Saturday, October 27, 2007

Self Serve Farm Stand

We had our first self serve farm stand this year. We planted a bigger garden just for the purpose of selling the surplus at the road side. When we decided to do that we didn’t know it was going to be a self serve stand. We didn’t decide that until the last minute.

As it went the self serve part was a good decision since people weren’t exactly wearing the road out to come to the stand. Now, there was a pretty good flow of customers but, there was a lot of dead times too. If one of us would have been sitting out there manning the stand it would have been a boring job.

I built a couple of shelters this summer. We were going to buy one of those accordion style collapsible jobs. But, then we saw that they sold replacement tops for those, so I thought why not build the frame myself and just buy the top. We were able to build two for the price of one of the store bought models. We also used them for rummage sales this summer. Worked out pretty good. Just had to watch out for rain water collecting in the top and weighing the thing down. And high winds didn’t do the tops any favors either. I don’t believe the store bought frames would have held up out here with the winds we get, so a wooden frame was a good choice.

The first couple days the stand was up we didn’t sell a thing. That was a little discouraging. We kind of spread the word that if anyone else had stuff to sell we’d be glad to include it with ours. So we added maple syrup and other products from our friends the Burns’ who are in the maple syrup business. Some other friends had some hand made bags to sell and some neighbors had sweet corn.

The sweet corn kicked off the stand with a bang. When people saw that they started coming in and they bought other stuff as well. Another neighbor brought some decorated corn stalks also. In all with everyone contributing what ever they had we ended up selling more. The sweet corn really helped. Our daughter made some gift items which added to everything. She sold a few things but, the fresh produce was what people were after.

We had carrots, green beans, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, apples, pumpkins, peppers and probably a couple other things I can’t think of at the moment. The carrots were really tasty and a guy who we called the carrot man kept coming back for those. When we were all done with the garden we had an 8 lb. bag left over for him that we weren’t going to put up for ourselves. So he came to get them with a smile and said he’d be back next year.

We also sold some broiler chickens to a lady who came to the stand. Kelli had opportunity to talk to a few of the folks as she would go out and restock through out the day.

Pretty much this was an experiment to see what kind of interest there might be in our area for fresh food. There was enough interest that we are encouraged to keep on doing this. It seems that for those who understand the benefits of fresh food, that isn’t laden with poisons and artificial junk, are 100% on board. No sales pitch required.

We didn’t have the stand open everyday and that might of discouraged some sales. During inclement weather it wasn’t open but, we figured people wouldn’t be wanting to stop in the rain anyway. All together the stand was open 16 days and we brought in over $400. I converted an old tool box into a money box. Cut a slot in the top and added a padlock and simply screwed the box to the table.

We’ve sold eggs at the road side in the past, self serve style and it always warms us inside to think that there are still so many honest folks out there. Of course where we come from, a self serve stand would never fly. I believe back there they’d take the stand and all. I remember when we used to have rummage sales back in IL and a time or two people even stole our rummage sale signs. That kind of thing kind of gives a person a negative out look towards people. But, so far up here there still are plenty of decent folks.

We got all our broiler chickens butchered up and the pigs are going in this week to get done. I entertained the thought of processing our own pigs this time but, I changed my mind on that. There’s a reputable butcher we’ve used in the past and it’s awful nice to just take them there and come back later and it’s all nicely put together in clean little packages. Not that I don’t want to give it a try myself sometime. But, butchering pigs is something I’m not very familiar with. Never bothered to educate myself on it.

I saw a video years ago where a couple older southern gentleman were butchering a pig and the thing was just covered in flies. Kind of turned me off to looking into it any further. One thing I like about where we live is you can butcher in cooler weather and flies aren’t a problem around here then. So some day if I live long enough I might butcher a pig.

I have lots of interests and there are a lot of things I’d like to do that I might never end up doing. Like this farm stand we wanted to do something like that for a long time and just now managed to actually do it. There’s things we want to do and things we feel that we are called to do. It’s nice when the Lord lets us do what we want. And we can be assured that if we are called to do something then it will surely come to pass one day. Might not be when we think but, it’ll happen if we just put it in the Lords hands.

