Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nuts and Bolts (and nails!)

My wonderful husband.  OOOOH, my WONDERFUL HUSBAND.  Not only has he encouraged my chicken habit, he builds things for me.

Mind you, I took shop class about 20 years ago.  I have a general idea about how to do stuff (or use the stuff to get something done).  Scott, however, is in an entirely different class.  That man can BUILD.  He took the vague ideas I had about building chicken tractors and made them work.  Granted, there are still things I'd change, but he's really got the talent. 

KLA (who was kind enough to comment :) ) this is for you about the wheels.  I'll try to give a step by step instruction.

The wheels are mounted on a piece of 2x4 which is bolted to a 2" spacer on the side of the tractor.
(We got most of the wheels as salvage from the local dump)

See the bottom hole on the wheel strut?  You pull up on the top of the 2x4, use your foot to move the wheel forward, and stick the nail in the bottom hole on the strut that matches up to the hole on the spacer.  That way your wheels don't just keep going forward.

Hubby demonstrating the nail and wheel technique

Here's a closeup of the mechanisms.  Lucky you, you get to see my dirty toes.

the back of the tractor.  See ma?  No axle!  Those blocks on top of the nest box hold the lid open without laying it over.  How cool is that? 

I hope this might help anyone wanting to build a tractor.  Of course, I wanted to paint them but we needed them NOW.  I'll bet that if you need more tips, my husband would be happy to give you some.  I'll let you know about any more modifications we decide to make.  Happy Chickening!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Screen Porch

AAAH.  Don't you wish you were me?  Just minutes ago, I was sitting out on my screen porch, safely ensconced in my Sky Chair.  The breeze caressed me, I was rocking gently, surrounded by the peeping of chicks and the nibbling of bunnies.  The crickets are chirping (fine, as long as the dang things STAY OUT OF MY HOUSE), the cicadas are singing, and I even had a book.

Mine's blue, but it's heaven.

Now that it's late spring (yeah it got a little warm today--summer's on the way!), the screen porch is THE place to be around here.  It's about 8 feet wide and 20 feet long.  Scott has his hammock chair set up out there, I have my Sky Chair (and if you don't have one, you simply must get one!!).  It's been used as brooder space for chickens, shelter for bunnies, space for hardening off seedlings, a place for the egg fridge . . .you name it.

Still, I can go out there and sit in the breeze (it's screened on the north, east, and south) without having to worry about rain or mosquitoes.  Sometimes flies get in but hey, I've got a flyswatter and I'm not afraid to use it.  Flies make good chicken treats.  We can watch storms go by, we can watch fireworks in town, and we can just chill out, relax, and communicate with each other. 

Scott and I used to sit on the porch at our old city place every night and use it as talking time.  You know, what happened that day, what made us happy, what was bugging us . . .the way a good marriage should be.  However, it got a little distracting, having to continually swat june bugs out of my hair, or (as happened once with my mom) having a huge preying mantis land on my glasses.  Now we don't need to worry. 

Screen porches seem to have gone the way of the dodo.  That's really unfortunate.  It's a great place to kick out, reconnect, and relax.  Of course, many of those things have gone extinct too.  The more we lose touch with those closest to us (our family, then our neighbors), the more we lose touch with the world as it should be. 

If you possibly can, build yourself a screen porch.  It's not hard.  You'll thank me for it later.  I'm going to head back out to my little bit of paradise.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicken Tractors

I finally got the latest batch of meat birds moved out of my screen porch today.  YAY!!!  My hubby was wonderful enough to build me a couple of chicken tractors so I could have room to move birds around.  We have the whole garden planted this year, but I can't wait to run them through it this fall to till up our soil and fertilize it for next year!

These are still prototypes (the lumber could be thinner, and I want heavier mesh to keep predators out) but here ya go.

The first model.  The top of the run is screens, topped by a tarp, held down by bricks.

That white thing on there is an old washtub that I used to use as a brooder but now use to make sure that the nestbox top doesn't flip up when I don't want it to!

The second generation.  I need heavier fencing, especially hearing how close the coyotes have been getting lately.  Still, the 2x4s could be replaced with 2x2s, halving the weight.

