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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review of the Brower Top Hatch Incubator- Its beauty is its simplicity!

Hatching chicks is a tough job on the best of days.  Man simulating nature has always been a challenge as the number of variables run into the thousands.  To mimic the natural hatching conditions of a real broody hen, poultry farmers have spent hours, days, and generations observing those moody, ornery feather dusters and collecting data to hand over to the engineers and manufacturers. 

Personal ideas on shape, color, and design are usually up to the individual designer.  These are usually broken down into two categories; industrial hatching and hobby hatching.  Industrial hatching incubators are quite large and are designed to hatch out hundreds of chicks per unit, with a limited amount of human interaction.  The electronics that run these units are top of the line, highly accurate and can be adjusted to specific calibrations.  They also come with astonishing price tags, which should be as no surprise, as they are the backbone of the poultry business.  They are certainly out of price range and scale for the backyard poultry family, hobby farmer, or small flock owner.

The market is full of smaller scale egg incubators by numerous companies:  Brinsea, Little Giant, Hova-Bator, GQF Manufacturing, RCom, Brower, Yosooa, Farm Innovators, Incuview, Arksen, Fall Harvest, and on and on.  There are of course the homemade incubators and the no name generic brands.  Whether they are still air incubators or move the warm air with a small fan; are fully automatic, or manual; inexpensive or high end; or hold 6 eggs or 48, their basic parameters are all the same.  They keep the set eggs at a relatively constant 99.5'F and at 40-50% humidity for the needed 21-25 days. 

I have a small homesteading flock, which I classify as 12-24 birds.  I currently have 15, but have comfortable room in the Station coop for 20-25.  I would like to add a few more hens and in the future I will have the need to replace the older ladies.  I certainly prefer to use a broody hen, but honestly, they go broody at the most inconvenient times and have a need to either be VERY protective of their eggs and young, or space needs to be made for them to brood and raise the young around the other flock mates.  I see broody hens as the easy route for more offspring.  Kind of like grand parenting, play with 'em, sugar and wind them up, and send them home.  A broody hen does all the work. You just have to sit back and watch.

I have chicken breeds that are extremely uncommon for this area.  In that vein, they are in high demand for showing and for their colorful egg production. 
I could hardly ask a broody hen to sit on 24 eggs, and then snatch the day old chicks from her.  An incubator is the logical replacement.  (Clarification: we'd have to snatch the chicks because we've had neighbors ask us to help them start a flock. Otherwise, the mother hen does a great job of raising and protecting her brood. -Doc)

Anyone that knows me, knows that I do not part with money readily and without doing a great deal of research.  I knew what I wanted and what I didn't.  I wanted it to be able to hold at least 24 eggs, be easy to clean, easy to use, and wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg. I was not impressed with the incubators readily available at the two local farm supply stores.

  Both were Styrofoam, which can be notorious bacterial Petri dishes if not carefully cleaned and sanitized.  I worried that the inexpensive materials would leach over into the electronics portion of the product and accuracy and stability would be an issue.  Both were quite inexpensive, less than $50, and could be upgraded for more money to add egg turners, trays, fans, and hygrometers.  By the time you add all of those goodies, you may as well go up into the next tier of products.

The next tier are those seen in many poultry keepers catalogues.  They are made from plastic and can range in price from $75 dollars to over $400.  Even within this they can be broken down into what items are included.  The most simple of the models have digital thermostatic controls or manual temperature controls, but you are turning the eggs on your own.  Every time you open your incubator, you loose both heat and humidity.  I was NOT interested in turning eggs three times a day.  Increased handling of the eggs increased the MIS-handling of the eggs.  Not only can they be accidentally dropped, but the humid warm conditions of the incubator are a breeding ground for any yuckies that are found naturally ON the egg and can be transferred to YOU, or bacterium that you introduce TO the eggs from your own hands.  You'll be washing your hands and equipment enough when you candle your eggs, turning them multiple times daily, simply increases the risk.

That brings us to temperature and humidity control.  I had the need to be able to monitor it and adjust it.  As much as I love technology, as we all do, I simply do not trust the accuracy of items on the market.  The more complicated the machine, the more likely something will go wrong, and the way things are assembled today, you cannot simply replace the part that has gone bad. Add to that the cheap manufacturing processes we all deal with, and a digital console that SAYS it is holding 99.5 and it is really 103', and you've got a problem.  We've all encountered it in our daily lives.  I'd rather not deal with it when little fluff butt lives are in the balance.

