoke, but before you discount using this “fake” ingredient, remember all liquid smoke is not the same. It is possible to get a more natural product.  Read all about liquid smoke on Serious Eats website:

www.seriouseats.com/2013/11/pantry-essentials-liquid-smoke.html

Here is a shortcut to get some delicious pulled pork.

One 3# pork roast ( shoulder and fresh, uncured ham works best for shredding)

2 tsp Hawaiian sea salt

2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Pierce pork all over with a carving fork. Rub salt then liquid smoke over meat. Place roast in a slow cooker.
  2. Cover, and cook on Low for 16 to 20 hours, turning once during cooking time.
  3. Remove meat from slow cooker, and shred, adding drippings as needed to moisten.
  4. Serve on buns with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Cooking time can be shortened by cooking part of the time on the high setting. Also, recipe can easily be doubled. […]

All About Eggs; Part 2: What Makes Our Eggs Different?

7 Sep

Aside from the color variations of the shells, most people who try our eggs notice their bright yellow yolk and rich taste. This is due to our chickens being out on pasture as much as possible.

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(Our eggs on the left, other nameless “free range” eggs on the right.)

Additionally, studies have shown the superior nutrition of eggs from chickens raised on pasture. Mother Earth News conducted such studies and here is what they found. Compared to commercially raised eggs, pastured eggs contained:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat

• 2/3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

And 4 to 6 times more Vitamin D

 

To maximize our ability to keep our hens on pasture, Andrew designed and built what we call the “Winnebeggo”.

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Winnebeggo on the right, me and Chuckwagon in the middle. Bullit in the foreground.

This is a mobile home for the chickens where they live from the time pasture first appears in the spring until their water starts freezing in the fall. The Winnebeggo has nest boxes in which the chickens lay their eggs and roost bars where they roost at night, allowing us to lock them up and keep them safe from night time predators. It has no lounging area which forces the chickens to do their lounging out on the pasture, thereby encouraging them to eat more bugs and grass. This is what produces the bright yellow yolk color and rich flavor.

I have seen firsthand, farms who call their eggs pasture raised where chickens roamed around in a single fenced dirt paddock. In all fairness, those paddocks may have been grass in the beginning, but a chicken’s natural behavior is to scratch the ground and they can turn a grass paddock into a dirt paddock very quickly. If you buy your eggs elsewhere, be sure to ask if the hens are on actual pasture or in a dirt yard.

We move the Winnebeggo once every two days to a fresh piece of pasture.  It is moved so often is because the floor of the Winnebeggo, under the roost bars, is a wire floor, which allows chicken manure to fall through to the ground below. When chickens wake up in the morning, the first thing they do, before moving from the roost is…..you guessed it, poop. If we allowed that manure to build up on the ground for more than a couple of days, the concentration of fertilizer would burn up our pasture. By moving them regularly, we spread natural fertilizer on our pasture and have no chicken house to clean out. Win – Win!

Chickens cannot survive on pasture alone, so they are provided free choice feed while out on pasture. Because we keep the Winnebeggo far away from the barn and the food and water sources,  Andrew devised what he calls the “Chuckwagon”, a mobile food and water system.

Once the chickens’ water starts freezing in the fall, and the pastures become dormant, we are forced to move the girls into their conventional chicken house. They are still allowed unlimited access to the outdoors during the day and locked up at night.

Because we believe in the value of the chickens eating green stuff all year, last winter I started growing barley fodder to feed once they were moved to the chicken house. Fodder is made by sprouting and growing seed indoors under grow lights. We sprout non-GMO barley we grew on out farm last year. Producing enough fodder for 400 plus chickens is very labor intensive, but I must admit it is fun seeing how much the chickens enjoy seeing me arrive in the morning with their winter “pasture”. They flock” to me. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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This photo shows fodder about half way through the growing process. Once it is ready to feed, the growth looks like a thick lush carpet of barley grass. The chickens also eat barley unsprouted, free choice year round in addition to their regular feed.

Up next: Part 3: Chicken Behavior and Other Miscellany