Nifty kick out wheels.  After this pic was taken, the whole thing was wrapped in another layer of fence, because, dangit, I don't want those 'yotes eating my meat birds!

looking into the nestbox area (which will be fitted with a lip and possibly dividers to keep bedding inside the boxes)

nifty new double hinged top idea.  I can get in to take care of feed and water, or the whole thing can be moved to get in the pen to catch.  I think I want hook & eye fasteners to keep it secure, but great idea from my hubby!

One half of hinged top open.  Spiffy!

So, we're still perfecting the plans.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I moved the meat birds out today--usually they won't eat the fresh greens I pick for them, let alone eat scratch grains when I put them in the feeder.  Well, once they were out in the tractor, not only were they loving the grains, they were pecking at the grass.  This batch should be SO much tastier than the last ones . . .and the last ones weren't half shabby either!

Please feel free to contact me--I don't have this down to a science yet, but I really love to share experiences and compare notes on how to do it better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Eating Healthy

One of the wonderful things about living out here is all the fresh produce.  OK, it's a little slow to start this year, and the bugs were *ahem* KIND enough to eat my lettuce, but there's always the farmers' market.

I always have to laugh at people that say they can't afford to eat fresh, healthy, local food.  I also laugh when people expect farmers' markets to have EVERYTHING.  Come on folks, learn what SEASONAL is.  No, we don't have green beans--they're not producing yet.  No, apples usually ripen for picking in the fall. 

So back to the affordability.  I scored a bag of beet greens ($1), a bag of new potatoes ($3), and a bunch of onions ($1).  I came home and used half of the potatoes, half of the beet greens, and one onion. What did we have? 

Roasted dilled potatoes (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dill), beet green salad with white balsamic vinegar and some fresh ground pepper, plus some reheated home-raised chicken.  Total cost for the meal for four?  $2.20 for the veggies (OK, I'll even tack on $1 for the oil, salt, pepper, and dill), probably $3 for the half-pound of chicken that I used.  We had mulberries from our trees for dessert.  So, our family of 4 ate tonight for $6.20. 

SIX DOLLARS AND TWENTY CENTS.  You can't afford to eat healthy?  I don't buy it (pun intended).  My kids absolutely inhaled their dinners--they pretty much just said MMMMM a lot, with the occasional YUMMY!!  thrown in.  How many kids haven't ever heard of beet greens, let alone be eager to eat them?  They're jam-packed with vitamins and they're pretty too. 

photo from

Don't you want some of those?  They're so versatile that it isn't funny.  Use them fresh in a salad, saute them, stir fry them, use them in soup . . .wow.

Of course, you know I'm spoiled on my fresh eggs too (and apparently are a lot of other people--I'm having trouble keeping up with demand!).  Yeah, I charge $3 a dozen for mine, and those egg-shaped, chlorine washed things you get from the store are $1 a dozen.  Still, when I know mine pack 3x the nutrition (and heck, I'm on a first name basis with all my hens!), I think it's worth it. 

After all folks, can you afford NOT to eat healthy?  What's more expensive:  paying an extra buck or two for good produce or a doctor visit for health problems?  As more and more crops are becoming adulterated with GMOs or pesticides, isn't it worth it to look for your local farmer? 

Come on, I dare you.  Try it.  Go to the market.  If you can feed a family of 4 for less than $6.20, I want to hear your recipes!!!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


My husband is a confirmed bacon addict.  Being German, I prefer sausage, but bacon has its place.  Heck, we're talking about the man who wrapped a corn dog in bacon and deep fried the whole shebang. 

So I was pretty tickled when I finally found him the perfect Father's Day gift.  He's pretty hard to shop for, especially when we're on a tight budget.  I wanted to get him a new chainsaw, or a chipper/shredder.  Well, that wasn't quite in the cards. 

So, he's going to get a bacon rose bouquet.  Yes, you read that right.  I was pretty perplexed as well until I went to

pic from

Who wouldn't love this?  And, there are easier ways than drilling holes in your nice muffin tins.  You can use votive candle cups (with holes punched in) or tinfoil cones.  AWESOME!!!  I was so jazzed about this that I couldn't wait to surprise him.  Well, now he knows what he's gonna get.  I'm pretty sure he'll like it. 

