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Archive for the ‘Smallholding’ Category

I’ve been playing about with grain feeders for our hens for a while now, and I think I’ve finally cracked it! 🙂

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What I wanted was a feeder that only released small quantities of feed at a time, to prevent wastage and ensure there was no uneaten food hanging about to attract vermin. I remembered seeing a pheasant feeder once that had a ‘trigger’ hanging from a barrel that the birds would peck at to release feed, so that gave me this idea. I never looked to see how it worked, but perhaps it was something like this!!

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I needed a way to hang the trigger, so I took a 15mm copper pipe-tee and drilled a hole opposite the ‘branch’, to accept a long 6mm coach bolt. I then screwed a nut on the end of the bolt and hit the tee flat with a hammer (very satisfying) until it was held securely.

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I then drilled a hole in the bottom of a blue plastic barrel, dropped the trigger in and suspended the whole thing from the duck-run fence. The barrel will take a full sack of wheat, and I put some old paving slabs underneath to stop the area becoming muddy.

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I had to make some tweaks to this along the way, so I’ll share them here to hopefully save you the experimentation if you fancy making one yourself:

1) The height is critical. Too high, and the hens won’t figure it out. Too low and they won’t go under it. I found I had to start with the base of the barrel about chook head height to begin with, so that when they walked under it, they nudged the trigger with their backs and grain fell out out ‘by accident’ (they then started wandering about underneath the feeder and looking bemused when it rained grain seemingly at random!). Once they’d figured out that they could peck at the trigger to get food, I gradually raised the feeder up until they had to stretch to get at it (this will hopefully keep it out of the reach of vermin).

2) The hole diameter in the barrel is very important. Start small and increase it if you need to. I did the opposite (oops), and had to reduce the size of the hole using epoxy putty as it was releasing too much grain at once, leading to wastage. In the end, my hole is about 10mm across, and releases only a few grains per peck so this might be a good starting point. It’s very important that it’s a little bit difficult for the hens to get at the grain. If too much releases at once, they get lazy and peck away until there’s a puddle of it at their feet, which then makes a mess. If only a few grains release at once, it’s easier to eat them up each time than keep pecking at the trigger, and it then works as intended. Obviously the hole size must be adjusted for different sizes of food and different trigger diameters.

3) The barrel has to have a watertight lid otherwise rain will leak in and the grain will spoil. That’s also the reason it’s hung the way it is, as I didn’t want to drill holes in the sides to mount legs if that meant water would get in. Eventually I’ll think of a more elegant way to support it, but that will do for now!

4) It seems to help if the end of the trigger is red. I originally had a piece of red tape on the end of the trigger which eventually got pecked off. Still, it seems they’ve got it figured out by now!

 

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As ever, this design could be modified or made in all sorts of different ways (for example maybe an old fork or spoon could be used as the trigger? I see no reason why not!).

So, apart from giving the barrel a quick nudge once in a while to make sure it’s still full, I hardly have to worry about the hens any more. Now if only they’d tell me where they’re hiding their eggs!? 🙂

 

By the way, if you liked this post, check out my idea for a home made chicken drinker.

 

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This one started when a friend of mine was scrapping a rusty old box trailer. However, since we also needed a new shed to house our next batch of meat chickens, a project was born!

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The original idea came from this rather fantastic commercial setup which I’d originally seen on Youtube, though naturally my budget doesn’t quite stretch to one of those!

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Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos before I began, but the trailer I started with looked pretty similar to this, only in much worse condition:

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Whilst the plywood floor and walls were completely rotten, I  was surprised to find that beneath fairly serious layer of rust, the structure was actually still pretty good. So, armed with an angle grinder and wire brush attachment, I stripped everything back to solid metal, treated with ‘krust’ and welded on some uprights and roof supports. (There would have been other ways of doing this of course, but I was looking for an excuse to use the stick welder I got for Christmas!). After welding and painting the frame, I cut plywood sheets to go inside the frame, treated them with woodstain and simply bolted them to the metalwork.

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The end result is fairly self-explanatory, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve:

  •  The floor is lined with lino, picked up cheap as an offcut from a carpet showroom. I’m hoping that this will make cleaning out nice and easy (NB, I still need to take a plane to the perches to round off the corners a bit).

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  • The perches hinge up out of the way for cleaning or when not required (the rope goes through the side panel, so you just pull it up and cleat it off).

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  • I also put a hinged trap-door in the far corner. The idea of this is that the dirty bedding can just be swept straight out and onto the ground. From there it’s pretty easy just to shovel it into a wheelbarrow, or more likely just spread it about with a rake before moving the house and its inhabitants to a new area. (We use Hemcore horse bedding for chooks, which composts pretty rapidly)
  • There is a really wide pop-hole made out of a spare “eternit” roofing slate we had lying around. This is important because firstly Hubbards are big birds and secondly they are really stupid. It’s also quite likely we’ll use this house for a small number of turkeys next year.

