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: 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 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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