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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Still yet another sign you're no longer in the suburbs

You don't need to go to the gym to get a workout
Modern life tends to be sedentary.  For example, I'm sitting with less-than-perfect posture while I'm typing this blog post.  TV, video games, email, web browsing, word processing, reading, number crunching, meetings, preparing PowerPoint presentations, ignoring PowerPoint presentations:  our lives are full of sitting.  And so we join gyms.  Running, walking, swimming, spinning, lifting, stretching, isometrics -- these are all things we do keep our bodies healthy.
You know what?  Working around an acreage tends to work those muscles too.  I can't tell you how many times Caryl found herself dog-tired at the end of the day while she was building the egghouse -- lifting, cutting, hammering, twisting, hauling.
Caryl's gym
Oh, yes, hauling.  We store things in the barn.  If something can be done in the barn, hooray... but then you move the final product out to where it belongs.  But if we're cutting down a tree, that means we take the tools to the tree.  Same if we're planting a tree.  We did as much of the Oodalolly Egghouse in the barn as we could, but it wasn't much -- most was built on-site, which meant hauling the wood and the tools to the site.  That's lifting, holding, and walking.  For some things, the wagon saw a lot of use in the last year and a half, which is still a workout to move around the acreage.
Caryl towing a tree branch with the
tractor.  Human labor got the branch to
where she could tow it. (LOL BRANCH- he
calls it.  The thing was 30 feet long and
almost that wide! ~Caryl)
Riding the mower or tractor over the uneven terrain works those core muscles as you try to stay in your seat. (We treated ourselves to a trailer that we can hook to the back of the small yard tractor and a water hauler for the trees in the meadow. ~Caryl)
Moving hay with a pitchfork may seem trivial, but in gym terms it's "low-intensity/high-rep."  Sure, each forkful may be light, but after you've moved a full round bale of hay from outside the garden fence to inside, you have literally moved a ton of hay by hand. (And I moved it TWICE! ~Caryl)
I'm helping!
Planting a 1500 sq ft garden offers repeated, lifting, bending, toe touching, and long walks to the barn for the odds and ends you've forgotten, running and screaming and twirling when you disturb the wasps.

We've made extensive use of our 4-pound engineer hammer.  By time I'm done with it, I can feel the burn in my deltoid, and my brachioradialis and flexor carpi muscles let me know they've been worked, too. (In common speak, his arms ache. ~Caryl)
Sure, my body totally
looks like that.
(image courtesy of Warner Bros.)
And the 16-pound sledge hammer.  That feels more like a whole-body workout, even cardio.  My day job requires me to spend some time in a gym, and I've seen personal trainers have their clients pound at a tire with a sledge hammer (and if you've seen Batman vs Superman, then you know this is also one of Bruce Wayne's exercises) -- there must be something to it. (hmmm, I wonder if we could trick those clients to come up here and bang some tree posts or fence posts in....? Or maybe instead of just running in circles, we could have THEM chase the cattle? Painting this fence is great fun, isn't it Tom? ~Caryl)

Funny, Chris hasn't mentioned the workout the chickens give you at the end of the day.  Granted, the evenings we actually get to SIT in a lawn chair and watch chicken TV for a bit is rare, but wonderful.  But you never get to just SIT.  Usually there is a skirmish to break up (Flora, I'm looking at you.), or there is a last minute quick chore that needs done (as long as you're out there), or my personal favorite- Chicken Round up time!  Yeeee HAW!

  Chickens will gladly go to roost on their own.  Something in their little birdy brains says, "hey, climb up high, go to sleep, or have your face eaten off by a mean critter".  So come late dusk they wander into the coop and disappear for the night.  The problem is, sometimes WE want to wander into our people coop, before THEY want to wander into theirs.  This requires chicken herding.  There's a reason you don't see TV westerns with great herds of ranchers on horseback moving chickens across the plains, or British herd dog competitions penning hens instead of sheep.  The herders would try it once and GIVE UP! Luckily, for you, our readers, we aren't that smart.

Chicken brains are ruled by food (Nugget is all about the food you are bringing her.  You could be carrying a 2x4x8 and she'd come running.) If they are out and about gorging on worms and grubs before bedtime, good luck trying to talk them into going IN.  We have 25 birds.  Upon shooing them towards their door, they can go 24! different directions.  That's 620448401733239439360000 different directions.  I don't know how they do it. Slow motion cameras can't see how they do it.  Physicists don't know how they do it.  I suspect a trans dimensional wormhole myself, but chicken mind control is talking me out of it.

The thing is, it takes at least two people to round them up, one to guard the door so they don't slip around it and make another go around and under the coop, and one to do the chase.  We figured 25 trips around the coop equals .25 of a mile.  If you get one pig headed bird, you can easily make that twirling trip around the coop into a marathon obstacle course.  It's not funny when you're the one trying to put them away, but it sure is a HOOT watching someone else try it!

Doc again:
Last spring we tried planting a small oat field. The number of oats that germinated isn't important to the story.  What is important is that clearing the grasses and preparing the soil was done mostly by tractor.  Even so, I ended up moving sod around by hand and other labors that left me sore for days.  It really makes you appreciate how much work went into starting 19th century homesteads with only human sweat and ox muscle.
For us, working the homestead is a hobby.  To give you an idea of how much work is done by people whose livelihood depends on working the land, we're told by our physician that it's pretty common for farmers to put on 15-20 pounds during the winter when they're not working as much.
People who write fitness columns often say that you should vary your workouts and keep things interesting to avoid getting bored.  Try working an acreage; it's always something and you'll never be bored.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Death From Above

On Monday night, we experienced one of the great hazards of living on the Great Plains.  Mother Nature entertained us for hours with a brilliant lightning show to our west.  Storms that were hundreds of miles away, but because of their height, we could easily see the illuminated clouds.

Two hours later and the gentle pitter patter of rain on the window pane was interrupted by a clink.  The pitter patter was quickly replaced with plink, clink, CLUNK.  Now, plink you can ignore. Clink is never a good thing, and CLUNK is downright worrisome, but then it was the THUD that really got my attention. 


I watched as rice sized hail turned into pea sized hail.  The rain picked up and the winds began to howl over 40 mph.  The pea sized hail was quickly joined by marble sized hail.  That usually only lasts a second or two and then moves on.  It didn't.  It just kept coming, and coming. 

Three minutes later and the gutters where clogged with ice and overflowing.  Hail littered the ground and was piled high in corners and around the base of the plants.  Then the rains came, 2.79" in just 20 minutes.

In all the years I've been sending in weather reports, and Monday night was no exception, you'd think I'd have learned to check out my own place.  Nope, the next (blurry eyed) morning, I went into work and didn't give the previous evening any more thought after hitting "send".

It wasn't until Tuesday night, when I went out to the garden to check on the charge of the electric fence that I noticed something odd.  At first, I couldn't quite put my finger on WHAT the odd thing was.  I was looking at what was left of a tomato plant, nearest the charger.  The stem was broken off at 5 inches above the ground, but the top was laying about a foot away.

Certainly a critter that would have managed to get through 10,000V would have gone ahead and EATEN the darn plant.  The cut worms and hornworms weren't even OUT yet. So what the heck?!  Then it happened.  My exhaustion glazed eyes wandered further down the 40 foot row of freshly planted tomatoes.  NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Every single one was completely leafless.  The stems were covered in white, pockmarked, bruises.  My jaw dropped as I scanned the other two rows.  My heart sank when I dared to look at the 200 square feet of onions, their 6 inch long leaves snapped off, bent, and bruised.  The cucumbers were crushed under the ice and had gone pale during the heat of the day.
The grape leaves were shredded. (potatoes aren't up yet). UNBELIEVEABLE! 

As I hung my head and closed the garden gate behind me, an apple tree caught my attention.  OH MY ... THE ORCHARD.  I didn't even THINK about the orchard!  Walking to the first of 30 trees, I knew what I was going to see.  I just didn't want to see it, shredded leaves, cut and bruised fruit and limbs.  There was simply no way to have avoided any of it.  It just is/was.

Hail is usually not a widespread event.  In fact the next acreage over swears that she not only didn't have any damage, she says she didn't even have hail.  Totally possible.  Back in the day, a farmer would have been able to borrow spare plants from their neighbor if it was early enough to transplant.  If not, short season crops would have been planted and you'd either trade for your missing crop, or just make do with the short crop.  You always helped a neighbor as you never knew when it would be your turn to need help.

