Sunday, March 25, 2018

Function vs cost...the chicken feeder quandry.

There are a number of things to consider when addressing feeding your chickens.  Besides the obvious, such as what to feed them, whether your chickens are layers or broilers, how old they are, etc....there are also various other details to consider.  Cost, effectiveness, and mice infiltration to name just a few.

The simple solution is to just buy hanging feeders, pour in your feed, hang in your coop and poof quandry solved.  However, when I started this adventure cost was a bit of a deal breaker.  We had upwards to 50 chickens...didn't have a lot of extra spending money and hanging feeders cost around $20 piece.  Might not seem like a lot...but if I could make my own feeders for say...$5 each...I could accomplish my goal for a quarter of the cost.

So I tried two different styles of feeders.  The first was a five gallon bucket screwed into a wooded base.  While this works quite well...I didn't realize a few important details. waste for what would end up on the floor (I can't really explain why this happens...but it does) and two...mice.

Food waste:
My suspicions about how waste gets scraped onto the floor is to do with the depth of the tray shown here on the bottom of the bucket...that...or the distance between the edge of the bucket and the edge of the wood tray.  Whatever the reason...I've scooped up no less that 30 pounds of feed off the floor over the months that I've used this feeder.  Definitely a debby-downer...and yes...defeats the purpose of saving money.

The mice issue comes from the size of the holes in the bottom of the bucket.  If you look closely you can see the golf-ball sized holes that allows the feed inside the bucket to gravity-pour out in the tray as food is consumed.  When the bucket is empty...the holes are wide open...therefore mice just jump right in and walk around in the bottom of your bucket contaminating your feed with mice droppings everywhere....which I believe is a real health-hazard for your chickens.

The next "feeder-on-the-cheap" I tried was the ye ole plastic pipe method.  I'd seen these types of feeders over the years at our local county fair in the pens of various farm animals and thought it rather creative. Yet...on day one...LOTS of food waste on the floor.  My first version of this feeder style didn't include the plastic tray on the bottom...that came as an attempt to illuminate the waste.  It helped...but it didn't solve the problem all together.  While this feeder style can hold quite a bit of feed and last a couple of days..the fuller it is...the more waste on the floor...even with the trays.

Both of these feeders I found the design discussed on Youtube with much one talked about or updated the info found there about the pitfalls of these feeders.  Figures...functional reality is not always authentically represented.

So after struggling with the shortcomings of my homemade feeders...I finally decided...enough is enough.

Let's review the issues:
  1. I need a feeder style that I can fill and will hold my chickens over for a minimum of two days without going empty.
  2. It also needs to be mice deterrent.  No mice able to access the feeder, therefore no mice droppings in my feed. (If your feeder sits on the ground...easy peazy mice access. If your feeder hangs...mice can still jump up into it...hence the quandry with mice).
  3. The chickens have to understand...this is for them. Easy for them to access learning curve. Chickens are by their very nature curious new things usually aren't a problem. They figure most new things out within a few minutes.
  4. It also must be able to be protected from chickens perch very high up in the things below are at risk of getting poop bombed.
So here's what I found...the $20 feeder will do the trick and then some!  I had an extra $40 dollars to spend so I bought two hanging metal feeders and so far...they're doing the trick!

No mouse droppings. YEAH! These feeders hold 30 pounds of feed so lasts two days easy before needing to be refilled. The feed sack topper I put on here seems to do the trick for keeping the chickens from bombing the feeder from above at night...and still allows easy access to refill it when needed.

In conclusion...while sometimes you can get by with creative more affordable solutions to farming dilemmas...sometimes the tried-and-true designs just work better.

Onward to happier and healthier chickens!

Maple syrup! Success!

The finishing of my Box Elder tree sap (25 plus gallons) boiling process took about 4 hours indoors (after the already invested 8 hours plus of boiling outdoors). The cook pot below was nearly full when I evaporated down to about 1/3 of what I'd brought indoors.  In retrospect, I probably should have let my sap boil down a bit more when I still had my fire pit going outside...but I was concerned that I would scald my boiled down sap...or worse...burn it.  Since this was the first time I've done this...I opted to err on the side of caution to increase my odds for success.

I hadn't ever done any canning projects on my own even though I spent endless hours during the summer of my growing up years helping and watching my mom can everything from tomato juice to green beans.  Even though I helped with the prep and watched this go down summer after summer...I couldn't have told you how to sterilize a mason jar or how to prep the jar rings or canning lids to be sure they seal properly for optimal shelf life.

Thanks to Youtube and various sites I found online...turns out you can sterilize mason jars in the microwave. YEAH!  And then enhance the process by setting your jars upside down on a cookie sheet in a 280 degree oven until your ready to pour in your syrup.  I didn't find any information that was convincing enough to me that it was necessary to boil the I just washed them in a hot water bath (the rings too) prior to drying them off and putting them on the jars.

