Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grounding issues

Some weird problem with one of my showers in our house. There is a 50mV to 60mV DC voltage on the showerhead, while the pipe it connects to is properly grounded (a teflon tape appears to isolate the showerhead from the pipe). It is DC, not AC, like the house mains electrical. It is a low voltage (1/1000th of normal AC voltage at the outlets) but is enough to produce some twiching when touched. When all the breakers are off, there is still ~ 15-30mV residual voltage. When the breakers are back on, but the phone wires are disconnected in the phone interface box, there is a ~ 15mV residual DC voltage on the showerhead. When both main electrical and phone are disconnected, there is still a residual DC voltage of 15 - 30mV. There is never any AC voltage. The hot water pipe is grounded to the cold water pipe at the water heater. All voltages were measured with the negative of the voltmeter connected to earth (round prong of a 3-prong outlet). Our wireline phone has a constant humming sound which is very annoying (symptomatic of a bad ground). We actually discontinued the service due to poor audio quality. I am thinking the house has a weak grounding rod, maybe due to corrosion. A google search points to other people experiencing such problems. The recommended solution is to separate the phone interface box ground from the house AC mains ground, although I was told that codes require a common ground, which I tend to agree with, a good ground should have 0 potential on it.

Rainwater, and compost.

The first flush diverters on the rain water system were left open yesterday. We had several frosty mornings in the past few days. If the diverters are allowed to freeze, they will bust, so rain water collection is stopped at this time.

I also got a compost thermometer yesterday to measure the temperature inside the compost heap. It was the same temperature as the outside air, in the 40s, which indicated the forced air system is not really working. I will devise a way to put a much stronger fan in the system.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicken Feed: Protein yield

Yesterday I posted a small analysis of growing our own chicken feed for a flock of 25 chickens. I used corn, peas and sunflowers, and found big differences in yield per acre. It would be interesting to calculate the protein yield per acre instead of the whole yield and compare.
Crop Yield per acre Protein Content Protein Yield

All yields are close, except the incredible Comfrey (are those numbers real?). The numbers are for Russian Comfrey, which should grow well in the PNW. It is a heavy nitrogen feeder. It is a perennial that will produce at full yield starting the 3rd year, once the deep tap roots are well established. It can be cut every 5 weeks during the season. It is also difficult to eradicate once established. One option would be to plant it directly inside the chicken run, and protect each plant, then let the chickens feed on one plant at a time.

I may plant at leat 5 plants in the chicken run next year, and protect them the first year to allow them to grow to maturity, then use them as feed supplement.

Aside from Comfrey, we can see that protein yield per acre is a lot more constant that whole yield, and should actually be the main criteria for selecting a crop. Corn, barley and peas seem to be the winners, while sunflower can still be planted as an ornamental while providing some additional proteins.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eggs for income?

We stopped at a food stand this afternoon, and I saw eggs at $6.50 a dozen. Wow, prices have gone up! This got me thinking, would it be worth to sell eggs, in a situation where I would need to supplement my income (such as retirement for example)? Assuming $5 a dozen and customers for them, 25 layers, 2 dozens a day, for $300 a month. The only cost is feed, and that alone may eat up a lot of the revenue. What about growing my own feed, since I do have good land?

From a study:
"Feed consumption and its efficient utilization is one of the major concerns in commercial table egg production as feed cost is one of the major components of total cost of production. Feed alone may contribute from 60 to70% to the total cost of production in egg type layers according to Mian (1994) and Qunaibet et al (1992). Better utilization of feed and avoiding unnecessary feed wastage could be the leading factors in minimizing total cost of production (Elwardany 1998). A layer requires 2.5 kg of feed for 1 kg eggs produced (Ascard et al 1995). Elwardany et al (1998) reported a daily feed intake of 102 g over a 52 weeks production period and 2.07 kg feed/dozen eggs laid. Petek (1999) reported a daily feed consumption/layer (115 g)."