That brings us to size.  The need to hatch a varying number of eggs was a must.  Most incubators that held 24 eggs and more were little more than glorified, cramped, electric egg cartons that tipped the eggs from side to side to rotate them.  Filled with eggs, there was little room for chicks to move once they hatched out.  Newly hatched, exhausted, clumsy chicks were forced to climb and trip other hatching eggs while they dried, before they were removed to the brooding box. And even with the expensive models, there were upgrades to be had for money.

In extensive searches, I came across several models that were possible and then set out to read reviews that were posted and then even more reviews on backyardchickens.com. Just when I was about to settle, I stumbled upon a little known model, the THI-30 Brower Top Hatch.  Now I have seen their old farm models on Craigslist, the massive metal drum looked quite industrial.

From a Very OLD  Sears Catalog
I knew nothing about them; how they ran, how good they were, or even if they still made or supported them.  I can't even tell you how many variations on the chicken incubator there have been over the years.  There are movies about that.  Two I can come up with off the top of my head are "The Egg and I", and the "Ma and Pa series".  If you've never seen them, and you're chicken people, yes, you MUST watch them.  The only thing that has had more variations on a simple theme has been the mouse trap.

Once I found out that the giant mystery drum on Craigslist was called a Brower, I did a search.  Low and behold they still made them.  Now they are made of modern materials.  The drum is a heat resistant heavy duty plastic that can not only be taken off the turner, but can be totally submerged in water for cleaning, and even run through the dishwasher for sterilizing.  The base unit holds the temperature control, the electric fan motor and the electrics for the electric light.  The electric light screws into the base and is surrounded by a conical plastic guard.  The drum slides down atop the light and the base unit, and the groove in the bottom of the drum is aligned with the turning wheel on the base.  The screen liner is then set over the bulb and into the drum base, and the turning spokes go on top of that.  The lid is a clear plastic that makes looking in on the eggs, the hatching process, and the chicks easy.  It also has 4 holes which can be left open for circulation or closed to hold heat and humidity.  The heat of the unit is supplied by a 60W standard candelabra light bulb. 

The temperature control is easy enough.  You must plan ahead at least two days.  I start the unit up and let it run and stabilize. I added 1.5 cups of HOT water into the drum base and turned the unit on.  I needed to work my way up to 99.5'F.  To do this you turn the control knob slowly CLOCKWISE to increase the heat, and counterclockwise to lower the heat.  The knob controls the thermostat.  When the thermostat reaches the temperature it is set at, it switches OFF the light.  When the temperature drops below the set temperature, it turns ON the light and keeps it on until the set temperature is reached, and then it switches OFF again.  While the temperature is in equilibrium, the light will flash ON and OFF continuously.  If the light is OFF and stays OFF, either your power is OFF OR your bulb has burned off.  My until is still using the same bulb after 7 weeks of continuous use.  (I still have spare bulbs in the house.)

Overall it is an outstanding little-known gem in the world of modern incubators.  Sure, it had some negative reviews online, but as we all know, you are more likely to hear from those that have a complaint than those that sing praise.  As compared to other incubators, the proportion of negative reviews is actually lower with the Brower.  Customer service is also outstanding.  Parts can be had, if needed, instead of buying a whole new unit.  Questions are also promptly answered.  So let's go on with the good and the bad- what I could change if I could wave a magic wand.

It is easily set up.
It cleans and sanitizers easily.
Parts are available if needed.
Great customer service.
You know it's on if you see the light.
Gentle rolling turning of the eggs, just like a mother hen. 
Easy to fill water reservoir.
Simple easy to understand comprehensive instruction.
Holds up to 48 hen eggs.
Cost less than $150.  qcsupply.com
Takes up little space.
Great viewing top.
Can also be used as a brooder area for a short time. (Has tall sides.)
Mesh keeps chicks away from the water.
VERY quiet. (My hard drive on my computer is louder than the unit.)
You have control over the temperature, which allows you to run a cool down phase if you wish.
Depending on which side of the turning spokes go in first, you can turn and hatch small or large eggs.

What I would change......
I think all units would benefit from coming WITH an insulation blanket.  I made mine with a long narrow strip of bubble wrap, a narrow long strip of industrial ironing board fabric, and two long elastic bands to hold it all on.  This allows the heat produced by the bulb to be held at a more consistent temperature for a longer period of time.  It did make a HUGE difference.

