Week in Review: Dec. 20/15

We’ve been enjoying the extraordinarily mild weather here at The Welcome Homestead and appreciating the lack of frozen water bottles and jugs which makes chores a lot easier. It’s giving the baby chicks a bit more of a running start and the compost piles are still steaming. We are enjoying the green grass but not the flies, which seem to be hanging around longer than normal along with the ladybugs. As we enjoy the warmth we are aware that there may be consequences down the line as farmers depend on a thick layer of snow to insulate the ground and the spring melting of snow to soak the land in preparation of seeding the crops. Deep cold also kills bacteria and viruses so that may also have consequences in the coming year.

We have caught three more rats in the last two weeks and the ground under the coop and turkey shed are laced with tunnels. The turkey shed has large mounds of dirt in it being brought up from the tunnelling operation and the amount of dirt piles indicates that the rats must be about halfway to China by now. The dirt piles have come in handy, though, allowing us to fill in some low spots on the ground and level out the floor of the shed so as they say: lemons into lemonade. Hopefully we can keep the rat population in check although it would be better to eradicate them completely however they can be a real challenge to get rid of once they’re established. We are now starting to protect the feed better by using plastic totes and may enclose the shelf with the feed bags on it in wire mesh from some of the older cages we have lying around here.

The three winter chicks are now two. The smaller yellow one is gone, presumably killed and eaten by the other chickens. It was a bit smaller than the others and looked a bit frail so it might be a case of it simply being the weaker one that didn’t make it. It was fine at chore time Thursday morning but was gone a couple hours later when the water was topped up. It was seen being stepped on by a rooster and while the rooster was shooed away and the chick seemed fine there may have been an unknown injury to it and it may have died. Mama Hen was doing a fine job being feisty and protecting her little charges but if one got significantly weaker or injured it would have been vulnerable to the other birds. The rest of Thursdays chores were done with a heavy heart as we tend to get attached to the beasties around here and it’s always difficult to see Nature take its course in a very harsh way.

We have started feeding the chickens fermented feed, basically soaking scratch grains in water until it starts fermenting. It usually start to show bubbles in the first day and we are feeding it to them on the third day as this has been recommended by several sources as an optimal time in the fermenting process. Fermenting has a few benefits including producing healthy probiotics which are beneficial to the birds digestive system as well as producing some beneficial vitamins and bacteria. It also serves the purpose of softening the outer shell of the grains making them easier to digest and the grains absorb water which helps to keep them hydrated. This should also result in the birds eating less food due to the higher nutrition and easier digestibility and is also supposed to increase the egg production and size of the eggs and yolks. As we just started there is not much in the way of results yet although they are eating a fair bit less pellets after only a week on this feed plan so it is encouraging from that standpoint. Humans have been eating fermented foods for a long time, such as yogurt and sauerkraut which are known to have high levels of probiotics in them. Fermentation has also been used for centuries for preserving food.

Here are the little vultures attacking the fermented feed buffet:

We wish everyone a happy and productive week and a safe and very Merry Christmas!


Week in Review: Dec. 6/15

It’s been an amazing stretch of weather here on The Welcome Homestead with only a couple of nights in the last week or so dipping down cold enough to freeze the rabbit’s water bottles. Actually, it’s only the ball and tube on the bottles that has frozen, not the entire bottle. Chores are much easier not having to deal with the frozen water and we’re looking forward to this weather lasting as long as possible.

Dawn hatched out three chicks from the original ten eggs. Two mysteriously disappeared during the course of her sitting and two partially hatched but were crushed and died, likely from other hens trying to squeeze in to lay an egg in the nest, despite the fact that there are eight other perfectly good nests basically begging to have eggs deposited in them. Three formed but did not hatch and were laid to rest in Mr. Compost Pile. The three chicks seem to be doing well and are active and learning from Mom how to scratch for food and do chicken stuff. There are two brownish chicks and one yellow one and Momma hen has turned into Momma Bear. She’s aggressively chasing away any other hen who gets too close to the chicks and pecks the crap out of my hand when I reach in to pick the chicks up to check them. She has hatched out two batches of eggs so far this year so her mothering instincts seem to be in full gear. The warmer than usual weather should help her raise the chicks in the coop and they will be starting to grow feathers soon so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Three more rats were caught this week which makes about eight this year so far. It’s the first year with rats here and we’re hoping we can keep up with the population or even get ahead of it but apparently rats are very difficult to get rid of once they’re established. The ground under the chicken coop and feed shed is laced with tunnels and there is evidence of fresh digging most mornings with a fresh pile of dirt here and there. There also looks like there is a tunnel entrance/exit in the rabbit colony so we’re a little concerned about that. We will continue to put out traps and will buy more if necessary and hopefully we can keep from getting over run.