Since our layers are free range, they will eat a lot more feed than caged, at least 30% more if I recall previous readings. So the 2Kg/dozen translate into 5lbs/dozen. Our need would then be 10lbs a day for two dozen eggs, which is a little more than what we actually use, so a good round number for a conservative estimate. Assuming a little less feed needs in the winter, due to less egg laying, the total yearly feed need for 25 chickens is about 2500lbs. This already seems a very big number.

What to plant? Layer feed must have about 18% protein content.

  • Corn (10% protein)
  • Barley (13% protein)
  • Peas (18% protein)
  • Wheat (18% protein)
  • Comfrey (20% protein)
  • Sunflower (25% protein)
  • Lentil (35% protein)
Deciding what to grow depends on the climate and the particularities on my area. I will likely have to try each of these, and see what works best, which will take several years of experimentation. Another factor is the work needed to harvest and process the feed. I can get a corn sheller for $80 (corn sheller) but I haven't found any tool for sunflowers. On the other hand, sunflower do grow well here, we have already grown them. So, next is to decide on a formula.

First formula: 25% Sunflowers, 25% peas 25% corn and 25% commercial formula. The commercial formula will be bought on demand. The rest will have to be grown, dried and stored. I will need about 600lbs of each ingredients. Next is to determine the yield.

Corn yield ~ 100 bushels per acre, 60lbs per bushel, or 6000lbs per acre. 0.1 acre needed, or 4400sqft.
Field peas yield ~ 40 bushels per acre. 0.25 acres needed.
Sunflower yield ~ 1200lbs per acre, 0.5 acres needed.

This gives some scary numbers, I don't see myself hand shelling 600lbs of sunflowers after growing and harvesting them on half an acre. We can estimate that we would need one acre of land to provide 100% of the feed needs of a flock of 25 chickens. That seems an enormous amount of land (and work!) for just $300 a month. Clearly, growing vegetables seems a better income maker.
I would still like to grow some of my chicken feed. Some companion planting may be used here, using the corn or sunflowers as stakes for the peas for example, while the peas provide nitrogen to the soil. A good star would be to grow 1/10th acre of corn, and the peas that would grow with it. Before that, I need to try out the crop, so using one or two of the 10x25 garden beds is probably the best approach. One bed could have corn/peas, while the other sunflowers/peas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dealing with slugs - picking and garter snakes

I decided to try and pick up slugs every morning since they started appearing. The first week, I picked up up to 25 slugs at a time. The second week, 10-15. Now I am on the third week, and I pick one or two occasionally. The newly planted lettuce, spinach, and peas have not suffered from the slugs. It looks like this method of working.

Yesterday night, I also noticed a baby garter snake in the grass. Good to see they reproduce near the garden. Those snakes feed on slug.

Some slugs are too small to be picked, and yet are still very destructive due to their number, so I do rely on their predators as well as picking.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A weekend Hard Work

Saturday, I started mowing the street side with the week wacker. The grass is leaning on the electric fence and will eventually short it. The weed wacker was getting clogged within a minute, due to the thickness of the grass. After a 1/2 hour of efforts, I decided to go get the sickle, which proved to be a lot more efficient a this task, albeit more physical. I stopped after two hours, 1/3 of the way to the end of the street. Next task was to tape the compost ventilation pipe and fan to limit air leaks. A second ventilation system was set, except the fan, since I was missing an adapter. Next, the solar water heating panel support blocks were set in place and leveled. Finally, the hot tub support beams were set, one was leveled, the second still needs to be leveled.

Sunday started with cutting the grass on the street with the sickle, almost half the way. The grass was then collected, which ended up taking more time than cutting it. The chicken house was cleaned, and some of the grass used for bedding. The goat shed was cleaned too, and grass added as bedding. I passed the mover to finish off the grass that was cut by hand. This too was a hard job. I got help setting the solar panel in place, which allowed me to clean half of the garage, and park the car in there. Finally, the hot tub second beam was leveled, but some adjustment will have to be made on the first beam.

