Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Duck Duck Peahen

When I have a crazy idea, Dara either tolerates it, or rolls her eyes and accepts it. I am lucky that she is pretty tolerant of my propensity to add more projects to the homestead. Recently she came home and said, "we are getting ducks". I think I am rubbing off on her. I wanted ducks as well, but I don't think she was asking.

I told her the ducks were her project. So who do you think feeds, waters and changes the bedding? Hint, their name consists of more than four letters. Here she is designing the duck house. I told her the dimensions of the left over wood I had laying around. I love it when we can build something out of scrap wood laying around.

Here it is. I have made some improvements to it since. I will do a winter duck post talking about how I insulated it later. Ducks don't really need much. If they have a roof over their heads, food and a water supply, they are pretty happy. My nephews kiddy pool turned into the puppy pool and has now turned into the duck pond.

The type of duck you get depends on what you want out of them. We chose Muscovy (Cairina moschata) ducks for multiple reasons. They are very quiet. If fact, they barely make a noise over a hiss. They require very little water and do not need a large pond to thrive. I do have plans to put in a sizable pond in the future. I am sure they will love it, but if you don't have a pond, a small kiddy pool or stock tank will work just fine. They are great foragers and will eat many pests on your property. They will pick mosquitoes out of the air and will happily devour garden slugs. They are cold hardy, great mothers, good egg layers in season, they will stand up to predators and the meat is great!

The large one in the middle is our breeding drake Half and Half. He came from our friend Mike's homestead. The female behind him is Mimi. She and the three young ones came from our friends over at Shady Coop Farm. Muscovy ducks are very interesting. They are native to South and Central America. They had been domesticated by many native peoples way before the "discovery" of the new world. All domestic ducks you have ever seen are all descended from the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) except the Muscovy, which has its own evolutionary path, sharing an ancestor with Mallard ducks.

Muscovy ducks are good flyers. Here is Half and Half on top of the garage with our peahen Fergie. At first they didn't care for each other. Now they seem to be good friends. We eventually caught the ducks and clipped their wings so they would not leave the yard. We were debating on whether or not to clip them. The decision was made when I found one of the young ducks in the road after work one night. That was our first livestock loss on the homestead. Clipping their wings does not hurt them and I recommend it if you plan on keeping ducks. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Perennial Harvest

We have had a lot of recent posts about chickens. This post only has pictures of them for scale. =)

Any idea what this is? A dirt golem? Maybe a Illithid? I planted this three years ago and decided it was time to harvest it. I noticed it was sending out runners and it was very close to one of our leach lines. It took the good part of an hour to get the whole thing out of the ground. I have a feeling I will be fighting this plant for years to come where I dug it up. It propagates rather easily from root cuttings.

Give up? It is a three year old horseradish plant (Armoracia rusticana). Horseradish is in the brassica family along with cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi. This plant has been used by humans since records have been kept and most likely way before that. It has been used as a medicine since the middle ages. Most people know it for its edible qualities, notably that stuff you put in cocktail sauce. That pungent smell you associate with it is actually a chemical reaction that takes place when you break the cell walls. The grating process creates a compound called allyl isothiocyanate or mustard oil. Here is a pretty picture for my nerdy readers.

Do you like sushi? Do you like wasabi with your sushi? Most commercial wasabi is made from the horseradish plant, not the wasabi plant, which is hard to cultivate and expensive. Horseradish is used in the biochemical world quite a lot. An enzyme found in its roots; horseradish peroxidase , is used as a signal amplifier to help increase detectability of specific molecules.

Here it is all cleaned up. This is well over 10 pounds of horseradish. I gave a bunch away, stored a bunch in peat moss in the garage and plan to use all the runners and crowns in the spring to propagate it to sell. I killed two birds with one stone when I dug it up. I want to put in a bunch of small preformed ponds in my garden. The hole this left is the perfect place for one. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chicken Tractor's Final Move

As I alluded to in a previous post, the chicken tractor I built became a burden to move. I decided to park it and let it become a stationary chicken coop. I have three main reasons for this decision. The first being its weight and how hard it is to move. The second reason is shade. When I moved the coop in tractor mode, it would sit out in the blazing sun all day. The chickens would try to stay in the limited shadow the coop cast in the run. I decided to park it under one of my oak trees where it will get shade in the summer and sun in the winter. The final reason I parked it is pretty shitty. I will explain in a moment.

