Hoop Coops

Be warned – this is not a city slicker contraption. This is a real life get-er-done, yes I live in the hills project.

In the Summer of ’14 I moved to my first farm with 31 chickens. And no “real” coop. Instead, I made hoop coops. I don’t make just ANY hoop coop. I made steel and wire hoop fortresses wrapped up in blue tarps. Be warned – this is not a city slicker contraption. This is a real life get-er-done, yes I live in the hills project.

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The coop before the “I saw a bear” renovation. At this point they had survived dogs, raccoons, skunks, and a hawk. Eventually fifty adult birds slept in this coop nightly and free ranged during the day

Ingredients:

Four cattle panels

Five mile high tensile metal electric fencing wire

Bolt cutter

Wire cutters

Baling twine – the orange kind, not grass string (For new homesteaders or farmers – just go ahead and buy a roll – you will need it.)

Hardware cloth or carbon steel expanded sheets (in masonry)

HEAVY gloves

Washers

Two inch dry wall screws – yes I know it’s wood and outside, but you want dry wall screws if you expect this thing to last more than one winter and a bear

Three eight foot pieces of 2×6 pressure treated lumber – look for the yellow tag. This is splurge, but again – if you expect this thing to last more than one winter and a four bobcats get the good stuff

At least two blue tarps, maybe three. I like the 10×16’s from Walmart.

Scrap lumber – short pieces

Some boards for roosts – chickens like to roost on FLAT surfaces.

BIG “L” braces – 8 – If you want this thing to last more than five winters, a pack of dogs, a bear, bobcats, multiple foxes, skunks, raccoons, mainline winds of 60 plus miles per hour, two moves, a devil horse, a demon cow, and being dragged around three farms, get eight braces.

A pinch of insanity for good measure

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I’ve heard hens don’t lay well in these coops. Mine obviously didn’t know better.

Method

The base is eight feet by four feet made from 2×6’s and “l” braces. One L brace inner and outer on the corners. This allows two cattle panels to sit side by side and then be wired together with five mile metal wire along the long end. Forget the hog rings. They’re too much work and you can’t clamp everything as close together. I wired them at every cross. And I mead WIRED them. Make sure your pointy ends are down. You don’t want them catching the tarps. Use the scrap lumber and washers to secure the panels to the base.

Once you have your foundation match your other cattle panels to your open ends. You’ll need to stuff these inside and then wire them to the rest of the frame. Pick an end for your opening and cut out a hole. Remember – YOU need to fit through this opening.

Now the fun begins. Using your hardware cloth or carbon steel sheets cover your master piece making sure all your wire ends are pointed inside. (If you’re from the South you know why I call it a master piece, and not a masterpiece – big difference!) Wire it on along all the cut ends and across the middle in several places. Make a foot wide skirt that extends out along the ground, too, so nothing can dig in. That skirt really is the difference between life and death for your darlings.

Now, cut a piece of cattle panel slightly larger than your door opening and cover it, too. Use plenty of wire to hold it to the coop on one side of your opening. Secure it tight enough that it does not hang loose, but loose enough to swing. Go ahead and wrap it a good five or six times – you don’t want a bear taking it off!

To secure your door you can use a chain and clip, or in my case a chain or two and clip and a big rope tied around the entire coop. Did I mention the bear? After your chickens are wired for sound (the best cell reception on the farm was in the coop) it’s time for the tarps. Get out the baling twine and attach the tarp as only a farmer can. Or use the five mile wire. Either one will work. When you think it’s secure, add some more twine for good measure. In the winter I actually had a second tarp tied up under the first one in front and used a rope around the entire thing to keep the wind from blowing the tarps loose.

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There’s the door. The ropes eventually wrapped around the ENTIRE coop several times.  I use bricks to hold down the edges of the skirt. We eventually expanded into two hoop coops. This coop is still in use. I started with zip ties. They were replaced with wire.

And there you have it – A chicken coop that will hold up to just about anything, including me and the hens.

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Captain Crazy Pants laying an egg on the coop… at least it wasn’t the roof of the house that time

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

The Kind Fibers Family

 

Friday’s Farm: Meet Orion – The Jacob Merino Cross

Orion’s Story

It’s not often we have lambs on the farm. However, a few years ago Andromeda and Victor got together unexpectedly and created Orion. He was an unusually large lamb and his sister Minerva was just under a pound. Fortunately I was home because Andromeda needed assistance with the birth.

Orion, or Big Rye as he’s nicknamed, at three months old. He was already well over one hundred pounds and was the official peacemaker on the farm.

It became clear that Minerva would have to be a bottle lamb. Orion however stayed with his momma. By the time he was a month old he was our peacemaker. If anyone was picked on he was there ending the issue and comforting anyone who was upset. Our orphaned lamb would cry and Orion would suddenly appear to lick his head.

