Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Talkin' Turkey: Trip Leads to Unplanned Poultry Purchase

One of our Broad-breasted Whites

Three weeks ago, I noticed a sore on my son’s Boer doe’s cheek. I hollered at my husband, Matt, to go out to the barn to take a look at Mae’s cheek to see what he thought it was. At the first quick glance, I thought it was an engorged tick, with the surrounding skin inflamed and swollen. After determining it wasn’t a tick, but some kind of cut that had become infected, Matt decided that we needed to make the 25-mile trek to the farm-supply store to buy medicine for the wound.

Once there, he headed off to the medicine cabinet, and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the troughs of chicks by the feed section. “I’ll be over here when you’re done,” I called out to him. You know I can’t resist taking a peek at the lil' peepers!

So, I made my way around the troughs, seeing the usual breeds sold at these types of stores: Golden Buffs, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and the Cornish meat birds. This store also had Pekin and Khaki Campbell ducklings. And, finally, I saw two troughs with clearance stickers: the turkeys!

I could not believe the price on the clearance sign: $1 each. (Gasp!) Over the years as a poultry producer for farmers’ markets, I have raised a fair share of turkeys for our customers’ Thanksgiving feast. (I’m sure it was a fun story for them to tell their families because I’d arrive at our swanky special holiday market with a vanload of frozen turkeys. Like, yes, I actually got this turkey out of a van in the shopping center parking lot. Can you believe that?)

Now, I usually spent $7 - $8 per turkey chick when purchasing from a hatchery. It’s a huge expense in my poultry budget, and I would have my customers prepay so I would have the money to purchase feed and processing. Let me tell you, it costs us about $50 just to raise a turkey, from chick to processing, and that doesn’t account for licensing, insurance, market fees, etc.

So, I instantly wanted these clearance turkeys. The store had both Broad-breasted Whites and Bronzes. I have always raised the whites, so I wanted to try the bronzes and hoped that one would turn out to be a tom to keep as a farm mascot (but don’t tell Matt that, ok?). There were six left in the trough, and the clerk working in the area told me that I’d be her best friend if I bought them all because they were constantly flying out of their trough and she had to chase them all over the store. They were on clearance because they weren’t considered chicks anymore, but rather pullets that had feathered out. They were marked as “senior birds” because of their age, which to me, is an advantage. The turkeys looked about two to three weeks old, and were already feathered out, so a brooder isn’t really necessary this late in the spring. The store took care of them to get them through a critical chick phase, fed them for a couple weeks, and were charging me less than the premium priced newly hatched turkeys!

Matt found me ogling the chicks, and I told him the news that we were buying these clearance turkeys. Now, I could just feel him roll his eyes at me, even though he didn’t. And, that’s why he can’t take me to the farm-supply store. What am I supposed to do? Not buy clearance turkeys?

Home Again

We brought home the turkeys, and I cleaned out the pen we have used for all kinds of babies: chickens, ducklings, rabbits, and even our doe kids born this March. While we did lose one of the turkeys due to pasty butt, the five are eating, growing, and getting even more flighty.

They are just about ready to move to our mobile pen to finish on pasture, allowing them to chow down on bugs, worms, weeds, and whatever else they scratch up. You’ll never hear me say my poultry is “vegetarian fed,” and I have often been asked by my customers to explain what that means. As all poultry is omnivorous, eating both plants and animals, it is unnatural to feed strict diets of grain. Yes, there are advantages, such as feed ration consistency and rapid weight gain for commercial markets, but we always felt that raising our birds outside with the freedom to move in grass and eat a variety of protein sources would result in a higher quality meat, which we (and our repeat customers) believe we accomplished.

So far, we’ve got enough practice under our belts that raising five turkeys should be a walk in the park. It should take 20 weeks or so for them to get to a processing weight, usually around 25 pounds. (Our biggest was 39.9 pounds processed weight. We called him Champ, and he’s a legend.). And, since we no longer sell our poultry off-site, we can have them processed locally, rather than having to drive two hours to one of the few state-inspected poultry facilities required by law to sell meat at farmers’ markets.

And once you experience the taste difference of a pasture-raised turkey, you’ll never go back those generic birds sold at the grocery store. No, this is something special.

