Top Reasons to Rent-A-Chicken

ChickenWhy would someone want to rent a chicken?  Have you ever wanted to experiment with a new activity, but the upfront investment has prevented you from doing so?  This is exactly why farmers around the country have started programs like Rent-A-Chicken.  At its most simple, the program is a short-term agreement where the farmer delivers chickens and all the stuff that is needed to take care of them to a customer for a specified period.  Normally chicken rentals run for six months starting around April and ending around November.

Chicken rentals are a good place to start if keeping chickens is something that you have wanted to do but were not sure if it was right for you.  The two hurdles new chicken owners encounter are the start-up costs involved with raising chickens and the work of taking care of the birds once winter arrives.  We knew we wanted chickens, but these were the two things we were unprepared for.  With a chicken rental program, the customer skips all of the “work” and goes straight to egg laying birds.

Most people do not know that the cute little peepers that you get at the feed store will not start laying eggs for up to six months.  That is quite an investment in time and resources before you get any eggs.  During the first six months, the owner acts as momma chicken.  It is your job to brood, feed, water, and clean your babies.  Let us tell you having a box of baby chicks in your living room for six weeks was not a step we enjoyed our first time around.  Although it did make for a few good stories.

The other end of the spectrum is winter care for chickens.  If you are set up for it, it is not that big a problem.  Just keep in mind the number of eggs a chicken lays is determined by the number of hours of light they have each day.  Some breeds of chickens slow down egg laying to one egg every few days during the winter to not laying any eggs at all.  In addition to lower egg production, you have to make sure their water is not frozen and that they are protected from the cold.

The last thing that most people do not mention when they are explaining how great chickens are is how they molt.  Chickens molt, or lose and replace their feathers, every sixteen months or so.  During this process, they do not lay any eggs and boy do they look sad.

The important thing about livestock is taking the good with the bad.  These are the only hurdles we find annoying throughout the year, and we would not give up our chickens because of them. Having backyard chickens allows you to know exactly how the animals producing your eggs are treated.  Chickens not only produce eggs, but they are fun to watch.  Each hen has her own personality.  They love kitchen scraps, eat annoying bugs, and fertilize the yard.  Having chickens is a great way to teach children responsibility and how to care for animals.

With a chicken rental program, the renter gets all the good and none of the bad.  Hens that are part of the program are first-year birds that have started laying eggs.  The farmer gives you all the equipment that is needed to take care of the birds, so there are no additional costs.  The farmer will also pick up the birds before all the winter chores begin.  Also, there is always someone just a phone call away to answer any questions that arise during the hens visit.

If you want to get your feet wet without the commitment renting a chicken is what you are looking for.  Two hens will produce roughly a dozen eggs per week, and if you decide you want to adopt the birds permanently you can do so at the end of the rental.

IBC Totes – What are they and what can you do with them?

IBC ToteWhen we started down the homesteading / farming road there was one acronym that continuously popped up.  It felt like every post I looked at mentioned something called an IBC Tote.  The things people were creating with these containers were awesome, but what on earth is an IBC?  After some research, I came to find out that IBC stands for Intermediate Bulk Container and they are a standardized shipping container for liquids.

IBCs are used to transport everything from oil and soap to syrup and molasses.  They come in two standard sizes 275 gallons and 330 gallons.  The footprint of the totes are the same as a standard full-size pallet.  The plastic container is surrounded by a metal frame that creates a very sturdy container.  This allows forklifts to be used to move them and allows them to be stacked several high during transportation.

Depending on what you intend to use the tote for depends on the type you will need to find.  Most things on a homestead or farm require a food grade tote.  Totes that held oil or some sort of solvent are often the easiest to find but are not recommended for use if you plan to store something in them your or an animal is going to ingest.

If your tote contained a food product there is a very easy way to clean them out.  Put half a bottle of Dawn dish soap in the bottom and fill the tote up with water.  After is is 100% full drain the water.  Next, put 2 pounds of baking soda in the bottom and fill it up and drain it again.  The soap will cut and remove the sugar or whatever was in the tote and the baking soda will neutralize the soap.  We used this process when we cleaned a tote to hold maple sap and it worked great.

We first came across the IBC tote when researching aquaponics.  We plan to set up a good size backyard aquaponics setup in our greenhouse once it is complete.  IBC totes appear to be the standard method of construction for the backyard aquaponics.  The general construction method requires cutting the IBC’s into two pieces.  The shallower top portion becomes the grow bed and the larger bottom portion is the fish tank.

Another popular use for IBC totes is rainwater collection.  A 55-gallon drum is great, but the can fill in just a few seconds with a good spring rain.  With the ability to stack totes up to 3 tall, when full this arrangement allows someone to store over 800 gallons of water in a 40″ X 48″ footprint.  There are many how-to articles out there, but this is one of the best I have found and it includes a parts list of everything needed.

 

The other uses for IBC totes are limitless.  There are instructions online to turn IBC totes into livestock waters, waste oil containers, compost bins, chicken coops, mushroom grow beds, dear blinds, hot tubs, I had a guy buy one from us that he turned it into an oil change catch tray for his tractors.

