As a followup to my post last month about ten tips for getting started with chickens, I thought I'd share what our chicken-keeping friends said they wished they'd known about chickens when they brought their first birds home.
Several readers told me that their biggest lesson was how easy chickens were, how fun they were, or even how much their family could learn to love their birds. The take-home message? Don't delay your own chicken adventure!
Others had more trouble with their poultry flock. Jane often had to coop her birds up in the chicken tractor since they kept invading her garden and Joe found out the hard way that it's a bad idea to mix chickens of various ages. Finally, Mason learned that roosters aren't the only noisy ones in the flock, and that even the hens can bother neighbors. (Some breeds are much quieter than others, so be sure to take this into account when planning your flock if you live in the city.)
One of the biggest problems many of our readers reported was chickens being eaten by owls, dogs, raccoons, and more. I recently shared my own thoughts on protecting chickens from predators on the homestead. My top suggestion is to make a secure coop you can close your chickens into at night, and I also recommend keeping a well-trained dog and rooster to protect the hens. Giving your chickens plenty of bushes and brush to hide amid will help too.
On a related note, many of our readers reported that they learned a lot about good chicken coops from watching their birds reject certain aspects of their current housing. If your chickens are roosting in trees at night, they definitely don't like the coop you made for them! One problem can be poor drainage, another is not planning ahead for manure management, while Charity wishes her coop had more sun, dirt floors, and fewer rodents.
Pests and diseases weren't mentioned much, but mites are sometimes a problem with chickens. Eva wrote in with her advice on mite prevention, which is sure to help if these critters come to call in your coop.
Finally, may of our readers wrote in to tell us that they wished they'd realized how simple chicken care would become after they invested in a POOP-free chicken waterer. This week, you can furnish your flock with an Avian Aqua Miser Original for only $25, so why wait?
Big Sawmill Jobs
All right, I’ll admit it. My sixty year old body just doesn’t do things as easily as it did twenty years ago. Problem is, my brain doesn’t always seem to get the message. I can look at a job and say to myself, “yes, I remembering lifting, shoving, riding, driving, or fixing something like that, so I’m sure I can do it again.” Usually by the end of the day, my brain catches up to what my body has been trying to tell it. This phenomenon is especially evident when I’m running the sawmill. The manual sawmill requires me to do all the lifting and log turning by hand, though I often enlist the aid of “Henry”, my 1953 8N Ford tractor. I have also installed a winch, which helps tremendously.
Meeting the Customer
While demonstrating the Norwood sawmill at the Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence, KS last fall (great show, by the way), I noticed a fellow watching as I cut one board after another from a fair-sized oak log. After introducing himself as Doug, I learned that he had some fair-sized sycamore trees on his property that had fallen, and he wondered whether I would be willing to come over and take a look to see whether I could saw them up. What I didn’t realize at the time was that “fair-sized” meant up to six feet diameter and forty feet tall! Once again, my brain kicked in without consulting my body. “Sure, I can mill those.” Truth is, I’ve never been beaten by a log, but I’ve never worked on anything this size.
Milling Oversize Logs
A few weeks later, I towed the mill 167 miles to the Doug’s place and went to work. The mill’s 36-inch diameter log capacity is big, even, for many big production sawmills, but we had to set the biggest logs aside for a later date. There were plenty of “small” logs to keep us going for a weekend. Fortunately, he had a loader that was capable of lifting the one-ton logs onto the mill. With careful positioning, we were able to get the maximum-size logs on the mill, and cut slabs thirty inches wide! Just imagine… a table top built from a single board. Sycamore has the best grain pattern with beautiful flecks, when quartersawn, so we did as much of that as we could, most of it with one natural edge. By the end of the first day, we were both exhausted, and I was more than glad to accept Doug’s offer to have dinner and stay over at his place.
With as much lumber as I saw, it takes a pretty impressive log to get my attention, but the lumber that came off was so beautiful, I bartered my work for wood, instead of the usual payment. Over the weekend, we only milled four logs, but wound up with nearly 2,000 board feet of lumber. As I stacked the wood on the back of my old Chevy flatbed and hooked up the mill, I thought about the other possible fates for this beautiful wood. Most likely was that it would have been bulldozed into a pile and burned — or simply left to rot. It certainly was satisfying to know that I had played a part in salvaging the log. My next project is to figure out a way to cut the bigger logs. The potential is mind boggling! Round conference tables six feet diameter, with chairs, and desks all made from the same log. Even the smaller pieces have me thinking about dulcimers, guitars, and other string instruments.
But that will have to wait. The rule of thumb is that wood has to air dry about one year for each inch of thickness, so I have a while to make my plans for it, though I expect I’ll sell most of it. As soon as I finish a project with it, I’ll post more photos.
The best part was forging a friendship with the owner of the trees. It will take at least two more weekends to finish up the job, and I look forward to his hospitality as much as I do the challenge of milling the rest of those logs!
Meanwhile, stay safe & warm, and I’ll try to do the same.
We’re already having duck drama, and they haven’t even arrived yet.
This past weekend, Dan and I attended the New England Meat Conference in Concord, N.H. One of the classes we took was on raising alternative types of poultry, namely geese, ducks, pheasants (which I’m told technically aren’t considered poultry), and quail. This class was important, as Dan and I placed our order for chicks and ducklings last month and we’re expecting them to arrive the end of April. I was in charge of placing the order (Actually, I kind of assumed this duty because I like shopping) and in addition to our agreed upon chicks, I threw in some Pekin ducks for meat and some Indian Runners because I’d like to see what it’s like to raise ducks for eggs.
Indian Runners have had a special place in my heart since I saw them at the Bolton Fair, an annual country fair held in Lancaster, MA. This was early in my farm infatuation days and when I was walking through the poultry tent trying to get my agricultural fix, I saw this adorable upright duck standing very politely in a cage waiting for the 4-H show to begin. I stopped dead in my tracks, immediately felt a warm feeling fill my chest (it was love) and read on the placard that he was an Indian Runner. Since I was too shy to take his picture, I jumped on Youtube once I got home and spent way too much time watching videos of them running around eating bugs. I was surprised at the sudden affinity I felt for this bird and kept thinking about how nice it would be to have my life and career set up in a way that I could have some ducks of my own. It occurred to me then that I could if I had a farm.
During the Alternative Poultry class, one of the first things the presenter mentioned was not to keep ducks near your house. “They quack all the time.” I could sense the sideways glance from Dan. He continued, “They quack all night. If they hear a dog bark, if a cloud drifts across the moon…” Background info: My dog’s goal in life is to bark at people and small animals. We can also see the moon in New Hampshire. The sideways glance turned into a 90* full body rotation and narrow eyed stare. The sensitive response would not have been laughing, but that’s what happened. All I could imagine is the dog barking at the moon induced quacking spree, then the ducks quacking more because of the barking and the continuing cycle, all happening in the dead of night. Since I will be at Polyface all summer, I will not have to deal with the impending quackapalooza, even though they were solely my idea to add to the order. Sorry Dan. The next order of business will be to find a remote corner of the property we can stick them so Dan can actually sleep where we won’t bother the neighbors either.
The next thing that came up is that ducks are, apparently, really annoying to process. The presenter mentioned that removing the feathers is a huge pain once they’ve reached the pin feather stage and that their skin is delicate and prone to tearing. He indicated we’d have a hard time finding a processor and where we’re not set up to process on site, this caused some anxiety. Since then, I’ve found some licensed places in our state who will process the ducks, but the pricing is double that of the chickens, so we’ll have to build that into our pricing when the time comes.
The First Year
At the conference, many farmers told us the first year is the hardest. As I’m sure all you seasoned veterans know, you have to set up systems, find reputable vendors, analyze which feed is best for your needs, wade through regulations, take care of your animals, make sure neighbors aren’t appalled by what you’re doing, build infrastructure, try to stay under budget, all while building a social media presence and finding markets for your products. Luckily for us, the process has been, for the most part, exciting and fun. It is a privilege to say we’re going to be farmers and we’re happy to pay our dues. I am also looking forward to the Polyface Summer Internship, not only to get away from the quacking (just kidding), but because I have a lot to learn.
Aeration is the biggest key to a healthy pond and fish and the first tool to invest in, it is an investment similar to building the pond, but now we want to keep the pond alive, even reverse the aging process. When an aeration system is properly calculated and designed for your pond we are able to turn over the entire volume of water once a day which will supply the pond’s oxygen demand. Here’s what happens when the pond is aerated properly with a bottom diffused aeration system. Take for example a one acre pond 12’ deep in the center and the bottom floor is shaped like a bowl.
Sitting at the shoreline is a ¼ hp rocking piston air compressor, from the compressor the air travel down weighted rubber tubing to the bottom diffuser. Once the air reaches the diffuser it emits tiny air bubbles. (These are rubber membrane diffusers, not stones) These tiny air bubbles race to the surface of the pond, as the race to the surface they are each pushing, pulling and en-training water along with them.
After these bubbles reach the surface of the pond they simply pop and the water carried with them creates a “boil” of water, so to speak. This boil is all the water these tiny bubbles have pushed up. In addition to moving water they also push out the toxic gasses from the bottom of the pond which contains carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. The result of these tiny bubbles racing up from 12’ deep water is approx 3800 gallon per minute of water movement, with a ¼ horse rocking piston compressor. The continued movement de-stratifies the water tension allowing oxygen to be absorbed and pushes water out to the shoreline, essentially stacking the pond with oxygen.
With the pond now having the oxygen demand met a few new actions can take place. Fish can now use the entire depth of the pond, essentially making more room for more fish and the pond more inhabitable from top to bottom. With oxygen, good bacteria known as aerobic bacteria can thrive at the bottom of the pond, their job is to consume muck and debris built up each year making the pond shallower and over time would fill in the pond.
Beneficial bacteria’s will now be able to reach the depths of the pond due to the oxygen at the bottom. These are aerobic bacteria’s and thrive in oxygen rich water to consume nutrients left from decaying weeds, leaves, fish waste and everything else that falls into the pond. When the pond does not have adequate aeration those toxic gasses build up and could very well end up with a fish kill.
Don’t get me wrong there are bacteria in the pond but these live without oxygen and produce these foul smells. They also work on the decaying process but are so slow at it they can’t keep up and the pond eventually fills in with muck.
The second effective tool is adding beneficial bacteria’s to the pond. Usually along the shore line and let the diffuser pull in the aerobic bacteria to the bottom to working on the muck. Along the shoreline is generally the worse area for muck since this is the warmest spot of the pond, weeds and algae grow mostly in the shallows and depending on wind direction floating debris ends up along the shoreline.
Don’t worry I know it sounds strange to add bacteria but these are the good guys and yes there could be bad bacteria in your pond from too many geese around, livestock pasture or the septic tank and leech bed are nearby. In the event of fecal coli the aeration system will help to precipitate these toxic bacteria’s.
The specialized bacteria treatments we use are a formulation which contains multiple Pseudomonas cultures, as well as Bacillus cultures. It also contains beneficial enzymes and a growth nutrient to help break down the debris and be consumed reducing the sludge and muck build up plus suspended organics. You’ll see different products for water clarity and sludge and muck reduction, both products have the same make up but the major difference is the sludge and muck product has more of a concentration of bacteria for the bottom muck while the Pond Clarifier for water clarity is reverse in its bacteria make up.
Treatments or the dosage rate of these bacteria products are every two weeks, sine the bacteria do multiply and move around in the pond they also start to die off after a couple weeks.