Long story short (too late), because of a minor goat injury, we’re now raising turkeys for our family and friends’ Thanksgiving meal. Farm life’s unexpected like that. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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Marketing Homemade Goat-Milk Soap

Soap for Market

If you are reading this article you may have realized that soap making is one of the more addictive hobbies of all known hobbies and you may have over 200 bars of soap that you now do not know what to do with. It was at that point that I also decided to start marketing my soap. This article is by no means the final word on marketing techniques for soap; but, is a short list of suggestions from my own experience. As you begin to sell your soap you will quickly figure out what does and does not work for your product and your customer base.

Where Can You Sell and to Who?

Every soap maker has different hurdles with finding a market for their soap. Some of us are in rural areas where there are few customers; some in urban settings where there is competition from other sellers. Every soap maker has a way of making soap that they enjoy. I would urge you to stick with what makes soap making fun rather than trying to accommodate to a specific market. If you do not have a customer base for your product that is local, the internet will provide a wider market.

It is always good to seek out a local market for any goods you might produce. Local farmers markets are a great way to sell soap. If you decide to sell at a farmers market you need to find out the rules for those specific markets. Some farmers markets are partially funded or get grants through the state. If your market has state funding they will likely have rules you need to follow for marketing your soap. Most of that information can be sourced on your states government website; or you can have a chat with your local market president. Every market has different rules for selling things other than vegetables. You need to find out if the fees for selling at the market will be worth the cost and decide if the time devoted to being at the market will be cost effective and convenient for you.

If a local market is either not available, not cost efficient, or not your preference; you may decide to sell online. You can sell your products through social media, yard sale websites, or you can make your own website and sell independently. Whatever media you use to sell always protect yourself legally. Do some research on how to phrase disclaimers about your product and make sure to produce a good quality product so you do not ever have to worry about your disclaimers. If you decide to sell online make sure the cost of shipping is accounted for so you do not end up giving your soap away to people in far away lands.

Deciding Price

Once you have investigated your local area for market availability you will likely have a pretty good idea of how much you can effectively sell your soap for. Your pricing is always a little balancing act between you and your customers. They know as well as you do how much your soap is worth and they do not want to pay a dime more. If you have something special about your soap that no one else in your area has do not be afraid to charge a little more. How you present your product will help customers know the reasons why your soap is worth more.

Before you become too settled on a price that is comparable to others sellers in your area be sure to break down the cost of your product. How much is the cost of the ingredients of each bar? Also take into account the hours of labor you have put in to making your soap. If your cost per bar is more than what you can sell it for see what you can do to get cheaper ingredients. Purchasing your ingredients wholesale and in bulk are key to keeping your costs down; but, do not compromise the quality of your product. If you produce a bar that is no better than what you can purchase at the store it will not be worth your time.

Storing soap for market

Presentation

It is really a sad fact that the reason why fancy stores can charge more is due to labels and pretty bags with tissue paper. Flashy labeling and wrapping is not typically the selling point of homemade soap thankfully! Most people purchase homemade soap because it looks homemade and feels homemade. As a culture we have taken a large step back from home produced products and people miss it. We have a sustainable farm and an almost no landfill waste system so recycling is a very big deal for us. I wrap my soaps in brown paper and use only black ink on the labels making the packing for our soap not only recyclable but compostable. I have seen soap makers use scraps of fabric, recycled gift wrap, or no wrapping at all. Be creative with how you present your product; you worked hard on it and people are looking for soap that is as unique as the soap maker.

To trim or not to trim your soap is also going to be unique to you. I trim all of my soap. It takes extra time, probably my customers would purchase it if I did not trim it, and I know people who prefer soap in the “raw;” but, it just makes me feel good to do it, so I do. I use the soap scraps in laundry soap so nothing gets wasted. If you use good soap molds, that will reduce the amount of time you spend trimming.

Labeling

If you are following the rules of your state, or your market, you probably have a set procedure for what must be on your soap labels. But even if you are selling outside of those restricted markets I would urge you to put no less than the following items on your soap labels: type of soap, the ingredients in the soap, your name or farm name, your address and phone number. When you sell something as intimate as soap it is important to build trust and good rapport with your customers. The customer is placing their health in your hands; giving them your contact information is an honest way to do business.

Decorative soap curing for market

If you end up selling a lot of soap and you want your labels to look nice; but, also not be a strain on your time, computer generated labels are a wonderful way to label your soap. There are numerous companies that sell labels and the software to print your own labels. I am not in any way affiliated with the Avery company; but, they have been my favorite so far to use.