I had to make sure the foundation was solid. I decided to lay a bunch of 8" x 16" patio stones instead of pouring concrete, just in case I ever need to move it. The good thing about concrete is it levels itself passively with gravity. It took me a long time to level all of these stones. I used a flat shovel, a 4 ft level, a tape measure and some gin and juice. Eventually everything lined up. Note the position of the chicken tractor.

I started to arc the tractor towards its final resting spot two weeks before I put the stones down. Every two days I would move the tractor a little closer. Once I got it to this spot, the next move was its last. One of the reasons I choose this spot is it has electric at the light pole. I don't plan on using heat lamps, but you never know when you will want power for something. 

Back to the shitty reason to park the chicken tractor. When the tractor is moved, all the chicken shit is spread over the whole yard. When it is parked, you can do what is called the "deep litter" method. The principle is the same as composting your kitchen scraps. You just need to get your carbon (straw / leaves) to nitrogen (chicken shit) ratio right. The chickens will constantly scratch the straw and deposit nitrogen, efficiently turning your compost for you. It is amazing how fast a bale of straw turns into dark nutrient rich compost. I throw a lot of kitchen scraps and yard waste in as well. You can harvest this compost 3-4 times a year. I plan on letting it build up until the end of fall. I will harvest the compost and let it age on the garden beds over the winter. This will ensure the compost is not to "hot" with nitrogen when I plant in the spring.

Here is the final product, painted yellow of course to match the house, garage and dog house. The egg collection door is about 25 ft from the back door of the house. It is easy and convenient to collect the eggs everyday. We let the chickens out when we get home from work and on the weekends. Otherwise they are busy turning straw to compost. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Feed And Water Buckets

I made a 5 gallon chicken feeder and a 5 gallon water bucket for the chicken coop. These come in handy when leaving for a few days or so you don't have to fill a smaller feed and water bucket everyday.

You start with a 5 gallon food grade bucket available at any hardware store. I used a jigsaw to cut out the holes in the side. If you have a 2-3 inch hole cutter for your drill, I would use that. You can find the metal pan at any agriculture store for about $5.


I screwed the metal pan to the 5 gallon bucket. Run your screws through the metal pan into the 5 gallon bucket. I screwed wine corks into the screws inside the bucket to hold it in place. I am sure there is a better way to do it, but this worked well for me.


For the waterer, start with a food grade 5 gallon bucket. You will need to pick up some horizontally mounted chicken nipples to make this waterer. You can find them here. Follow the instructions that come with them. You basically drill a hole smaller than the widest part of the nipple you screw in. You then screw the nipple into the bucket until it is tight and upright. The best part is the chickens can't get the water dirty!

Monday, September 29, 2014

DIY Chicken Tractor

This post is long and long overdue. I built a chicken tractor over the spring. What's a chicken tractor you ask? Well that depends on if you ask a green tractor chicken or a red tractor chicken...

Most people look at me funny when I say I have a chicken tractor. I think they imagine a dozen chickens tethered to a plow or something. A select few probably imagine an actual chicken driving a tractor. If you fall into the latter camp, I would love to know what you think a cock fight is. Leave a comment down below.

A chicken tractor is simply a chicken coop and run that can be moved. Most people build the tractor with the bottom open to the grass and move it every couple days. This allows the chickens to graze fresh pasture and bugs while being protected from predators. 

I bought three 4 ft x 16 ft cattle panels from our local agriculture store. I am surprised I didn't get pulled over driving like this. Make sure you have some pads and good ratchet straps if you are going to attempt something like this.

DISCLAIMER: I built this chicken tractor too heavy and it is a pain to move. If you are going to follow the design in this blog you should seriously consider moving it with a riding mower, instead of by hand. 

Material list: ( I am sure I am missing something, but this should be most of the supplies used.)
  • 3 - 4ft x 16ft cattle panels.
  • 2 - Pressure treated 12ft 2x4's.
  • 2 - Pressure treated 8ft 2x4's.
  • A lot of untreated 2x4's. I seriously went back twice to get more. Maybe a dozen or so.
  • 1 - 4ft x 8ft x 1/2 inch plywood.
  • 3 - 4ft x 8ft x 1/4 inch plywood.
  • 3 rolls of 25ft hardware cloth with 1/2 inch squares.
  • 2 rolls of 25ft chicken wire.
  • 3 - 2ft x 8ft galvanized steel corrugated metal roofing sheets.
  • 1 Box of "U" Grip-Rite staples.
  • 1 Box of self-tapping metal screws.
  • 1 Box of neoprene washers for self-tapping screws. 
  • 1 Box of exterior screws. 
  • 8 - 6 inch lag bolts with washers and nuts.
  • Metal cutting blade for circular saw.
  • Spool of galvanized wire.
  • Exterior paint.
  • Ratchet straps
  • Various power tools.

