Storm-Felled Firewood, Click Training and Solar Batteries

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by Adobestock/slexp880
Look for felled wood that’s headed to the landfill so you can collect and use this free resource.

Use Free Wood from Storm-Felled Trees

I live in an area that gets a lot of storms; how can I put downed twigs and trees to use?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could heat your home free of charge? Whether you use gas or electric, heat is one of the most expensive utilities. So, naturally, finding a way to cut heating costs is ideal. As a landscaper who doesn’t have full-time work in winter, cutting my winter expenses is crucial.

This year, I was able to heat my home with free wood from storm-downed trees. I finally have a woodstove, but there isn’t much wood on the property where I live, on a tiny plot of land that’s less than 1/2 acre in eastern North Carolina. I stack and burn through the little bit of wood that’s here early in the year. Yet, after Hurricane Dorian came through, piles of wood and downed trees were all around town, ready to be hauled to the landfill. There are so many uses for this wood…–…even the softwoods that can’t be burned. Seeing an opportunity, I started up my truck, grabbed my chainsaw, and started collecting. For about two weeks, I had more wood than I could handle. My tiny yard was soon covered with wood ready to be cut to size and split.

In a two-week span, I was able to harvest around 2.5 cords of firewood. Best of all, gathering it only took me an hour or two each day. When I’ve made firewood in the past, downing a tree and dragging it out of the woods took a long time. However, when Dorian came through, the wood couldn’t have been easier to collect. I was easily able to create a supply of firewood for winter.

I definitely ran into a few stumbling blocks when collecting the wood. The biggest of them was identifying the wood I was collecting. Sure, it’s easy to tell a hardwood from a softwood, but a number of hardwoods are difficult to process. Finding the best firewood is harder when the tree isn’t standing tall. One load of wood in particular was difficult to split. Splitting the smaller pieces was easy, but there were a lot I just couldn’t split. I tried to burn what I couldn’t split outside in my fire pit. When a crew of firefighters came to my door and asked me to put it out, I discovered that burning outside, even in a fire pit, is illegal in the city where I live.

The other downside to collecting wood is the bugs. Some of the wood, in particular a pecan tree I found, was full of carpenter ants. Every time I’d split it, they’d come pouring out! But bugs and firewood just go hand in hand. I treated the yard a few times with a lemongrass-oil-based pesticide, and it really cut down on the number of bugs I brought in.

Other Uses for Storm-Downed Wood

Firewood isn’t the only use for storm-downed wood. Over the years, I’ve made a lot out of wood from dead trees. When I was in upstate New York, I knew a guy you could bring wood to, and he’d mill it. Once, after collecting a truckload from ash trees killed by emerald ash borers and some cedar that was downed in a storm, I took it to him and got it milled. Having wood milled by a small mill is inexpensive. For the truckload of wood cut to custom sizes, I only paid about $30. I had most of it milled into versatile 1-foot-thick material, and it took me a few years to make use of it all.

In fact, I made both my desks from cedar wood I found from a downed tree. I used the ash to build raised garden beds and shelves for my books. After Dorian, I was also lucky enough to find some ginkgo wood. I still haven’t found a use for it. Worst-case scenario, I can burn it, but ginkgo wood is good for a lot of fine woodworking. Only time will tell what I’ll use it for.

Any wood that can’t be used as firewood or building material can always be put into your landscape, from building raised garden beds out of whole logs to mulching with wood chips. You can rent professional mulching machines in many areas, and they make mulching a breeze. Your neighbors might be willing to share the rental cost.

As a landscaper, I believe it’s important to keep any and all nutrients on the property when possible. It simply doesn’t make sense to remove material full of organic minerals from the land, just to add them back with some fertilizer, even if that fertilizer is organic. If you take the time to make use of the fallen wood around you, you can build a keepsake that will be around for years to come. Or, at the very least, keep your house warm for winter.

–…Douglas Dedrick

Clicker Training Farm Animals

I’d like to train my pets and poultry without using punitive measures. Is a clicker sufficient for helping them learn new behaviors?

Clicker training is a great option, because it involves the recognition and rewarding of positive behavior. You’re helping your animal note the moment they did something right and then treating them for it, most often with food. The process begins by helping them learn to associate a sound with a reward, regardless of behavior. While the sound usually comes from a hand-held clicker with a button, some people choose to mark the animal’s action with a verbal cue, such as a cluck, or the word “good!”

The click must be immediately followed by the reward to be effective, so the animals associate the sound with the reward. Once you’ve repeated this step and the animal clearly starts looking for a treat when it hears the sound, move on to marking the desired behavior with a click-reward. For instance, in teaching a dog to sit, click and treat immediately when the dog sits. Make sure not to treat your animals until the behavior is achieved, because if you treat them for the wrong behavior, they’ll learn to repeat it, because it was linked to a reward. During this process, you can also associate a word or hand signal with the desired behavior so you can later use it to ask the animal for that response. This process requires repetition and patience, but it’s an effective and nonviolent training method.