Have fun making and selling your soap. It is a craft and not a path to wealth. You will likely not get rich selling handmade soap. But creating and being a member of a community holds more value than money.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Homestead Emergency Preparedness

columbine

Snowpack Is Dangerously Low

Over the years we have watched with heartbreak when wildfires have devastated an area. It seems that now our area is more vulnerable due to extreme drought and wildfires are at the forefront of our minds. Therefore this blog topic is about being prepared and having a plan should such a tragedy occur.  Normally our life here is utopia with birds chirping and the gentle breeze in the treetops. That is until we experience a severe drought like this year. We normally receive around 265-300” of snow which is the moisture we need to see us through the remainder of the year. This year we only received 105” of snow which has put us in peril. We have periods where the gentle breeze blows, the wildflowers bloom, the birds sing their songs, the deep well water is sparkling and pure and the air is clear and refreshing; but that is not to be this year.  

Weather Abnormalities 

We have to be prepared for and anticipate the unexpected that always seems to be right around the next corner of life here in the mountains. As I write this our air is filled with smoke from what we presume is the wildfire in New Mexico or Durango, CO. We have nice gentle breezes but we also have strong winds that topple trees and cause power outages, like last night.  Wind in the mountains changes direction often and is controlled by the contour of the gullies and ridges of the mountains. Colorado is a semi-arid state and for the past several weeks we have been doing last minute wildfire mitigation. We have been in red flag warning for several weeks and our part of the state is in exceptional drought conditions - the highest.

Factor In Disabilities

Throughout the west we are facing perilous conditions like wildfire or high wind. Weather patterns seem to me to be cyclical and we are in one of those heightened dangerous times presently. It requires having a plan to evacuate or to stay in place if cut off from safe evacuation. We have two disabled canine family members who do not have full use of their back legs so we need to factor that into our plans. We are not as agile as we once were so that too has to be considered. We need to have those items which are important ready to load so we can grab them quickly as time can be very limited. We keep a current list of those things to take with us so we don’t forget something necessary and important.

Evacuate Or Stay?

We also need to consider which direction the potential wildfire could come from and determine if it is safe to even try to evacuate. We only have one entrance/exit to our community. We need to shut off all propane sources, turn on the mist system, pack essentials like clothes, prescriptions, records, and computers just in case evacuation is a viable option. Due to the configuration and construction of our small home we could stay in place if we lacked a safe and secure escape route. Our location is remote so the likelihood of a safe departure could at best carry risk. All these considerations need to be evaluated ahead of time and options weighed and prioritized when clear thinking is possible.

Keeping Fur Family Safe

For us we must consider our three German Shepherd Dogs and their safety. Two have disabilities so that factors into the equation. One has a slipped disc that limits the mobility of his back legs. Another has been diagnosed with cauda equina which is an inflammation of the spinal canal where the nerves extend down to the rear extremities. Both would need extra assistance in being loaded into a vehicle. There is no chance we would leave without them nor is there any amount of persuasion that could compel us to leave them. Many evacuation centers will not allow fur family so we have a large tent that will house us and our canine family if needed. We need to pack their prescriptions, food bowls, food and leashes also. Therefore, depending on conditions, we have to be constantly prepared for fluctuating situations and sometimes when they are at a heightened level as they currently are we must not only be vigilant but ready to act quickly and affirmatively.

Thorough Planning 

We have had twenty years to prepare and our home exceeds the defensible standard established by the wildfire experts. Trees are thinned out, limbs removed up to 18’ high, ground cover is kept low and fuel sources are removed. The back half of our home is underground and the exterior has a stone facia. Our roof is metal and we have a misting system that will keep exposed wood surfaces wet or damp. We keep two 55 gallon drums full of water with manual hand pumps to use as necessary. With our one viable escape route about 12 miles away we have planned for both evacuation or staying put depending on the situation and circumstances.

Be Flexible

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that having a workable plan in place ahead of time may not guarantee survival but it will improve your chances as opposed to not having a plan. When peril is imminent is not the time to be formulating a hasty plan. Any plan that your survival depends on should be made when you are clear thinking and not left to spontaneity in the face of a pending threat. It should also be flexible enough to improvise if needed but the core plan needs to be fixed in place. All parties of a household should be familiar with the plan and who does what when the time comes. Survival may depend on having a plan and while our plan is not perfect perhaps it will give others a starting point in the development of a plan that suits their individual need. Each plan should be individually structured to meet specific needs, circumstances and capabilities.