Lucille Bunnyrabbit continues to maintain a lovely deep nest full of fur but no little ones. It’s very disappointing but there are renovations due on the colony so we hope the updated facilities will help her get settled down if we can start working on it now due to the great weather. Future plans may include the purchase of a new doe to introduce some new blood into the mix since we have been “keeping it in the family” since the first rabbits were purchased in Feb. 2008. Fred is the son of Adam, our first buck, so we hope we can continue the lineage down the bucks side of the family and have one of Fred’s sons available for when he reaches The Big Sleep.

Once again, we wish everyone a safe and productive week.


Pop Can Solar Collector

Here at the Welcome Homestead we have electric baseboard heating. Yup, that’s bad! The only advantage is being able to heat individual rooms on their own but it is still pretty pricey. Being hooked to the grid leaves us dependent on the prices and reliability of others. We have been exploring alternative ways to power and heat the house and it seems that we have to return to older technology in order to control costs and achieve independence. Sure, power generating stations give us reliable power on demand and generally aren’t subject to the whims of nature like solar and wind power generating systems are but at what cost? Nuclear plants have incredibly toxic waste to dispose of, coal and natural gas plants have carbon emissions issues and hydro plants flood vast swaths of land in order to provide enough water to power the turbines. These plants are also very expensive to build and maintain and the transmission network needed to deliver the electricity to the customers is expensive and soaks up power along the way so what you put in to the line at one end isn’t what you get out the other end.

As with everything else we consume, this leaves us with three choices: Status quo, change or do without. Since it is difficult to get along without electricity and maintain the lifestyle and technology that we are used to the last option is out. Sure, a lot of us would love to go live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and enjoy the peace and quiet but we humans are social animals at heart and most of us would at least like to communicate with our friends and loved ones from time to time and that’s a bit difficult without some sort of power. We could go with the status quo, pay what the power companies charge us and have our convenient power any time we need it. If people are happy with that, more power to them (pun intended). It is nice to have the convenience to flip a switch and cook, do laundry or turn up the heat whenever we want. However, for some of us who would like to save a few bucks and perhaps be independent of big business there are a few alternatives we can explore on our quest for peace and self-sufficiency.

This project is the pop can solar collector. It’s by no means new technology, in fact it’s basic physics that we have known since man (or woman) first stood in the sunshine and felt it’s warmth on his (or her) face. Touch a rock or some pavement that has been in the sun for any period of time and, of course, it’s hot. The sun shines down on our heads for free and we fail to utilize this amazing resource. The solar collector is simply a way to gather that heat and distribute it in an orderly manner. There are companies out there who manufacture solar collectors like this, in fact one buys pop cans from a recycling facility and reuses them in their units. However, we are doing this on the cheap so we are trying use as much scavenged materials as possible.

This particular project will be fitted into a window. Others are self-contained units which we will explore at a later date. We start by measuring the window that will be the new home of our solar collector then build a box the size of the window and deep enough to accept the width of the pop cans. There is a piece of wood cut to contain the rows of cans on the top and the bottom and holes cut in these pieces to accept the tops of the cans. Each can is washed in dish detergent so the paint will stick to the can and a hole is punched I the bottom of the can so air can get through when the cans are placed end to end like tubes.

After the cans are placed in the box they are secured with wires and then the entire unit is painted black with high temperature frame and roll bar paint. Once the paint is dry the unit is placed in the window, secured and sealed and the fan installed on the bottom. As the sun heats the cans air is blown through the unit, picking up heat and distributing it to the room. Pop cans are used because of the superior heat transfer qualities of aluminum. This particular project has hardly been professional and still needs some tweaks such as improving the seal on the box but it is operating in principle as expected. It does keep the kitchen a few degrees warmer than it would be without it although we don’t have official temperature stats at this time. The temperature inside the unit gets off the scale of the thermometer which tops out at 120 degrees F. The fan is a bathroom fan which is rated at 70 cfm and draws 100w of power. If that fan can prevent the 1500w baseboard heaters from coming on it’s a big savings right there.

Some improvements would make this unit more efficient, for example, we plan on blocking off the two doorways out of the kitchen to prevent heat from going into other parts of the house which should make the kitchen warmer due to only having to heat a smaller space. Sealing the unit better would make it more efficient and putting a duct from the unit to the center of the room may distribute the heat better. We fully appreciate that it only works in direct sun but anything that can reduce our costs and environmental footprint is a step forward.

This idea can also be built to work without a fan, using only the convection of the air inside the unit to power it. As air is heated it rises and exits out the top of the unit and draws cooler air in from the bottom. Slits as wide as the unit would have to be cut where the holes top and bottom currently are to make this work. Some in the real estate profession have been using ideas similar to this in unoccupied houses to keep the house temperature above freezing so the pipes don’t burst.

The cost of this project came out to about $70. There were extra screws and brackets left over and can be used for other projects. It’s built of ½” plywood for light weight and the fact that it is mounted inside the house means it doesn’t need insulation. Self-contained units meant to be mounted outside would need to be built of thicker wood and likely insulated to keep the heat inside the unit.

This is just a basic project and is not meant to be the end all and be all of alternative options. We plan to build on this idea and hope it can inspire others to think a little outside the box so we can move toward a more environmentally friendly and sustainable world.