Everything I read about building chicken tractors said "DO NOT BUILD IT TOO HEAVY". I figured I could build the tractor on sleds and pull it around the yard with no problem. Boy was I wrong. If you actually keep the finished weight of your tractor manageable, you could move it around the yard on sleds. Before I put the coop in, I could pull it around easily by hand. 

Once you have the ends of your 12ft 2x4's rounded off, you can now attach the cattle panels. I overlapped the panels to fit inside the runner boards.You can make your tractor longer or shorter than this, its up to you.

I used Grip-Rite staples to attach the cattle panels to the 2x4's. I ended up going back and putting two more staples in each square. I measured half way down the 2x4 and lined the cattle panel up so it is in the center of the 2x4.

You will want some help bending the cattle panels. Once I had them in a "U", I used ratchet straps to hold it in place. I then attached the 8ft 2x4's to hold it together. Make sure you have the sides you stapled the cattle panels to, facing in. You don't want the panels pushing out against the staples on the outside.

I used two, 6 inch lag bolts on each corner. Notice I cut out a 1 1/2 inch section on the 8ft 2x4's , leaving a 1/2 inch on the top. This is so when you move the tractor, the front and back boards are not dragging on the ground. Make sure you do this to both sides on the front and back 8ft 2x4's.

Here is the frame all bolted together. At this point it was easy to move around on the sleds. If you didn't want a coop in your tractor, I think you could move this by hand pretty easily, even once all the hardware cloth and chicken wire is attached.

Here is my solution to crafty critters like racoons. Racoons have been known to figure out slide locks and other closing mechanisms. To my knowledge, they haven't figured out carabiners yet. I will let you know if they do.

One of the hardest parts of building the tractor was cutting the plywood to fit on the ends of the coop. I cut it perfectly round, then had to adjust it multiple times to get it to fit. An easy way to get a perfect half circle is to tie a string the length of the radius of the half circle you want, to a pencil. Place the open end of the string in the middle of your board and pull the string taut. Move the pencil to the left and right until you have your half circle drawn.

I spent a lot of time "shaving" off wood to get the ends of the coop to fit. I didn't want to go to far, you can't add wood back on, so I had to cut a little, go check the fit, and cut some more.

You can use whatever you want for a roof. I chose metal for longevity and I think it looks cool. I bought a metal cutting blade for my circular saw and cut these 8 ft galvanized panels in half.

I then screwed them together using self driving metal screws with water tight washers. I overlapped each panel so water will run down the outside and not leak in. Make sure the overlaps are going the right way when you put the roof on.

Here is a close up of a self driving screw with rubber / metal washer. Buy a magnetic bit for your drill, it will be worth every penny.

You should end up with something like this. Some people use plastic tarps for chicken tractor roofs. That would make a much lighter roof, but it would need to be replaced every couple years or so.

I ripped a lot of 2x4's to make this tractor. I attached the roof to three ripped 2x4's that I ran at the height I wanted the bottom of the coop to be. I then screwed the roof into more ripped 2x4's along the inside of the roof. I off set these in about 2 inches on each side. I used these to attach the front and back of the coop walls.

The floor of the coop is then screwed into the ripped 2x4's on the bottom. You want to use the 1/2 inch plywood for the floor of the coop. You will want to do most of your interior work on the coop before you attach the final wall.

In my attempt to keep the weight of the chicken tractor down, I used very thin plywood and ripped a bunch of 2x4's to build the nest boxes.

I ended up going with 6 nest boxes for my 16 laying hens. Each box is approximately 12 inch x 12 inch at the opening with head room once they step into the box. I designed a small incline you can see in this pic on the bottom of the nest boxes. This will hopefully make the eggs roll back to the collection door. 

Here I am installing the nest boxes. I ran some more ripped 2x4's on the floor of the coop to screw the front and back wall into. Make sure these are set back as far as the ripped 2x4's the roof is screwed into so the walls fit straight. The nest box is screwed into the ripped 2x4 in the back. I had to put another ripped 2x4 under the front of the nest box to keep my slope. Make sure your nest box roof has a steep pitch on it, or your chickens will hang out on top of it.

Dara and my sister helped attach the hardware cloth and chicken wire to the cattle panels. You can use plastic zip ties for this if you want. I opted to go with a more permanent solution and used galvanized wire. Make sure you attach the hardware cloth securely and not allow any part of it to be able to be pulled away from the cattle panels. Critters that want to eat your chickens are diligent and crafty.