Photos taken by Bruce and Carol McElmurray.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray who live in a small house in the mountains of  southern Colorado with their three canine fur family members go to their blog site at:www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tips for Beginner Chick Care (and the Best Chicken Breed for Backyards)

Boy With Pick Up Chicks Shirt 

The shirt read: How to pick up chicks, with a cartoon stick figure bent down to pick up a baby chick and hold it. Now, once my son, Fletcher, and I stopped laughing, I snapped a picture of the T-shirt to post on my Facebook page.

The family and I were at our local farm-supply store to pick up a few new poultry feeders and waterers for our new baby chicks. And, of course, that meant we just had to take a look at the troughs of chicks and ducklings the store usually has during the spring.

Those cute, little, peepin' fuzz balls scurried in the red glow of the heat lamp, causing all kinds of havoc among their sisters. It's always fun to watch, no matter how many chicks we've raised over the years. (So many, in fact, that I've since lost count.)

Choosing the Right Breed

Fast-forward a few weeks to the preschool pick-up line, when a mom friend stopped to tell me that she had bought a few chicks from the farm-supply store. (I have since realized that I have a reputation for poultry advocacy among the preschool moms and teachers.) She was very excited to tell me all about her experience buying and caring for the chicks, and I couldn't be happier that my passion for poultry was spreading among the pick-up line.

"So, what breed did you get?" I asked my friend.

"Golden Comets, Barred Rocks, and a Cornish Jumbo," she replied.

Well, I must have made a facial expression because she instantly added a concerned, "Why?"

"You know that the Cornish will be ready to process in eight weeks, right?" I asked. I explained that that particular breed is raised for meat production, and that once mature, it would risk dying of a heart attack or suffer from broken legs from its heavy weight if it weren't butchered.

I could see other moms turn around to listen to us discuss the fate of the Cornish chick she had purchased.

"I had no idea what to buy," she said finally. My friend seemed deflated.

I felt like a jerk. Here I had been talking up my chickens and turkeys to the suburban moms at preschool, not really thinking that they would be so inspired to buy their own. I had to think of a way to build her confidence back up.

"Just keep caring for your chicks. You've got eight weeks to decide what to do, whether sell it, process it, or just get rid of it (wink, wink)."

On the way home, I started thinking about other people who are just starting a flock for their families and purchase chicks from the local farm-supply store. They, too, may have limited knowledge about raising poultry.

Tips for Beginning Backyard Chicken Keepers

So, if you have no experience raising poultry, but would like to give it a whirl, here are a few easy-to-follow tips to help your flock thrive.

1. Prepare a brooder before you buy chicks. A brooder is a small box or crate heated to maintain a constant temperature. I've used a cardboard box, a plastic tub, a fiberglass tub (removed from a bathroom remodel), and my father-in-law's antique metal brooder. All have worked, and whatever you use will work, too. Just be sure to purchase a heat lamp, which you can find online or at a farm-supply store.

Line the brooder with wood shavings to absorb moisture from the chicks' droppings. A dry bird is a happy bird.

2. Buy feed that is formulated for chicks. You may feel overwhelmed by the choices of poultry feed, because, let's face it, there are a lot of options. The feed you want will say Chick Starter, and is usually medicated. I have always used medicated chick starter for both layer chicks and broilers (meat) chicks, and usually switch to a layer or broiler pellet by five weeks of age, three weeks for broilers. It suppresses poultry illness, which is especially important if you have other poultry on your property. A healthy bird is a happy bird.

3. Finally, decide what purpose you have for raising chicks. Do you want chickens for eggs, meat, pest control, or companionship? Do your research on chicken breeds before going to the store. Many breeds can be selected for each of these purposes, and I've had a lot of different breeds over the years, but I find one breed is best for beginners: The Golden Buff (and the angels sing Hallelujah).

Best chicken breed for backyards. Also called Golden Comet, Red Sex Link, or Cinnamon Queen, the buff is by far the best chicken to get your flock started. Easy-going and gentle, buffs are perfect for families with young children. They are early maturing, usually laying at just 16 weeks, versus 20 to 22 for heritage breeds. Buffs will lay six to seven eggs a week, and will continue to lay into the darker months of the winter. Every layer flock I've had has included buffs, and I can't recommend them enough.

So, if you want to raise poultry, please consider these tips before you purchase chicks. I will be posting more advice on poultry care in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned.