Until Next Time

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cool Web Page

While we're on the subject of chicken tractors, here's a cool link that James Morris gave me which shows lots of neat designs of portable chicken shelters, pens, coops and tractors. Some very clever idea's.

Also please welcome James to the agrarian blogging community. He has rather recently found the inspiration to begin the quest of an agrarian lifestyle. James has developed a detailed plan to make homesteading a reality for himself and has a blog where he is chronicling his efforts and thoughts. Be sure to drop by and give him a welcome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Feed Distribution" details

Below are some pictures for John, who wanted to know what was on the other end of the “feed distribution pipe” of our chicken tractors. He wanted to know how the feed is spread out and if the pipes clog up. In addition he had some other questions “what is the size of the black pipe that makes up the hoops? Do you have any wire under the tarp or just the tarp for protection from predators?”

So in case anyone else has similar questions here is my response to John’s questions.

‘The pipes are simply cut off flat like they are at the top. There isn't any means to spread out the feed. It just piles up on the ground and the chickens do all the spreading.

Occasionally, if the chickens seem extra hungry and mob the food I'll take a couple scoops to the other end and throw it in through the door. None of them goes without, in fact when we started butchering these particular birds over the weekend we found they are a little on the fat side.

We have a feed scoop that fits nicely with the 3" pipe. I'll pour in about 10 scoops in the longer unit and about 7 scoops in the shorter (green) one. During rainy or humid days the feed will stick a little in the pipes.

The longer one doesn't have as steep of an angle as the green one since it is not as tall, so that one sticks more. When I first started using them I'd take a stick and push the feed on down but, in time I found that it would slide down by it's self without pushing it if I just let it be. The green one which is taller never stuck up enough to warrant pushing it.

If I build another tractor I'll probably just use a shorter pipe so I can make a steeper angle. What I did with these is I had bought a 10' foot pipe and cut it in half so the pipe on each tractor is 5' long. They are supported by a 2x4 which is mounted cross ways down low. I cut a V in the 2x4's and tied the pipes down with straps so that they would stay centered and not get pushed around by the chickens.

The gray tarped tractor has just the tarp for protection. I new I was pushing my luck by not putting on chicken wire first but, I was in a hurry to get the chickens in it so I took the risk. A coyote or dog could easily tear through it I imagine. If I had put on wire first wouldn't have had to run the tarp all the way end to end. It would be better to have a spot where they could get some direct sun. A sun porch?

We wanted to use fiberglass sheets like we used on the green one but, it cost more than what we had to spend. I think the fiberglass sheets would make a better covering. Stronger and more durable. The green fiberglass we used on the first one was given to us. Couldn’t beat the price on that. We put that one together our first summer here in 1998. It has stood the test of time. It has metal conduit as hoops. Those also were given to us, already bent and everything.

I think the black pipe is 1,1/4". I'll have to measure it to be sure. I have various sized length's of black pipe that I have collected over the years, throw a way’s collected from our trash business. I like working with it as it is light weight and easy to cut.

I ripped long 1 inch boards to bolt long ways to the pipes as stiffeners’ to tighten up the unit. I used carriage bolts going from top down. Didn't want to use hex head bolt’s because I was afraid the edges might wear through the tarp when the tarp is buffeted by the wind.

The Joel Salatin style chicken tractors might be better but, I like to be different. The hoop house seems like a more simple design to me but, then again I’ve never tried to build one like Salatin’s.

Now that half our chickens are butchered the green tractor is empty. I thought I might take some more pictures showing more of the details. Hopefully before the week is over I’ll get a chance to do that so keep checking in. Hope this is helpful.’

View from the back side

View from the front side.

Lynn Bartlett expressed interest in the watering system for her sons so here is my response to Lynn and some pictures of the waterer.