Folks, give the bacon lover in your life something special--a bacon rose bouquet!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Salad Bar Chicken

As an homage to my hero, Joel Salatin (who raises Salad Bar Beef), I thought that might be a good title for tonight.  And, well, OK, it wasn't a salad bar, it was an olive bar, but still.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old high school friend and discovering that we share a love of poultry.  He also has the good fortune to work at a salvage company.  When he mentioned crates, of course I had to jump on it.  Heck, even fiberglass ones that collapse.  Easy to clean, tough, easy to store.  What's not to love?  And he even was willing to trade for some longtail (Phoenix/Yokohama) chicks.  SWEET! 

When I was there picking up crates, he showed me the old salad/olive bars that his company had bought from a grocery store doing a remodel.  HMMM.  So many possiblities!  A brooder?  Maybe . . .but these had stainless steel inserts with a drain.  Sounds like a great slaughtering table!  I mentioned that I was interested, and sweetie that he is, he held on to one for me.  Heck, not only do they have food grade tubs, but underneath are plenty of shelves and a cabinet, plus some really great lockable casters.  It's about 7 feet long, about 4 feet wide.

Well, since Scott was off this week,  I thought it'd be easier to pick one up if he came with.  Off we headed.  The one with my name on it was mostly stripped (the compressor was taken out, the styrofoam lining was out, but that steel tub was in there, and Nathan had kindly left the lights in (with wires to be hooked up!).  WOW.  Now what would you expect to pay for a setup like that?  LOTS, right?  Nope.    $40 for a perfect slaughtering table?  YES!

It rolls like a charm, but he was nice enough to load it onto our trailer with a forklift.  It fit almost perfectly.  I mean, if I'd measured the thing, it couldn't have fit any better.  We got it strapped down and headed for home so we'd be home in time for Caitlin coming off the bus.  We did have to stop once and readjust the ties, but we made it in plenty of time. 

You've never seen a woman so happy about a salad bar . . .without any salad in it, even.  I can't wait to get it cleaned up, hook up an extended drainage pipe, and USE IT!! 

Sorry it's kind of a dark pic, but I can't get my phone to cooperate tonight.  I'll post better ones soon!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicken Rustler

Am I a chicken thief?  That's a hanging offense around here (or shooting, at least!). 

After running late most of the day (remember how I said that when you're running late, EVERYBODY needs water?), I finally got on the road.  I needed to pick up hatching eggs from Dawn, take them down to Derby to Teresa, meet some of the other Back Yard Chickens girls, pick up some chicks to bring back to Dawn, and pick up guineas to raise.  Oh yeah, I had to stop for gas, plus pick up some nummies to take to the gathering.

I felt like I'd been clubbed with a brick when I got to the upscale Dillon's in Wichita and discovered that they had done away with the olive bar.  EEK!  Well, at least they had sushi . . .actually maki, but still good.  I finally made it out to Karen's place.  Late but I made it. 

Folks, that was one of the most pleasant afternoons I've spent in a while, and I've had my share.  I got to meet and talk to fellow chicken people--actually TALK and not type.  I got to see their FACES, not just icons.  It ROCKED.  I even got to have adult conversation with someone outside my family.  For those of you that don't have kids, you have no idea how cool that is.  We kicked back, talked, munched, went out to look at the chickens . . .altogether an amazing afternoon.

Here we are, the Crazy Chicken Ladies!
JosieC, Verna, me, Karen, Loralee, and Teresa

I was still running late.  I got to Dawn's to drop off her chicks and spent a little too much time talking.  I looked at the time and just about had a heart attack.  I'm running the farmers' market, and it starts at FIVE!  I'm not going to be able to make it home by then, let alone load up!!! 

Up steps my wonderful husband.  He loaded up the kids, loaded up my table (and non-perishables) and set up for me.  I got home, got the baby guineas set up with some food and water, and headed out myself.  I sent him home after I got there and let the kids keep playing.  We had a great night--my other vendor (Darlene) even made some money off me, but I sold plenty.  Sure wish I would have brought eggs, since someone was there looking for them!