Corinne Gompf is a producer for farmer’s markets in rural Ohio, where she raises pastured poultry and Boer goats, grows organic produce and educates her customers on sustainable agriculture. Connect with Corinne on Facebook at Heritage Harvest Farm.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Homestead Hog Watering System that Works (for Us)

 Black Furry Piglets In Sun

After all the years of dreaming and planning, when the moment comes and you step out onto your first homestead, it is an exhilarating moment. You can’t believe that all this is really yours, whether “all this” is just one acre or 100 acres. It is easy to go wild, which in our case was “hog wild”.

We had a list of the heritage breeds we wanted to start with, gleaned from years of reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS and other hobby farm and homesteading journals. A quick internet search revealed an American Guinea Hog breeder just 45 minutes away, so into the van we piled on a cold November day. We thought we were being reasonable and circumspect. We would check out these pigs, build a pig tractor, and wait to pick them up until January. How’s that for planning and preparation?

Never mind that we were living at a rental property because the house on our homestead was uninhabitable. Forget the fact neither of us had ever raised pigs and knew nothing about managing them, and that life with livestock is always about the unforeseen serendipity that makes for very funny/gripping farm stories.

It turns out American Guinea Hogs deserve their good reputation. They have been a great introduction to raising hogs and we have slop buckets of funny/gripping pig stories now.

Developing an Effective Hog Watering System

One of the most important things we have learned from raising American Guinea Hogs is how important water is for pigs. There is a lot of information online about hydration for commercial hog operations and for pet pig “parents” but less about homestead scale pig production, though it does show up on homesteading discussion boards. The bottom line is: Pigs need water. This is not surprising, yet creating an effective watering system can get lost in the shuffle, especially if you are overextended as a new homesteader.

Rubber pans. We started out with rubber pans for feed and for water. These work fine, especially when the pigs are small and you have only a handful of them. However, ratchet up the numbers and the pig size and the rubber pans become sludgy, mucky messes that get flipped over and suctioned into the mud.

Plastic barrels. We moved to small, 15-gallon plastic barrels cut in half for feed and rubber pans for winter watering. In winter the ability to pull the pans out, flip them over and dislodge the ice is a necessity, because we don’t have a heated water system.

PVC pipe with nipple. The summer water setup has been developed with even more trial and error. We read online about using 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe capped on the bottom and wired to the pens. By drilling a hole and siliconing in a metal pig-watering nipple, you could have an effective watering option. We built three of them and promptly began hating them.

I found them too difficult to adjust and move around on the pens since there were no handles and they don’t stand up on their own. After we filled them with water, they were too heavy to allow us to easily move our mobile pigpens. Additionally, we bought high-pressure pig nipples which only work when attached to a pressurized water system, not a gravity flow set up like we had built (oops).

In the end, the pigs were thoroughly disgusted with the waterers and wouldn’t touch them because they couldn’t suck anything out of them. The PVC got slimy and gross and eventually I got so frustrated with the things that I just unscrewed them from the pens. That was an expensive mistake (times three) and those waterers are sitting in the garage waiting for inspiration on what to do with their useless PVC carcasses.

Orange Bucket Livestock Feeder

Discovering a Hog Watering System Solution

So back to the rubber pans we went, but in the hot weather we needed to be out re-filling pans three times a day to ensure that the pigs had water. There is nothing so aggravating as watching two thirsty pigs vying for a water pan, step on the lip and flip it over and lay in the mud while waiting for you to get them water to drink.

At some point that summer, someone explained the difference between high-pressure and gravity-flow nipples wow, that was a game-changer for us. However, I had no interest in wrestling with the PVC monstrosities hiding in the garage to change out the nipple. Instead, during a moment of inspiration, we grabbed a flat-sided, 5-gallon horse bucket from our barn, drilled and sealed a gravity-flow pig nipple into the flat side of that bucket and tried to hang it on the pen.

It took about a week to figure out how to seat it low enough on the side of the pen for the pigs to easily reach the nipple and allow the 2-by-4 frame to support the bucket.  While we were jiggering around with placement, we used two short bungee cords to hold the bucket in place.  We also discovered that if we hung the bucket along the back edge where the roof overhang drained the rainwater, the buckets could magically refill themselves with just a tenth of an inch of rain.