'The automatic fountains we got are the “Little Giant” brand. We ordered them on line through Cutlers Supply at We purchased model 2500, the game bird fountain. It is supposed to water up to 200 birds per bowl. There is a larger one, the 2550, that waters up to 300 birds. I opted for the smaller bowl because I was mounting our bucket low and didn’t want it too close to the ground. If the bottom of the bowl touches anything it interferes with the valve working properly. It’ll just keep on running and drains your bucket. That happened once with ours even with the smaller bowl. I parked it right on a clump of grass and next time I went out they were completely out of water. Boy were those birds thirsty. I had to throw in an extra bucket of water just so they could all get a quick drink.'

Five gallon bucket plumbed to the Little Giant fountain.
The bucket is supported by two 2x4’s and a metal bracket. The metal was scavenged from some junk I had. So was the hanger for the waterer. I always try to use junk I have laying around in most of my projects to keep the cost down.

Close up of Little Giant.

Until Next Time

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pastured Poultry

This was our first year of actually raising poultry on pasture. It’s been a success so far. For years we’ve kept chicks in the green chicken tractor showed in these pictures but always moved them to a bigger pen as the birds grew larger.

But, this year with Joel Salatin as our inspiration we decided to go the whole route and raise them all the way to finish out on pasture. It has made a big difference. The birds are cleaner and healthier.

This summer we had a huge abundance of grasshoppers and crickets so these chickens have had lots to eat besides their regular ration of corn and broiler grower. One thing we didn’t do though was to come up with a custom feed to get away from that commercial stuff. Oh well, just taking it one step at a time. Maybe next year we will be able to come up with an alternative to the packaged feed.

The tractor with the gray tarp for a cover we built this year. Plus we modified the green one adding a watering system and a feeding tube identical to what we did with the gray one. The gray one is a little over 3 feet longer than the green one so therefore it is a “faster” unit. In retrospect I should have made them both the same length, as the gray one covers more ground with each daily move. We turn them around after about 130 feet and since they don’t keep the same pace there’s always one coming or going and they pass each other head on every so often.

I’ve noticed that the grass that grows back after the tractors have passed is quite a bit thicker and greener than the grass that is mowed just adjacent to were we started them off from. Lots of good fertilizer, besides the chickens scratching through and aerating the turf a bit.

In the video below you can see the chickens drinking out of the automatic water that we got for these units. I’m impressed with the simple design and the fact that they work well being gravity fed hooked up to a 5 gallon bucket. They have a real simple valve that looks similar to a tire valve. A spring keeps it compressed but as the bowl fills it decompresses the valve and therefore shuts off the water flow. The only thing is, every so often I have to take it apart and clean the strainer since bits of debris always manage to get mixed in the water.
We started with 58 broilers but now have 55. A few started getting leg problems so before they continued to get worse we simply ate them. They were pretty small then but, made we made family meals out of them nonetheless.

Actually we don’t have 55 anymore, since we began butchering them yesterday and a dozen are now in the freezer. We are very excited to now have an automatic chicken plucker. Our apologies go out to Herrick Kimball. We did not build the Whiz Bang. I got the plans from him some time ago and had every intension in building one but, as things go never got around to rounding up the parts and so forth so we bit the bullet and bought a Featherman. It works really well and it is totally unbelievable how fast the feathers come off. I’m sure the Whiz Bang works just as good. Actually we watched a couple videos on You Tube of Whiz Bangs and it seems just as good as the Featherman. But, now that we can pluck a chicken in nothing flat we are going to need to do something about scalding. So hopefully before next season we’ll have built the Whiz Bang chicken scalder from the plans we got from Herrick.

We are planning on raising more chickens to sell for next year. After butchering some of these I’m not going to be bashful about asking for a good price since they are some superior birds after being on pasture. Best birds we’ve ever raised, without a doubt!
Until Next Time

Friday, October 12, 2007

Earth Movers

Here’s our pigs after being moved to fresh ground. They can sure turn up the sod. They’re some earth moving machines. You’d hate to have these two in your garden, they’d root it up in nothing flat.

