Monday, January 30, 2012

And then there were more chickens

Yep! We got more chickens. I got the call from the local post office this morning, rushed over and picked them up, and they're currently basking in the red glow of the heat lamp while eating more than their fair share of starter crumbles.

This time, I got the Meat and Egg combo from McMurray, so there are 15 Cornish Rocks (meat birds that grow quickly) and 10 brown egg-layers in there. Hopefully I can do a bit better with these than the last batch (of which only 7 survived after a few bad predator attacks).

You know what this means, right? It means I have a few months until I'll need to build a bigger chicken coop. It's a good thing I love projects, though.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New goat day!

So today we got some goats. I've been waiting to say that for a long time! One of my favorite animals at the farm I worked at was goats, and we've been researching them ever since.

Through our research and discussions, Sarah and I decided that the best thing for us is Pygmy goats. Since goats are herd animals, it only makes sense to get smaller ones that make less milk, so we can still have several goats. If we had larger, more traditional milk goats, we'd still need to get 2 or 3, but we'd have more milk than we'd ever know what to do with. Plus, if we ever need more with Pygmies, we just get more Pygmies!

So a few days ago we found a local farmer who was selling most of her flock because she wanted to get meat goats instead. She was selling 2 females and 1 male, and the kicker is that both females are pregnant! So that pretty much takes care of a few things at once. The price wasn't a steal, but they look healthy and well taken care of, so that's worth more to me.

We haven't named them all yet, but Sarah picked Roy for the billy (it's a name she's wanted for a goat for a long time) and I'm letting each daughter pick out a name for each of the nannies. I get to name the first baby, though. Depending on how well everything goes, we may keep the first few babies, if they're female.

So far they seem happy in the pasture, but it may take a while for them to get comfortable around us after what I imagine was a fairly stressful truck ride to our house over those bumpy country roads.

So without further delay, I present to you, Roy and the girls:

(I'll get better pics soon!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun with electric fencing

My first electric fence project didn't turn out too bad (so far), but I have some concerns.

In the manual for the charger (that I couldn't read until I opened the darn thing), it gives some very detailed instructions on wire placement for different animals, soil types, and general tips for making your electric fence work most efficiently. But if the "best results" checklist was a test, I'd have failed.

First off, they say electric fences perform poorly in sandy soil. Sandy soil, check. Electric fences work poorly in dry soil. Right now our soil is way oversaturated, but from June to August it rains probably 3-4 times total, so it will be dry then. Check.

Stringing the line wasn't too bad, and I made gate handles on each end. I opted not to string wires along the existing fence (yet), so the electrified sections are just 2 of the 4 fence lines; the other two sides have 6' field fence and barbed wire every foot, so they should be fine.

I'm hoping we can actually get pigs this weekend since I'm all set up now. We head down to the Collinsville Trade Day flea market once every few months, and they should start getting more animals in since the weather's warming up.

Some tips I learned about electric fencing:

  • Don't buy anything until you have a detailed plan worked out for what you're going to electrify. For instance, if you're going to electrify existing field fence, you need the extended plastic insulators so they don't touch the existing metal.
  • Watch the type of insulators you buy. I bought closed loop ones for my corner posts without realizing that the only way to get wire into a closed loop is to cut it off of the spool first. Go with the type of insulator that lets you work it in without needing an end to feed through a closed loop.
  • Don't buy an electrifier box for the exact space you have. If you have 2 miles of wire to electrify, buy a 5-mile box to get better power and assure that the electricity will reach all the way to the furthest point.
  • If you buy an AC-powered box, make sure you have an outdoor AC outlet nearby. The solar ones are nice, but they're way way more expensive. Weigh the pros and cons of solar vs. AC (or DC, but charging and maintaining a battery is no fun for anyone).
  • Make sure your t-posts are all facing the right way! I had a problem with existing fencing having t-posts that faced outward, while the rest of my inner fence had inside-facing t-posts. Inner-facing is to keep animals in, and outer-facing is to keep animals out, but just make sure it's consistent either way.

I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting, but that'll have to do for now.

Before I go, I leave you with this picture. Seems ole Shelby found a friend:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter projects: Compost bin and hog house

As the weather continues to flirt with freezing temperatures at night, I'm chugging right along with my winter project list.

