Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Build a Cheap, Sturdy Poultry Waterer

If you have chickens or know someone who does you have probably seen a chicken waterer that looks like this before:

They aren't very exciting. And a one-gallon plastic "poultry drinker" will run you at least $7. The plastic gets brittle with exposure to sunlight and if you lose your patience in the wintertime while trying to knock the ice rings out then it will break (ahem). I've cracked three in the last year, which is why I will never buy the plastic ones again. They also sell galvanized waterers, which are very sturdy and last a long time but are very expensive ($25 or more). 

Our young poultry are drinking a lot of water these days and I needed some more drinkers. So I grabbed a couple of giant tin cans that I had saved, which appear to be nearly a gallon in size. I had bought giant cans of diced tomatoes at Costco a couple of times and the cans were so big I couldn't bear to throw them in the recycling bin. I just knew I would find a use for them. If you don't have any giant tin cans laying around (what, you don't make spaghetti for 25 people?) you can ask for extras at restaurants.

Now I needed a base for each can. I stopped at Goodwill and looked for pie pans bigger than my tin cans. They didn't have any pie pans but I found three shiny metal pans that look exactly like my dog's water dish but shallower. (They look almost just like a pie pan but the metal is different.) They were $1.99 each so I bought all three.

My old tin cans and two shiny dog dishes/pie plates
I came home and used a hammer and a nail to open a hole in the tin can, approximately 1/2" in diameter and located about 1/2" from the open end of the can.

It doesn't have to be pretty.

Done. That's it. Nothing needs to be done to secure the tin can to the base. I just fill the tin with water, slap the pie pan on top of it, then carefully invert the whole business quickly so the water doesn't slosh out. The water dribbles out of the hole in the can and fills the "ring" created by the pie pan. The level of the water in the pan is determined by how high up  you placed the hole on the side of the tin can.

The finished product.
So far I love my new waterers. They are really easy to clean, easy to fill, and they're sturdy. Plus they cost me $2 each and look like they will last a long while.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

DIY Custom Air Filters

Our HVAC system (an ancient Lennox heat pump) takes a weird sized filter. 21.25 x 25 inches, to be exact. When we moved here the HVAC guy sent me to a specialty store across town to buy the proper sized filters. I ordered a set of six and when I picked them up I realized that all they had done was cut down a larger filter to size and re-glued the edges on. A service I paid for, of course. So when I ran out of those filter I decided I'd just do the cutting and pasting myself. I don't know why that didn't occur to me in the first place. Here is how I did it:

1) Here is the new, larger filter that I bought to cut down to size
2) Measuring the new filter up against the dirty old custom filter

3) The new filter after I carefully cut off the cardboard edge and then cut through the filter itself.

4) I used Elmer's Glue-All but I think almost any glue would do. Something that dries a little faster would have been nice.

5) The bead of Elmer's glue on the cardboard edge that I had saved.

6) The finished, custom-cut air filter with the edge drying. I let it dry for about half and hour and then put it to use!

I don't know how many people have the need for custom-cut filters, but I think the bigger idea here is that we should always question the easy consumer solution. I will save myself at least $10 per filter this way. If my HVAC system continues to work for a few more years (knock on wood- it's over 20 years old) I'll save myself some decent cash. Make shift, my friends!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Homestead Animal Overload

The meat birds
I think I got a little overzealous. Back in the dead of winter Big Sister and I decided it would be a good idea to pre-order 8 ducklings and 2 goslings. Then I pre-ordered 15 meat chickens and 2 layers. The hatcheries threw in a couple of extra birds. Now I'm crazy busy caring for animals and I think I've overextended myself a bit. Here is the current tally of animals on our homestead:

16 meat chickens (to be butchered Mother's Day weekend)
2 pullets (soon to be moved in with laying flock)
1 rooster
13 laying hens (3 of whom are not laying)
1 Muscovy (duck) drake
9 ducklings
2 goslings
2 goats
2 cats
1 dog
3 children
2 adults

The meat birds in their chicken tractor. I move it to fresh grass every other day.

Whew. That's a lot of birds. I gave away three laying hens plus a ridiculous Silkie chicken of unknown sex to my neighbors this week. The coop was at capacity and I needed space to add the two pullets, which are currently being raised with the meat birds since they are the same age and still require chick starter feed. It was a great exchange. My neighbors came down the street with a little red wagon and a giant cardboard box. We loaded up the chickens and they gave me jars of homemade salsa, spice rub, and a full propane tank.

The ducklings and goslings in their "duck tractor". They get fresh grass every day.

The duck tractor right after I had moved it over to fresh grass. The bare spot to the right is where the tractor was located yesterday.

Have I mentioned I *love* to barter? I had an excess of chickens but really needed a propane tank for the gas grill somebody just handed down to us. A new tank costs about $45 so I was thrilled to not have to pay for one. (In case you haven't noticed yet, I hate to pay for anything. I'm not a cheapskate. I'm a conserver!) Speaking of savings, the gas grill costs $200+ new and we got it as a hand-me-down from a coworker who just bought a newer, fancier model. It even has a canvas cover, which will save it from the elements. I've been waiting for a gas grill to show up in my life for a year or two and it finally made it's appearance. I knew that it would if I could just be patient!

