Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Bauernhof Kitsteiner Update

Four months. That is how long we have been living at our new farm. At times, it seems as if we only just arrived, but we have accomplished a lot in such a short time. Here are a few of our accomplishments: We unpacked our boxes; we cleared thousands of Eastern Red Cedar saplings from our pastures (major thanks to a visiting youth group from Michigan); we got geese, ducks, chickens, guineas, pigs, and sheep; we’ve had our local NRCS Agent (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and the state grazing specialist out for a consultation; and we have our first conference (Greg Judy’s Risk Free Ranching Course) starting in just a few days!

Looking at what we have already accomplished in such a short time makes me see why my wife tells me to be careful. She has been a solid voice for moderation while still entirely embracing our new agrarian life.

I have been really busy getting these things done, and have had a lot less time to write. I thought I would take a moment to explain some of the thought process behind what we are doing. This first article will focus on the animal systems we have. We put a lot of focus on animals right away, and there were a number of reasons for this:

First, experienced Permaculture teachers and practitioners have always recommended giving yourself a full year at a site before you start to implement a design. I think this is wonderful advice. We have only lived at our farm for four months, but we bought the farm 10 months ago. We visited as often as we could before we moved here full time. After almost a year, I feel like I am finally ready to commit to some more permanent design elements, like trees. Everything we have done so far with the animals has been temporary… temporary fencing, mobile structures, and walking animals. We can change any aspect of the animals’ location within a few hours at most.

Second, I wanted to get some production started, and animals don’t really care what time of year it is. There are better times of the year to plant trees and shrubs and put in a vegetable garden, and the middle of the Summer (when we moved) is not that time. Granted, I want to get trees in the ground as soon as possible. It is often said that the best time to plant a tree is five years ago. The second best time is today. This is because it takes many years for trees to get established and start producing. However, as I explained above, it is important to take time to get to know your site for a bit first. It can be difficult at best to move trees once they are planted, so getting them in the right spot, according to a good design, really does matter. Conversely, our animals can be put onto the land, moved just about anywhere, and start producing right away.

Third, our land needs some animals. The land had been poorly managed for many years before we bought it. We have about 40 acres/16 hectares of pasture that have had cattle open-grazing it most months of the year for at least a decade. The pastures were also overstocked. This has resulted in overgrazed, over compacted soils that favored early succession plants and shrubs instead of lush pasture. Fortunately, due to this land being used predominately for hunting, not many chemicals were applied to the fields. We still have a fairly diverse mix of species in the pastures even if not all the species are ideal. And I like diversity in my pastures! In my temperate climate, rest is needed when the land is overgrazed. But, if we take all the animals off the pasture, the pastures will shift to an early woodland with a return of the Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana), Sumacs (Rhus species), Brambles (Rubus species), Rose (Rosa species), Elderberry (Sambucus species), etc. (Note that many of these species are great in their own right, but not necessarily what we want all over our pastures.) The land will stay in pasture by properly managing the sheep with rotational grazing, and the land will benefit from the sheep and chickens’s manure deposits, but the these animals will be gentler on the land than too many cattle.

Before I get into the specifics, I have to state that our animal systems are currently at the homestead level. We are experimenting with multiple animals to see what we like, what works for us, and what we feel like we can scale up to a farmstead/commercial level.

Our gaggle of geese!

Part of our gaggle of geese!

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Our Large Dewlap Toulouse Geese are BIG birds… currently molting.

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Our Pilgrim Geese are a bit more feisty than the Toulouse, but are still fairly laid back.

Our geese are about 15 weeks old. We have a mix of Large Dewlap Toulouse Geese and Pilgrim Geese. We had to put one down due to a leg injury that was not healing. I made a ragoût d’oie that night. This is a simple French peasant dish I made with goose, pork back fat, sausage, root vegetables, wine, and of course, goose. It was delicious! We plan on processing one more male Pilgrim goose, and the rest of our geese will be breeders for us.

Our Rouen Ducks are coming really just starting to show their sexual dimorphism (the males' heads are turning green).

Our Rouen Ducks are coming really just starting to show their sexual dimorphism (the males’ heads are turning green).

Our ducks are about 14 weeks old now. We ordered a straight run of about 30 Rouen Ducks, and we ended up with about one third females and the rest males. One duck was killed in an unfortunate accident involving a piece of falling wood. I made a green Thai curry with duck that night. This was also delicious! We plan on processing about 80% of the males for meat and keeping the remaining ducks for breeding and egg production.

Our 20+ Guinea Fowl are also about 14 weeks old now, and they are pretty much free-ranging the property. They have identified the area behind our garage as their primary home, and this was by design. In a future article, I plan to explain our process of training Guineas to stay at home while still allowing them to free range.

