Cattle, Chicks, Garden

Purchased Tanks for Water Collection: Warnings and Advice

I have been browsing craigslist regularly for anything from animals to equipment to discarded plastic drums for water tanks. After doing some extensive math that will be included in a future series of posts, I quickly realized that the rainwater collection system would be best served with a higher capacity than 55 gallon drums could accommodate reasonably.

Off to Craigslist in search of some of the 250+ gallon tanks that come in metal cages, pictured below.

Water Tank

First for the warning: Like 55 gallon plastic drums, be VERY particular to source a tank that stored food materials or safe chemicals. Watering animals, plants or yourself with water tainted by industrial-grade acid, chemicals, etc would be tragic and entirely avoidable.

Advice: Don’t write off tanks with chemical stickers like I almost did. Luckily the craigslist ad for 300 gallon tanks had a price that made me inquire despite almost dismissing the option due to visible chemical stickers on the tanks. Here is a picture from the ad:

TanksCL

Turned out the tanks contained medical grade Hydrogen Peroxide. The seller of the tanks explained that he does not clean them out as the solution keeps the inside of the tanks sterile. All that is needed to make them food-safe is to add 10 gallons of water, slosh it around and dump it out as the trace amounts of it have been diluted to ~1% and will break down into water + oxygen gas once exposed to light.

Self-sanitizing 300 gallon tanks at twice the local going rate for 55 gallon drums? I took as many as I could safely haul at once and may go back for more. They would make the perfect mobile watering tank for cattle, rain barrels or even a tank to combine smaller rain water containers together! Also I am sure they could be used to barter with other farmers/gardeners if I find myself with too many in the end.

To recap, when sourcing potential water tanks, be very careful to determine exactly what they held previously. If they were used for non-food uses, see if there is a way to make them food safe before writing them off. After all I much prefer my Hydrogen Peroxide container to the cleaning I’ve done in the past to an agave or honey container!

 

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Chicks

Objectively Choosing Heritage Chicken Breed for Pasturing

Continuing the style of scoring and factoring that I used in Sweet Potato Variety selection, a somewhat-objective scoring system for heritage chicken breeds was used. This time I used a chart published by The Livestock Conservancy. While many organizations have published similar chicken charts, I used this one because it lists forage ability and some predator-savviness information.

For a chicken breed to be considered, it had to be suited for both hot and cold climates as well as lack vision-impairing plumage on its head that would blind it from incoming aerial or land-based predators. For my purposes, forage ability and egg laying rate are the two most important considerations so those scores are factored at twice the weight as other characteristics.

I’ll spare the minute scoring details as you can ascertain them from the end product. The breed characteristics that were considered are:

Forage Ability

Climate Tolerance

Egg Size

Bred for Meat or Egg Production

Laying Rate

Comb Prone to Frostbite

In alphabetical order, the scoring and factoring is as follows:

ChickenScoringAlph

Sorted by highest score:

ChickenScoringScore

As you can see, my top 3 breeds are

Dominique:

Australorp:

Rhode Island Red:

There are also many more high-scoring breeds for consideration when seeing what is available at the hatcheries!

Here is a link to my spreadsheet on google docs if you want to view, download or adapt it to your needs.

And here is one that I will add to the sweet Potato Selection Post.

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Bees, Garden

Lets talk about companions, acid and berries

If I had to make the choice of a single fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be blueberries. Raspberries are such a close second that I would read the fine print of the agreement to try and loophole them in.

Blueberries need acidic soil. I will have to retest my farm, but I anticipate the karst limestone-heavy area is going to need some amendment. In the raised beds I need a solution that doesn’t involve hauling in chemicals or soil amendments. My solution will be to mulch up many of the cedars that have encroached on the pasture. Every year, I will assist by adding a top mulch of chipped, discarded christmas trees (needles and all). I would like to note that I have not found any studies that convince me that pine mulch is any better the just plain old organic matter in acidifying the soil. In a pinch, I won’t hesitate to use the leave litter from the forest as a soil amendment.

As for companions, the literature prescribes clover to help fix nitrogen or acid-tolerant herbs for pest deterrence.