In this video you can see how two pigs can till up the soil. Looks like the path of destruction a tornado might leave. We move the pen every few days.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Leghorn Deformity

Some friends of ours are moving so they gave us their chickens. Several of them where white leghorns and one rooster had a deformed beak. He ate just fine and seemed to be thriving.

It’s been time to thin out the flock so it was his turn to get the axe. Upon butchering I found that not only was his beak deformed but, so was his breast bone.

I would guess that he must have had some kind of deficiency as he was growing, perhaps someone out there has seen this kind of thing before.

Looks like some kind of chicken scoliosis only in reverse.

Notice how the beak is twisted in the opposite direction as the breast bone.

This chicken was getting cut up into fryer pieces so that is why he is wingless in the photo.


While we’re on the topic of chickens, I was reading The Deliberate Agrarian blog recently and found that Herrick Kimball has a new 'How To' blog about butchering chickens. Looks like a great resource for the beginner and not so beginner chicken butchers.

I wish we would have had something like that to follow during our first time. It’s well illustrated with photos and is explained wonderfully in Herrick’s typical style. He’s a terrific teacher. So click here to check out his new blog or follow the link on the right hand side bar.

Until Next Time

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Ever since we moved to the north woods fall has been my favorite time of year. For me it signals a coming time of rest and contemplation after a summer of long days and hard work. Plus, the beauty of the season is unparalleled especially being surrounded by so many glorious trees.

I like trees, always have. During my childhood one of my favorite places was being under our families numerous apple trees. Also, we had a grove of maple trees right outside my bedroom window and I remember well being woke in the early warm summer mornings by the many song birds that made the maples their home.

There was a vacant 3 acre field behind our house where pine tree seedlings would sprout. As a teenager I transplanted many of them to our yard and I enjoyed watching them grow tall over the years. I figured it was ok to take them as we had no idea who owned the field, the owners did not live in the area and besides the seedlings grew from the seeds of some pine trees my uncle had planted years before on his property. After the pine cones opened the wind carried the seeds up to a hundred feet across the back of the 3 acre field adjacent to our families land.

After we purchased this place I used to take back seedlings with us to Illinois. I planted some and sold some during the occasional rummage sales that we used to have. Used to get $7 a piece for foot high balsam trees.

I’m a tree guy alright. Back when the kids were still little and we still lived in Illinois we took a 2 week family vacation out west. Drove out to Mt. Rushmore. Did lots of driving through wide, wide open spaces. Our trip would conclude in Wisconsin at our place here where we now call home. Once arriving here I concluded that without a doubt I like trees. Now, I kind of like wide open spaces too, but if I had to live there I’d most certainly miss the woods.

But, as I was saying fall, it’s become a special time for me. Even on the cloudy days the colors are bright and cheery keeping the spirits high. As I write, the leaves are falling pretty good now. I quite enjoy watching the golden leaves as they drift and float to earth and then tromping through the piles that collect beneath the woody branches.

I don’t rake leaves, so to me the piles are not a burdensome thing as they are to many. We have a neighbor who loves to complain about all the leaves he rakes and blows across his yard every year. I don’t see any reason to rake they turn to dirt in time anyway. Our log cabin is in the woods and the only raking I do is to keep the path ways open and cleared. Otherwise the leaves stay where they fall. Our neighbor thinks they’ll kill the grass I suppose but, we have a really cool kind of grass that grows in the woods and you’d never know the leaves were there in the summer time. The grass grows no longer than 8 or 10 inches high. It looks like a billowy green carpet when the wind blows across it.

During this time of year it doesn’t matter to me what the weather is like. It can be rainy and cold or warm and summer like, as it is right now. We have all our windows open this evening . No matter the weather the bright cheerful colors always make my day. Keeps me glad hearted and thankful to have such a creative Lord. God is indeed a glorious artist.
May your fall be extra special this year.
Until Next Time

Pictures taken by Shalea