When my sap reached 219 degrees (thank you candy thermometer) I turned off the heat and poured it through a strainer and then began putting it into the 1/2 pint mason jars I'd prepped.  Filled them each to the bottom ring at the top of the jar, popped on a lid, screwed on a ring and voila...waited for that popping sound when your lids seal properly after all the science of the vacuum action caused by the shrinking of air space from the syrup cooling in the jar...etc occurs.

I do remember mom's anticipation of all her jars sealing from her big canning projects...and I had the same sort of nervous anticipation.  After all this work, who wants the last part to fail?  Of the 12 jars of syrup I had...8 of them sealed.  No idea really why 4 of them didn't seal...but...I'll guess that answer will come before next year when I try all this again!

Success!!  And now I know how to make maple syrup.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Who knew you can tap Box Elder trees?

Turns's true!  Box Elder trees are from the maple tree family...also sometimes referred to as a Manitoba Maple.  And dontcha know...nearly ALL the trees in our backyard are....drum roll please....Box Elder trees.  (funny little side note here...we've put up with tens of thousands of pesky box elder bugs each summer which are inherently drawn to Box Elder trees...and NOW I finally discover the hidden value in these trees. YEAH!)

After researching how to go about tapping our trees, learning what supplies were needed for each step of the process and how to go about boiling down the sap and all involved in the finishing process...I jumped right in!

Sap Collecting
I purchased taps and tubing from  I found food grade buckets and a 5/16" drill bit at Lowes.  I also used gallon jugs that were once spring water containers.  The weather was perfect (in my rookie opinion) for sap to run and I collected just over 25 gallons of sap.

Evaporation Process
There are numerous ways to go about boiling down the sap...but I wanted to go about this using a wood-burning process outdoors.  From what I've read it takes something like 45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup when using Box Elder sap.  (also note that Box Elder sap makes a more sorghum-like flavored syrup)

To speed up the evaporation process...the more surface area you have...the faster the water evaporates out of your sap. I figured it would take FOREVER to boil my sap down if I just used a big boiler pot similar to a deep-fryer pot.

I once had visited a friends home in New Hampshire that had Sugar Maple trees...and the time of year I visited just-so-happened to be maple syrup season.  I got to see first hand how they went about boiling down their sap...outside...over a fire...with a huge flat pan (their's probably measured around 48 inches wide by 72 inches long or so).  Where could I get one of these large flat pans that's food grade?

Well, low and behold there's a company in Huntington, Indiana that makes these maple sap pans out of stainless steel.  Perfect!!  I called them up...ordered one and it was here within two days!  The one I picked out of the assortment of sizes they offered measured 16"x40"x4", would work beautifully for what I was planning.

Then I built an outdoor stove of sorts using two rows of concrete blocks with a gap in between wide enough to set my new pan onto.  I had watched various videos on youtube about how to go about boiling down gallons and gallons of sap most of which involved a big flat pan and then having two secondary pans in which you pre-heat your sap before it's dripped into your big pan so as not to "kill your boil". 

The plan that I hatched from all my research worked beautifully.  It took me about 8 hours to boil down just over 25 gallons of sap...and as we speak I'm working on the final more controlled boil indoors before I bottle my finished product.

Stuff required for this entire process
4 five gallon food grade buckets with lids
6 tree taps with 36 inch food grade tubing
LOTS of tree sap!
14 concrete blocks
3 pieces of re-bar
sap boiling pan
cake pan (for pre-heating sap)
disposable cake pan (for pre-heating sap)
hand-held strainer for skimming out crap and debris from boiling sap

More to come!

Green eggs!!

Just in time for Easter...we have green eggs!!

So, the back story here is...last September one of our Rhode Island Red hens hatched out 14 chicks!  Yes, that's FOURTEEN!  Of the fourteen, thirteen survived...and of the thirteen, seven were roosters, six were hens.  Of the six hens, two of them just started laying green eggs.  YEAH!

Why green eggs you may ask?  Well, that's because chicks dad is an Americana....and the Americana chicken breed lay green eggs.  The other four hens are laying brown. fun to have chickens...always something new and unexpected happening.  So FUN!

Where's all the birdseed gone?

Mystery solved!! 

I had just filled the bird feeder...and couldn't figure out why the seed was disappearing so fast...until...I looked out the kitchen window and found the answer.

Naughty rooster!!  See him the in the middle of this photo chomping away on my bird seed?

Chickens apparently have a keen ability to sniff out fresh seed.

I have since relocated the bird feeder to a location the rooster (or the guinea hens) can't steal the seed from. Hah, always having to "out maneuver" the chickens.  They sure do keep me on my toes.