It was brilliant — and our pigs ignored them. They remembered the useless PVC waterers that didn’t work so they decided these wouldn’t either. We coated the nipples with honey, with peanut butter, with cream cheese and then in a final moment of desperation, I told the kids, “It’s cloudy today, they have plenty of mud to wallow in, don’t fill their pans just yet.” By that evening, you could hear the sounds of happy, slurpy sucking from across the yard.

Hog Watering System Lessons Learned

The system worked wonderfully until winter when we stored the buckets in the barn until the next spring.  The process illuminated a few key lessons that have held true across the board for all of our livestock endeavors. First, no matter what you see or read about, keep trying until you find a system that works for your needs, since what works for someone else may not work for you (and also maybe build one before you build three).

Next, if you try something and it’s not working at all, there’s usually a good reason — don’t get discouraged, get curious. Keep asking questions until you feel you understand what went wrong (and be prepared to keep learning, your first theory may be wrong or only partially correct).

Finally, we realized that we inadvertently taught our animals a “bad” lesson. If so, you’ll have to patiently persist until they re-learn what you need them to know.

Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the time, energy, and frustration that daily chores can involve. A good system is one that is working for you, meeting your animal’s needs, and doesn’t break the bank. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade our early experiences for anything.  I am glad we went “hog wild” and took risks but I am also glad we have learned a few things since then.

Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who has taught internationally and in her home state on a range of sustainability topics, including green cleaning. She and her family raise heritage-breed livestock on their 22-acre, restored Singing Wren Farm. Connect with Nicole there and at Smoldering Wick.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Build your Own Chicken Hut

The reward of designing and building a chicken coop for your hens from scratch is immense. This past spring, I decided to take a break from building log homes and built a couple of coops for my hens.

In this article, I share with you how to build a chicken coop and also some lessons learned from trial and error. I have broken this coop build down into two phases: Planning & Building.

It all Starts with a Plan!

When building a coop, you must start with a well-recognised design. This ensures you learn from mistakes other coop builders have made whilst having a design which is practical for your hens (e.g. enough space) and functional for your environment (e.g. well ventilated).

Backyard coop plans come in many different styles and sizes so it’s important to zero down on the style, size and purpose of your coop is. The coop I built was a traditional coop with an open-ended gable roof. Building a chicken coop can be a very fun DIY activity.

Finished Chicken Hut

My coop was built for six hens with a purpose of egg laying so I built a 24 square feet coop with one 6 square feet nesting box. As the variety of coops is large, the easiest way to design your own is to look at designs and plans of existing coops. Once you have browsed different styles, take the best components (e.g. nesting boxes, coops, tractor runs, styles, perches etc…) and make your own.

Not too fast! You should make sure that your coop satisfies the following rules:

1. Four square feet per hen

2. Twelve linear inches of roosting space per hen

3. One square foot private nesting box per hen

Building Your Coop in Five Easy Steps

5 Stages of Building a Chicken Coop

Start with the Frame

The frame is the structure for your coop. The frame is made in two stages. The first is by fixing together the side battens and vertical battens together. This makes two exterior frames which are then connected together with side connecting battens to complete the frame.

Attaching a Roof

Attach to the top of your frame roof trusses made with 45-degree triangles. The roof trusses are fixed into the vertical battens of the coop frame. Then, a ridge rail is installed in-between the trusses to complete the exterior of the coop.

Panel the Roof and Frame

The frame and roof make the exterior skeleton of a chicken coop. Panelling the root and frame with Oriented Strand Boards is very quick and easy. You will need roof, side, floor, entrance and front panels making for your coop. These boards are simply screwed down into the coop.

Roof Felt

Take a roll of traditional roofing felt and nail it every 10 inches into the panels of your chicken coop. Make sure to cover your roof and ridge completely. 

Interior and Exterior Finish

The final stages are to now fix coop doors with hinges and a locking bolt (to prevent unwelcomed guests!). The fixtures and fittings for your coop should include; nesting box(es), coop perch(es), coop access door, coop ramp, ventilation hole and hardware cloth. You can then paint your coop whichever color you desire; I went for blue and white.

You should now be able to build your own chicken coop! Below, I have included a few bullet points on pieces of advice and lessons learned through my own mistake.