This month, I can check off two more: the 3-section compost bin and the hog house.

Compost Bin
This one was originally going to be made of free pallets, but I decided to make it right because it has to be around for a long, long time. As I often do, I find plans for projects that others have done and modify it to my liking. On this particular one, I kept the 3-section idea that almost everyone does, so I can rotate compost every three years. When the first section is filled up, I move on to the next one, and so on. When the third one is filled, I take the compost from the first one and apply it to the garden.

The whole thing measures 12' x 4' x 4' and is made entirely of 2x4s and 1" chicken wire. I built doors on the front of each section that open from the bottom, so I can fully open them to shovel out the compost when it's ready. There's no top currently, but I wanted to see if or why that would ever be needed. The air flow and rain actually helps the composting process, so I didn't want to cover the material too much. It might look messy, but that's the beauty of not really having neighbors!

So far I'm throwing in kitchen scraps, rough cardboard (nothing shiny at all), soiled chicken bedding mixed with hay, rabbit droppings, and donkey manure. I aim to fill a bin each year, but at the rate I'm already going, that first one will be filled in a few months!

Hog House
Once again, I looked at a few hog house plans online and in books, mixed in a fencing plan I saw online, threw in a few of my own ideas, and viola! One cheap and sturdy hog house.

The hardest part of this one was finding pallets to use, as I live pretty far from any warehouses or anything that would use pallets. Most places I went (like the local feed store) told me that they trade their pallets back in at the end of each month. If you get pallets, make sure to ask the store first, as many give them away, but for many stores, you'd actually be stealing from them. Also check the 'free stuff' section of Craigslist. I find pallet giveaways all the time on there.

The most expensive part of this project was the t-posts. I bought 2 for each pallet, for a total of 12. Since pallets are about 4 feet tall standing up, I bought 5.5' t-posts to allow about 6 inches to stick up (while 1' would be in the ground). This 6-inch bit actually fits into the pallets used for the roof, securing it even further. After I built this hog house, we had a windstorm at 35mph with 45mph gusts, and the house didn't even budge.

To assemble the house, start on one corner and install a t-post with a fence post pounder. Measure and install the next t-post so you can slip the pallet over the top of both posts. Repeat this all the way around until you have the shape and size you want. On mine, I decided to make it three pallets long and one pallet deep. I also put a pallet in the front center, to allow a bit more of a wind break and shade, while keeping the inside open. This also helps secure the roof, as well.

For the roof I used three pallets connected with two scrap pieces of 2x4x10 going straight across the bottom. When they replaced my roof in November, I had them save the old metal for me, so I used that for the top. I was going to go with cheap spare screws, but decided to buy good roofing screws for this because I don't want it blowing away (and also I have a barn to re-roof soon!)

Eventually, if I get more than one or two hogs, I may go to two pallets deep, but that's the beauty of this house: it's expandable, mobile and cheap! Each year, when I rotate the gardens and hog pasture, I can pull up this pallet house and move it to wherever I want in only an hour or so. I may also cover the walls with the old metal roofing, keeping them separate on each pallet for mobility, but we'll see how it works as it is, first. The only part you'll need two people for is lifting the roof. It's heavy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Is it scary for me to get this excited over a meat cleaver?

This past week, my family and I made the 10-hour trek up to Indiana to visit our families. There was snow, it was cold, and there were no mountains, but I always enjoy visiting relatives.

When they were down here last time, we went to a flea market and saw some old meat cleavers for $50-$60. I showed interest, but there's no way I have that much money for a meat cleaver. I love the fact that they're old and built well (those new stainless steel knives and hatchets can't be sharpened), so my dad told me next time I'm up in Indiana, he'll give me one of his old ones (he's a meat-cutter).

Lo and behold, this old meat cleaver he gave me is way cooler than I expected. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it's about a foot long, 8-10 lbs, and probably 40 years old. It was made by Chicago Cutlery and he says it was one of his first ones he used since he started meat-cutting out of high school, so to me it's like a family heirloom. Some people get jewelry, I get a meat cleaver. But that's a good thing! I'd much rather have this than a ring or something.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Belated welcome to a new year!