We have a plan to turn one of the more beat up totes into a permanent dust bath for our chickens.  Two more will be centrally located by the well in the garden as a water tower. Then there is a third that lives in the woods by the maple evaporator used to store maple sap.  Once we get the aquaponics system up and running I am sure we will find even more fun projects for these forklift size building blocks.

The Low-Tech Approach to Mulberries

Spring will be here before you know it and the first season on our homestead is Mulberry season.  The purpose of this post is to go through the process we use to use to juice our berries.  It was a messy process, but not too difficult.  This is what we consider the low-tech approach.  We have started using a food mill, but if you want to process berries on the cheap, you can do it with almost no tools.

We normally juice the first few sets of berries that come out of the tree due to all the debris that drops with the first few shakes of the tree.  Because of the way juicing works you do not use any of the pulp so if there are a few little leaves and things still in with the berries that’s OK you will not use that stuff anyway.

First we fill the tub with the berries with water.  This will cause most of the gunk to float.  The really good berries will sink.  Next we skim the floating berries off of the top of the tub.  Then picked out the big sticks and gunk.

Mulberries 1

We used a frying skimmer for this process

After you have the berries you are going to juice ready to go, put together the rest of the juicing gear. You will need gloves, this is very very important unless you want to look like Barney.

 

Mulberries 2

The smashers!  Yes, I understand this is kind of a creepy picture…

 

Next set your splatter screen on top of a big pot like so

Mulberries 3

Then lay out your cheese cloth folded over a few times

Mulberries 4

Now it is time to squish some berries! Put a scoop of berries on the center of the cheese cloth and pick up all four corners. Then start to squish out the juice thought the mesh screen and into the pot.

 

Mulberries 8

This is why we use the mesh strainer.  As you continue to squish seeds will start to get loose.

 

 

After you have squished all the juice out throw away the pulp or give it to your chickens.

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Then put the juice in a container for storage in the fridge until you need it. We made all of our juice into jelly. I like using Mason jars to store the juice.

Mulberries 10

Now sit back and admire all of your hard work! It takes four cups of juice to fill a jar and about 12 cups of berries to get that much juice!

Mulberries 11

Our current process has not changed much, but now we use a food mill to juice and separate the seeds, pulp, and leaves from the juice.

The Coop – Nesting boxes

It has been a very warm Fall here in Ohio and this week Gizmo, our silver lacewing, started laying in the new nesting boxes.  All the girls went through their molting process at the same time, and she is the first to start finally laying again.  This was exciting because the new nesting boxes had not been tested yet and we were not sure if the girls would use them or not.

The move to the new coop was abrupt, and for the first few months, the nesting boxes were just sitting on the floor of the coop.  This was a problem because it required going into the coop to collect the eggs.  The nesting boxes have had quite a few little tweaks since then, and it looks like are finally finished.

Box Bar

We mounted the nesting boxes to the outside of the coop, in the same way, we attached everything else to the new coop.  Using long bolts, large fender washers, and plywood.  The plywood acts as a backing and support for the bolts supporting the weight of the boxes.  We were afraid that something this size hanging on the outside of the plastic wall would bow and stress the plastic of the wall.  With the plywood strip along the top and bottom of the holes to enter the boxes, everything is very sturdy.

We used some scrap 2 X 4 wood and two rungs from an old playset ladder to create a perch to make it easier for the birds to get into the boxes.  The two verticle pieces of plywood are what we used to screw the hinges for the lid of the nesting box to.  The plywood gave us enough material to support the weight of the lid and enough height to create a slope so water would run away from the hinges.

The big issue we had with this design was water penetration.  There was no real good way to seal the hinge side of the nesting box roof.  Our first attempt was a small piece of wood running above the seam.  The thought was water would run down the wall and out away from the hinge side.  This did not work and the bedding kept getting wet in the boxes.  The final solution was to build a little roof over the entire thing.  This worked quite well water from the roof runs onto the overhang and the amount of water that makes it to the hinge side of the list is now very minimal.

We learned from our chicken tractors that cleaning the nesting boxes can be a royal pain.  With these boxed the back wall also folds down.  This way the contents can be scraped straight out of the boxes.  This is a vast improvement from the other design.  The back wall is held in place with three small hook and eye clasps.  One on each end and one on the inside in the center to keep the back from bowing.

The lid of the nesting box also works very well as a surface to sit the feed bucket when filling the feeder.  We are very pleased with how it turned out.

 

Quick lawn tractor trailer hitch ball

How many times has the utility trailer been in the wrong place and I don’t want to take the truck out back? Maybe I want to haul a little something from one side of the yard to the other, but it is a bit much for my little dump trailer?  I want to move the boat on flat ground maneuvering it sharper Problemthan the truck can turn.  I’m getting tired of carrying the 100# or so tongue weight (not to mention I’m not getting any younger).  How many scenarios are there where I need a trailer hitch ball on my lawn tractor to make life easier, but I don’t have one?  All mine are 2 inch with ¾ inch bolt.

