New Super Doop (Domed Coop)

Hazel putting on the finishing touches!

Hazel putting on the finishing touches!

The Wednesday afternoon thunder storm took out one of our Super Doops.  Luckily, we never have floors on any of our shelters- so losses were minimized.  The fault was timing.  I was loaded up with feed and heading home to hang these ballast bags on the hooks on the side of the hoops.  Ten minutes from home the house was airborne- cleared one house, bounced off another and landed about 100 feet from the origin.  Fortunately we had a spare billboard and the glu-lams were not badly damaged.

Now onto the lemonade.  We changed the roost design which is now to be suspended by chains…this will add some adjust-ability that was difficult with the parachute cord.  We also want to play around with the pecking order and try different angles for the roosts.  Next, we extended the channel for the wiggle wire to hold the hoops onto the beams.  This is minor, but should add some strength.  The bags and ballast remain the same (hopefully, the hooks will always be full before a storm).  Last improvement will be the nest boxes- the all new style.    (I should do another post on the nest boxes…someday)

On a side note…the billboard was for auctioning off homes.  Hopefully, this is a thing of the past.

Wind versus SuperDoops

Yesterday was the worst wind we have had on the farm. 35mph from the west. We’ve laughed at 15 mph and while 24 mph made us a little nervous, we came out of it unscathed. Not sure what the rest of the region saw- but yesterday we were blasted. I headed to the dairy for a milk run in the afternoon and while there you could have dropped a feather and it would have landed on your toe…not so on our farm. Gusts of 35 mph. Imagine.
There are four shelter types that we use on the farm:

  • Doops- these are the domed coops that we use for the broilers. These things are like rocks in wind. They hug the ground and have sloped sides and with the shade cloth on the top the wind passes through without creating lift.
  • SuperDoops – these are the laying hen’s shelter. We use 40′ glulam beams as skids to move them around the field. They are covered with old billboards and have open ends. For owl protection we hang either poly (winter) or shade cloth (summer) on the ends. The roosts are tied to the hoops so we get a lot of extra ballast at night. After losing two of these SuperDoops we started anchoring them down with earth anchors driven by the hydraulic pump on the Farmall M (my love for this machine runs deep). Since starting the anchors we have yet to lose a firm footing to the earth. Yesterday was the biggest test and they did very well….I think I can stop shaking when a breeze shakes the leaves on the trees.
  • Catapillar Tunnels- We use these for juvenile birds that are not ready to mix with the big girls. We also plan to use these for the market garden this year. These have a unique construction in that the poly is pinned to the ground and framework is just parked underneath. I am amazed at how stable these tunnels are, not to mention that they are very cheap to build. I think the key is the tootsie roll ends that are pinched together with T-post about 10 feet off the end of the frame. We have some trouble with the rope that goes between the hoops, and give the structure that catapiller look. If you are looking for a cheap, sturdy season extender- take a look at these tunnels. As for the wicked wind – the ropes popped off a bit and we had to bunch the poly up on the top to avoid further damage. Once the wind died down (about 2am this morning) we were able to drop the poly back down the sides. Fortunately the young layers were able to hunker down next to the plywood shear wall and wait out the wind.
  • Pig Hut- We wrote these off as invincible. We thought they were heavy enough to leave 5 sides closed and 1 open – not so. This house is a perfect weathervane. This hut gets lift and spins until it finds the least resistance…..we are going to rethink these a bit. They are bigger and higher than necessary so we have some flexibiity. Luckily no hogs were injured when the structure started to move. They just got up and walked with it then hunkered back down.
  • Overall – we didn’t loose a shelter or an animal! And now we have a new benchmark of shelter survivability….ahh toils of mobile farming!

    Collecting Eggs

    Here is a video of the nest house.  Of course it is portable, only the wheels touch the ground and the hens come in and out through the gap at the bottom (about 16″).  The nests are 5 gallon buckets with front roll out nest inserts from The Featherman folks.  The white cover is a plastic jamb cover that is attached to black pipe the create a swing door to cover the eggs between collections.

    Training Pigs on Electric Fence

     

    I am new at this so…I share with you my experience.  The big question is whether containing pigs solely on hot wire or not it is possible/repeatable.  I really hope it is because it has been a great experience!

    What I know- at least what I have gleaned from sources and now bank as ‘truths’:

    • Pigs surge forward when first exposed to electric fence
    • Once pigs fear the wire they respect it- for life
    • Training requires both a hot wire and a physical fence 
    • A drift of pigs running up to to the fence to greet you- without getting near the wire- priceless!!
    • You will shock and awe friends, family and yourself!

    We want to produce ‘powerhouse pork’ which means that these pigs are not single purpose porcine.  We are trying to reclaim unused land, spread compost and fertilize a bit.  We chose to run them on hot wire to accomplish these goals.  We thought about a moving pen set up but couldn’t visualize easily portable housing with piggies in -15 F degrees weather outside.  Instead we built a house of straw and a fence out of 2 wires and plastic posts (trust me- I am nervous all the time about this set-up).  We figured we better try pigs on hot wire before we know any better or we would never try it.  