The main chicken run, which holds all the layers.

These banty sisters REALLY want to raise some chicks. They are so broody and sit on everybody else's eggs. They peck me mercilessly when I steal their eggs every day. They make excellent chicken mamas.

Because it is springtime and it actually rains here a little in spring, everything is very green. The weeds are growing like crazy. The Queen Anne's lace grows like crazy out back and, despite it's beautiful flowers, it makes a sticky seed burr that is a real nuisance. Therefore, I need to get rid of a lot of it before it goes to seed, otherwise I will have a very fluffy dog FULL of burrs! I used some old, rusty fence panels to enclose a small area of thorny vines, oak seedlings, 4-foot tall dandelions, and Queen Anne's lace. Then I threw the goats in there for an hour to work their magic. They were in hog heaven.

Brushy goat heaven

Goats are very good at leaning their way out of fences.

I just love to watch plants disappear into their mouths. It's very fast and comical. Their teeth are like a tiny typewriter.

I'm also moving the duck tractor through the Queen Anne's lace, eliminating a new patch every day.

I'm thrilled to no longer have baby poultry in the house. It is just so much work to have them indoors on shavings. I'm really looking forward to butchering day, too, as that will eliminate 16 birds from the feed roster. They go through a 50 lb sack of feed every week right now. Whew. As you can see, I bit off a bit much this year, but I think we're going to make it through.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My French Butter Dish. Ooh La La!

My friend Danielle recently gave me this adorable French butter crock.

Isn't it pretty? She had recently told me that she found two of these in a thrift store so she bought them for herself and a friend. I told her if she found another one I wanted it. Sure enough, the next time she came over she had one for me! These puppies cost about $20 new ($35 if it's Le Creuset) so I recommend keeping an eye out for one in the thrift stores.

What's so special about this crock, you ask? Well, you fill the base with a bit of clean water and you smash a stick of room-temperature butter into the bell part. Then you invert the bell onto the base and the water keeps out germs and oxygen, preventing the butter from going rancid without refrigeration. That way you always have softened butter on hand! If we don't eat all of the butter within a few days I change the water in the base but I've seen no sign of spoilage so far.

If you want to read more about the history of the French butter dish it has its own Wikipedia entry, which is rather interesting.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ducklings and Goslings, Oh My!

It's that time of year. Spring is in the air (finally!) and the box of ducklings and goslings has arrived.

The moment we opened the box. The birds were one day old.
Back in the cold and dark of January it seemed like a good idea to pre-order a bunch of poultry for the spring. Now I have baby poultry coming out of my ears and I'm scrambling to care for them all. My morning chores are getting longer and longer. But I'm keeping the end in sight because we will be butchering all of the meat birds (there are 16 of them) in one month. Plus, the ducklings and goslings will soon be big enough to live outside in one of the chicken tractors. It's so much work to keep them clean and dry when they are indoors in the brooder. Plus, they smell like poultry, which is not  noticeable outside but is definitely noticeable in the guest room.

One of the two Buff goslings. Isn't it adorable?

The fluffy back of a Khaki Campbell, my personal favorite.

Exploring the brooder that will be their home for 2-4 weeks.
Well, we are quite overrun with animals at the moment but we sure are enjoying our new dog, Zeus. He has already gained 7 pounds since we got him three weeks ago (!) and shows no sign of stopping in the immediate future. I predict a 90-pound dog (he is currently 70 at ten months of age). We all adore him but he has a special bond with the girls. When Little Sister cries Zeus rushes to her side to check on her and she finds a lot of comfort in him. She won't go to bed without hugging him goodnight and in the morning I let him wake the kids up in their beds. He snuffles them out with his nose and they wake up giggling.

He gets loved on like this all day long.
Other homestead news:
We are awash in eggs. I scramble them, fry them, hard-boil them, and give a few away. One morning the dog busted out of his crate while I was gone and ate fourteen of them. (Really. Yes, he had diarrhea afterwards.)

Just-washed homestead eggs

The dog left a puddle of whites and only two of fourteen yolks!
We had a semi-freakish hailstorm the other evening. Right at the kids' bedtime some rain and thunder blew in, accompanied by pea-sized hail. It piled up in the yard for a few minutes before melting. Mr. Chanclas and I were rushing to stuff buckets under the leaky roof spots in our workshop and I saw the Muscovy duck high-tail it to cover when the hail started. All of the other animals stayed under cover, too, and everyone was fine. It was weird, though, with a strange yellow glow in the sky. Later I thought it was funny that neither Mr. Chanclas nor I thought to worry about our cars, which are never parked under cover. That's just not something to worry about, you know?

Patches of hail accumulating next to the chicken tractor