I’m going to take a different approach here. My perennial blueberry patch will be a sanctuary for the bees. Widely-spaced Rhododendron could provide shade for the plants during the dog days of summer, beautiful flowers in its long blooming season, and potentially psychedelic honey. I’ll probably avoid them in the end, but they are a viable companion. Lewisias flowers enjoy acidic soils and bloom in the late winter providing food for the bees when not much else is available. Strawberries are another delicious potential companion that would provide a living mulch but they have many pest and disease issues. Yarrow flowers have a rich history of natural medicinal use and seem to enrich soil where they grow. Clover is the last plant to consider as a legume that fixes nitrogen for the berries high demand.

Honestly at this point I have no idea what companions I want to plant with the blueberries. I think for now I will plant strawberries as a ground cover with no expectations regarding production while locating the flowering herbs on the boundaries of the rows.

If anyone has any suggestions for acid-tolerant plants that provide human food or nectar for bees, please let me know!

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Chicks, Garden

Wintering Chickens: Shelter, feed, minerals

Wintering chickens actually seems like the least intimidating part of starting the farmstead.

Shelter- Hoop greenhouse over garden. One example is $100-$150 for a 9’x8′ structure. I can easily predator-proof it, provide deep bedding and lock the chickens in at night while letting them wander the garden by day fertilizing everything.

Feed – I am a big advocate of letting animals express their genes thus allowing them to alter their own diets to make up for deficiencies. I will provide them with basics. Carbohydrates will come from spent brewing grains and garden produce. Squash, sunflowers and Corn will be grown specifically as winter chicken feed as they both store well when harvested and handled correctly. Soil in the garden is rich with earthworms to provide protein (28% by composition) and fats while the worms are active. Additionally, red wiggler worms will be an integral part of the composting system and can be fed to the chickens. Honey locust pods are easily collected from the many trees in the pasture. The pods could also be collected for the goats winter feed. Persimmon trees are numerous and heavy producing, but are not as easily harvested.

Supplements- Keeping as much feed on-farm as possible, yeast will also be an abundant byproduct of my brewing operations. Enough yeast for subsequent batches of fermentation can be harvested when the current batch is complete leaving about 95% of it to go to waste. That wasted yeast is a great source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, the most important consideration for laying hens. To ensure all nutrient needs are met, I will provide some off farm sources to see if the chickens utilize them. These will most likely be kelp, oyster shell or other conventional sources.

Future considerations: Aquaponics to recycle processed chicken innards and waste as fish food as well as worms that feed on chicken droppings.

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Uncategorized

Welcome and Introduction

Independent. If I could choose one word to describe myself, that would be it. Naturally I have accumulated intense dissatisfaction with the corporate world and the lifestyle it commands. Looking back on my life, I’m surprised no one saw this coming. As I aged, my literary tastes all but spelled out my future:

The Lorax, Jack London, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, the rest of the works by Gary Paulsen, The Hobbit, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman, Into the Wild, Walden, Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea specifically), Steinbeck, McCarthy and so on.

So here I am, writing from my employment abroad in the Middle East dreaming about being home in the Appalachian Mountains. Self-sufficiency and homesteading have always been a bit of a fantasy of mine. However, the difficulty of diving in debt-free has been intimidating enough to keep me out.

Luckily a plot of land, including a barn and pasture, has been in my family for some time. It has been unused except as a hunting ground. With the blessing of the landowners within my family, I have a chance to realize some of the concepts in my head without taking on substantial debt. My financial aspirations are somewhere in the middle: use what is available to me not to get rich but not to operate at a loss.

As for the agricultural operations, I hope to build soil and quality grazing pasture by using only biological means and earn income by harvesting byproducts of my land management practices. I will be adapting Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG) and methods of Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms as well as multi species grazing to suit my needs. In addition to farming, Other side projects like bee keeping, soap making and brewing beer will be included.

These projects are steps to self-sufficiency. It is unfortunate that I missed living in an era where most goods were procured locally. Via my farm project, I hope to contribute to making this a reality once again so any excess goods I produce may eventually find its way to local markets. Providing beer at a local scale would be very satisfying!

So here is my blog. Hopefully when I get to the point of selling grass fed meat, pastured eggs and other products, this can serve to provide complete transparency for my customers. I will include all of the planning and analysis I have conducted to assure that this is a worthwhile endeavour and to gain the confidence of the landowners.

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