The temperature control knob is really hard to see.  A black knob surrounded by a black base, with a simple cross slot for a screw driver becomes invisible.  When you do learn where it is (under the drum, in the shade, on the side) since the knob is a solid color with no markings, you have NO IDEA how far you have turned it to help narrow down the temperature setting. Small turns can make a big temperature change. 
To solve this, I marked the knob, which is flush with the unit, with a small bit of chalk, rubbed on with my finger.  This allowed me to see that the dot was, say, at the 3 o'clock position, and I just turned it to the 9 o'clock position.  When this set of chicks is out of the incubator I will mark a dot with a dab of fingernail polish or whiteout or white paint for a permanent reference point.

The cone doesn't go high enough on the bulb.  They say chicks cannot get to it.  Mine did.  After hatch, she stepped up on the turning rails and caught her balance by tossing her wing out against the bulb. I would make the cone taller.
  Next hatching, I'm going to try using a small tomato paste can, with both ends off, and vent holes punched in it.  This will also help with the horizontal light pollution that is inherent with this design.

The turning spokes.  I wish they came out for lock down and hatching.  They aren't a concern during lock down, but at hatching, the stumbling new chicks don't pick up their feet to walk.  Their feet go under the rails and then they trip.  How they don't break their legs, I'll never know.  IT DOES come OUT.  You MUST remove it to clean the empty drum before storage and the next hatch. 
HOWEVER, it does NOT come out easily.  I would NEVER take it out with eggs IN the drum.  You just have to wrestle too much to fight it out.

The temperature holds relatively steady.  I had a problem with my first base (which was IMMEDIATELY resolved with customer service).  The temperature spike to 104' and I lost two dozen eggs.  I noticed the light hadn't turned off for a while, and I have no idea how long it was like that before I caught it.  Luckily, these were my own eggs, of which I have plenty to start over. 

The light is your heat source.  A good thing and a visual validation to the operation, or not, of your unit.  It can, and WILL drive you insane.  We originally had it in the dining room, which is next to the living room.  The constant blinking in the corner of my eye drove me batty.  First I tried putting low tack black painters tape around the outside edge.  I still had light blinking on the ceiling, but at least it wasn't in my eyes, at eye level.  I finally decided to move it to our office, which is still high traffic for peep peeking, but out of sight. ( I am keeping my eyes open for a red 60w candelabra base bulb for after hatching.)

The light bulb is also advertised as being able to be used for candling.  Don't bother.  The amount of light pollution around the bulb blows your night vision.  In fact, I put a circle of foil to protect my eyes from the bright direct light of the bulb when looking in on the eggs.  I use a cold light LED flashlight with a bit of pipe insulation around the end.  The soft insulation creates a light seal around the egg, focusing all the light in the egg.  This is ridiculously important with Maran eggs.

New Hatchling making good use of the thermometer/hygrometer.

The unit comes with a small thermometer.  Throw it away.  It is simply wired to the card.  Mine slipped easily up and down several millimeters so who KNOWS what the temperature actually was.  Temperature and humidity are something that EVERY incubator has issues with.  Not holding them, or obtaining them, but MEASURING THEM. The margin error in these products is far too high.  I am thrilled that this unit actually doesn't have either built in!  That sounds odd, but it actually makes sense.  When you purchase a unit with a thermometer, or hygrometer, or both, built in, you EXPECT them to be dead accurate.  More than likely they are off quite a bit.  But you are stuck with them.  So what could be seen as a negative, I believe is a positive.  You can quite readily find hygrometers and thermometers in stores and online, and testing them and calibrating them is quite easy and directions are readily found online.

See there is nothing major there.  Nothing that cannot easily be worked around.  There are much larger complaints about other units, which can silently fail, stop supplying water, stop tipping eggs, or give false digital readings.

So here's the big questions:

Would I buy it again?  Would I recommend it to others?

YES! In the blink of an eye and without hesitation!!!  Its ease of use, ease of cleaning, visibility and maintenance just make egg hatching easy!  And you cannot beat the price for what it returns to you.
Our French Blue Copper Marans

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Making the little star

When I saw Caryl's design for the Dunrovin Station Star, I decided to make one out of wood instead of paint, as Caryl mentioned yesterday.  One-quarter the size of the one on the barn, so it'll fit in the house.  I'm afraid I don't have photos of the full step-by-step, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

When it comes to projects, I'm a firm believer in being productively lazy where I can, so that I have the mental energy for the challenging parts.  This usually pays off double since it can make the challenging parts easier.  This is one of those times.  I recognized that fitting the ring into the star probably would be the greatest challenge here.  Cutting the grooves in the star points to line up with the ring would require a certain degree of precision, so I knew I'd have to put some effort into being as lazy as I could.  Fortunately, I saw how I could produce the parts as though on an assembly line.