Orion has grown into an impressive wether. He’s nearly three hundred pounds, gentle, and all his flock mates seem to enjoy his company. He’s also quite handsome. He’ll never be a cuddle bug like his sister or my Black Iris. But every day he let’s me pat his head and will bob his head in appreciation when he gets corn. Even as a grown boy he follows his mom around like an oversized shadow. However, he’s taken quite a liking to is Aunt Good Night.

Orion and Good Night. Night is a solid 130 lbs. Just to give you an idea of his size. He wasn’t full grown here.

Orion’s Fleece

His fleece is interesting. It’s a little longer than the other Merinos. However, it’s ALMOST as soft as a typical Merino. I’d guess his micron count is around twenty one to twenty four. His color pattern is what’s interesting. I was surprised to find him spotted with tricolor spots. He’s produced a fleece that has grey, black, and smokey patches with white spots. However, coco brown is the main color. The other colors are sporadic and just blend into the brown. His fleece also has a more typical merino clump and dense lock structure. However there is some crimp in it. I’m experimenting with his fleece some. So far I’m pleased with both combing and hand carding his wool. His woolen is super bounce. I love bouncy sock yarn, and his fleece is perfect for it! Since my drum carder is only set up for medium to corse wools currently I haven’t tried a drum carder. His fleece comes out well as either woolen or worsted. If you are interested in his fleece, check out the Etsy shop www.kindfibers.etsy.com . All proceeds go directly to caring for our resident sanctuary animals.

My thoughts on Merino Jacob Crosses

If you are interested in a Merino Jacob cross as a wool pet I can tell you that my crosses are wonderful, hardy, healthy, personable critters. The fleece type varies. However, the quality does not. I’ve been pleased with the fleeces and with the finished products. Or, if you decide to open your land up to grazers in need of a home, this cross is a good choice. Other than minerals, winter hay, water, and a yearly shearing they require little care and are suitable for a novice. As always, if you decide to take one on, make sure it’s a life commitment. They are sentient beings with complex emotions that effect their health.

Until next time,

Craft no harm

Moriah and the flock

Friday’s Farm: Muscovy Ducks

A few years ago I was gifted with six adorable ducklings. They stayed in the house for weeks. I was sure a rat or snake would kill them in the barn or that a mink would drain them to death as one had done several of my geese. Finally, one summer day when they were up good sized I finally put them in the barn.

My little ducks turned out to be muscovys. I was thrilled. I first met muscovys in South America as a teenager. They were first domesticated by Native Americans during pre-Columbian times and I consider them an important part of true American history. Unlike many domesticated ducks these guys will actually roost on low tree branch or on roosts like chickens. They’re also bigger than European ducks, and much quieter.

In the wild muscovy ducks eat plants, little fish, frogs, and small reptiles. I’ve also found they enjoy eating ticks, mosquito larve, gnats, and will happily chase flies. While the farm does not allow the ducks access to a creek, it does have several low lying wet areas they love.

In addition to their foraged diet the resident ducks eat a whole grain ration. I’ve tried commercially milled crumbles and they simply don’t do well on it. The hatchlings tend to grow slower, pick up diseases easier and are generally not thrifty. Instead I feed a sweet grain mixture from the local Mennonite mill intended for cattle. They love it, thrive on it, and it’s only $6.50 for a fifty pound bag. I feed about a quart per five birds in the evening during the summer and fall. During the winter and early spring I provide an all you can eat buffet. Typically they double their consumption. I use an old goat trough to feed the adults and a shallow pan for ducklings. Overall, there is little waste.

All ducks need fresh water. They are called water fowl for a reason. These none quacking quackers are water hogs. Twenty birds can easily use 100 gallons a day between drinking, splashing, playing, and bathing. I’ve found that keeping a dry pen is impossible. Hay is my bedding choice and it needs to be changed often with the ducks. I use several waterers throughout the barn lot and one thirty gallon through for the adults to bathe in.

So far every single female has been broody and a successful broody momma. The clutches are usually between nine and fifteen live ducklings.

The three ducks I kept became forty within a year. They nest in places that are impossible to reach. So far every hen wants to be a new momma every three to four months. I sat down and did the math one day. I came up with seven thousand ducks in five years starting with one drake and one hen. They are prolific layers and breeders.

The drakes are territorial. Drake (yes, I’m super creative with names) killed every half grown male duckling housed with him one night. I was heart broken. He also killed a grown gander that attacked one of his females. Does that make him a bad drake? No. It makes him a muscovy drake. They fight and will kill rivals. Unless you plan to have multiple houses, plan on one drake. Drake has since been rehomed to goose and kill free home. His Sam has taken his place. Sam is slightly smaller and I need a break in the fertility department until next spring.

