"he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Chicken Tractor

I'll preempt this blog entry with a warning of sorts. It will definitely exceed the 140 character limitation on twitter. What is a Chicken Tractor? Simply put, it's a mobile chicken coop, that allows chickens to free range in a field, (or in this case, my back yard) with protection from the elements and predators. It is multipurpose, in that it also provides my yard with pest control and fertilizer as I move it around. Chicken tractors come in a variety of shapes & sizes to fit the needs or wants of an eccentric flock of owners. Check here to see some pretty amazing variety in Mobile Chicken Housing

My past winters reading was everything chicken. From housing to raising, to feeds, and breeds (over 300 different recognized). I started accumulating information in November, and really haven't stopped researching even after the building was completed last week. The public library and the internet gave me more information than I could need. One topic that I became deeply concerned about early on was Winter itself. My search led me to a book that Rachel helped me procure for a week. I was some ancient text from a Public Library in St. Louis, that provided me the answer. The solution was not at all what I expected. The book was Fresh-Air Poultry Houses The Classic Guide to Open-Front Chicken Coops for Healthier Poultry by Prince T. Woods, M.D. Wow, that's a mouthful!

It was originally published back in 1924 and describes how Dr. Woods experimented in the cold of winter in Massachusetts by removing the entire south side of a chicken house and watched how the chickens radically improved in health from the fresh air despite the bitter temperatures and snow drifts on the chicken house floor! Needless to say I was impressed and enchanted by this read as he documented the effects of fresh air on chickens in very cold climates. Human nature is to seal these birds up tight and hope they stay warm enough. It turns out what chickens really need is lots of fresh air, as their lungs are very weak. Chickens also don't have sweat glands, so they are very efficient at keeping warm, and actually have a harder time keeping cool. After I gleaned this info, it really gave me a lot of freedom on my design and ventilation became a key compenent. I love old world knowledge, and it's really a blessing to dig up treasures and put them back into use. I hope Dr. Woods would be proud.

Another aspect that concerned me was water & feed containers. Chicken watering devices are typically large gravity fed upside down buckets that have a tray of water in the bottom that gets easily fouled and spilled by the chickens, creating a mess of massive proportions that needs daily cleansing and refilling. I was determined to find a better solution. I window shopped at Tractor Supply and online, until eventually I somehow landed at the Avian Aqua Miser website. This interesting couple from Dungannon, VA helped me find my way. These folks are serious about chickens and they certainly have the American Entrepreneur Spirit. They are using a stainless steel gravity fed nipple (similar to gerbil and rabbit watering devices) that they have installed in a simple plastic water pitcher. Here is what they look like:

Ingenious, I think, but I just couldn't bear to pay $20.00 for something that had to cost 1/4 of that. So some more scouting led me to Farmtek, , my newest favorite online store, and ordered a handful at $2.00 a piece to make my own. I doubt I will ever purchase much from them but it's so fun to browse!

I installed 2 of these in my own larger oval pitcher and cut a hole in the second floor of the coop for it to seat in. The chickens access from below. This find really has me tickled because it keeps the chickens water VERY clean, limits water waste completely, and supposedly inhibits their desire to peck at each other because they have to furiously peck at the device to drink! This was documented by lots of users of the Avian Aqua Miser, and I tend to agree after watching the chicks use it. I taught each chick how to drink from a smaller container with the same gravity feeders by holding their little beaks up to the steel tip and letting a few drops trickle down. They were just a few hours old and they caught on within just a few minutes! Here is the pitcher in place on the chicken tractor and below that in the background is the original container that I used when they were baby chicks to transition them to the larger one they use now.

As for feed I opted for a simple 2 stall bin fastened to the 2nd floor of the tractor so it's always covered and dry and because it's deep enough to keep them from flipping food everywhere eliminating waste and spoilage.

The Hens will lay eggs in the nest box which has it's own door. I want to try and avoid using stray or bedding material as it just gets fouled. I am going to try this floor mat that has a dry grass feel to it. I read somewhere that this will suffice as the hens feel they can scratch it, and it keeps the egg from getting broken.

I used a little Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the rise and run of my tractor to ensure I didn't make any wrong cuts and waste lumber, and went with treated lumber for longevity, and so I didn't have to paint. The chicken tractor took a couple weeks to complete as I tried to really think through the process and tweak my design architecture as I went along to save on time, materials, and the need to re-mod it later.