It should be readily apparent that the Dunrovin Station Star (like most stars) has radial symmetry.  Each star point is identical to the other star points except for the rotation about the star's center.  Slightly less obvious, if you think of the star as a three-dimensional object then each star point is also rotationally symmetric.  This can be demonstrated by thinking about the star's rotational symmetry.  Imagine that Caryl had painted the back side of the star onto the back of the plywood panel.  Now rotate the plywood around a the diagonal that forms the vertical line in the star as it's hung.  Thinking about the top point, what was the back of the right side of that point is now the front of the left side of that point.  And you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between either orientation.  These two aspects of the star's symmetry means that I can reduce the star to eight half-points.

If each star point occupies a corner of the original plywood panel, then each half-point occupies half of that corner and is fully enclosed by an isosceles right triangle.  One angle is 90 degrees, and the other two are 45 degrees.  Looking at the black triangle in the picture below, you can convince yourself of this if you think of the angle at the top of the picture as being half of the 90-degree corner of the plywood, or if you think of the angle at the center of the picture as being an eighth of the 360-degree rotation of the star.
So if I had eight identical isosceles right triangles, then I could form each half-point of the foreground star by cutting from one of the corners to halfway along the opposite leg.  Then, taking the scrap from that cut, the half-point of the peekaboo star is formed by cutting halfway along the remainder of that leg to some distance up the first cut.  If I cut the groove for the ring into the facing surface of the triangle shown above, then it can either be the left half-point (with the ring in the front) or, if I rotate it along the hypotenuse, the right half-point (with the ring in the back).

Taking Caryl's original star and reducing it to one-fourth the size means that each of the triangle's legs should be six inches.  I knew I needed eight triangles, but I also wanted one or two extras because I know me -- I'll have to have at least one piece to screw up on.  If I had a six inch wide piece of wood then I could make a bunch of these triangles.  Well, I didn't have a six inch wide piece.  I did have a couple of 1x10s that Caryl got a great deal on.  But I also had another piece that I could work with.  Do you remember the handles I made for Caryl's antique hand cultivator?  I cut those out of one of those 1x10s, and I had left-over a shorter 1x10 and another piece that was 5 1/2" wide.  It was sufficiently long that I could make nine triangles out of it -- that gave me my spare.

Before I cut those into half-points, I needed to cut the grooves.  Well, I didn't need to, but it was easier for me to visualize the groove on the full triangle.  So first I cut out the ring.  Actually, I cut out two half-rings and later cut each of those in half to give me the four quarter-rings.  Some time ago I made a tabletop for our patio table out of pallet wood (the original tempered glass top had been damaged in a windstorm when it tried to fly and then changed its mind).  As part of that project, I made a jig to cut circles (or parts of circles) on the bandsaw.
I put that jig back into service to cut the ring segments out of quarter-inch plywood.  I then made a similar jig for the router table to cut the grooves into each triangle.

Did I mention that I knew in advance that I'd need a "sacrificial" triangle to get all of my mistakes out of the way before moving on to the "production" triangles?  Yeah... here's where that paid off.  On the experimental first groove, I might've made the groove too big.  But I corrected and got it right on the second try.

Now I drew the cut lines on the triangles and labelled, labelled, labelled the pieces.  I labelled the foreground star's half-point in two locations and I labelled the peekaboo star's half-point in two locations.  This is because when using the bandsaw, there are always (hopefully) tiny imperfections, and by making sure I kept the half-point for the peekaboo star paired with the foreground star's half-point that was cut from the same triangle, I know they'll mate properly because adjoining edges were formed with the same cut.  Cutting the half-points on the bandsaw was without incident and mostly without error.  I could now do the preliminary fitting.
Yes, I intentionally made the ring segments too long.  It's easier to remove excess wood than it is to add missing wood.  I should note that this was 1/4" plywood cut into 3/8" strips.  That makes it fragile.  The curvature didn't help matters since you're pretty much guaranteed that there'll be at least one point in the arc where the grain is weak.  There was some breakage, but nothing I couldn't recover from.

Then came the stain.  For the foreground star, both halves of each star point were stained with the same stain, except the left half had a single application that was quickly wiped dry and the right half had three full applications.  For the peekaboo star, the star point halves were stained white and cherry.  And the ring was stained black which really brought out the plywood's tiger striping.  After everything was dry, I glued half-points together to form the four points.  I figured this'd make it easier to get everything lined up if I had only four big pieces to juggle instead of eight.