In my case, June 1st is my go-to date for planting anyway.  I did it a week early this year to get into the garden before we got 4 inches of rain in a week.  Next year, I'll just plant in muck boots if it will save me the trouble.  A trip the to the village to the plant nursery and a chunk of change later, and I was navigating the slippery dirt roads with a load of new plants, now safely awaiting planting in the barn.

The apple trees will be fine.  They won't be pretty this year and all of the fruit has been pulled off, but I don't let young trees have fruit anyway.  A young tree's energy should be spent on growing and root development, and not fruit production.  I'll watch them for signs of disease, but beyond that, they're on their own.  After all, they aren't the first trees to be hit by hail, and we still have trees in the world.

At least the hail wasn't big enough for the roof, siding or windows to even blink at.

Just another crazy day on the hill.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Chick House or Broody Coop Build - Little Lolly

The best place for a chick, at least at my house, in under the butt of a broody hen.  It just makes life SO much easier.  She hatches the eggs, raises the chicks - teaching them to eat, dust bathe, navigate the hen house, roost, all the while protecting them from overly interested flock mates.  She cold hardens them on their long walks, occasionally stopping to warm them or help them find food.  The chicks grow up with the flock, finding their own place in the pecking order and just become one with the universe.

But as we have seen, sometimes we have chicks and no broody around for them.

Sometimes we have a broody who needs a quieter place to sit.  As much fun as it must be for them to be sitting on and protecting eggs, while her flock mates decided to come and sit ON her and lay their eggs.  Of course the constant probing hands under her to check for eggs that AREN'T hers, cannot be calming for her either.

ENTER the Little Lolly (the main hen house being Oodalolly)

Like thousands of great ideas before it, Little Lolly was born on a napkin.
  The rough design was based on a complete piece of garbage coop we purchased from a local feed store during a chicken emergency in November of 14.  We knew it was shoddy materials and design when we put it together.  We also surmised that it wouldn't last a year.  I swear it was made of balsa wood.  The numbers of improvements and modifications we had to make just to make it chicken friendly and predator resistant was crazy.  (I didn't say proof, as a 100 year old, blind, arthritic, toothless raccoon could get it without even trying.)

I honestly wish these companies would stop selling these things to people.  It only sets them up for frustration and failure.  They are cheap (but not cheap), far too small, and an open door for predation.

I digress.

I wanted something permanent.  I wanted chicks OUT of my barn bathroom.  (Not that they don't make for perfectly wonderful entertainment for longer visits to the loo.)  Their dander, their incessant high pitched chirping, and let's be honest, their stink, was just not wanted in the bathroom.

I'd like to raise and sell chicks again, and I don't want to be constantly tripping on peepers on the way to the toilet. 

Out came the pen and napkin.  A few tweaks later, and a trip the best little lumber yard in the next town over and I had a pile of ply that fit in my truck, and dimensional lumber piled in the barn.  This is the same time I had Flora playing "I want to hatch eggs, but don't want chicks". So I started immediately in hopes of getting the little family out of the grow out pen in the barn and into Little Lolly in the yard, so they could have their own space and get to know the flock.  (Little did I know then that she would abandon the chicks.).

The first thing I had to do was pick a location.  I had to find some place as level as possible on this hill, as I am not a huge fan of dealing with the run skirting and angled wood pieces.  I found a space between the barn and the main coop and built a foot print box to help mark the location of the post holes and to check the area for level.

After the posts positions were marked, I dug holes set poles in concrete, and used the box footprint and a post level to get them as close to the correct final position as possible.

I let the concrete set for two days.  I planted the garden and some more trees.  All under the careful supervision of the hardworking crew one of which is apparently Zorro.

  When the concrete had finally set, and it stopped raining, and the ground stopped being a slip and slide, I tackled the posts with a long, 4 foot level, to mark all of them at correct cut off location.  Since this is a small structure, I went with treated 2x4s as the base posts instead of 4x4s.

Two quick coats of exterior paint in Valspar's True Teal to add an extra layer of protection.