Our seven little pigs.

Our seven little pigs.

We have seven pigs right now. Five are feeder hogs, meaning they will be processed for pastured meat and fat when they reach the right age and weight. Only two will be breeders for us. These are a mix of American Guinea Hog (from the American southeast) and Kune Kune (from New Zealand) from my friend Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture . I plan on introducing a wide variety of genetics to develop a pig that grows well on our pasture but can also take windfall fruit and seasonal mast (nut) drop in our 50+ acres/20 hectares of forest filled with walnut, oak, and hickory trees.

A few of our ewes!

A few of our ewes!

It seems that they really like each other.

It seems that they really like each other.

Our 10 Katahdin Hair Sheep ewe lambs will be bred in November this year so they can lamb in early April (Spring time for us). Hair sheep are meat breeds that do not make wool that requires shearing; they have hair instead. We plan to grow our flock and then select for foraging ability and disease/pest resistance. We are currently running our sheep and pigs together on our pastures, and will likely separate them in the next few months. Though for now, they are getting along quite well.

A few of our laying chicks.

A few of our laying chicks.

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Our first two Salatin-style chicken tractors.

Our broiler chicks are currently getting some new feathers... but goodness they grow fast!

Our broiler chicks are currently getting some new feathers… but goodness they grow fast!

Our second batch of broilers are currently doing very well.

Our second batch of broilers are currently doing very well.

Finally, we have our new chickens. We have one flock of layers comprised of a variety of heritage breeds (Ameraucana, Buff Orpington, Dominique, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red, and Silver Laced Wyandottes, and also a few Golden Laced Polish chicks since my kids love their crazy “hair”!) for egg production. Our other flock is the broilers (meat birds). We are trialing a pasture-raised tractor system modeled after Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. We have one run of birds that are about 3 weeks old and are in the tractor on pasture. Our second run is about 1 week old and is currently still in the brooder.

There is a lot of infrastructure required to get these animal systems up and running. There is fencing and feed and feeders and waterers and watering systems and rotations and routines to establish. And this is required for each animal system. This is not done alone! Of course I work on just about every project, but our intern Dan also works a tremendous amount on all of this as well (my wife and I frequently say he is going to ruin our expectations of any future intern!). My wife, in addition to running the household and homeschooling our kids,  jumps right in with animal care on a regular basis. My father also lends a hand with the animals and really enjoys it, but as a quasi-retired carpenter, he is steadily busy with multiple remodeling and repair jobs around the farm. In addition, my father is consulted on any building project on the farm. My mother doesn’t do a lot of work with the animals, but helps watch our kids so we can do work around the farm. She also helps my wife maintain the household. The kids are pretty young at this point, and their “help” slows us down, but they are usually pretty eager to help with the animals.

Obviously many others have accomplished much more in a shorter time, but we are proud of what we have done. And while we have accomplished a lot in a short time, these are shared ventures on a multi-generational farm and homestead. One person can do a lot, but not as much and usually with a lot less fun, as multiple people working together toward a common goal.

So this is what we have been up to for the last four months. This is why I have been a bit absent in my regular writing of articles. But we are having a lot of fun!

Permaculture Projects: A Moderately Large Chicken Brooder!

We have been very busy here at Bauernhof Kitsteiner (our new farm and homestead), but I wanted to take a few moments to share one of the many projects we have been working on during the last few weeks.

This is our new chicken brooder. I call it “moderately large” because size is always relative. We had some small brooders, and we are using them as nursing/hospital brooders. We will also be using our old brooders for small runs of poultry. But since we have decided, with strong encouragement from our intern Dan, to start raising broilers, we determined that a larger brooder was in order. Industrial brooders are massive, stackable, and extremely unnatural. We wanted to go with something that would be appropriate for our size, healthy for the birds, manageable by us, and within our budget to build. This is the result. It has a footprint of 8 feet x 10 feet (2.4 meters x 3 meters), and could house up to 300 chicks for their first few weeks. We are in the early experimentation stages of raising pastured chickens at our farm. It is a bit late in the season to be doing this, but we wanted to get a few batches under our belt to see if this is something we can expand upon next Spring. It is too early to give results, but we are doing well so far.

This brooder is strongly influenced by Joel Salatin’s original chicken brooder. He now uses a model similar to this as a hospital pen. Our design has taller walls and is a bit sturdier.

The taller walls (30 inches/76 cm) are to accommodate a deep litter bed. Our goal is to get to 18 inches (45 cm) of litter. We are currently using dried grass hay from our own yard (who says lawns have no place in Permaculture!). Ideally, a litter that is a bit more absorbent would be used, but this is what we have for now. It’s local and basically free. The deep litter has been shown time and again to be a healthier option for young chicks. The deep litter bed is composting, so there is a gentle warmth produced from the ground. The litter is alive with all sorts of macroscopic and microscopic life. The chicks peck away at this and gain numerous extra nutrients and probiotics. It also allows them to peck and scratch. As simple as this is, this natural behavior is often deprived of a young chick in the industrial chicken-raising systems. I firmly believe that when an animal is allowed to express its natural behaviors, it is a happier and healthier animal.