Here's the Finished Product:

Our Chickens were born on March 19th at Heartland Hatchery in Amsterdam, MO and were thereafter named on the journey home by Ella. We purchased 4 hens at $2.50 each, and liking diversity selected 3 different breeds. We have one Red Sex Link "Reddie", one Black Sex Link "Cutie Pie" and two Golden Comets "Goldie" and "Gracie" whom we can no longer tell apart. (Well I can't, but I think Ella says she can.) These are all hybrids that when born can be differentiated (male & female) by color, hence they are called color-sexed chickens. For us this was critical because a rooster crowing in Raytown would be a bit loud, and besides it's against the law! Speaking of laws, we are in compliance to the city of Raytown's Animal Ordinance which allows us to have 4 fowl on our property. Here are Cutie Pie and Gracie the day we brought them home. Gives you an idea how fast they have grown!

We should see eggs by August or September which really isn't that far away, but in the meantime, we quite enjoy just watching and caring for them. Each chicken has it's own personality, and they can be quite hysterical at times. And oh, the lab has decided she will be our chicken herder/guardian for those who were wondering..

Until Next Time..

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Plaza, Juvies, and Social Media = Trouble?

I am not one to watch the news much at all, but after some investigation realized there has been an ongoing problem the past few weekends with juvenile crowds causing mischief and chaos on the Plaza. It came to a head this past weekend with around 700-1100 kids involved. A prom date got pushed into a fountain, and there were crowds of kids blocking store entrances and streets, but also an assault and strong arm robbery of an adult couple. It appears the police are trying to be very active in providing a mobile solution to the problem should it arise on the Plaza again or anywhere else in the metro area. It appears to be precipitated by the Plaza Cinema lowering it's age requirement.

I am not trying to cause alarm, but it's worth a heads up, especially if the Plaza is your destination of choice on the weekend nights. For the record, Mayor Funkhouser has stated he continues to hang out there on the weekends regardless... :)

Another note that interests me: Apparently some of the activity may have been "arranged" via social media like Facebook and Twitter. It has the feel of a "flash mob" type of event but it's not being deemed as such by the police as of yet. I find that aspect intriguing and wonder if anyone has been crawling twitter or FB and seen anything that looks like "flash mob material" . Apparently Westport and Raytown Schools were possibly involved based on the reports below in social media "gathering":

Here is a link to the police chiefs blog about the event:

And a link to the actual police report filed by KCPD:

What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Urban Agrarian

Doing some research for my upcoming project, (see future post - Chicken Tractor) I came across a phrase that seemed to encapsulate a certain element of my life. The phrase was: Urban Agrarian

What's Agrarian? A quick Websters hit returns:

Agrarian Latin agrarius, from agr-, ager field (Acre is derived from ager)
Date: 1600
1 : of or relating to fields or lands or their tenure
2 a : of, relating to, or characteristic of farmers or their way of life b : organized or designed to promote agricultural interests

To pair urban and agrarian just makes me smile. Nothing like a walking contradiction. It certainly blows the doors off most drop down lists of people categories. Well it's out in the open now. I guess they can add it to the 2020 U.S Census. I dare them...

It is no secret that I love gardening and general yard piddling. It's mid-western farmer's roots I guess. They say you can't have your cake and eat it too. Well, I say if you know how to make the cake (or grow the veggie), you've just empowered yourself to enjoy eating it! Before you round up the state militia and call in the bloodhounds to find us, don't worry.

I'm not thinking about weaning myself off the power grid and ascribing to pure agrarian ways, but there are some elements that are worth modeling. I mean, they've got cool beards (hopefully just the men), grow a mean tomato, and know a thing or two about chickens & subsistence farming. I guess that's the whole aspect of this urban agrarian mentality that's so alluring to me.

It is a best of both worlds scenario with the creature comforts of the city life, nestled quietly in a little backyard oasis that I can dig up, and plant a few rows of corn on if I want. Now, if they only had designated horse and buggy parking on the Sprint Campus.

Until Next Time...

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Voice of Reason Vs Cake - CAKE WINS!

Earlier this week on my way to work, I happened upon a most interesting piece on the human mind while listening to NPR. It told of a very simple experiment that led to some very interesting results.

Take just a few moments and listen to the article here. It's quite interesting, very funny, and yet somewhat disturbing...