    Constuction of the house took about 20 3-string wheat straw bales.  We cross stacked a perimeter of bales to leave a 4′x8′ interior.  We went two bales high (except only one bale high at the door- a decision I would soon regret).  We then laid 2″x4″s across the top and covered them with corrugated roofing.  We thought the corrugations would give some ventilation but still keep the body heat in.  On top of the corrugations we placed another course of bales.  We shoved fiberglass rods in to tie the bales together and pin them to the ground.

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    Overall- I love the house.  Before we put the roof on we put down a couple of inches of compost followed by an couple of inches of straw.  The pigs took to it and there have been no complaints.  I have crawled in a couple of times and all is well on the inside.  We plan to only have pigs over the winter this year and will blend the house into the garden after butcher day.  I hear straw bales will get infested with lice if you try to use them over and over- not our intention.  I am concerned about the doorway being only one bale high- I can always dig it out a bit if worse comes to worse.  

     

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    Alright- back to the hot wire.  

    From the house we extendended bales as wings and attached a 16′ horse panel (hog would work) to the front.  On this panel I attached two aluminum hot wires: the first at about 6″ from the ground and the second 10″ above that.  Keep in mind the pigs were about 70 pounds at this point.  They sniffed- checked it out- got zapped- several in a row- zap, retreat, zap (different one), retreat.  We kept them this way for a week.  The day before we removed the panel I put a little bit of their feed next to the horse panel as a test.  They never touched  the hot side- any food that had slopped near the wire stayed there all day!  

    We thought they were ready and Saturday morning we removed the panel.  We were fortunate to have nice weather and could spend all day outside with a watchful eye- all the stars were aligned.  With the panel gone and the feed trough in the ‘outside world’- nothing happened.  The pigs were not going to cross the line where the panel used to be.  Enventually the call of breakfast was too much and one by one they crossed the line.  For the rest of the day when they went in for naps they paused, sniffed, and then eventually crossed the line.  Today- they are fine with it.  

    We were a bit worried that they would know that the old threat of being zapped was gone- but would they know there was a new boundry?  To check, I fed them on the other side of the wire one brave piggy took a sniff and got zapped.  No one else tried it- no one else has gotten within 2′ of the wire.  Content that they would not try the wire again I moved the feeder over the wire and they gobbled it up.  For two days I kept an eye on them- the third day I left for hours and all was well.  Tonight Hazel and I  took turns chasing each other and the piggies around the compost pile.  Hazel got down on all fours and called them her ‘wild brothers’ while crawling around with them.  

    Watching pigs run, wrestle, root, play king of the hill is truly ‘better than cable TV’ (Joel Salatin).  Did you know when pigs play-run they bounce around on thier front feet- kind of like a dog on one of those agility courses with the zig-zag posts?  Did you know they like to dig a trench and then lay in it….then dig another?  Did you know they like lie perpendicular to the sun all lined up next to each other?   Did you know they are happy to see you- even if you don’t have feed bucket in hand?  I didn’t.  We raised pigs when I was younger and didn’t know these things.  

    So far so good.  The pigs are free to be pigs- a fundamental objective of the farm.

    Pig on Compost

     

    Brooders

    Brooding the chicks is a critical step in the rearing of chickens.  In Central Oregon we have the added challenge of huge temperature swings – 40/50 degrees difference between day and night.  We started our chicken adventure with metal brooders.  They work okay for layers; however, broilers out grow them well before they are able to survive out on the pasture.  This left us thinking we should make a two stage brooding system – one week in the metal box and then out to deep-bedding brooders outside for the final 2 weeks.  Then we came to the realization that this was silly and we should not turn a chick’s world upsidedown any more than necessary.  

    So we set a couple objectives: brood the chicks from day 1 to 21 in the same brooder; control temperature during the extreme swings, eliminate the crating step between brooder and pasture, and, finally and paramount, provide a healthier brood for the young chicks via deep-bedding.  Our solution (at least, for now) is a 4′x8′ rolling brooder.  We hope to start the chicks in the heated shop, then roll them outside to finish their time in a less controlled environment.  Then we can hook up the brooder to the golf cart and roll them out to the pasture.  With deep-bedding we can reuse the brooders for the next batch with beneficial bacteria already working away in the brooder- giving the next batch a better chance coming out of the gate.    We just sprinkle pine shavings over the old and in with the new batch.  Our heat source can move up as the depth of the bedding increases.  Also with the 12″ pneumatic tires we hope to make it out to pasture in one piece.  

    Frame is built up from 5.8" sheet of plywood

    Frame is built up from 5/8" sheet of plywood

    We used 5/8″ plywood on the bottom to hold the wheels in place.  The sides are 2′ OSB and the frame is just 2″x2″.  The heater in connected to 2″x2″ across the top.  In the photo the heat is in the highest position.  The  roofs are just corrugated sheet-metal and plastic.  We feel better with the sheet metal over the heat source, but we need to let light in with the plastic panels.  We have no other light source for the chicks- they will rise and shine with the sun.  The temperature of the brooder is only important at chick level.  This is why we drop a wireless temperature sensor to regulate the temperature.  This was the big problem with the metal brooders- the controls are at the heat source.  So once you set the desired temperature it would hold fine; however, ambient temperature would change so much that the system would yo-yo the chicks.  Even in the heated shop the metal brooder couldn’t maintain a steady temperature.  This style holds temperature much, much better.  