Good progress this weekend.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Forced Air Compost System

When I visited Cedar Groove Composting 2 years ago, I really liked how they used forced air to provide oxygen inside the compost pile. They use french drain pipes connected to a ducted fan to force air inside the pile.
A normal compost pile will deplete its oxygen within 15mn, then go anaerobic (smelly), or dry up. I noticed with my compost, that the top layer would compost OK, but then, down 4-5 inches, it would be packed and un-composted. I would have to harvest my compost by layers, then let the top layer compost further, etc. It takes forever. Seeds are not killed by this cold composting system, like they would in a hot compost pile, so I get volunteer plants everywhere I spread my compost. I decided to use forced air, like Cedar Groove, but on a smaller scale.
Information is available on line:
Magic Soil
Aerated Static Compost Pile
Here is my system, in pictures. I bought less than $20 of part, and one part (~$3.50) was not used. The fan and solar panel I already had.
The black pipe is 3" corrugated French drain. It has small holes that are the right size to let air out, while limiting the amount of compost going in.

I forgot to wrap the vertical section with duct tape. This section won't be burried in compost, and will let most of the air escape. This will have to be done later.

The fan is not firmly attached to the pipe, so the pressure inside the pipe may not be enough to push the air through the pile. We will see how that works.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Karen's work:

Attila the barn cat

Attila has been a little more assertive lately, coming around the house, and letting us approach him a little closer, about 10FT. Here is a shot of him taken at the end of the day:
The barn has been free of rodent for a while. Attila, Kaly, and the trapping, have dramatically reduced the rodent population.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

TO-DO Before end of 2012

  1. Finish pasture sheds (screw loose siding panels).
  2. Plant cover crop.
  3. Clean junk along corral.
  4. Run a load to the waste disposal facility.
  5. Get a bid on a roof deck and deck beam repair.
  6. Stain the deck.
  7. Add forced ventilation to compost (similar to Cedar Groove system).
  8. Clean up garage.
  9. Sheetrock garage.
  10. Build shelves and greenhouse window in garage South wall.
  11. Remove old electric water heater. Install solar tank. Install new electric water heater.
  12. Winterize beehives.
Let see how much I will get accomplished.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Garter Snake in garden bed

This morning while harvesting Kale for the goats, I surprised a Garter snake hiding under the plants. That is a very good news. Garter snakes eat slugs, and not surprisingly, that bed was devoid of slugs this morning. I will research a bit more about those and see if I can provide them hiding spots and other things they like, maybe rocks exposed to the sun, I know lizards like those to warm up in the morning. This is another benefit of having the hens contained. They would have made breakfast of that small snake. Where hens roam, the small fauna disappears.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 Accomplishments so far