It delves into the theory that our mind is anatomically a tale of two halves, called a dual system. A rational deliberative system, and an emotional, unconscious system. It seems that these two systems are often at war, competing for attention, and trying to guide and direct our behavior. The disturbing fact, it only takes 7 little pieces of information to totally overwhelm reason and allow emotion to WIN, almost hands down. And next thing we know, we have let the "bad" cake win over the good "fruit." One of the Radiolab guys says it best:

" - Team Reason is well, pretty feeble, and when we always rely on it, all the advice you get on decision making is, "stop and think", "slow down", "take your time".. and yet when you actally look at the brain, that would kind of lead you to rely on a feeble piece of machinery."

That is a shocking revelation indeed. When it comes to decisions about cake, well that just results in maybe tipping the scale in the wrong direction, but what about the really IMPORTANT decisions? Can we trust ourselves to ever think rationaly? I by no means claim to be an expert, as I only have but 33 years of experience under my belt. But I think there are some things we can glean from all this other than a fear-mongering moan of terror as we shudder to think on our thoughts.

Mankind is notorious for complicating things. We try to cram more and more pixels on the screen so we can better imitate what we see with the naked eye. But decision making is still black and white. It's either cake or fruit. We muddy the waters with the gray matter of life. We try to anticipate what others will think, as we check email on our smartphones and surf Amazon.com for that thing-a-ma-jig we don't need but it's a 24 HOUR SALE!! So "Mental Multi-tasking" dooms us right from the start. Why not leave the simultaneous extrapalations to the gigahertz processors?? Accept our mind for the feeble machine that it is, prioritize our thoughts and do one thing at a time, and do it well!

A potent piece of scripture comes to mind: A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:8) I have known and memorized this verse for many years now, but it takes on even more meaning now. It would appear that we've been given warning of this very such problem already! So for us to walk in wisdom, we must first live daily in such a way that does not overtax our minds lest we become unstable. How many irons do we have in the fire? Our mind is NOT to be treated like our Fidelity Portfolios. The more we "diversify" and add elements for our minds to juggle, the closer I fear we edge on the precipice of insanity! Let it be known, I dabble in many different things that interest me; but to be successful at any particular one of these I have to lay the others aside. I pledge to do one thing well at a time and enjoy the tranquility of Living Simply!

That's enough heavy mental lifting for today. I am off in search of cake!

Until Next Time..

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October: It's that time again...

So, Deer Season once again is upon us. With only 44 days until the opening of 2009 Firearms Season in Missouri, it's time to rekindle the spirit of hunting.

To Do List:
Stop Shaving (check)
Begin Scent Removal Program
Sharpen Knives
Prepare Gear Checkdown List
Browse Cabela's Hunting Section

I thought I would also do some fact based analysis on the success of previous hunts.. After mining through massive amounts of data: weather trending, astrological indicators, rainfall totals, acorn production, scent quotients, and follicle measurements I have determined the rate of success for this year and what it all hinges on.

2007 Follicle Growth Pattern:

Probably about 1/2" length, simply just stopped trimming 1 month out.

Success Rate:
Shots Fired: 2
Deer Taken: 1
Does Seen: 5
Bucks Seen: 2

Deer Taken:

2008 Follicle Growth Pattern:

Full Grown Whalers Beard to Approx 1.5" First attempt at major beard growth expansion started in August.

Success Rate:
Shots Fired: 1
Deer Taken: 1
Does Seen: 8
Bucks Seen: 2

Deer Taken:

2009 Follicle Growth Pattern: (To Date)

Maintained Regular Trimming at 1+ inch length through out year until September when length trimming ceased. Should reach 4+ inch length by opening day via Protein Supplements and colder weather. (Bring on the Horse and Buggy comments)

Projected Success Rate:
Shots Fired: 2
Deer Taken: 2 (1 buck 1 doe)

Projected Buck To Be Taken:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Summer's Over - AKA "The Smurf Pipe Adventure"

So it officially became Fall on Tuesday, and I recognize that my last post was around July 4th.. Where has the time gone? Well this time, I know exactly where it went. It went into an extreme bathroom makeover for the ages..

So, without further ado, (and many thanks to my Dad for his help, and my Mom for letting Rach and the kids crash at her house for the weekend!!) Our Extreme Bathroom Makeover is now complete: I will try and let the pics speak for themselves:

Post Demolition: (Complete Gutting down to studs, removing 3 layers of wall tile, and all copper plumbing from entire house.)