This is the simple two step method we’ve used for years and have had no problems with algae, like we once had. Back then the pond was almost as green as the grass and raking algae out almost every day. But once we go the correct aeration system sized for the pond it’s no more rakes and the only green is the landscape around the pond. So I’m not caught in a lie we also use pond dye to give the pond an amazing color.
One last note on aeration bacteria treatment and dye is they are not harmful to the environment, wildlife and domestic animals. We’ve been using these products for up to four years now and our dogs drink from the ponds. As do the deer, geese, ducks, turkey and all forms of natural habitat in and around the pond with no ill effects.
In depth details about Pond Aeration can be found in Darrell's book, Pond Aeration 101, different types, how the work and the pond life cycle.
Aeration systems should be designed and calculated for each individual pond to assure proper water movement and that the oxygen demand will be met for that particular pond. Click to see more information on Proper Aeration.
Here in the northeast, we have been experiencing temperatures near zero at night, and in the teens and twenties during the day. It has been a long, cold winter for everyone, including honeybees! It is still much too cold to open up the hives to do a thorough inspection. However, this is the time of year when beehives can be lost to starvation, so it is important to try and do a quick check to make sure the bees have enough honey to hold them over until warmer weather arrives, and the first blooms appear.
To do this quick check, you need a day that is at least in the 40’s, preferably with plenty of sun and little wind. We were lucky enough to have a two day break with temperatures near 50 degrees, so we were able to do a quick check of our hives.
While the bees are not usually very active this time of year, they are likely to be very unhappy when disturbed! I take the usual precautions of using a smoker and veil, although it does feel very strange to be walking out to the beeyard with a smoker and veil when there is a foot of snow on the ground!
Assessing Beehive Health in Winter
After gently puffing the smoke into the entrances, I wait a minute, and then remove the outer cover, remove the super of straw (see my earlier post, In the Beeyard: Final Winter Preparations), and then gently pry off the inner cover. Here is what I look for:
1. Where are the bees? If the bees are clustered at the very top of the uppermost super, they may be in trouble. Bees work their way up eating honey through the winter, so if they are already up top, honey stores may be low. If I can hear the bees “humming”, and the cluster is somewhere below the top super of honey so I can’t see them, they are probably in good shape.
2. How much honey is left in that top super? Are the frames of honey in the top super still full? Are about half of them empty? Or, are most or all of them empty? For our area, if the top super is less than three-quarters full, I plan on doing something to supplement the food supply.
If you have determined that your bees may need some help staying fed until the end of winter, there are a few different ways to get some emergency feed to them. If you have any frames of honey you have saved or that you can take from a hive that did not make it through winter, they can be put in an empty super, and set right on top of the current top super. You can also remove empty frames and replace them with full frames, but try not to disturb the cluster of bees – they are trying to keep themselves and the queen warm!
If you plan ahead of time, you can make “fondant”, or sugar candy, to put on top of the upper super. There are many recipes for honeybee fondant online. Here is one link to Bee Hive Journal that has several different recipes. It is important to cut or break the fondant into small enough pieces to fit under the inner cover.
A third way to feed the bees in winter is called the “Mountaincamp Method”. You simply lay a sheet of newspaper over the top super. You can make a few thin slices in it, and pour granulated sugar over the top. Not the preferred way to feed bees, but good in a pinch! Again, if the cluster is already near the top, be careful not to disturb them too much.
Whichever method you choose to supplement your hives, be sure to have it ready ahead of time. This time of year it is important to work calmly but quickly, and to close the hives back up as soon as you can! The bees need time to reform the cluster, and warm up again.
While I am there, I also take some time to clean the lower entrances. I remove the mouse guard, and use a metal skewer to gently pull any dead bees and debris out onto the ground before replacing the mouse guard. This improves ventilation, and gets the hive ready for when the bees start flying in the spring.
Taking the time to do a quick check can help hives that might be in trouble make it until spring, and give you the peace of mind that you have done everything you can to help the bees make it through a long cold winter.
