Friday, July 29, 2011

Manifold Rain Barrel System, Part III

I thought maybe it was about time to finish up my series on the manifold rain barrel system!  Apologies that this topic slid over to the back burner, but we have been tackling so many projects this summer that I've honestly become overwhelmed.  Anyway, before you continue, please read the following posts:

Progress Photos (contains info on levelling the ground and Youtube video links)

Manifold Rain Barrel System Part I

Manifold Rain Barrel System Part II

When we last left off, I showed you how I set up the barrels themselves.  Connecting them to the gutter was simple; I unscrewed the downspout and put it aside to re-connect in the winter, and used a flexible downspout extender instead (that ribbed green thing in the photo). 

The green downspout extender attaches to the downspout.
Using a saw, I cut a hole in the black lid of the first barrel. I then cut a bigger section of screen, which I screwed down with the top. The screen serves as a barrier to keep debris and mosquitoes out, something important to consider when setting up rain barrels, Finally, I inserted the flexible downspout into the hole in the lid.

Top view of the downspout extender in position.  You can also see how I very informally screwed down a round section of screen with the lid.

As I mentioned before, I should have installed the overflow pipe initially.  Here's what I came up with:

Overflow pipe
The pipe is made of a 4" PVC elbow and fitting; the fitting was inserted through the inside of the barrel.  I also put a piece of screen in the opening.  I am happy to report that it works wonderfully!

Some of the problems I ran into have not quite been solved yet.  I dismantled the whole system to try a different sealant on the bottoms of the barrels, but am still having leaks.  Though frustrating at first, these leaks are extremely slow and have not resulted in any noticeable water loss.  The fact that the barrels are not perfectly flat on the bottom may be the main issue, but I also think that I just can't find a sealant that bonds properly to the material the barrels are made of. 

After another nice little rainstorm, the first barrel again tilted back toward the house, but not nearly as drastically as the first time.  This I attribute to not making the sand below it compact enough.  We've solved this for the moment by shimming under the bottom of that barrel.

After taking the barrels down to repair the leaks, I did manage to prop them up higher by adding a couple bricks to the tops of the concrete blocks, which made the five gallon bucket fit under the spout and gave me the added benefit of better water pressure in the garden.  I've found that water pressure is directly related to both the amount of water in the barrels (weight) and height difference.

By the way, I am contemplating doing away with Weekend Updates.  Since we are juggling so much right now, I'd rather just wait and blog about what I think all of you will find to be most interesting and beneficial, instead of just giving short blurbs about what we've been doing.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stayin' Alive: Raising Cornish Cross Broilers in a Heat Wave

Yesterday we lost three of our Cornish Cross broilers due to the 100+ degree temperatures, a sad fate for our fat boys and a frustrating bump in the road for us.  Today we tried several different strategies to help make the chickens more comfortable.

This I actually tried a couple days ago.  Harnessing my inner MacGyver - sort of - I ran a hose from the rain barrels and into a milk jug that I hung from the roof of the field pen.  The bottom of the jug has tiny holes in it, allowing slow drips of water.  I also use jugs like this to water plants.  I'm not sure if it made the chickens grow, but I hope it cooled them off since they ran away when I tried to (gently) spray them.  A friend's mom also suggested spraying down the pen itself so they'll benefit from the cooling effect of evaporation.  I may try to spray the pen and ground tomorrow. 

Today we put a beach umbrella over the exposed roof area, and re-positioned it as the sun moved.

My brother and his wife let us borrow this fan when we refinished our floors, and since we still had it, we ran a cord out to the pen and let it run all day.  All in all, I think this pleased the chickens the most.

Initially, we had wanted to hinge the back panels to allow for cross-ventilation.  It didn't work out as well as we'd hoped, but we still had chicken wire underneath one of them.  So Byron unscrewed the bottom and sides and propped it open.
We are praying that we don't lose any more chickens to the heat (or anything else).  How are you and your animals beating the heat?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Putting Chicks Out on Pasture: Green Acres Weekend Update

Last week I blogged about moving the Cornish Cross broilers to their field pen.  Click here to read more about their adventure!  This week, in the midst of having the entire plumbing system replaced, a computer crashing, a two-day family getaway, fence building (Byron put in eight posts by hand one day last week!), picking wild blackberries, and waging continued warfare on squash bugs and their evil spawn, we also moved the Rhode Island Red chicks out on pasture!  They're four weeks old, and most of their adult feathers are in, which is apparently a sign that they're ready to explore the big world out there.

The hen house Byron built on an old trailer has been doubling as a brooder (he'll build a real brooder next year).  He hooked it up to the tractor...
...after a bit of rigging, due to shot hydraulics.  Better than spending hundreds on getting the hydraulics fixed...great job, Byron!
When he opened the door to the hen house this morning, they eyed the ramp suspiciously... they got a little help flying the coop.

Exploring the big, green world...

...and looking more like chickens and less like little birds every day.

Breakfast buffet, with a bug or two on the side.  By the way, we're having to let the older hens, the Barred Rocks, free range so the little hens can have the protection of the electric fence.  We really hope the old girls don't fall prey to marauding animals, but until the Rhode Island Reds are bigger, we can't house them together since they could be injured by the bigger chickens.

And here are our Fat Boys (Cornish Cross) at their dinner buffet.  These boys are serious about their food; Byron's finger has almost fallen prey to their voracious appetites!  They are absolutely HUGE compared to the Rhode Island Reds, and this feed is non-GMO and free of hormones!

I'm linking again to Homestead Revival's Barn Hop.  Click below to join in!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Broiler Pens, Polyface-Style: Green Acres Weekend Update

You know how you start a project and convince yourself it will be done in an afternoon, and two days later you're still at it?  That's how our Polyface-style broiler pen project fared.  But it's done, and if we ever make another one, it probably will just take an afternoon!  Our pen was inspired by Joel Salatin's book, Pastured Poultry Profits, and images/instructions we found here on Flickr.  They are simple to make, pretty inexpensive (especially if you can score some extra metal roofing for free, which - darn it - we found out later we could have), and our Cornish-Cross meat birds are the fattest and happiest birds on the block.

The pen is 10'x12'x2' and can hold up to 100 broilers.  The people who posted the Flickr instructions used 1x4s for most of the frame, but we ripped 1x6s in half for the vertical and horizontal pieces, and in thirds for the diagonal braces, as Salatin recommends.  The bottom, horizontal board in the front and back is a 10' 2x4 ripped in half.

Framing done!

We salvaged the height-adjustable wheels from a spent lawn mower to help move the pen.  Salatin uses a special dolly.

We had to rig them a bit, but they work.


Moving the broilers.  Salatin recommends doing this early in the day so they have time to acclimate before evening.  Our are almost three weeks old in this photo.

Pastured poultry!

We found four of these aluminum feeders, along with the old wooden poultry cage pictured above, in an antique shop.  They were reasonably priced, so we grabbed them.

We move the pen daily to new pasture, which provides fresh greens and bugs, and keeps conditions sanitary.

Here's our hallway...we're finally having our faulty plumbing replaced, so renovations are beginning again.
Happy Independence Day!