I have two old Cub Cadets which have plenty of power and will hold my weight plus a couple hundred pounds without a problem, but, they both have a 5/8 inch hole for a hitch.  I called my local supply/hardware store and all their balls have at least a  ¾ inch bolt.  Looking online, I see Tractor Supply has SKU #18990199 which is a 1-7/8 inch ball with a 5/8 inch shaft for $9.99 and Lowes has a similar Item #: 80454 for $7.98.  Since Lowes is 2 gallons of gas (round trip) farther than Tractor Supply, I head out for the $9.99 model.

Not that I lack the ability to properly plan, but, I think spontaneity is just more fun, don’t you? (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)  Did I bother to call ahead to see if it was in stock? Of course not.  Did I prepare to get this trailer interface device before I actually wanted to use it, so they could order one? Same answer.  Now, here I stand in the middle of this magical store full of all kind of wonderful things, but not the one item I wanted.  What happens? Rule number one kicks in: “never buy what I can build.”  I start thinking I can cut the bolt off, drill and tap a 5/8 inch a hole???  Cut off the bolt and weld a 5/8 inch bolt on???  I could buy a ¾ inch drill (with a tapered shaft, which costs more than the ball and gas to Lowes), stress both me and my cordless in an effort to open the hole, which removes the hole’s flare, permanently weakening the hitch.  I could machine the shaft small enough to fit the hole and re-thread the new shaft.  Brain running out of control, stop, think.  What I need  to start, is a bolt that will fit the hole in the Cub, so I go to my favorite isle, bulk hardware.

If you look at your used trailer hitch ball, it is usually rusty except in a couple spots.  I deduce that no matter how round the ball, it only contacts the hitch in a couple places, and that’s after miles and miles of hard use.  I don’t need 2000 pounds of strength, just to maneuver a trailer a few feet, or to cross the yard a couple times, so maybe I can weld that good.  (I’m not going to take this on the road, in traffic or even attach it to a vehicle, if you are, please stop reading, this is not safe enough to take off the grass, or driveway).

I need a 5/8 bolt and nut.  Next I want a washer for the nut side.  Lookie here.  Lots of washers, and lots of sizes.  There are 2-inch washers with a 1-inch hole and my trailers all have 2-inch hitches.  If I put a couple of them in the middle, then a couple smaller ones . . . To get even smaller ones, I switch to a ½ inch bolt, then a couple smaller ones. I hand tighten a nut and even the big washers with the big hole don’t slide.  I take off my glasses; it looks almost like a trailer hitch ball.  Hey, this could work!

Side by sideassembledI take less than $2 in hardware home figuring I can always order a real ball online, or go to Lowes later if this doesn’t work.  I slip this almost-a-ball into the trailer and to my amazement, it latches.  It feels pretty good and the nut is only finger tight.  Now, I’m getting excited, thinking this really could work!  Are all trailers this rusty? Maybe a little PM is in order, but Locked in placethat will have to wait.  I analyze where the hitch captures the washer-ball and determine I don’t think the hitch can get off then pseudo-ball accidentally.  (at .3 MPH, I don’t expect much bouncing anyway)

Now for the tractor connection.  Looks unusual, but once I put a wrench on the thing; I don’t think any washers should shift, at least not enough to matter, considering how it is gripped by the trailer.In placeNow for the test.  Hook up the utility trailer and finally get it as close to that tree as I want it.  OUTSTANDING! Maneuverability behind such a short wheel-based tractor is amazing.  Now I see how truckers turn and twist semi-trailers into those places some people couldn’t drive a car.  Not that I’m that good, but I see a new level of maneuverability never realized backing up boats, campers, and utility trailers.

OK, it is time to spread some truth here; I parked and leveled the camper in a place which does not permit me to pull the boat out of the garage because the truck is too big.  Remember that old “two objects in one space at one time” thing?  It seems real enough at this point. The mother of this project (Necessity is the mother of invention) was to pull the boat out of the garage, missing the camper.  The testing is over.  The terrain is pretty flat.  Here we go.

Working

Hot dog, it fits.  Good thing too, because I tried backing up just to see if I could, slightly up hill, and no dice.  As expected a 2000 pound boat balanced on a tandem trailer may have proper tongue weight on the taller truck, but at this height, only about 100# of tongue weight didn’t afford me enough traction to go up hill in gravel.  Luckily I had enough grip to tow and brake, but that is all I needed in the first place.  If I couldn’t make the corner like this I would have and to park it, move the camper, and use the truck to get it out.

Since the commercial solution of driving to Lowes to get a real Garden Tractor Trailer Hitch ball is so reasonable, maybe this project is a little tongue in cheek, but it did uphold rule number one: never buy what I can build.  However, I cannot over emphasize this solution should never be used where safety could be in question.  I had assistants standing by with wheel chocks in case I got it started downhill and couldn’t stop it.  My lawn tractors are of senior vintage which is important for a couple of reasons.  They were built strong back then and, although I’d hate to lose one because I overstressed it, that would not be like losing my only, or more costly lawn mower (not to mention boat or camper).  I would not haul anything which I could not lift the tongue.  The 650-pound camper tongue weight will not be attempted on these little guys.  As usual, understand your tools, machines, and their abilities.  Always staying within their, and your, safe limitations.

SHH