Lessons Learned

1. Make sure you have 1 nesting box per hen in the coop

2. Use 4 square feet per hen when designing the size of your coop

3. Have a roosting perch of 12 linear inches per hen

4. Build a secure door and make sure all openings are predator proof


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Must-Haves for a Successful Farmers Market

Whole Booth & Tent & Banner 

It’s been quite a few years since we went to our first farmer’s market with one folding table, one cooler and a few fliers, all transported in the back of an SUV.  Nowadays we arrive in a box truck with an average of seven coolers, 3 tables and many other miscellaneous items that we can’t do without. During all this time we have added items that we thought we needed, forgot items that we really needed and discarded items that just took up space.  From our experience we put a list together of Must Haves of what to take to market that we thought would be helpful to pass along to you for a successful Farmers Market event:

Tables:

Folding tables are best; they take up less space for transport and are easy to carry. Keep them the same size for consistency.

Table cover:

You need a table cloth, preferably one big enough to cover the table top and down the front and sides to hide storage under the table. The table cloth needs to be clean and shouldn’t have holes in it. Burlap isn’t expensive, can be bought at any home store and comes in many colors. Colors draw people in, darker colors look cleaner, and a nice beige, brown or green always makes a great earthy backdrop.

Cashbox:

To look the part and keep your hard earned money safe, you need a cashbox. A basic black metal cashbox can be bought many places for as little as $20. Most have a tray and storage underneath where you can keep pens, notes etc.

 cashbox

Cash and Change:

Keep plenty of change on hand. Quarters, and many singles, fives and some tens.  The busier the market, the more change you need to take. So many times have we been approached by other vendors who needed change so they wouldn’t lose a sale. Keep a set amount of cash in your cashbox and restock it after each market. A consistent amount of change will also make it easy to count your earnings after the market.

Credit Card Payment:

At today’s Farmers Markets probably 70% of all customers pay with credit card. You need to be able to accept credit cards and debit cards if you don’t want to lose out on sales . There are several very easy credit card systems out there that are free to sign up and you only pay a small percentage like 2.5 % per transaction. Your sales are deposited in your bank account the next day. One that we particularly like for credit cards on the road is squareup.com. They work great with any smart phone or IPad and even work when there is not internet or wifi available through a special off-line mode.

 square box

Calculator (if it’s not in your phone)

If you handle cash and money and you don’t have a smart phone, you need a calculator to check your math. Especially when a booth is busy, math mistakes will occur and you definitely don’t want to make a change mistake that will cost you money or will make the customer mad. A good practice by the way is to keep the bill a customer gave you in your hand until you hand over the change. Any misunderstanding about what kind of money was given is quickly resolved that way.

Inventory/product:

Bring enough inventory and product so that you have at least something to sell for the duration of the market and definitely bring enough to make your booth well stocked from beginning to end. Customers are drawn to a fully stocked table.

Sign/banner and a way to hang it up neatly:

A sign will catch a passing customer’s attention. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a black board with chalk, but it should state your name and the products your sell. A banner can be a great addition for any display, but you need to have a way to hang it up behind you or fix to the tables. As long as it’s neat.  A banner that is too long and hangs onto the ground looks shabby, not planned and is a safety hazard for the customers to step on.

Farm Sign 

This sign was painted for us by Jill Wetzel, one of our fabulous wwoofers.

Coolers:

Coolers are a must have, especially if you sell food or other perishable items. Make sure the coolers are in good repair and are very clean. Most coolers are white and food offered out of dirty coolers is not very appealing. Wipe them down with bleach before a market and pressure wash them every once in a while.

Fliers/literature about your product:

This is important so you can give the customer something to take home. It can be as simple as a favorite recipe for a vegetable or other product, or a copy of an article about the product you sell.  Explanations on different cheeses or ingredients.

Business Cards:

They don’t have to be expensive but will need to be clean and simple and give an idea of who you are and what your business is.

Miscellaneous Might Need:

Pens
Sign-up sheet for emails and a newsletter
Carry bags for your product
Paper towels/wet wipes
Dog ones for your customers with dogs
Tape/blue painters tape
Tent if the market is outdoors
Dolly to move your coolers
Broom and dustpan

And here is one more tip:  once you have everything assembled that you need, make sure your set up is clean, neat and tidy, and not cluttered. You want a smooth booth, one that is attractive to your customers, and so will help you make a good first impression of your farm on any potential customer that will pass by your table.

Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four and eight WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to a small herd of dairy goats, 14 Black Angus cattle, 70 laying hens, 3 horses, 2 cats, 4 house dogs, 7livestock guardian dogs, and 1 duck. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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