So we get home and have supper (that Scott was wonderful enough to make).  I move chickens around to make room for the itty bitty baby guineas.  I get the guineas set up in my brooder and break a heat lamp in the process :( .  So, I'm out there admiring them and I notice . . .hmmm, that one doesn't have stripes on its head like the other ones do.  Its body looks a little different too!  Mind you, I'm not a guinea expert, but this looks like a chicken to me.

How mortifying.  To just meet someone and steal one of their chickens?  YIKES!  So, I called Karen.  Nope, she wasn't missing one--all of hers in the brooder were ducks, and I'm dang sure this isn't a duck.  Maybe Teresa was missing one?  Nope, she only brought the 2 for Dawn, and they stayed in their own box.  I'm waiting to hear back from Verna--I don't want to be known as the chicken rustler! :D  (I'd post a pic here, but the brooder lamp makes everything red.  Can't see a dadgum thing.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

Folks, I'm not usually confrontational.  I much prefer to gently educate.  Still, I have a quick enough temper that when something gets under my skin, it blows up pretty fast.

I had someone tell me today that I have no idea what farming really is. 

Let's start with the back story.  Yep, I was raised in town.  My parents didn't farm, but my grandparents sure did.  I drove a combine in my grandma's wheat field on my 8th birthday.  My grandpa on the other side farmed with a team of Percherons.  We came over from Russia with the Mennonite diaspora--some of my ancestors brought over Turkey Red Wheat.  I can vividly remember sitting at Grandma's waiting for the wheat prices to come over the radio news, and projecting her potential yield based on counting kernels.  I used to play in the wheat trucks the neighbors parked across the street waiting to take them to the grain elevator.  My great uncle John had a doctorate in breeding wheat for the greatest yield (and that was the days before GMO.  This was just BREEDING).

The spark today started with someone posting about fair value versus going price (in regards to hay).  We had a terrible year last year, and hay prices skyrocketed.  Some this year are already charging last years' prices and thinking about raising them . . .even though we've had a mild winter and, in most places, a pretty wet spring so far.  I know that, looking out over my pasture, haying this year will yield more.  Thank goodness.

The conversation began to spiral out of control when I suggested that $4/gallon gas isn't necessarily a fair price, but it's the going rate.  How dare I complain about my "drop in the bucket" when they had so much more land to farm than I do?  Then the insinuations--just because I have a few acres and raise a few chickens, I'm not REALLY a farmer.  Since I'm not depending on farmland for 100% of my income, I'm not REALLY a farmer (even though my grandma worked in a bank for her entire marriage while my grandpa raised wheat). 

Through the entire thing, I was forced to examine what being a farmer means to me.  Here's my take.  If you don't like it, and you don't think I'm a farmer, fine.  Those of you worth knowing will understand what I'm talking about.

--farming isn't about the amount of land you have, it's about how well you take care of it and how much you GIVE back to it.

--farming isn't about how much you spend on gas or herbicide or pesticide, antibiotics or hormones, it's about how much you can avoid spending on them.

--farming is being in tune with your land without just putting it on autopilot.  It's about the seasons, soil needs, animal needs (nope, not corn in a feedlot trough), and building on the strengths of your land while solving the problem spots.

--farming isn't about having the newest, biggest machinery, the newest, biggest chicken barn (Yuck), or anything newest or biggest.  It's about doing the best you can with what you have and still doing the best for your land.  Our old Allis tractor needs some cajoling now and then, but she does just fine by us.

--farming IS ALL ABOUT NEIGHBORS.  Lord knows, I've relied on mine often enough, and I hope they know they can rely on me.  Little things are the start--like trading eggs or borrowing a trailer.  The wonderful folks that helped catch my horses a while ago got a fresh loaf of bread.  Talking with the people who come to the farmers' market--they're my neighbors too.  Even the guy with the field across the road (who we see just a few times a year) is nice enough to do his field work when the wind isn't blowing towards our house.  Even if I HAD ever thought about doing it (which I never will), raising GMO crops wouldn't be neighborly.  Should Big Ag decide to look around, my neighbors could get sued if my artificial crops infested theirs.  I don't do things that way.