Blogging for me is a funny thing. I write for my day job, and it's always a topic that's important for the readers as a general rule. So when I think about writing more for this blog, I always think I need to hold off until I get a picture of so-and-so project or until this-or-that project is finished, but the fact of the matter is, I imagine many people might actually like to read about the journey instead of the destination. Also, I imagine I'm not alone here, but I tend to start quite a few projects before finishing another. It's part of my charm... ask my wife!

So I'm going to whip up a bit of an update on what's been going on in and around the farm for the last month.

The rabbits are growing so quickly, and I recently mated one of the females for babies next month. I built a little nest box out of scrap plywood, which I had to remake at one point because it was about 1/16th of an inch too large to fit through the rabbit hutch door! But overall, I think it should work well. I also bought some smaller-gap wire mesh to attach to the walls of their cages so the babies don't fall out. Quick tip: if you plan to breed rabbits, those cages you get from Tractor Supply or Walmart with the 2-inch gaps will not work without modification. I learned that the hard way. The babies are actually small enough to slip through those 2-inch gaps after they climb out of the nest box.

I finished the fencing for the hog pen, although I still need to string up the electrical wires and hook that all up. I figure if I wait long enough, every question I have about this whole thing will eventually be answered as I research more and more about electric fences. So far, that theory is working, but I think I'm ready. If only it would stop raining now!

I'm building a hog house based on an idea I read somewhere for fencing made of pallets. See, wooden pallets are free (as long as you don't get caught... I kid! I kid!) and can be found behind most warehouses, grocery stores, department stores, etc. Since they're designed with a gap between the two slats of wood, you can put two t-posts on each end to hold them up vertically. I'm going to use that concept to build a 3-pallet-long, 1-pallet-deep (so roughly 12 feet long by 4 feet deep and 4 feet high) hog house that can easily be taken down and moved each year when I rotate the crop fields. All you need to do is lift the pallets off the two t-posts on each piece, pull up the t-posts from the ground and set it up again in the other field. The top will be the only assembled part that won't come apart being three pallets across with old metal roofing screwed into the top and large handles on each side for two people to lift up and move. I'll put latches on the roof to attach it to the vertical pallets because it gets insanely windy on this mountain. Once I get that completed I'll take pictures and post them.

My seven chickens are still doing fine since I moved them into that 10x10 kennel with the scrap-wood chicken house. I'm going to close up one side of the barn where the chickens used to be and make that into a proper chicken house soon. McMurray Hatchery has day-old chicks available earlier than ever this year (on January 30th), so I ordered another 25 to grow my flock again before spring. This time I ordered a mix of Cornish Rocks (fast-growing meat chickens) and brown egg-layers. I also ordered some goslings, but they're not available until March.

It's amazing how quickly this winter is passing by. As I'm starting (and sometimes finishing) more projects, I always have in the back of my mind this idea that I have all winter to finish them before we start getting goats and pigs in the spring. Well, here in Alabama, Spring is about 6 weeks away, so I better get busy! We've actually maintained some nice 60-degree days each week of the winter so far, but it can still dip down into the 20s at night.

Which brings me to the upcoming garden. I ordered a whole bunch of seeds from Gurney's a few weeks ago and they're currently sitting in a box here in my office. I was hoping to build some type of greenshouse during the winter, but that's a project that may wait until next winter. I do still plan to start the seeds a few weeks before the last frost, but we have a sunny laundry room (although it faces east) that I'm going to use this year. I saved all of the old storm windows from my old house to use in a greenhouse project, even going through the hassle of bringing them with me on the move to this house. Next on the garden agenda is to figure out which plants I'll plant where, taking advantage of companion gardening and soil types. I'm actually looking forward to that because it's like I'm some sort of plant matchmaker. "Oh come on, Beans! You'll love Sunflower. He's a great guy and will offer you the support you need!"

And of course my precious little angel is growing up so fast! She'll be 8 weeks old this Friday, and she's already rolling over and sleeping more than 2 hours at a time (which will also help me get more projects done before Spring). She got to see her grandparents (on my side) for the first time this last weekend during a trip we made up to Indiana, and it was really a great time. I sure am glad to be far away from that snow again, though!

So, once it finally stops raining I will take some more pictures of my projects and post them here for you all to see. Until next time!