When I first started thinking about beekeeping, my knowledge of bee hives went something like this: stack some white boxes against a fence or tree line and bees will make honey. Ok, maybe I wasn't quite that far off base but I had no understanding of how to begin. Most of the hives I saw appeared to lean precariously, ready to fall over in the slightest breeze. I did not know these boxes had names or why they looked so haphazard.
There is a learning curve with any new hobby. My mission is to help new beekeepers by describing some of these basic facts so you can avoid some of the early frustration I experienced. This post will walk you through setting up a hive that honeybees will want to live in.
The most common hive style in use is the Langstroth design. Patented by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in 1852, the hive consists of stackable boxes with movable frames. The boxes have no top or bottom. This structure provides shelter for honeybees plus a system that allows the beekeeper to monitor the activity and health of the colony.
The Hive Stand
A hive can not sit directly on the ground. Ground moisture will seep through the wood and into the floor of the hive. Wet basements are not good for bees. Your base does not need to be fancy. A wooden pallet or concrete blocks will do. Some beekeepers will nail together a small wooden pad to support the hive. There are stands available for order that are made specifically for this purpose if you are inclined to go that route. As long as the hive is raised off the ground and not in direct contact with the soil, any type of stand is acceptable. Understand that if using wood you will need to replace it every few years as the wood deteriorates. The height of the stand is personal preference. Since I am on the rather short side of stature, an old pallet works for me.
The floor of the hive may be solid wood or a screened board. Either are referred to as the bottom board. With the increase in varroa mite infestations, many beekeepers are using a screened bottom board as part of their mite control system. The bottom board has a ledge around three sides that supports the box above it. The open side is the entrance to the hive. A block of wood called an entrance reducer is used during cold weather and when establishing a new hive to close down part of the entrance.
A typical hive will have two brood boxes containing ten frames each. These boxes may also be referred to as hive body boxes and are exactly what it sounds like: where the brood is raised. The queen lays eggs in an semicircle on each side of the frames. Honey and pollen for the use of the colony are also stored in these frames around the brood area. Brood boxes are 9 5/8" deep.
The term "super" was the most difficult for me to understand when first learning about beekeeping. Things finally clicked for me when someone explained that these more shallow boxes are called "supers" due to their position of being "super imposed" on the hive. Supers are where the bees store excess honey that the beekeeper removes and harvests. In a good year, you may see three or four supers on each hive. A typical set up will have one or two. A strong colony with good nectar flow fills 2 or 3 of these supers per year in my area.
Supers come in different sizes according to the expectation of the finished product. If the product is to have liquid honey the typical sized super is a medium or Illinois super. This box will be 6 5/8". If the end product is comb honey a shallow super ( 5 11/16") is used.
Both brood boxes and supers have inserts called frames. These are where the bees fill hexagon shaped cells with eggs for larvae, pollen, nectar and honey. At Five Feline Farm we use a plastic foundation stamped with the shape of honeycomb. This is coated with beeswax to encourage the bees to build on or "draw out" these cells for use. The exception to using a plastic base is when comb honey is desired, then a pure beeswax sheet is used. Frames are sized according to the box they will be used in. Brood boxes have 10 frames. Although supers can fit 10 frames, 9 are usually evenly spaced in the box. Bees will draw out the cells a little deeper and each cell will contain a bit more honey. The deeper cell is a benefit when de-capping the cells.
There are two lids to the hive: the inner cover and outer cover. The inner cover is rather flat with an oval cut out of the middle. This gives some insulation and ventilation space for the bees. The outer cover telescopes over the inner cover and provides a weather proof covering for the hive.It is typically weighted down with rocks or bricks to keep it secure in wind.So now you have a brief reference to get you started. And that haphazard looking tilt? Position your hives so there is a slight angle for drainage. Any condensation or other moisture that might collect in the hive will drain out and not pool in the bottom. The higher the stack of boxes, the more obvious the tilt.