Sometimes it seems we are fighting a loosing battle, so it is good to look back and see what was accomplished. Here are the accomplishments we have made in 2012:
  • Barn clean up. Although there is still to do, the barn is a lot cleaner, particularly thanks to rodent trapping.
  • Front Yard cleaning. This was started in late 2011, and is still ongoing. Compared to Summer 2011, the yard is a lot cleaner now.
  • First full honey harvest. We harvested one full honey super, which yielded 2 gallons, or about 25 pounds.
  • Poultry flock contained. The hens used to escape and roam throughout the property. They are now contained in the corral.
  • First garden. The hens used to destroy our garden. Now that they are contained, we grew beets, carrots, salad in the cold frame, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers.
  • Installation of a greywater system. Nasturtium, sunflowers and bamboo is growing from the water.
  • Kitchen electrical is fixed. We had a rusty outlet which eventually melted, opening the whole kitchen outlet circuit. This is fixed, thanks to Jack and Andy.
  • Hot tub is cleaned and running. It had been sitting for 2 years, and was dirty. A few parts still need replacement.
  • Flower beds along the driveway. We planted a few flowers along the driveway. They have a semi-automatic watering system that appears to work well.
  • Some perennials planted (blueberries, apples, cherries).
  • Pasture sheds sided. The 4 pasture sheds are now sided, although some work still needs to be done on them.
  • Brush mower fixed. This tool helps cutting grass too tall for the riding mower (along the street).
  • Hay collected for the winter. Cutting the tall grass along the street with a sickle makes great hay for the goats.
Next is to set goals from now to the end of the year:
  • Finish the pasture sheds. Siding needs more screws before the windy season comes in.
  • Plant cover crop in the garden. Field peas will provide poultry feed.
  • Plant a winter garden.
  • Remove the junk along the corral.
  • Finish the hot tub solar heater. Purchase hot tub replacement jet pump, light, heat exchanger.
  • Clean the driveway of all the grass.
  • Add forced ventilation to the compost heap. This will speed up composting, and improve the quality of the compost (less weed seeds).
  • Clean up the garage, sheet-rock the South wall, install shelves, setup a mini-greenhouse in the window for 2013 Spring planting.
  • Stain deck, at least the floor, railing can wait.
  • Replace the electric water heater. Corrosion has damaged the lower heating element, and soon or later, the heater will leak. Better replace it soon.
  • Breed Dolly, our LaMancha goat, to have a continuous supply of milk. Jubilee, our Nubian, will go dry in January. Dolly needs to be trained, she is too wild at this time.
There are more things to do, but this will keep me busy until the end of the year. By then I can assess the progress for the whole 2012 year, and set realistic goals for 2013.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rat trap this morning

Rodent trapping is a never ending chore in the barn, as they keep coming from the nearby lakes. The barn is now free of "residents", but still get "visitors". Because there is no available food except the one set in the trap, the visitors usually get trapped quickly, and don't have a chance to take residence.
After a few weeks catching rats, mouse have been the problem, mostly because the mouse traps I had were not sensitive enough. I just received "The better mousetrap" from Intruder, and those work great. I have caught many mouse with them. The fact that mouse are now more a problem than before suggests that rat residents have effectively been eradicated.
As far as rats, I lost a trap a few days ago. I thought a rat got partially trapped and escaped with it. I found the trap this morning, the rat had his two front legs caught.

Not a happy sight, I don't like to make animals suffer. This rat must have died of thirst. This was a first rat I caught in a while, while many mouse have been caught in the past few weeks.
A year ago, I started cleaning the barn. Rat fras was a big problem, due to residents. Today, the barn is clean of rat fras, and only have some mouse fras around the rat traps, from which they can eat the food without triggering then. To solve this, I will set a mouse trap next to each rat trap. The traps are cleaned and reloaded about once a month (or after a catch), and checked every day.
The previous owner used poison, and dead rats would be found in the open. I don't see the point with poison. You still have to regularly reload, so why not reload traps, that way there is no handling of dangerous substances and disposal of contaminated bodies, and no impact on their predators.
For me, trapping is the way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Goat Breeding Time!

Jubilee, our Nubian goat, has 5 months left in milk. I need to put one of the other does with the buck. I have a LaMancha, and an Angora, none of them being human friendly, so I'll have to train the one I'll breed. I'd like to breed the LaMancha, but she is the most unruly. We'll see!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pullets first egg

I found a miniature egg in the nest boxes this morning, among the normal sized chicken eggs. One of our 5 new pullets started laying. Welcome to a new productive member of the farm! The picture below shows one normal egg, next to the pullet's first egg.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hay Making by Hand

I have several areas of grass that need regular mowing, but don't need to be mowed like a lawn. The road edge is a good example. These areas are great for making hay. Mechanized haymaking equipment only makes sense on a big commercial scale, due to the cost. They are also dangerous equipment. So to feed our 5 goats for the winter months, hand tools seem appropriate. Here are the tools I used:
Here is the area mowed by hand:
Here is the last load of the day:
And here is the hay shed:
Note that the pair of gloves in the first pic is NOT OPTIONAL. Here is what happened one day I was not using them:
That blade is sharpened with a hammer, and finished with the wet stone in the pic. The wet stone is used every ~ 5mn, the hammer, once a season. It is REALLY sharp.
Cutting hay is done early in the morning, while the dew is still on the grass. Wet grass cuts a lot better than dry grass, which folds under the blade. Cutting grass early morning, in the silence, allows you to hear the sounds of Nature. Beside, the grass has to be cut anyway...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Donkeys are back