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Pressure-treated wood was used as the base. Old pine planks were used for the rest of the structure.

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The brooder footprint measures 8 feet x 10 feet (2.4 meters x 3 meters).

Next, we built this brooder from a mix of new and old material. Joel Salatin frequently recommends pressure-treated wood in his building projects. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t use any chemically treated wood products, but that is not where we live quite yet. In the future, I would love to use our local Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) or Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), both of which are naturally very rot resistant, but as I said, we are not quite there yet. Instead, we only used PT wood for the base. This is the wood that will be in contact with the ground, and very prone to rotting. The rest of the structure was built with old pine boards we removed from a renovation project on the farm.

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We used a double collar for the center truss to keep it strong. That is, we used two short horizontal pieces of wood to support the diagonal pieces of wood that runs from the walls to the ridge beam.

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Interior view of the ridge beam, a single horizontal 2×4 resting on two vertical 2×4’s, with the 1×4 trusses (diagonal pieces of wood).

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For additional support on the sides, we attached another collar to the exterior trusses (after the 1-inch chicken wire was installed). This provides incredible additional support with minimal materials.

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Another full image of the side wall.

We also found a 5-gallon bucket of old, exterior grade paint left behind by the prior owners of our farm. We slapped that on to give an even longer life to this structure. We also decided to move the brooder at this point. It was getter pretty heavy by now, and we still had quite a bit of wood left to add. This brooder is, technically, portable, but it is not something we will be moving often.

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Planks being attached to the roof, after the brooder was moved to its “permanent” location.

Another variation to our brooder was the door system. Joel Salatin has his brooder doors hinged at the top. The door is lifted up and propped open while a person reaches inside. We changed this for a few reasons. First, our walls are significantly higher than Joel’s. We need to climb into the brooder for chick maintenance, and since the walls are higher, the door would be need to be held up significantly higher as well. Dan (our intern), my wife, and myself are not short people (we are all 6’3″ (190.5 cm) or taller), but the door would have to be propped quite high and have a very tall stick to prop it open. Plus, I really dislike things hitting me in the head, and a wooden door that slips off its support does not sound like fun. Again, since our walls are so high, the roof is also higher, so it is easier to walk around inside the brooder, even for us tall folk. We only needed a smaller access door to get in, so a lighter, side-hinged door seemed to be a better, safer option. I fashioned a simple handle with two holes drilled into the door, a rope, and a couple of knots.

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The brooder with a single, side-opening door.

Next, we brought a weather-proof electrical cord to the brooder and attached it to the ceiling along the ridge beam. We hung three heat lamps to the ridge beam with some paracord. The lamps do not have light bulbs, but instead have ceramic heat emitters. These screw right in to a light bulb socket, but only produce heat. I don’t like lights on for 24 hours a day; it’s just not natural. Note that the ceramic heat emitters need a ceramic socket, not a plastic socket as the plastic may melt. The paracord, or any string or light rope, is adjustable and can be raised as the chicks grow taller. This set up is perfect for most of the “normal” times we will be raising chicks, but we are getting started with our “test batches” of chicks in late August/early September when the nightly temperatures have been dropping to the 50’60’s F (10-15 C). These small heat lamps were not quite strong enough, so we placed a cinder block in the middle of the brooder put a space heater on it. This has provided all the heat we need for now. As the chicks get older, they can handle colder temperatures, but day old chicks need a steady 90 F (32 C) temperature.

Brooder_09

Our heat lamps with ceramic heat emitters.

You may also note the boards propped in the corners. This is to help prevent the birds from bunching in the corners and suffocating their brooder mates. We placed one board in each corner, and have not had an issue with corner suffocation.

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View from the outside.

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The finished brooder! (front)

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The finished brooder! (back corner)

With the nighttime temperatures dropping, we also decided to staple a plastic screen over the chicken-wire walls. During the day, these are just rolled up and over the roof. At night, this prevents the warm air from escaping. We also added a corner piece of aluminum siding to the exterior ridge. This ensures no water will drip in and leak onto our electrical cords.

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Plastic stapled to the walls for nighttime warmth and aluminum siding on the ridge to prevent water leaks.

Our 1 week old chicks enjoying their new home!

Our 1 week old chicks enjoying their new home! We currently have a mix of broilers and layers in the brooder.

The brooder in action!

 

 

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Photo References:

  • All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.