Julia is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm where honeybees are part of the effort to return to a sustainable, more simple way of life. Visit our website: www.FiveFelineFarm.com and like us on Facebook.
Baby it's cold out there! Even though it's March and temperatures should be on the rise, the kidding season will need extra precautions this year; because practically the whole country is facing this same dilemma. I thought I would touch on a few points on how to deal with this never ending frigid condition.
Creating a little “warm house” for the kids will be well worth your effort. If you can get your hands on a couple of those blue plastic 55 gallon barrels, you can make a really warm, cuddle spot for your babies. Make sure the barrel is open on both ends, that way it can be placed on the hay so when the kids poop and pee, it will fall into the hay and not on the bottom of the barrel for them to be lying in!
Next, cut a little door in the side near the bottom, making sure that it's large enough for baby, but too small for momma to get in it! Of course, momma will love to stick her head in to get a little warmth herself.
Lastly, hang a heat lamp over the top of it so that it warms the barrel, keeping the babies free from the extreme cold and chilly drafts.
Hint: With heat lamps, please make sure they are securely fastened. A good idea is to use two means of support.
Probably the most important way to keep babies warm and dry is getting them that way immediately at birth. We keep an inexpensive blow dryer in our kidding bag which also contains six bath towels. Helping the mom get the babies dried off right at birth is the fastest and easiest way to assure nice, healthy kids. The biggest problem areas are ears, hoofs, tails, and of course, the testicles on little boys.
If you raise goats with pendulous ears such as Nubian's and Boer's, these ears are the most susceptible to frostbite. And, those adorable little hoofies can harbor goop that will freeze faster than the speed of lightning, so make sure you clean between the cloves really well. Most folks remember the ears and hoofs but forget all about that cute little tail and those tiny testicles. You can turn a potentially gorgeous breeding buck into a wether by neglecting this important step.
After drying off these areas as best as you can, it's time to take out the blow dryer and make sure the whole baby is warm and dry. The sound of the blow dryer can sometimes startle the mom, so keep that in mind. There are some does that just love the warm, blowing heat from the dryer and will hog all that drying breeze!
After the kids are all cleaned and warmed up, it's time to attend to mom. I always check her teats by milking just a squirt or two to make sure the waxy plug has been removed. Most of the time, the babies can just nurse the plug out, but every now and then, especially in fiber goats, the plug can be a little more difficult, so a little intervention will not only prevent a hungry baby, but a build up in the udder that can eventually cause mastitis!
Once all these steps have been completed, we always mix up a gallon of warm water (warm to the touch) mixed with ¼ cup of molasses and offer this to the doe. Usually the mother will drink this down so fast you won't believe it! She is thirsty from giving birth, first of all, and secondly, she will love the sweetness of this “tea”. The little boost of iron from the molasses certainly doesn't hurt either!
For ten years, well over 1,000 people from all over the United States, Canada, and other foreign countries have made a bi-annual trek to our small central Maine farm. The reason for this pilgrimage? To learn how to raise goats.
They come from all over to learn the basics of goat husbandry. They come to learn breeding, kidding, goat health, and nutrition as well as how to handle goat emergencies. They come to learn how to harvest fiber, raise goats for meat, and turn milk from dairy goats into cheese and soap!
Interested in learning more?? Our in depth goat husbandry program, “Goat School®” will be held in May! Memorial Day weekend ,Saturday, May 24th, and Sunday, May 25th are the dates, with a Goat Milk Soap and Goat Cheese Making Class on Monday, May 26th . Our Soap and Cheese Making Class is limited due to space requirements, and we already have some folks signed up for it, so if you are interested, please get your registrations in soon! Click here for Spring Goat School® registration form. Can't come in May? Then Columbus Day weekend in October (Oct. 11th, 12th with the Soap and Cheese class on Oct. 13th) might fit your schedule better! Click here for the fall Goat School® registration!
Check out our web site at www.GoatSchool.com Don't forget to click on the Goat School Shop and take a look at our Goat School® Manual.