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

 

Reason I Preserve Food

I’m currently in the middle of moving half the farm, half a house, a bakery, and still canning the few last fall items before winter sets in here at Serenity. So, today I thought I’d share a few reasons why I take the time to can and preserve food for the winter.

Know Thy Ingredients

I like knowing what I’m eating, where it came from, and how it was grown. Some items I even grow myself. Most years the pear trees produce an abundant amount of fruit. Not the past two years. We’ve had frosts at the wrong time and we’ve lost 100% of our pear, apple, plum, and cherry crops. It’s added to the food costs, and I’m out my cherry cordial. Tomatoes, zucchini, apples, peaches, plums, corn, and lots of other produce arrive from neighboring farms. I know the people who grow my food, what methods they use, their families, and often their hardships and joys. Nothing replaces knowing your food is well grown, and supporting your local economy.

I know everything that goes into my food – sodium, spices, and lack of industrial strength preservatives. In addition to canning much of our fruits and veggies we also dehydrate a few bushels of food. I enjoy carrots, squash, peppers, onions, strawberries, and a whole host of other items. I also do copious amounts of herbs – both medicinal and culinary – that are often foraged or home grown.

It Really Does Cost Less

Canning jars are cheap and easy to come by if you know where to look. Once you make the initial investment they are used repeatedly for years. I have several retired jars that hold my salt, pepper, and other cooking ingredients. Why did I retire those jars? They’re over one hundred years old and still being used. I don’t know of any other more cost effective packaging than a glass jar that’s held up since the late 1800’s.

I’ve traded home grown produce for jars, picked them up at yard sales, and had dozens given to me. I also purchase them from our local jam house for $5 a dozen for quart jars.

Even with purchasing a few dozen replacement lids each year it still costs less than purchasing grocery store canned food. Here is the run down of my costs this year – food included.

5 dozen quart jars – $25

30 pounds of pears – $20

70 pounds of pumpkin – $5

160 pounds of tomatoes – free

12 dozen lids – $16

50 pounds of peaches – $12

40 pounds of apples – $22

20 pounds of zucchini – free

12 dozen ears of corn – free

20 pounds of okra – free

3 pounds of blackberries – free

And I made three gallons of wine with the fruit trimmings.

Grand total for 375 pounds of organic fruits and veggies plus a gross dozen ears of corn – $100. That’s $0.26 a pound. Yes. Twenty six cents per pound of food. The average adult eats between three and five pounds of food a day. I eat closer to three. Even with trimming losses (and I’m stingy) that’s nearly six months of fruits and veggies for $100, or $16.67 monthly. Not weekly, monthly. Add that to the $15 a month average for dry staples and you can see how a $50 – $75 monthly food budget is doable.

Living Seasonally and Rural Heritage

Preserving the harvest in season is part of Rural Heritage no matter what part of the world you or your ancestors hale from originally. Here in the Cove spring signals the beginning of the work year as the entire place comes back to life.

We work the soil, gather early edibles, and have our first green salad around February even as the local pond is still solid enough for a skating party. March brings maple syrup season and a rain. April is the month of wait and see as a few brave souls venture out to market stands in search of early produce and the few home canned goods ladies are willing to sell.

Then suddenly in late April or early May the weather heats up and the work year is on – tending crops, canning, baking, birthing, milking, mending for customers, hoeing, haying, fishing, selling, more canning, and working up to eighteen hours a day. Then August rolls around and things begin to slow down. Most of the year’s income happens between May and August – four intense months.

About September the itch for October starts to creep in as the light changes and the Sorghum mill churns out its sweetness. Then suddenly one day in early October the first yellow leaf appears. It’s followed shortly by more leaves, packing up the farm stand, cooler rainy days and saying goodbye to summer friends as the hillside show their splendor.

As the year slides into winter a still settles over the entire village. We sew, relax, read, play outside, and I set my hands to spinning wool and writing my stories. Somewhere in the frozen stillness our bodies and souls are renewed for yet another round of summer work. We open a can of tomatoes laced with spring onions and Uncle Enos’s garlic and taste sunshine. We are nurtured, and we continue along with the rhythms of the year.

Canning is simply a part of the year for us – like the appearance of the first chickadee or catching the first snowflake. And that is totally worth my time.

Until next time,

Craft no Harm

The KindFibers 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: Making Bamboo Trellises

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

It’s no secret that Southerners love their peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s also no secret to anyone who gardens or farms that keeping these veggies off the ground is important to a good harvest and your back. Another local gardener whose garden I’ve had the privilege of seeing uses hog panels set on long upright poles to hold up his plants. On a good year the plants reach ten feet into the air. His method is bountiful. However, when you’re strapped for cash and growing a year’s worth of food his mighty steel frame is just out of reach.

Enter the humble River Cane or Arundinaria. In the native Ani-Yunwiya (Cherokee) language it’s known as “i-hi”. In my personal language it’s known as “blessing cane”. Not only is it a viable material for weaving baskets, feed for the cattle and sheep in lean times, bedding for the chickens, erosion control on the creek bank, and fishing poles, it’s also a wonderful building material for small portable structures.