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  • The ramp at the back hinges up out of the way so the house can be moved. The same rope that’s used for opening the pop hole also secures the ramp in the up position.

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  • There are large grilles on each end for ventilation. This is very important for keeping poultry healthy.
  • There is a small hatch cut into one of the walls just below roof level. This is for feeding an electric extension cable through, for powering brooder lamps etc.
  • The window is just a perspex sheet robbed from an old caravan which was being scrapped (more wombling! :-))
  • All the edges where the wood meets the metal are sealed with “sticks like sh*t”, which is absolutely marvellous stuff. This will hopefully stop rainwater from getting into the edges of the ply and causing them to rot.

So there you have it. I have to say it was not the cheapest of projects, since despite getting the trailer for free, I had to buy the plywood, angle iron, paint, new inner tubes for the wheels, roofing felt etc, at a total cost of about £250. Given that a supermarket chicken currently costs about £5, this tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the economics of raising your own meat at home. However, I’m hopeful that it will last a good few years, and will be a useful addition to our smallholding.

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Since the spring, we’ve tried to eat at least one thing we’ve grown ourselves with every meal. However, lots of the veg are coming into season now, and we’ve managed a few meals now that have been almost entirely home grown.

We had one of them on Sunday – Coq au Vin, featuring a load of veggies from the garden and polytunnel, and once I’d managed to actually catch him, the meat from an (unfortunately for him) male Welsummer chicken who we hatched in February.

OK, so we cheated a little and used shop bought wine, onions and mushrooms as well as the home grown stuff, but it’s still not a bad start – we’re not deluded enough to think we could ever be truly self sufficient. And yes, I know you would expect me to say this, but it was absolutely delicious too.

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OK, so we’ve been nibbling on lettuces and radishes for a wee while now, but now it’s June, finally the veg in the polytunnel has taken off enough for us to harvest a decent meal’s worth at last. I couldn’t help but smile 🙂

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(WARNING – POST POTENTIALLY UNSUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS, OR PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE TO THINK TOO DEEPLY ABOUT WHERE THEIR FOOD COMES FROM!!)

So we bought some day old Hubbard broiler chicks.

They grew….

And grew….

And ate, and grew….

Until finally twelve weeks later, they were ready for the table.

Now, let’s be honest here, this is far closer than most people will ever get to the source of their food, and part of the reason I did this was to see if I had it in me to raise an animal from one day old to fully grown, and then kill it for food. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice to say, we did the most difficult job as humanely as we could, as befits a bird grown with care, in free range conditions.

The final dressed weights ranged from 2.5 to 3 kg (5.5 to 6.5lb).

And yes, I have to say, they did taste delicious!

So, is it something we’ll do again?  Yes, definitely. Mind you, next time will have to wait until I have more time on my hands, since the sheer effort of killing, plucking, and drawing 25 birds was quite considerable. Naturally raising table birds is not something that everybody can do, and nor is it something that most people would want to do (in fact, it didn’t even save us any money compared with buying from the supermarket!). However, I did feel a certain pride at eating an animal that we’d reared ourselves, knowing that it had lived the happiest life possible, albeit for only three months. What’s more, the freezer is now full of enough delicious chicken to keep us going until Christmas……. by which time of course, the turkeys will be ready! 🙂

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With all these chicks running around, and half a dozen day old turkeys ready for collection tomorrow, I needed some more drinkers. Luckily our neighbour showed me a neat little design that he has been using for years:

All it is, is an empty lemonade bottle with the base glued into an old plant-saucer. There is then a 6mm hole drilled right near the base of the bottle (for reference, the water level will come up to just above the top of the hole). As you can see, the bottle does compress a little as it empties, so use the thickest you can find. However, this doesn’t affect the function at all.

Nice and simple!!

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We all love a happy ending, and this story turned out far better than I had expected.

This hen went broody at the start of May, sitting on quite an exposed nest round the back of the hay shed. I did my best to build some shelter over her with old wrinkly tin, and actually that worked well to keep the rain off her…… until the night the chicks started hatching, when driving rain and gale force winds came in the side, and totally soaked her and the eggs. When I looked in, I actually found she was sitting in a puddle, with one chick hatched, and a stream of water running down onto her head!!

Of course at this point I feared the worst, but quickly moved them all into a makeshift nest in the other shed. Two chicks didn’t hatch, and one died overnight, most likely due to getting chilled. However, seven survived OK, and a week on they’re doing well.

There are four pure-bred Welsummers (the ones that look like 1970s glam rock stars who’ve overdone the eyeliner), one white something or other, and two Heinz 57 “penguin chicks”, who are totally black except for their yellow tummies. I can’t wait to see what they look like when they’re older!

Well done Mum! 🙂

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