Then came final assembly.  I cut a piece of plywood to form a backing (large enough for the peekaboo points to attach to it but not so large as to be seen); this ended up doubling as a place to attach the hanging hook.  I used extra scraps of plywood to support the star points as I fit them back together and marked the edges of the star points on the backing.  Add glue to all adjoining edges and place each star point into its place on the backing, using those edge markings as a guide, and then a final tweak when all four are in place.  Then I glued the eight half-points from the peekaboo star in place.  And waited for the glue to set and mostly cure.  The ring segments would torque the star points out of place if they weren't already secure so I exercised patience.  Finally I glued the ring segments in place.  As I anticipated, the ends of the segments tended to poke up out of the grooves, but eight clamps convinced the eight ends of the ring segments to stay in their eight grooves while the glue set and cured.

And the result now hangs in our kitchen.

Caryl Here- I find it so interesting to see how Doc and I approached problem solving in such a totally different fashion.  While both Scientists, the mathematician/engineer just went all Euclidean on this project, using what he KNEW to be accurate and true based on what he was looking at.  The Meteorologist/Artist knew what she wanted it to look like, came up with a set of lines that fit the bill, and started playing with the pencil.

I've done so many quilts, that the mariner's compass is no stranger.  Docs description of the rotating 1/8th design is completely accurate.  It is how a quilter would attack this, and then attach all the pieces together to form a small square, and then three more times to create the largest square, the full pattern.

Had I KNOWN the poor man was out in the barn cranking out math, angles and formulas scratched on the blackboard.  I would have gone out and simply given him the drawing with all of the breakdowns on it! LOL.

 It is now more complicated than dividing a square on all 4 corners, on the diagonal. Dividing those lines in half.  Marking the sides at the half and then at the thirds on those lines.  The circles inner radius is also at the 1/3 point, and outer radius in just aesthetically pleasing. Easy peasy!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cabin Fever

I made a major realization last night.  Since December 18th, I have only been off this acreage 6 times! And those, with the exception of one trip, were quick one/two stop trips to town; one trip to the hardware/feed store, three trips to the market, and one trip to take The Boy to work in the city.  The longer trip was the trip to Stromsberg, mentioned a couple of posts ago.   NO WONDER I'm getting squirrely.

This actually happens EVERY year.  From about the middle of November until the middle of January, I'm pretty much here all the time, except for the market and my volunteer job in the city.  I highly dislike the insanity that comes with the winter holidays, so I avoid shopping areas and the inevitable crowds.  Even the market gets crazy as you approach Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, the race towards Christmas turns people truly nuts.  Then the holiday themselves shuts things down.  The predawn hours the day after Christmas bring out the gift returns and the bargain hunters. New Years Even and New Years shuts down the country life again.  Then JUST when you think it's safe to return to the world, the weather on the Great Plains knocks some sense into you.

We had 6 inches of snow on Christmas day, when the world was closed anyway.  A week later, we had an ice storm.  Since then we have been locked in with persistent rounds of freezing fog.  Which, while STUNNING to look at, isn't the best thing to be driving in.  So non essential trips to do anything are out of the question.  We have one road that we use as a cut through.  It shaves 6 miles off our trips to the west.  It's a nice gravel road, unless it rains, snows, or is ice laden.  We took this road on our Stromsberg trip.  After white knuckling the mile and a half stretch of solid polished ice, with a dirt cliff on one side, and a drop off and cattle pond on the other, I declared the pass CLOSED for the season.  Nothing quite like spinning your tires as you tack your car UP an icy hill knowing you're going to have to make it DOWN the other side in the same manner.  Go off the road, and they might find the car in the Spring. (no cell service area)
There are 80 head of cattle in this field. You can only SEE 3.

Our Giant Lake is frozen.

This week the cold settled in.  Canada left its backdoor open.  Our winds picked up, howling and rattling the siding.  The chickens settled in, puffing themselves up as much as they could.  The puffier they are, the more air their feathers can hold, the warmer they can be.  They can go from being little down filled jackets, to full fledged down filled ski jackets with a shake and a fluff.  This is why the cold doesn't bother them, but the cold and the WIND does.  The wind removes the warm air they are holding in their feather next to their bodies.  Saturday the bottom dropped out of the thermometer.  We hit -6'F.  The wind brought that down to -27'F.  Luckily the coop and run are well closed off from the winds.  Don't worry, the chickens can handle going down to -20' as long as they are well fed, dry, and out of the wind.  The Boy made sure they were WELL fed, the henhouse took care of the rest.