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Sam is the white one. I kept him and the little tiny black one. The rest were rehomed to a lovely home. This hatch was unplanned. Black ducky hides her nests…

I love my muscovy ducks. Why? Good question. They are quiet, friendly, and funny. In the two years I’ve had them my flea, mosquito, and tick problem has disappeared. And the eggs. I make part of my living baking. They are awesome layer and cost much less to keep than chickens. Duck eggs make better baked goods. I also find them to be more predator savvy. And there’s just something about watching them dance in excitement every morning that takes me back to my first adventure as a young woman. They remind me to keep those fresh eyes experiencing the wonders of a greater world for the first time.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah and the flock

Friday’s Farm: Barn Cats

 

 

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Cloe hiding a mouse from me… “Nothing to see. Move along.”

 

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love my cats. I’ve had a pet cat or two continually since I was a baby. However, I’ve learned that keeping pet cats and keeping barn cats are two different things.

Barn cats have one job – organic pest control. These felines work hard and nap harder. But what is it really like keeping a healthy working cat? Glad you asked!

My old house cat Sophianne is a good mouser. She’s also convinced her job in life is to be my cuddle bug. While she does enjoy catching mice and playing with them, she’s not a great barn cat. She does kill and eat some, but she also brings some to the house still alive before letting them go. That’s not exactly helpful even though it’s adorable.

 

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Sophianne proving that not all cats are born to be wild

 

Cloe and Clive on the other hand, both kill and eat several rodents a day each. They are a brother and sister duo and the offspring of a long line of Mennonite barn cats. They sleep in the barn in cages. I know some people let their cats roam at night. However, we have owls and coyotes. Cats are the perfect meal on the run for those predators.

I know many people who do not feed their barn cats. I know a few who wonder why their cats are skinny and die off every winter, too. Other folks will put down a pile of food every three or four days. They wonder why they have so many mice and possums and raccoons in their barns. Well, because there’s a buffet. We feed out cats on a table on the porch in the afternoons. They have fresh water there all day. The food is taken up at night. Feeding them enough calories daily to survive doesn’t hinder their hunting. Often, if they kill and eat enough rodents they don’t eat as much food. Last night Clive caught a squirrel. He skipped dinner and was waiting to go in his cage at sunset. Feeding them keeps them in top hunting condition. Taking up the food keeps the mice from having a free meal.

 

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Clive enjoys hanging with the sheep

 

Cloe and Clive were both from an unwanted litter of kittens. To keep from contributing to the over population of none native introduced animals we spay and neuter our animals. We use a local Spay and Neuter program that assists rural areas with pet sterilization. The vets are top notched and care about their charges.

I do my own vaccines with the cats. I pick the kits up at TSC in the summer. It takes about 5 minutes to do both Cloe and Clive. Sophianne doesn’t get vaccines. She’s a wild hybrid someone tossed out and she nearly died from her first and only vaccine. She’s under vet orders to NOT be vaccinated.

Ticks are a major issue in our area. I’ve had STAR twice and we occasionally have a young animal contract Tick Paralysis (scary, scary, scary times!). I choose to use breakaway flea and tick collars. In addition to the collars I do a physical tick check every evening. They think they’re just being loved on. Even with the collars Cloe will pick up ticks when she goes into the woods. Clive and Sophianne rarely have ticks or fleas. I don’t know why, they just don’t. Fortunately, fleas are only an issue in August and early September. The collars seem to work for fleas on the cats. Having ducks and chickens also helps.

All three are wormed in the fall. If I see any signs of worms earlier I’ll worm then, too. However, tape worms in the summer and early fall are the typical parasites we deal with here in the Cove.

I’ve been blessed to not have injuries or major illnesses with my cats. I’m also blessed with an awesome team of vets who work with both large and small animals should my crew ever need professional care.

Cats are like most other working animals on the farm. If you give them a solid foundation they will happily work for an entire lifetime as your partner in pest control. And if they’re happy, you’ll even get some head bumps and purrs.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

 

 

Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Flock – The Mighty Ox & How NOT to Handle Mucking the Sheep Pen

The Mighty Ox

 

I always wanted a pony growing up. I’m a good rider, and I trained hunter/jumper. I’m also good at using a horse to round up, drive, and cut cattle. I was never horse obsessed, but I was definitely horsey. So, I was excited to get my first horse. Then I was relieved to rehome her. Living with a horse and riding a retired champion are very different experiences. Somehow I expect them to act more like cattle.

So, when Bossy had a calf in 2016 I decided we needed an ox. Duke just isn’t cut out for life as a riding ox. He knows every command, he loves to do what you tell him. But, he’s a hot mess on his top line with a shark fin down his back. If you’re looking for a year old Jersey to pull, I have a deal for you!