New Toilet, Double Switch (New one added for fan in ceiling), Wainscoting, Fixtures:

Wall Decor, Wainscoting, and Cabinetry:

New Shower Curtain, Sink, Mirror and GFCI Outlet and Wainscoting:

New 3 Panel Shower Surround, Tub and One Handled Faucet:

New Wall Hangers:

New Floor Tile:

The entire house also has new water supply lines!! I removed all the copper and ran new lines with Smurf Pipe and Shark bites.. (Enter Gargamel and fish shaped fruit snacks??). Smurf Pipe you say? So it's called Pex, but my dad calls Pex Tubing Smurf Pipe, because well, it's blue, and he's got a name for everything and so it stuck.. (It also comes in white and red, but all my cold water supply is run in blue.) Needless to say in his over 30 years of construction experience he had not seen this stuff used, so there was some chagrin as he stared up at my runs of blue/white flexible tubing. This shows how the piping can flex and be threaded through holes drilled through floor joists.. Copper doesn't really allow for this:

The connections are made via push to fit shark bite connectors which also work on copper. Crazy, I know! AND Once the connection is made, the connector can rotate on the pipe! Wickedly convenient and super cool.. Here you can see a connection made to an external faucet. In a few spots I left existing copper because of exterior faucets or hard to reach areas: Here is join of pex to copper:

So, Once it was all hooked up, the initial pressure test revealed one tiny leak, which just required me to pull that connection apart, and smooth out the end of that pipe, and reconnect...

All of this supply line work downstairs now allows for the Kitchen Remod to enter it's final phase including dishwasher installation coming in October!!!!

Until Next Time...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

4th of July BBQ Rub

Some things are simply too good not to share. Forget about licensing or copyright infringement. I haven't gone socialist, (NEVER!!) but there was a time not that long ago when a neighbor came to the aid of his fellow neighbor. Whether it was to take up arms to protect their freedom, or simply to lend a hand in the field. If he figured out a way to make life better, or more comfortable, he didn't run off to the patent office. He kindly shared his creative invention with those that cared to listen, and that was reward enough. So I am lending a hand to my BBQ neighbors...

We oft times think creativity can only be fostered in some sort of mental sanctuary where we can let the brain steep and stew with no distractions. How far from the truth! More times than naught with me it comes from plans gone awry.. You start down a certain path and have to change course or simply fail. That's when creativity has to come into play. I was going to BBQ during our vacation last week, but the heat and schedule just didn't make it convenient. That was coupled with the fact I was out of some of my usual BBQ spices... doomed??

So Rach mentioned we could just throw this bird in the crock pot. A knot began forming in my stomach.. To go from a perfectly blackened BBQ bird to the crock pit, oh, the HORROR! But what other choice did we have? Well I caved, with the caveat that I would dress it up somehow. So I started measuring out ingredients by hand and throwing them in a bowl. But it needed something extra, something different.. This is what I came up with..

Camo Cook's 4th of July BBQ Rub

1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup coarse kosher salt
1 Luzianne Tea Bag (Family Size) Cut open the bag and pour the leaves in
2 Orange & Spice Tea Bags (Cup Size) (Name Brand is Celestial Seasonings Constant Comment)
1/2 teaspoon or so freshly cracked black pepper

Mix together with your fingers and coat all sides of the meat with the rub. To add some zing throw in more black pepper. (This is enough to thoroughly coat a whole chicken or half pork tenderloin)

Since this rub contains sugar don't cook any meat it's applied too over direct flame. This is perfect though for using your Weber Kettle with charcoal piled on the sides, your smoker, rotisserie, or crock pot.

I would suggest if you are cooking with fire of any kind to either stand your bird up on a can of tea, or simply spritz the meat with an iced tea concoction of your choosing thrown in a spray bottle every 20 min or so.

So the question is.. How does it taste? Well it's got SUMMER written all over it. The brown sugar makes it sweet, but not overly so. It's not too spicy, so the kids will love it, and the tea really imparts a special tang to the flavor that just makes you want more!!!

Camo Cook

P.S. So surely I am not the first to do this right? Well, I did a quick Google search and am not finding anything quite like it. I even did a scan of my Raichlen cookbooks and he has one recipe that dabbles in this idea, but it's not even close really. So, I am going to consider this an original Camo Cook recipe! ENJOY and Happy 4th of July!!!