The donkeys are back to our farm, 7 jennies and 2 foals. Three of the jennies were already here last year, and they did recognize our place. Here are the donkeys entering the pasture.
They will share the pasture with our goats, who can't keep up with the grass. I am sure the goats will appreciate the help, although they seem to have mixed feelings on this picture.
In the picture below, a jennie that was here last year, with her baby.
And here, the other baby, chasing his mother.
While I was taking pictures, something was munching on my shirt. I pointed the camera downward, and shot a pic:
Our buck was jealous of the attention we were giving to these donkeys. I think they will like the place. They are surely appreciated.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Healing process for Jubilee

This morning, Jubilee's dead half udder fell off. She has being chewing on that teat for a while, and now the dead tissues came off. Karen took a look and said everything looks normal. Reading online about black Mastitis, it appears to be part of the normal healing process. We have restarted drinking Jubilee's milk, but yesterday night and this morning, I gave it to our dog and our cat, concerned that the dead udder would result in secondary infection. We are spraying her udder with Fight Back, which is a Black Mastitis treatment. Jubilee is acting normal, calling for company every time she sees us, and resting/ruminating, or grazing, at the same time as the other goats. She eats grain during milking, and fights to get off the milking stand once the grain is gone.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stopping Treatment on Jubilee

I called a vet Friday and Saturday, but the vet was too busy. It looks like a good vet can have a busy career around here. Jubilee is still not flowing on her left udder, and at this time I suspect it is dead. I have been told a dead half udder is fine, she can live with it. I saw her licking the damaged teat. I hope she is not re-infecting herself. So today we stopped the antibiotic treatment, and we'll see how it goes. She received the treatment for 16 days. If Jubilee is still fine a week from now, we will start pasteurizing and drinking her milk. She is producing more than a quart a day on that half udder, which is plenty for us. Being milked on 1 side only will also take a lesser load on her, so I really hope she makes it.
We will still need to see a vet eventually, to know if we should dry her earlier, what precaution should be taken for drying her, and if we should breed her again.
I am now thinking on breeding Dolly, the LaMancha, with Papa, our Nigerian buck, to get mini-Manchas. They are not as noisy as Nubians, and Jubilee, as a Nubian, is VERY noisy. So for folks living in town, a mini-Mancha is more desirable than a mini-Nubian.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Left half udder is still not flowing, after 2 weeks. The teat skin is slowing improving, softening, but there are scar tissues still, and no flow. The right half is now producing about a quart a day. Jubilee is still under antibiotic injections. I am trying to contact a goat specialist to know what to do next. It looks like the teat is improving well, and will eventually flow, but I am worried about the udder itself, being blocked for now 2 weeks. I am also worried about 2 weeks of antibiotic injections. Hopefully we will get through this soon.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Caring for Jubilee