I decided to go up the cattle panels 4 ft with hardware cloth. I used chicken wire, which is cheaper, to cover the top. The main reason I chose hardware cloth is; raccoons have been known to put their arm through chicken wire and kill chickens if they get too close to the wire. If a raccoon climbed the hardware cloth to put his arm into the chicken wire, he would not be able to grab any chickens.

Here is the interior of the coop all finished. I put a temporary board over the entrances to the next boxes. If you are raising your birds from chicks, you want to keep them out of the next boxes until they are ready to lay. Once I attached the front coop wall, I cut out this entrance and used a larger piece of plywood as a door. I want to replace it with plexiglass one day so I can spy on them. You can see the hinge and door on the bottom right of the pic. I harvested some saplings for the roosts. You want them to be about 2 inches wide.

Because I made the coop to heavy to pull on the sleds, I decided I would put wheels on it to move it. Another mistake. Drilling through 1/4 inch steel is hard, I went through 4 bits drilling all the holes.

The wheels are on the bottom of the steel bars. The holes above them are where they get attached to the tractor. This creates an offset so when you lift the steel bar handle, the coop raises off the ground about a foot. In principle, this is a great idea. When I actually tried to move the coop, it wouldn't budge. The wheels are to small and narrow for all the weight of the tractor. I plan on taking these off of the chicken tractor and using them on a much lighter tractor for broiler birds next year.

Sorry about the bad photos, I can only move the tractor at night when the chickens have gone up to roost. This pic shows how the wheels raise the tractor off of the ground. I have a small hole drilled in the steel bar where that piece of 2x4 is. Once I have the bar perpendicular to the ground, I put a nail through the bar and into the 2x4 to hold it in place.

The solution I finally came up with to move this beast was to use the wheels to raise the tractor off of the ground, and then lay 3 inch PVC pipes under it. The tractor is movable at this point. I am not saying it is easy, just movable. You have to stop after you pull the tractor over the PVC and reposition the PVC to move the tractor again. A real pain in the cloaca. 

Here is the tractor all done except for painting the coop walls. I moved it around the yard every three days or so for about 3 months. A post coming soon will explain why I stopped moving it and what I did with it.

Learn from my mistakes and either use these plans to make a stationary coop, or build a lighter version that can be moved by hand. If you have a lawn tractor you may be able to move a coop like this. Hope this helps. Leave a comment if you have any questions or if I left something out you would like to know about.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Supervised Free Range Chickens

After talking to some knowledgeable friends, I have decided to try letting the girls out on supervised free range expeditions. I hope this cuts down on my feed bill. Even if it doesn't, I bet the chickens will be happier and healthier.

Let me tell you, they love it! At first they just milled about the coop entrance, but as soon as the first adventurous hen decided to to try out her wings, they were all over the yard in minutes. When it was time to go up for the night 14 of 16 went straight to the coop and put themselves up. We only had to corral 2 of them. They probably would have figured it out eventually.

I am a little worried about the dog chasing them and some of them flying over the 4 foot fence. I had the puppy on the tie out for this trial run. They came right up to him and he just looked at them. But, when they run from him, his instincts to herd take over and he chases. It may be a while before I trust him around them off the tie out.

Our whole back yard is fenced with two large oaks and a few evergreens to give them shade and hiding spots. My other concern is hawks. I will only let them out when I can be in the back yard to watch over them. Supposedly the peahen is a good guardian. If she see hawks she will fluff up her feathers and dance around to ward them away. I have not witnessed this behavior yet, lets hope it is true.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Finally! We now have eggs! Only two of our hens are laying so far. None of the Araucana's are laying yet, we are just getting brown eggs so far. Can't wait to get some blue / green eggs!

How much do you pay for local farm fresh eggs? I paid about $800 for these two. Once the flock really starts laying, they will eventually recoup their cost and make us a profit. We already have a bunch of co-workers who are interested in buying eggs from us. Do you keep chickens? How much did your first egg cost you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Getting Ready For Eggs!

Dara and Higgs are putting fake ceramic eggs in the nest boxes. The chickens will see these and know where to lay the real eggs.

These fake eggs look very real. Every time I open the nest boxes, I get excited until I realize these eggs are ceramic.

Some people use golf balls or plastic Easter eggs. I saw these ceramic eggs at the local Ag store and couldn't resist. If you have chickens, what do you use? How long after your chickens started laying did you leave the fake eggs in? Leave a comment and let me know.