Like I've said before, winter hits here in January and February, and starts to loose her grip in March.  So except for volunteering and marketing, I don't get out much in the winter.  I do work outside, but that is really hard on this body.  Well, ANYONE"S body really.  I'm certainly not out there playing, reading, or kicking back watching the hens peck.  Some of the locals are out there hunting, riding ATVs, or ice fishing (I LOVE fishing, but ice fishing terrifies me beyond words.) I take advantage of being inside to clean, sort, clean, bake, clean, do laundry, read, write, and think.

Reading and thinking can lead you to some interesting things.  I don't know how I picked up the book The Best of the Covered Wagon Women but I am glad that I did.  It was fascinating.  It is a collection of diary entries from woman that crossed the country in the race for land during the Homestead Act and Gold Rush era.  Reading THAT lead me to research more on the trails that run through the state.  I already knew there was a trail in the southern part of the state and I knew that the Oregon trail ran through Omaha.  It was what I found when I dug deeper that kept me entertained with research for DAYS. 

The wagon train trails are not like modern roads.  They are, for the most part, general areas of travel.  They are the easiest path between two points, not necessarily the shortest.  And except in areas of extreme difficulty, like through mountain passes or river crossings, the wagons didn't follow tightly to each other, like cars at rush hour on a California highway.  So what did I find out?  I learned that a cutoff from a crossing on the Missouri river came within a mile of the acreage!  This trail continued along the flat land along the banks of an ancient creek before it turned northward through the next flat valley and met up with the main Oregon Trail.  No one living around here knew that.  The state park employees didn't even know about it!  Sadly, all of the land the trail covered has been plowed under and heavily farmed for 130 years. 

Wagon Trail Map

There is one 1/4 mile area north of here, not fit for farming, but only for pasture, that STILL has the old well worn and compressed wagon tracks in it. It is a steep hill where the wagons all had to use the same path to traverse from one valley to another flat valley.  They had to line up and take the hill one team at a time.  At the bottom of the hill are several wagon ruts off in slightly different directions as the wagons hit full speed toward the bottom and the trail feathers back out as they regained control of the wagon and teams and proceeded on their way.  When the snow clears, I'll try to get photos and post them.

Thoughts of the old days creep in like that. 

On the wall of my kitchen, I have a photo of the original homesteaders of this land.  Their log sod house stood at the other end of the property, on what is now State Property.  Sometimes when I am baking or cooking, I catch Phoebe looking at me through that photo with grand wonderment in her eyes.  What would she have thought of everything in this modern kitchen? Warming milk in the microwave,pulling dried yeast out of the refrigerator, water from the tap, tossing ingredients into the KitchenAid and pulling out bread dough for the week.  Cooking the dough in a smoke free electric oven, and throwing the whole mess into a dishwasher. 

We have no where NEAR the hardships they had.  Just GOING somewhere was huge undertaking for them.  That's what I thought about while driving west last week.  Zipping down the highway at 60 mph, we were traveling in ONE HOUR the distance they traveled by wagon in THREE full hard days.  It took teams 5 months to travel from the Missouri River to the west coast. And all with no gas station stops, or markets for food or supplies.  Let that settle in your brain.

The shopping, the laundry, and even food storage and usage was SO different then. (Granted, my flour does come in 25 pounds calico flour sacks, but that's about all we have in common.)
  Some days, thinking about those days pervade the whole day.   I still wrap my head around cabin fever.  How they didn't freeze to death is beyond me.  I get cold, I turn up the heat or wander down the hall and grab a sweater.  Their whole house was 10x20 feet, the size of my bedroom.  It's not like it was stacked with sweaters, multiple changes of clothes, or even cupboards full of blankets like we have now.

When the creek froze in December, water was had by thawing ice or snow.  Water was at a premium, so washing clothes or bathing was saved until the Spring thaw.

If you ran out of an item, you simply did without.

As for entertainment, I have no idea.  I'm sure there was music playing, needlework, writing, and reading, although many couldn't read.  Certainly they didn't have room full of books and definitely didn't have instantly downloadable books by the thousands.  The books they had would have been memorized by the end of the winter.  I honestly don't know how they made it though the winter without going insane.

Oh wait, twitch, twitch......

That said, Doc managed to entertain himself for a couple of hours a day for a few days.  He decided that he was going to make a wood version of the Dunrovin Station Star.  He did an AMAZING job! His How It was done post will be tomorrow.