Two days after we got Jubilee, signs of trouble were obvious, serious trouble. The second day, her left half udder was a little bit harder to milk, with some clumps in the milk. The following day, Jubilee was sitting down, and her left teat was swollen, with blood and no milk coming out, the right teat went dry. She had mastitis, likely due to the previous owner not milking her often enough (she told us she was milking once a day). Having lost two goats from poisonning, we decided to try harder to save Jubilee. She looked like she was not going to survive more than 2-3 days, so Saturday morning, we called Pilchuck vet clinic, and the vet saw Jubilee. The first question was is there a baby still in there. The X-rays showed an empty womb. The doctor said that seeing her level of discomfort, there was a good chance she would not make it. He gave us fluid sub-cutaneous injection, to re-hydrate her, and intra-muscular antibiotic injections, to fight the infection. The bill was $450 (Pilchuck is an emergency-only clinic). After just one day, Jubilee was still very sick, but appetite was coming back, she was moaning again, weak, but better. The third day was even better, but the left teat was looking really bad. The right side of the udder started to fill up, but would not flow. On the fourth day, the right teat was flowing again (after long minutes of squeezing it). Jubilee was regaining her voice, and making it known! She was walking a little strange, her front legs cracking, and not looking very assured. I took her outside, and she ate fresh grass from the ground, while I was trying to get that teat to flow. On Thursday, I put her back with the other goats. Sub-cutaneous fluid injections stopped on Friday, but antibiotics continued. On Saturday, I started using bag balm on the udder skin, particularly on the left teat and the scar tissues around it. Her condition slowly improved through the weekend, with more and more milk flowing from the right side, but nothing but blood (less and less of it though) from the left side, with the udder feeling hard. Scar tissues appeared at the base of the left teat, which was no longer swollen, but appeared black. Sunday night, 8 days after seeing the vet, The left teat was still not flowing, so we re-ordered antibiotic injection, since we were out.
She is eating well, acting fine, still walking a little odd, but standing her ground against the other does, head butting at time. I need to get that udder to flow on both sides.
If we save Jubilee, we will have spend more money than the market says she is worth, but for us, it will be our first victory against our animal illnesses, and it would mean a lot.
Mastitis is caused by bacteria, and once it has happened in a farm, it is difficult to get rid off. Be careful when you buy goats. If it happens that our other does are infected, we will stop breeding them, and use them only as bush eater, still caring for them, but without risking their life in breeding them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


After Achille passed (following her mother), we had an opportunity to get 4 goats at a good price, so we did. Here is Jubilee, a Nubian doe:
Papy, our Nigerian buck:
Doly, a Lamancha doe:
And Ed and Lucie, an Angora pair:
Wish them a happy life on the farm.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hello Papa

Here is our new Nigerian buck Papa (that's the name his previous owners gave him). He arrived at the farm Friday night.
We got him from a farm in Auburn, where he bred Nigerian does. We brought him in our little Honda Civic, with a tarp on the floor, and some hay over it. Papa was a little nervous at first, but quickly calmed down, and was very calm for the rest of the hour of the trip home.
Since we arrived home late at night, he spent the night in the barn alone. Saturday morning at feeding time, I let Achille, our Nubian doe, enter the barn. They were talking to each other before I opened the stall door. Papa appeared afraid at first, since Achille is a little bigger than him, but that passed quickly. They both went on the pasture, and lost interest with each other for the first few hours. In the early afternoon, Achille approach him and put her nose in his side. He didn't seem much interested. Interesting behavior from Achille though. Later, I walked them through the entire pasture. They stayed close to each other and to me, Papa being the one seeking my attention the most. They stayed together for the rest of the day.
Papa is a very friendly buck. If he does his job well, he will be a great addition to the farm. Now it is just up to Achille to get in heat...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Goodbye Poppy

Poppy passed this morning. During the snow storm, her and Achille (her daughter, on the left in the picture above) did not want to leave the shed, with the pasture covered by one foot of snow, so I gave them an alfalfa mix. The bale was at the bottom of the pile, and has been resting on a plastic tarp probably for several years. I didn't notice that the bottom of the bale (tarp side) was completely moldy. Poppy got contaminated with mold, which is toxic to ruminants. She got a bad diarrhea, which literally took life out of her.
It was hard to see her getting weaker and weaker, then walking like a drunk goat(due to weakness), and finally resting down.
This is a hard lesson. Poppy was a good goat, and brought two cute goat kids to our farm. Winter can be hard on animals, Nubian goats are not cold weather animals, and even though our pasture give them almost ideal conditions in the summer, they need care in the winter, which is where I did not provide well enough for them.
To accompany her passing, we will make a bon fire ... with the remainder of the old moldy alfalfa mix still laying in the barn.
Goodbye poppy.