I then measured, painted, and installed the top of the skirt (except on the gated side).

I used heavy, galvanized, hammer in, fence staples to attach the half inch hardware cloth, cutting it long enough so that it would have a 9 inch wide anti-dig skirt around the bottom of the run.  This is secured with landscaping staples.

The coop floor was next.  3/4" CDX plywood with two coats of exterior paint on both sides.  Your paint may say it is one coat coverage, it never is.  Wood is thirsty and will suck up the first coat, leaving your project splotchy looking.  Take the time to do two coats.

I secured this with exterior deck screws that were 2 inches long.

While I had full access to the whole coop floor, I cut the pop hole.  I decided on 14"x10" and then framed it with 1x2 to keep the PDZ from falling out willy nilly. 
The ramp is on a hinge, is covered with shingle, and has an eye on the end for a pull string.  The first week of chick life, the ramp is up and they can live inside.  After that, the door is down all the time to allow them to go in and out at will to and from the run.  At a week old, they are old enough to get up and down the ramp and in and out of the coop.

This is the point in the project I started to feel numb.  Last year's mega build was still fresh enough in my memory to trick my soul into KNOWING I COULD do it, but far enough away that I had forgotten how much work, how many sleepless night, how much money, and how much planning and physical labor it all was.  Kind of like childbirth.  With Flora having abandoned the chicks, I was still up against a clock of getting the chicks out of the pen in the bathroom, but the clock had slowed, as the escape artist hen was now locked solidly in Sing Sing.  I also knew that dry cooler air for the week would end abruptly, and 80s and 90s, humidity, and thunderstorms were right around the corner.  With that deadline looming, I went fishing.

It's amazing how just one evening away from a project can reset your sensibilities, your nerves, and your sanity.

The next day, I was off and running again.

The walls were built inside the barn.  I started with the most complicated wall, the front wall.  It has the window in it.  I tried Habitat for Humanity for a small window that could be opened, but alas, they had none this trip.  The 1/2" plywood was painted with its exterior teal blue and interior color, which can best be describes as scrambled eggs.

Along the bottom edge, which will be attached to the floor with 2.5 inch screws, I cut and placed a painted 2x2". I placed a second one NEAR the top edge but not TO the top edge.  If you place it at the top, the slanted top will not close.  Attach the 2x2s to the plywood with 1 5/8 screws. Measure and cut additional 2x2s for the vertical inside end pieces.

Now it is time for the window.  It's really easy as it doesn't need a frame for support due to its size. Using a screwdriver, remove the screen spline and the insect screen from the window.

  We won't be using it.  Sitting the back of the window on the wall where you want it to be, TRACE the window footprint with a good pen or pencil. 

Using a drill or paddle bit, drill near the corners to allow room for your jig saw to start.  Be sure to cut ON the line or just outside of it. 

When you get to a corner hole, square it off with the saw blade.  Test fit your window.  Make sure you have the bottom edge of the window in the down position of your wall.  It has the seep holes for rain and ice.

From the outside of your wall, gently drop the window in the hole and secure it with short screws to the plywood through the holes provided on the window.

Cut a piece of hardware cloth that is the size of the window panel plus about one inch to wrap around under the area that will be filled with the trim wood.  Cut the corners off so that you don't get bulk at corner that will not allow the trim to fit. 

Paint 1x3 or 1x4" pieces and cut to fit length and width of the window.  Attach with short screws.  Fill any corner gaps and screw holes with paintable caulking.  Allow to dry and touch up the trim paint.

Attach the front wall to the floor using 2.5" deck screws.  At this point, if you have to leave the project without surrounding support walls, add a scrap piece of angled wood to act as a temporary support.

The back wall basic construction is the same.  The difference in in the ventilation holes and the system to operate it.  It looks great and complicated, but is actually quite simple to build.  A chicken can handle the cold.  It's wearing a down coat.  Chicks cannot handle the cold for long as they don't have anything but down for the first few weeks.  When there's not a mother hen available, I use an electric broody plate which is far and away more safe than a heat lamp.  The chicks quickly learn to duck under when they get chilly, just like they would a hen.  Then they pop out to play. Rinse and repeat.  Over time, they spend less and less time under the heat pad. But they still need ventilation, but not a draft.  That said the back wall has a row of vent holes.  The flow can be controlled by a sliding door.