Friday, January 8, 2016



The Oodalolly Egghouse at DunRovin Station has won the Summer and Fall Coop Contest at BackYardChickens.com !

It was page design, instructions, documentation, and presentation contest.  The winning page can be seen here >>> Egghouse. Those of you out there that are starting a coop or have started a coop, start documenting it and write up and design your web page and enter the Winter and Spring contest!

It can be big and fancy, or small and practical !

Have fun doing it and share with others.  That's the whole point. :D

For those of you interested in chickens, it's an amazing, educational and supportive site all about poultry and other birds :D. Come join us!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle

I really enjoy knitting.  I'm not great at it, but I can follow a pattern.  I make a pretty mean hat, scarf, mittens, or pair of gauntlets.  Mother Nature, in her wisdom, has seen fit to make me allergic to wool.  (Except alpaca). Wool takes color so unbelievably beautifully.  Cotton takes dye well, but not to the intensity of wool.  So every wall of yarn skeins makes me drool.  I am always drawn directly to the wool, like a magnet.  (I also have the uncanny ability, or super power, to pick out the most expensive piece of jewelry in the case.)

I have to make extra sure NOT to touch the woolies.  I still roam the yarn shops.  No matter where we move, I find the shops.  25 years ago, shops were few and far between.  Shopping for yarn was relegated to the big box craft stores, and the selection was limited at best, and highly synthetic. 

Somewhere along the way, knitting made a huge resurgence. Interestingly enough, it was just after the internet started to really become commonplace, about 2000. (yes, it was around before then, I remember taking all night to download a photo in 94 at a whopping 1400 baud rate. About 2000 EVERYONE was online, blogs were in their infancy, but information abounded.). You could find patterns, photos, and supplies!  The international access to yarns, needles, and patterns as well as instructors quickly spread to the brick and mortar world.  Large cities have many shops, small towns usually have one, villages..... well, we have the internet.  LOL. 

In all of my travels, I've come across many a quilt or knit/spinning shop.  They have all had their charms.  But there was always something missing. Some little something that you just couldn't put your finger on.  Sometimes you could; bad selection, low selection, mean customers, poor location, stale stock, inattentive or rude/holier-than-thou employees/owners, incredible prices.  Imagine my surprise when I stumbled on a little gem.  I first came across it in 2014 when attending an annual folk festival.  The sign was up, but the shop was empty and the door was locked.

LITTLE DID I KNOW I Didn't MISS the show, I was early!  When I returned to the charming town of Stromberg a few months later, I was  THRILLED to find the shop fully stocked and an owner operator that was not only knowledgeable, but who had the BIGGEST, FRIENDLIEST, MOST GENUINE smile you could ever imagine!  Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle is by far the MOST perfect little gem I have come across.  The shop itself is on the village square.  It's not large. It's not fancy. It's just right.  It is quaint and charming, and just the right size for the population it serves.

Kelsey, the owner/operator, is an incredible young woman.  She is highly attentive to the needs of her customers.  Knowing that I am allergic to wool, she makes sure I KNOW where it hides.  If I have a project that calls for wool, she is right there helping me find a suitable substitute.  No question is beneath her taking the time to extensively help someone learn to knit, learn a new stitch, or learn to weave or spin.  She genuinely LOVES her craft and thoroughly enjoys sharing it with others.

The shop is always well stocked with goodies from all over the world, and if she doesn't have it, she'll find it! From sock weight to chunky, to roving, to needles it is stop worth making if you are near by. She holds classes, and knit groups, and SPINNING parties!  Talk about a community coming together for learning, socialization, and support! This place is 2.5 hours round trip for me, and I don't blink an eye at making the drive!
Just look at that luciousWOOL!

Kelsey is also a seamstress!  She makes historic and folk costumes.  Multi-talented. I have a Norwegian folk costume to make for the May Festival and am waiting for my pattern.  I fully plan to bounce ideas off of her! Check out her beautiful website (below) for supplies and her costumes.

And as a bonus, she's into CHICKENS! LOL.  Which makes her nutty :D

I know most of my readers are not local, but if you are a knitter, check out her site.  She has shipping specials and answers emails very promptly! http://spindleshuttleandneedle.com/

(not affiliated at all with the business, just one of my favorite places)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Honey Sorghum Oatmeal Farm Loaves

Today is another gloomy, grey, wet, drab, Winter day.   It's only January 6th, but I've already had enough.  We haven't even had a terrible winter.  We've only had one good, heavy snow of 6", and a couple of nuisance snows.  We've had several rounds of freezing rain and freezing fog, which I LOVE to look at, but don't like to drive in.  We have YET to have any LONG spells of seriously brutal frigid weather.  And by that I mean a week of temperatures around 0'F and wind chills well below that.