     

     

    We used 12" wheels so we can roll directly to the paster without having to crate the chicks

    We used 12" wheels so we can roll directly to the paster without having to crate the chicks

    Home at last!

    Home at last!

    New Broiler Pens

    Side panel broiler pen

    Horse panel ripped in half and place in dados.

    Well, I am back in the pen construction business.  There are a couple of improvements that I want to make to our broiler pens.  First we want to be able to service the birds from one side only.  This is not a huge thing with a single pen; however, with multiples this becomes more and more important.  Second, we want to be able to feed and water the chickens from the outside of the pens.  If we do this we can eliminate the ‘easy open’ top that has causes aerial predator problems.  Third, we want to avoid having to walk in the fertilized zone behind the pens.  To address these issues and make the pen more durable and predator proof we are building new pens.  The pens will be slightly bigger 8′x16′ and made from horse panels.  These panels are the reason for the size change.  They come in 60″x16′ so 1 1/2 panels will make one pen.  These panels are expensive ($65 a piece) so we need to use every inch.  Horse panels have 2″x4″ holes which should be good to block predators.  The panel will be covered with poly or shade cloth depending on the season.  The panel is framed in wood, a 2×4 for the bottom skid and a ripped 2×4 for the top rail.  Ripping the dado is key to this design.  The panel fit in nicely and we secured it with a couple of screws catching the inserted horizontal wire.  After putting a second side panel together, Hazel and I worked on squaring up the two sides with conduit.  I am a conduit bending novice so it took a bit to figure out how to make two ninety degree turns and come out to the right length.  Good thing conduit is pretty cheap.   Squaring up the pen As you can see in the picture the end panels are not framed but tied to the bent conduit and the side panels.  Another key feature of this pen will be the flexibility in the corners.  All four corners are wire tied to allow for some flex but still not collapse when we need to make a turn (thanks to the conduit).  The top rail on the end panel is there to snap the poly cover over. The waterer is a gravity fed bell waterer.  The reservoir pipe is long enough to hold about 2.5 gallons.  This is a bit less than out current set up.  This may come back to haunt me as I skimped and just used the pipe I had laying around.  I should probably shift to 3″ pipe later on (this would hold about 4.4 gallons). 

    wire lock channel

    Pull poly over channel and walk in the zip wire.

      Wire lock is great!  This channel locks in the poly covering with a zig-zag wire.  Easy to put in and holds very snug.  We plan on using poly in the spring and fall and switching to shade cloth in the summer.  This wire lock will allow us to do this without too much pain.  Once the poly was wrapped around the broiler pen I just cut some PVC to make snap on clamps to hold the ply to the end wall top rails.  For rain run off, just but a small bend (15 degree maybe) in the center of a 10′ piece of conduit and hammered the ends flat and screwed it into the top wooden rail of the side panels.  Then just Tee into the center and run out to the end walls.  We will see how this works- good thing we only get 9 inches of rain a year…and most of that is in the winter.

     

     

     The final product  

    Broiler Pens

    Of the million broiler pens designs out there- we submit one more.After tearing up the lawn and installing a garden, and letting the two laying hens we brought from Bend free range in the backyard, we were the talk of the neighborhood once again as we built the movable coop in the front yard then carried it to the backyard to fill with the chicks. Those are the same chicks we have been brooding on the back deck. The grapevine is a buzzing.The pen is light, easy to move, and has a built in water reservoir that holds more than two gallons. After hours of searching, more ideas sketched and tossed, the J-man came up with this design that took about two hours to construct once all the pieces and parts were collected. The design is elegant and simple.

     

    The walls are high as the original design was for turkeys. The horizontal supports are 1 1/2″ PVC with slip-T’s and vertical PVC’s of the same diameter for added stability. The reservoir is made of a 3″ PVC which is designed as a 10′ cross member. It is also slightly elevated providing a slant to the tarp that shades the chicks and will shed any rain or sprinkler moisture. The walls are plastic chicken netting that is lashed to the PVC pipes with Zipties at the top and bottom and vertical stays.It measures 10′X12′ and houses 70+ three-week-old chicks. Tomorrow we plan to box the chicks, trailer the coop and set it up once more on a friends pasture in Bend. The chicks are almost fully feathered and eagerly scratch through pulled weeds and grass clippings that we’ve added to the pen. They are going to love the pasture.The girls wanted to name all the chicks when we pulled them from the shipping box, but to remind them of the chicks’ purpose, we limited them to only chicken dish names. So there’s Fricassee, Wednesday Night, Thursday Night, Soup, Fajita, Fried, Hot Wings, and Honey Wings, and Buffalo Wings among the feathered masses.