To build this is easy.  Just take your time.  Figure out how long of a space your holes will take up and add 4 inches.  That's how long your door slide piece will be.  Make sure you have the room for that on your wall.  The height of your slide will be the height of your holes plus 4 or 5 inches.  I simply painted a 1x4 and a 1x2 and attached them with screws and created a frame on the back of the window, leaving one end open. 
This is where you will slide the board in.  Make sure the scrap of plywood you use is thin enough to slide freely in the slot. Add the 4th end.  Caulk and paint the joints and screw holes.  On the inside of the vent holes, inside the coop, use a staple gun to cover the holes with more hardware cloth.

On the back wall, I placed the 2x2 as I did on the bottom of the front wall, but on the top inside of the back wall I used a 2x4 as this will allow for a solid mounting for the roof hinges. Measure and add the vertical 2x2s on each interior end.  Screw your back wall to the floor of the coop as you did the front.

Next is to create the end pieces.  The front wall is 24" high, and the back wall is only 20" high.  This allows for a gentle slope on the roof to shed rain. (6 feet long and 24 inches wide coop).  To create the end, I measured across the bottom of the end piece, 24", checked the front height, and back height and cut the ply to match.  Again I added a bottom and a near top 2x2.  It does not need vertical 2x2s as you can screw the end ply pieces to the vertical front and back wall studs.

The roof is a 7 foot x 41" (how wide my SUV is). It is painted on both sides and attached with very large and heavy duty hinges.  I purchased shingles from The Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for only a dollar a package.  DEAL!

BUT WHERE IS THE DOOR?!  The roof is the door!  It is heavy, but a 2x2 on a hinge acts as a large, safe kickstand to hold it open.  I may decide later to add a door on the side, but you wouldn't be able to access the whole interior from it, so I probably won't.  With the roof open, I can access ALL of the interior.

After the roof was shingled. I added a drip edge (should have been first, BUT I had to find it in the store.) and I added a top edge to match the main coop.  Painted 1x2s were added as trim to match the large coop, as well as a metal chicken silhouette, like the main coop. 

The final step is to add the front gates.  Measure the upper and lower opening and measure and cut 2x2 and using screws, toenail them in.  To the bottom of the front skirting, using fence staples add hardware cloth digging barrier.

Measure the doorway and create two frames from 1x4s, paint, cover in hardware cloth, and add hinges.  Attach each gate to the run and then install critter proof hasps. (I don't like the hasps.  There is too much play in them.  They will be promptly replaced with a locking barrel closure.)

These are the clips I settled on.  They are kind of like giant safety pins! Easy to use and they work great!

I did decide to add a hasps to secure the roof.  NOT that any critter can get it open, but even though it weighs a great deal, it will keep the howling winds on my hill from grabbing ahold of it.

If I determine the coop needs more ventilation, it is easy to add more sliding vent holes on either end later. I did decide to add a covered hole for the use of an electric cord if needed in the future for the heating pad.  For that I simply purchased a cord pass through.  Those plastic things you see on your computer desk,  Drill the correct size hole for your piece.  Add caulk to secure and replace the cap when not in use.  Mine is located high up under the back roof to minimize moisture chances.  Always put a drip loop in your cord regardless.

And MOST important... the construction crew approves!

There you have it, Little Lolly.  Just in time for the 5 chicks Flora didn't want to raise.
Doris - white crested Polish (after Doris Day and her grand hats)

Dot - speckled sussex

BB-  partridge cochin

(Not shown -  Dash- the Silver Laced Wyandotte, and Katrina- the Barnvelder)

I shopped for lumber on May 10th and set the posts that night.  I finished on May 21st.

I had some of the items already like screws, caulk, hardware cloth, and shingles.  The lumber was new as was the window.  I was also out of concrete.  BUT figuring in what I would have had to purchase if I was starting with nothing in the barn, the whole project come to $240.

That crummy coop from the farm store that lasted one season before the rubbish men hauled it off for me?

Winner, Winner, chicken dinner! Oh wait.... we'll have steak instead.