I know the winter is young, but it really starts to loose it's grip in February. By March, it will make a few valiant attempts at reminding us who is in charge, but for the most part gardeners are plotting land, and stores abound with shorts and flip flops.

But I digress.  For now I will snap myself back into reality and take you with me on my weekly bread baking.  Italian, Challah, French, Wheat, White it's all fair game. 

The choice of bread usually revolves around the week's menu.  I tend to make a little extra so that I can freeze it for another day, another use.  This is especially true for Challah (bread pudding, French toast) and Italian (garlic bread, stuffing cubes).
Of all the breads that come from the oven, my honey sorghum oatmeal bread is a favorite.  The loaves are high and hearty, without being dense.  It makes an outstanding sandwich bread, and an amazing toast.  It is lightly sweet, without being overbearing, but yet has enough flavor on its own to stand up to "slice snacking".

This recipe is for TWO LARGE farm loaves.  They use a non traditional 10x5" pan, that hold 1.5 pound loaves.

 Go big or go home!  LOL.  Honestly, as much as I ENJOY baking bread, I don't want to do it everyday.  Even with modern equipment, it still takes a chunk of your day.  3.5 hours of "work", but luckily you can occupy your self with other chores while it rises (twice) and bakes.  Even so, baking large loaves once a week and bagging them allows me to have enough slices on hand to avoid store bought.

Honey Sorghum Oatmeal Farm Loaves

1.5 cups of quick (not minute) oatmeal
3 cups of boiling water
1.5 T butter
1 T salt
2 Tablespoons of Sorghum in a half cup measure top off to half a cup measure with honey
(OR use all honey 1/2 cup)

1 rounded Tablespoon of dry yeast
3 ounces of warm water

8.25 cups (2 pounds 10 ounces) of all purpose flour
1 egg


I use a KitchenAid, a big 6 qt one.  This is a heavy, sticky dough and I do not use past speed 2 to mix it.  It can be mixed and kneaded by hand.  After mixing, simply knead by hand for 10 minutes to incorporate all the ingredients and bring it together into a smooth elastic ball before setting it aside for the first rise.

This is the order I place things in the KitchenAid bowl to save on dishes.  (Obviously I didn't bother to save on dishes for this post, as I put everything, measured out, in cute little bowls. That does NOT usually happen!)

Let's get started.

In the KitchenAid bowl, pour the 1.5 cups of DRY oatmeal, 1.5 T of butter, 1T of salt, and your 1/2 cup sorghum/honey (or just honey).  Heat the 3 cups of water to boiling, and pour it over the oatmeal mixture. Stir and then allow to sit to soak and cool to lukewarm.

When the oatmeal mix has cooled to lukewarm, add your dry yeast to the 3 ounces of warm water and allow to bloom for 5 minutes.

Yeast After sitting for 5 minutes.  Happy, Alive and

Add the yeast mixture and almost all of the 8.25 cups of flour and the egg to the oatmeal mixture.  Start on your slowest speed until all the ingredients are taken up in the flour.  It won't look like it is possible, but give it a chance.  It will all come together.  At this point you can slowly add more flour.  It might not take the last half cup or so.  When the mixer forms the dough into a solid ball, stop adding flour.  Save any leftover flour for dusting your board.

Allow the dough to knead at speed 2 for 5 minutes.

Remove the dough and place in a container for rising.  You CAN use your 6qt bowl, but it will climb quite high during the rise.  So be prepared for a Lucy moment if you do.

Cover and rise in a warm, draft free location until it is doubled.

Remove the dough and deflate.  Do not beat it or knead it, just deflate on your VERY LIGHTLY dusted board.

Cut flattened dough into two equal pieces and form into loaf.

Place each piece into a lightly greased/sprayed 1.5 pound loaf pan.  I spray my loaf tops lightly with PAM Coconut spray. 

Bake in a preheated 350' oven until internal temperature reaches 200'.  This can take 40-50 minutes depending on the true temperature of your oven.

Turn out of pans and allow to cool completely before slicing.

NOTE: YOU CAN top the loaves with decorative oatmeal.  Simply lightly brush tops with water and sprinkle loaves with oatmeal flakes prior to baking.  It's pretty, but I can't stand chasing fallen oatmeal on my counters and floors when people slice the bread for sandwiches.