So, a few months ago I decided to train Asset as an ox. He’s my little bottle mini Jersey. He has always looked and acted more like a little doe than a steer. He isn’t especially bright either, but he’s sweet, calm, loves me, and has a smooth back. He just can’t figure out right from left.

A few weeks ago we were walking through the woods. He heard a squirrel in the bushes and jumped between me and the bush, pawing in a challenge.  Yeah. That’s my boy and his heart of gold. He’ll never be big and strong, but he’s my mighty ox.


Mucking 

Oh mucking! It’s the great challenge of keeping animals in a barn. Be it horses, cattle, ducks, geese, chickens, or chinchillas, somehow all that wonderful fertilizer has to get out of the barn an be transformed into usable compost. I use composted manure in my garden. It makes gorgeous, healthy, disease and bug resistant plants. People say my tomatoes are excellent. I tell them to thank the sheep.

Like many homesteaders I own all most every Joel Salitan book written. He has some wonderful ideas. One idea is to let everything stay in the barn until spring and muck it out in with a tractor or skidder. The hay and the flock’s deposits are supposed to break down into beautiful compost. I don’t have a tractor or skidder. I think that was my first mistake.

The second was thinking my gang of mutannous hooligans would actually eat their hay instead of pulling it out and using it as bum fodder. In Joel’s defense we do have some gorgeous compost absolutely. However, the day I realized my head was even with the barn loft, I decided to abandon ship.

Now, you’d think I would just get in there with the shovel and rakes and the truck and be done. After all, it’s only twelve sheep, not one hundred. After three hours and several truckloads the pen floor is now three inches lower. Yep, one inch an hour. Keep in mind it usually takes me five minutes to rake out the pen daily. Five minutes of raking versus an hour of heavy shoveling. This definitely did not save time, energy, or my neck.

So, for now I’m back to raking out the top layer of bedding everyday and spending an hour or two every week hauling compost to the garden. I expect to be dug out by summer – just in time to haul bags of gorgeous, clean compost to the farmer’s market.

In all you do, craft no harm

Moriah

Friday’s Flock: Mighty Minerva and Dagging 

Mighty Minerva 

Our smallest lamb has grown into our smallest ewe. She weighs only twenty five pounds compared to the average one thirty in the rest of the flock. She was our bottle lamb, and in her opinion chores are a natural part of a sheep’s routine. It’s always sweet and humorous to watch her follow us around and discuss the day’s issues. She also understands gates.

Digital Camera

So, the other day, when I was tired and hungry I closed the main gate to keep the sheep in the barn paddock instead of the main pasture that currently is without fences. Before I could turn around and head to the house, the entire flock spilled out from behind the barn, gambling and leaping into air at a full run, straight into the pasture.  Minerva led the charge, and kept leading the charge until we finally got out the lawn mowers and rounded them back up.

Once all back in the barn lot and the back gate secured with a t-post I watched as Minerva started gumming the latch to open it again. This time she failed. She then began pushing on it. Over came Black Iris, Night, and Loral to investigate. After some none verbal communication the four of them began pushing on the gate. I was impressed both with group effort, and the intelligence. We often sell animals short, but clearly there was serious communication and collaboration at work. Minerva may be small, but she’s a smart cookie, like the rest.

Dagging

The word “dag” first appeared in Late Middle English at the start of the sixteen hundreds. It originally meant a pointed hanging part, or sometimes, a challenge. The Australians applied this word to shepherding, specifically the hanging bits of dung matted into the wool on the backside of a sheep. I think it’s a brilliant use of the word – it hangs, and is a challenge. The word was also transformed from a noun to a verb. These days, we dag sheep, or as this week’s blog is about, we learn about dagging.

Why dag? Well, those nasty bits hanging off the end of the wool sheep are a perfect place for flies to lay eggs and begin inflicting fly strike on the sheep. It can ruin the wool, and kill the sheep. Heavy wool bearers are the most at risk for developing fly strike because the wool goes all the way to the bum. It’s a messy, nasty job, and it’s my job twice a year to trim up the dag end of my sheep.

To demonstrate, I grabbed my buddy Black Iris. He wasn’t overly happy about it, but we  made up later.

In days gone by shepherds used to cut the skin off the back of the sheep in order to prevent fly strike. Fortunately that custom is dying out and dagging is becoming the norm. I use simple house hold scissors for this chore. If I had a large flock I would hire our local shearer, but with only twelve I can spread it out over a couple of weeks. For us, since we don’t dock our sheep any longer, this is an important part of our management.

And that’s dagging.

Have a lovely week, and we’ll see you next week when we clean out our sheep’s pen after a failed experiment.

Until then, In all you do, craft no harm.

Moriah

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