One afternoon earlier this month Momma and I walked down to the creek and cut fifty canes. We could have cut one hundred and only made a small dent in our patch. Some of the canes are nearly ten feet long, and all still had last year’s leaves on them. We then hauled it up to the garden, stripped off the leaves (which the sheep loved), and I began to weave.

Making trellises is not an easy task. It’s a life-sized puzzle that will fall over on you if you’re not careful. It took about two hours to make my pea trellis. First, I made a three poled teepee for the end, lashed those together so they would stand, and then made another and set it next to the first. Once I had enough three legged sets I joined them at the top with a “cap” piece. Then I began the actual weaving. Fortunately canes are pliable when green. If you soak them for a few days they are even easier to work with. I began at the bottom and did a simple over and under. If my weaving pole wasn’t long enough to span the entire length I’d add another pole.

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One important note is to have your thick ends at both ends of the structure. In other words, you don’t want all your skinny tops on one side. That makes a weak side.

My structure got a bit wonky and wobbly. Two old metal garden steaks pounded into the ground fixed this problem. After all, no one like their peas in the mud after a wind storm. Speaking of wind storms, my little creations are still standing after two big storms.

When harvesting cane it’s important to be a good steward and only harvest a quarter to third of a stand. If the stand is small or sparse it needs to be left alone. While cane does grow quickly it’s not as abundant as it use to be. Also, be mindful if you decide to forage the local country side. If someone knocks on my door and asks to collect a natural resource I’m apt to say yes. If I find someone just out taking without asking… I’m not so free with my yes. That’s a pretty typical country attitude.

I’ve made other trellises from willow, young tree limbs, and other found material, including old fencing propped up on broken tobacco sticks. Use what you have. The point is to grow good food. Your food doesn’t care if you have the prettiest trellis in the world. It only cares to reach forth to the sky and His blessings while reaching into the Earth for her blessings.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

Friday’s Farm: My Unorthodox Garden Bed

I would say spring is in full swing, but if your weather is a crazy as ours, then bless your heart and stay strong. The cold weather has provided one thing: time to make more raised beds. Be prepared, though. I might have been an Orthodox Jewish girl at one point, but I’ve never been an Orthodox gardener!

I don’t know about most people, but I have this unyielding conviction that growing food is suppose to cut the grocery bill, not add a new bill to the yearly cost of living. In keeping with this I use whatever happens to be laying around. What I have laying around happens to be old limbs, old barn wood, spent hay bedding, and tons of manure. I mean TONS of manure, and it has to go somewhere. I also have about an inch of nasty white clay over lime bedrock in my garden. That’s not great for growing…

Interestingly, the resources available right here at home are exactly the resources I need to have a stellar garden. Funny how often that works out!

My first garden bed layer is typically yard trash like rotting limbs and leaves. I use this as the base for my bed. I cross them or just use larger limbs. I have two lines of thinking on that. One, it allows air flow so the upper layers compost, and two my beds drain better. I also will use bamboo leaves, old corn husk, old plants, or whatever is bulky.

My next layer is the fun one! It’s the BIG layer. When I lived in the city this was my kitchen scraps and grass clippings layer. With the animals it’s spent bedding and fresh manure. Don’t worry about your plants – they won’t be touching it for a while. I like a good foot to foot and a half deep bed. You will be shocked how quickly that breaks down into six to eight inches of compost. I like cattle, horse, and of course sheep manure laden bedding. Sheep offerings are actually hotter than chicken. However, I’ve not had issues with using the flock’s donations that chicken bedding causes. Get everything good and wet, keep it moist, and by the time the next season’s planting time rolls around earthworms will have made a nutritious garden bed. Don’t worry about the chunks. They’ll break down after a while.

The top layer is the key to making this whole thing work. I’ll transplant established plants directly into the middle layer. However, young transplants and direct sew seedlings do better in aged chicken compost, dried cow patties, or regular old dirt. Cow patties are my go to seed starting medium. I simply crumble some up (with gloves on!) and create whatever depth I need for my seeds on top of the BIG layer. Then I keep it well watered until the plants establish themselves.

Does it work? I think so!

 

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s so nice you have all that manure and stuff laying around”. Even when I lived in the city in a town house with a tiny patio I still used this method of growing in containers. I’d put in twigs, then leaves from the local park along with my coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, and then let them hang out for the winter. When spring time came around again I’d put a small amount of potting soil on top and plant. Same principles, just a smaller scale. The best part – a $25 a week grocery bill and all the lettuce and pesto I could eat without shelling out a bunch of money for bags of soil.

If you feel adventurous call up some local farms, verify they don’t use round up, and ask to collect some manure. Believe me – you offer to clean stalls or pick up patties from the paddocks and you’ll have a new best friend. You might even end up with some farm fresh produce and eggs for your trouble along with the muck.

To keep weeds from popping up I keep adding new rotted muck and compost as mulch or do some cultivating every few months. That equates to about four times a year on average. It depends on the bed’s age. Older beds nearing the end of their lifecycle need weeding more often. My beds typically live for two years and then it’s time to rebuild it over winter for the next spring.

Recently, I was told that this is called Hugelculture. But when reading up on the Hugel my way is much less sophisticated. I call it composting garden beds or shytenculture. But really, it’s just an old, old, old way of managing waste, growing food, and using the gifts that surround us.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah