Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another update on the new chickens.

I went out to close up the coop and put away the feed tonight like I always do.  I checked the pen with the new chicks and much to my surprise they weren't in there!  My first reaction was panic.  I didn't know if they got under the fence and were in the woods.  Maybe they were under the coop.  Maybe they were somewhere in the yard.  No.  They were in the coop with the rest of the birds.  Go figure....
 
I hope this works out OK.  She's locked in there with the rest of the layers until I open the coop tomorrow morning.  I haven't seen her interact much with them.  There was some fighting initially, but now I think she pretty much just stays away from them.  I could be wrong about that.  I'm not here much during the day to see them interact. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Will we get more baby rabbits?

My daughter successfully raised and sold a litter or rabbits last spring.  We didn't want to have the female pregnant through the summer, so we didn't try again right away.  Since it's the end of August and summer is almost over, we thought that now was a good time to try again.

We put the male in the pen for a little while so he could establish that it was his area.  Then we put his wife in there with him.  It didn't take them long to do what rabbits do.
This is the most graphic picture you're going to get.

I'd guess that they were in there together for 15-20 minutes.  Now we just have to wait a few weeks to find out if it worked.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New chicks after one week.

We've had the new chicks for a week now.   We didn't have any issues with the hen accepting them as her own.  We've been keeping them in a pen on their own so the other layers get used them being around. 

So tonight I decided to prop up the front of the pen to let them out.  Guess what happened?

Our Rhode Island Red chicken promptly went  into the pen and started eating the chick feed. 
I buy them soy-free, GMO-free, organic feed and she decides to eat the starter feed for the chicks.  This was a first.  When I first got the soy-free stuff, I put it out along side the Purina pellet feed that I had been using.  They ignored the Purina pellets and only ate the soy-free feed.  My wife thinks that she's just showing the new birds who is boss.  That could be the case.  She's at the top of the pecking order.
 The new hen and her chicks did venture out of the pen, but they didn't go far.
Momma hen is very confrontational and is ready to defend her babies!  She's spazzed out at the dog more then a few times this week.
The hen and her chicks made their way to feeder under the coop.  I don't know if they ate any of the feed there or not.
I'm going to start letting them out every day from now on.  There were a few skirmishes between the mother hen and some of the layers, but I think she can hold her own. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An easy way to check the water level in your rain barrel.

I've already written numerous times about some the challenges with rain barrels(How to keep debris outHow to still use them when it doesn't rain.  How to keep them from overflowing when they aren't the same height.)  I still have the issue of now knowing how full they are.  I could always just unscrew the lid and look, but that's a nuisance.  I'd also like to be able to move water from the barrels in my back yard to the barrels in my front yard (using only gravity).

In a previous post I put a clear vertical tube in my garden.  That worked, but only if I was in my garden and only if I remembered to look at it.  It still wasn't ideal.  What it didn't offer was a gauge.  It was easy to tell if it was empty, but I couldn't really tell how close the barrel was to being full. 

Anyway, I decided to use the same idea but expand on it.  I got a section of clear tubing, attached it to a garden hose, and ran it vertically along a fence post.
Then I attached the garden hose to the rain barrels at the front of my house.
Front yard rain barrels which are attached to the drip irrigation that waters the garden.
I opened the valve on the barrel and allowed it to fill the hose.  Then I put a mark on the fence showing the height of the water when the barrel is nearly full.
Then I took the hose off of the barrel in the front yard and attached it to the barrel in the back yard.
I marked the post with the height of the water for the back yard barrel and measured the difference between it and the front yard barrel.  It was 12.5" (meaning that the back barrel is a foot lower than the front one).  Then I moved the garden hose back to the barrel in the front yard.
This clear tube along with these two marks tell me how I can move water between the barrels.  Water will flow downhill (from high to low).  So if the water level in the front yard barrels is lower than the height of the water in the back yard, I can move the water from the back yard to the front yard.  If the water is higher than the line on the post I can move water from the front yard to the back yard. 
Water level in the front yard barrels is lower than the back yard barrels.
Moving the water is as simple as turning a valve.
The valve on the right connects the front yard barrels to the back yard barrels.
Since the back yard barrels are lower, it's impossible to move all of the water in them to the front yard (without an additional energy source like a pump). 
Back yard barrel level after it reaches the same level as the barrels in the front yard.
When front yard barrels got empty I marked the post with that level as well.
Empty barrel level mark.
Empty barrel

This isn't a perfect solution.  I still have a garden hose running across my yard.  I'll probably end up relocating the clear tube to someplace else, but for now it's good enough. 

I'm real happy with the fact that this allows me to get a few more days of irrigation in my garden without having to fill the barrels from the house water

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Adding more chickens.

My neighbor, the one who gave us our first batch of chickens, found a good deal on chicks and ordered some.  She ask if we wanted any and of course we said yes.  I told her that I'd take 4.  That way we'd end up with an even flock of 10.  To make things even more interesting she offered us a broody hen to raise the chicks.

I had planned on putting the hen and chicks in my original chicken tractor.  I attempted to move it into my yard and it fell apart.  I didn't realize how much it had rotted.  The wire mesh on it is still good so I'll salvage that for another project.  I had to use chicken tractor v2.0 instead.  That was fine.  I just want to keep them contained until the current flock gets used to them being there.

Chickens have no night vision.  So it made sense to make they hand-off at night.  My neighbor came over around 10:00 with a cranky hen and five 1-day old chicks.  That was one more than we asked for.  I can't complain about that!  The hen was in no mood to be put in the tractor.  She wouldn't stay still so we could put the chicks under her.  I got a box and put some pine shavings in it.  Then we put in the chicks, sat the hen on top of them.  Then the box went into the shed for the night.

I went out to check on them the next morning.  The hen thought that she had hatched eggs.  And...  She was not too happy to see me.  She squawked a lot.  I picked up the box and moved her and the chicks into the chicken tractor.  They stuck together.  The chicks thought she was their mom.
This picture was taken right after I put them in there.
The hen continued to squawk loudly for quite a while.  I could even hear her inside.  I can only imagine what my next door neighbors must have thought.  Luckily the squawking eventually stopped. 
One chick slipped out.  The rest are under the hen.
This is a new experience for me.  When I raised chicks in the past, I kept them in the garage under heat lamps.  I never had a hen to do the work for me.  I have to check the food and water, but she's taking care of the temperature.  I don't have to adjust a lamp higher or lower, or change the bulb from 100w to 75w to 60w.  I won't have to change out the messy pine shavings and the garage isn't going to stink
The hen is taking her job seriously.  My dog came out to sniff around the pen and she freaked out.  She was jumping and flapping her wings and had all of her feathers puffed out.  The dog seemed confused.  None of the other chickens have ever done that.  I got her away from the pen and back into the yard.  Then the hen calmed down. 
I plan on keeping the hen and chicks in the tractor for a week.  That should give them some time to get used to being here and it'll give the current birds time to adjust as well.  At that point I'll prop up the tractor just like I did for the last round of broilers.  Then they'll be able to explore as they please.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Garden Status for July 2014

It's been a busy month for the garden
July 2 harvest.
Beans picked on July 3.
 My wife froze a lot of the beans.  I canned 5 pints of tomatoes and my wife made and canned 6 pints of salsa.
Salsa
A lot of my tomato plants gave up and died.  I did put new plants in the ground, but they're probably a few weeks away from producing anything.
Harvest on July 15.  I've had a lot of luck with cucumbers this year.
More beans were picked on July 18.
I haven't grown pumpkins before.  These two turned out pretty nice.
More cucumbers and tomatoes on July 20.


I wrote previously that my homemade trellis didn't work out so well.  A lot of the cucumbers that were climbing/destroying it had turned yellow.  So I took them out and created a new trellis.  The frame is the same.  The twine I used last time was the problem.  It just wasn't strong enough.  I used mason line this time.  Hopefully it lasts longer.  
I replaced broken twine with mason line and removed all of the cucumbers that had been here.
I don't even know where these pole beans came from.  I must've picked some up somewhere.  Anyway, they're going crazy climbing the trellis where the peas had been.
My corn isn't doing well.  I'm only seeing 1 ear per stalk and they are tiny ears.  They aren't even worth picking.  I don't think I'll be growing it again next year.
 


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Keep debris out of rain barrels

All of my rain barrels that are directly under down spouts have screens to keep out debris. 
The screen on the barrel keeps out the larger debris.

So I was quite surprised when I looked inside one the other day and saw this.

Closeup picture of the debris that go through the screen, but not into the barrel.
What a mess.  I don't need that stuff getting into my drip irrigation lines.  There's a chance that it already has.  Anyway, the question now is, "What do I do about it?"  I figured that I had two options.  I could build some first flush diverters that would hopefully catch and divert the smaller debris away from the barrel before it started to fill.  Or I could get a tighter screen to stop the smaller debris from entering the barrel.  I really liked the idea of the first flush system.  It's probably the more permanent long term option.  It's also more costly and time consuming to install.  So I went with option #2, the tighter screen.  I ordered some mosquito netting from Amazon.  Total cost was less than $9.
Installation was pretty simple.  I put the netting on top of the existing screen, screwed on the lid, and cut away the excess material.
As an added precaution I also added a screened washer to the hose attached to each barrel.  I'm hoping that it'll prevent junk from getting into the drip lines that connect the barrels.
New screened hose washer on the left.  Old normal hose washer on the right.
Screened hose washer installed.
I didn't check inside the barrels after the last rain storm, but it appeared as though the mosquito netting did catch a lot of tiny debris.