From a young age, I’ve been interested in studying the body language and behavior of animals to better understand how to handle them. When I was researching clicker training for shelter animals, however, I was guilty of thinking it couldn’t work for livestock and poultry. But I eventually discovered the work of the late Dr. Sophia Yin, who promoted low-stress handling in animals and produced videos and articles about clicker training for horses and even chickens! Her work inspired me to further study how a positive reward system could benefit livestock and their handlers.

To test the method on poultry, I started with a young hen that had been hand-raised but wasn’t always easy to catch. I began by withholding her normal bowl of feed, and I instead gave it to her throughout the day, always associating it with the clicker. After a period of repetition, we moved on to various commands, such as “heel” for her to follow directly beside me, and “up” to put herself into her coop without fuss. I also began to use a hand signal to ask her to fly onto my arm, whether from the ground or a perch. After I combined these three commands and she learned them, I no longer had to chase her around.

Years later, we now have Khaki Campbell ducks that have been clicker trained. Before they were even feathering, the pair of them knew how to ring a service bell. While training them to do so was more for fun, it led to being able to teach them to put themselves back into their run when they heard a bell ring, without having to herd them around. They know they’ll receive a reward for coming when they’re called.

It’s not only poultry that can be trained this way; clicker training can be applied to many other aspects of livestock handling. I’ve seen horse trainers use clickers in their work, teaching even an untouched mustang that human contact isn’t so bad! Clicker training can also be used to encourage a goat to learn to walk with a collar and leash.

If you’re interested in using clicker training in your livestock and poultry handling, first understand the basics of reward-based training, and how to properly use the clicker (or verbal cue) followed by a treat. Learn the body language of your animal, and what kinds of treats will catch its attention. Young people should always have an adult present when handling animals, and everyone should use sense and safety when training.

Consider using these methods to effectively train your animals, whether for practicality or for fun. Socializing your livestock can make a big difference in everyday handling, and even in selling animals. Can you picture the difference in a horse that’s willing to lift its feet without a fuss, or a goat that’s willing to walk to the milk stand calmly on a lead? And think about the fun you could have with youngsters as you teach a backyard hen to run a miniature obstacle course! I encourage you to consider the ways that clicker training can benefit your homestead, not just for your dogs and cats, but for livestock and poultry too.

–…Fala Burnette

Solar-Ready Batteries for Home Use

Should I buy a solar battery to store excess energy from my panels?

Energy-storage technology has existed for quite some time, but the use of solar batteries in residential energy systems is a relatively new development. Although home energy-storage prices have fallen significantly in recent years, solar batteries still have a hefty price tag and don’t make economic sense for every homeowner. However, a solar-plus-storage system can be beneficial in some situations. Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether solar battery storage is the right fit for you and your home.

dark red squares stacked 3 high on metal shelves

Are you required to pay time-of-use electricity rates? If your utility company charges time-of-use rates, this means the amount you pay for electricity will vary depending on the time of day. During hours when electricity demand is high, typically in the evening and at night, you’ll pay more for power than you would when electricity demand is low, typically during the late morning and early afternoon. If you’re subject to time-of-use billing, a solar battery can be a beneficial investment for you, because during the day, your solar system will be producing enough energy to both power your home and charge up your battery. Then, at night, you’ll be able to use the energy stored in the battery to power your home rather than having to pull from the grid at the higher time-of-use rate.

Does your utility require demand charges? Some utilities charge customers an additional fee that’s dependent on how much electricity they use. The fee could be determined by the amount of power used when total electricity demand is high, or it may encompass all electricity used during a month. If you’re required to pay demand charges to your utility, installing home energy storage can help you avoid a high demand fee by pulling from the grid less often and using energy stored in your solar battery instead.

Do you live in a state with net metering? In states where true net metering exists, customers receive a credit (equal to the amount the utility charges for traditional electricity) for each kilowatt-hour of energy their solar panels produce and send back to the grid. If you have access to true net metering, a solar battery may not be worth it for you from a financial standpoint, because you’ll be able to freely give and take energy from the grid at no additional cost.

Are you susceptible to frequent power outages? For safety reasons, all standard grid-tied solar systems have an automatic shut-off switch that will turn off the system during a power outage. This means those who have a standard solar energy system without battery backup will still lose power when the grid goes down. However, when a battery is added to the setup, the home can still run on the stored energy in the event of a blackout. If you experience regular power outages and would like to continue to have power when the grid is down, or if you’re interested in the peace of mind that comes along with energy backup, a solar battery may be worth the cost.

Do you want solar storage to take you off the grid? Many homeowners are interested in the idea of going completely off-grid and having the ability to operate independently of their electric utility, and some view solar batteries as the means to make it happen. However, on their own, most solar batteries on the market today don’t have the capacity to store the energy necessary to keep a home running throughout the entire year. If going 100 percent off-grid is your goal, solar batteries likely aren’t the best solution, unless you have ample space and are prepared to invest thousands of dollars in a large multi-battery storage setup.

–…Sarah Hancock

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