See, for me, farming (as with so many other issues) comes down to respect.  I respect myself.  I respect my land.  I respect my critters--yeah, even the chickens I slaughter.  Chickens and soil both give of themselves so that we can eat.  I love my neighbors--all of them.  We're all here for each other.  Isn't it amazing that people who live so far apart can be more tightly knit than a bunch of people in the city?  I love it.  I can walk outside in the morning and appreciate the glory of the day.  I can take personal satisfaction (or sometimes complete despair when I find that worms have eaten all of my lettuce) in the fact that I'm HERE.  I LOVE this place.  Even when the chores seem to take forever, even when . . .you get the idea.

I'm a farmer now.  Love me or leave me the heck alone.  I've got work to do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Under Pressure

I'm truly sorry for the long silence, folks.  I've been busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, a one legged man in a butt-kicking contest, and a one-eyed cat watching nine rat holes.  I hope you'll forgive me.

It all started last Monday when I got a message from my cousin Patrick.  We had reconnected on Facebook and found that we had a lot in common.  Mind you, his last memory of me was a baby on a blanket, and I only ever knew him from a photograph on top of my grandpa's TV.  I suggested that he come up and visit sometime.  Well, this urgent message said "call me NOW."  Turns out he had a few days free and wondered if it was OK if he'd come up for that visit.  OF COURSE!  Would I miss a chance like that?  Not on your life. 

So then it was time to call the rest of the family to see who could come see him while he was here.  That involved more cousins who I haven't seen in WAY too long either, aunts, uncles, etc.  Offhandedly, I asked what Cousin Patrick would like to have for dinner.  He said that he hadn't had veranike in ages.

Folks, for those of you who haven't made veranike, it's a real skill.  I think I'm on my way to mastering it, but I have a long way to go.  I do take pride in my sour cream gravy though.  I told him I could make that happen.  "What else?"  I asked.  Moos.  (For those of you non-Germans, it's pronounced mohs, not moose.) Well, I didn't have cherries, but I did have gooseberries aplenty, and they make a fine moos.  Done.  What else?  "Swiebach."  My dad leapt into the fray and brought swiebach.  I baked up some German sausage and we had a fine meal, even if I DID forget the fried potatoes. 

Folks, I simply cannot tell you how awesomely amazing it was to reconnect with FAMILY.  I know I love these people simply because they share my blood, but being a grownup and being able to share ideas, values, and inspirations with them just blows me away.  I'm amazed that Cousin Emery (who used to tower over me) is just about my height.  I'm thrilled for Cousin Donna who looks just like she did 30 years ago.  I wish their kids could have come too--they've got some stories I'd like to hear!  And you know what?  Hearing the comforting murmur of your family getting together and sharing time with each other is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.

Uncle Paul and Aunt Darlene came the next day, and it was more of the same.  Old stories, old memories that somehow never get old.  Staying up way too late with a person who until a few days ago had been a stranger and becoming friends.  Taking joy in cooking special meals or realizing how much you value the time you can spend.  If that's not a blessing, I don't know what is.

Well, then there's the farmers' market.  For the first two sessions, I was it.  Nobody else.  Finally, today, another lady showed up . . .and I think we both did well.  Heck, I bought from her.  You can never have too many tomato plants.  I also brought home another 20 meat chicks earlier this week, so in another 2 months or so, we'll get to slaughter again.  Hopefully this time, I'll have my own table.  Scott's on a trip to San Francisco, and I get to herd the kids by myself (EEK!) but so far we're doing well.  Why yes, I AM sleeping with a pistol under my pillow.

Speaking of doing well, I'd like to thank someone.  Tonight at the market, I let the kids run off and play while I manned the table.  When I looked over to check on them, they were usually with a brown-haired young man in a blue shirt with an eagle on the front.  I'd see him pushing them on the swings, chasing them around the jungle gym, or with them on the merry-go-round.  When I got packed up, I went up to him and asked what his name was.  It was Jimmy.  He didn't tell me his last name, but he looked like an early teenager.  I thanked him for keeping the kids entertained.  He said it was nothing.  When my daughter started to throw a fit when it was time to go home, he still talked to her nicely.  Whoever reads this and knows who Jimmy's parents are, they (AND JIMMY!) deserve huge pats on the back.  He is a wonderful young man.  Jimmy, the world needs more like you.

Sleep tight, folks.  I'll get back in the groove!