All posts by Ryan

Tragedy Strikes (Again)

It’s the sort of thing that anyone who owns chickens dreads—coming out and finding a bunch of feathers in the yard. I started walking the paths and discovered other patches of feathers, no birds except two: Patty and Third. Patty survived our first dog attack almost six years ago. Third was one of three of our youngest hens.

Patty Survivor, Patty

Up over the hill, I found more feathers. Then a portion of one chicken. Not much left except wings, a bit of a backbone, and a foot. Nearby I found Minion, badly mauled and near death. She couldn’t be saved.

A bit farther on I found the place where dogs or coyotes had dug under our fence to get into the yard. Also feathers from Flighty, a tough survivor from our second group of hens.

Further searching showed scattered patches of feathers but no other remains. No sign of the attacker or attackers, who must have gone back under the fence.

I piled stones and wood along the base of the fence to block off the spot where they dug under. Maybe it will keep them out.

I buried Minion and the remains of the other chicken, either Floppy or Paltry, no way to tell which. Along with Baldy and Flighty, they were gone.

I walked the property with Xander and Kate without discovering anything more.

I moved our dome coop closer to the house—though from feathers outside, whatever attacked had come right up behind the house. Patty and Third went inside, so I locked them safely away for now.

It’s sad. I’m sad. I haven’t been eating eggs since switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet, but I enjoy seeing the chickens. I feel bad that they died being chased, mauled, and devoured by a predator. Eventually, I want a better fence system around the property, both for privacy and security.

Not the way I planned on starting the day.

Geodesic Chicken Coop Completed

This afternoon I finished the project I’d wanted to finish last week – the geodesic chicken coop from Zip Tie Domes is finished!

Completed Coop
Completed Coop

Chicken Wire

After working on the dome the last time, I still needed to finish covering it. That meant getting the dome covered in chicken wire, adding a tarp, perches, hanging the food and water, and including the nest boxes.

It takes a while to add the chicken wire. The folks at Zip Tie Domes estimated something like three hours and recommended having help. That would have made it easier.

We opted to use a 2″ wire for the upper parts and 1″ for the lower. I worked on it a couple times and had the lower level done and part of the upper level covered. Today  I spent a couple more hours covering the rest and using zip-ties to fasten everything in place.

Finishing Touches

Next up was adding the perches, food, water, and nest boxes.

Natural Perches
Natural Perches
New hanging bucket with nipples
New hanging bucket with nipples
Nest boxes
Nest boxes

Last Details

I have a few other details still to add. Anchors, to make sure it doesn’t blow over, and handles so that it’s easier to move. The tarp I bought was larger and covers more of the dome so it’ll have to be unhooked along the bottom to reveal handles once they’re added.

After a few days to get used to the new coop we’ll start letting the chickens roam again. The coop will move around the property a few feet at a time. Maybe weekly, we’ll see. The main thing is just not leaving it in one place for too long.

Old Coop

The old shack/coop will eventually come down and be removed, but that’s a project for another time!

Geodesic Chicken Coop

Our current chicken coop is an old shed that has fallen to disrepair over the years. It was old when we moved in, and we fixed it up enough to house the chickens, but it really wasn’t the best solution.

One of our goals for this year was to get the chickens into new housing. For quite a while we looked at coop houses made out of livestock panels, and those had several features that we liked.

  • They can be moved. That’s important, even though we generally let the chickens roam most of the time, it would be nice not to have the coop always in one place. A light-weight coop that can be moved is a plus.
  • Inexpensive. The panel coops are relatively inexpensive to build, which is always nice feature, and one of the biggest issues with homesteading as the initial setup costs.
  • Roomy. We wanted a coop that could house more chickens, and something that we could stand up in.
  • Sanitary. We also wanted it to be easier to clean. Being able to move the coop helps with that, but wood also rots over time. THe panel coops typically use wood, but not much and it can be replaced.

The problem we ran into with the livestock panel approach was actually the livestock panels themselves. At 16 feet long and 50 inches wide, they don’t really fit in the VW beetle. Even my dad’s pickup truck, with an extended bed, isn’t big enough to haul livestock panels that will stick out at least 6 feet or more from the back of the truck. I had asked at the feed store how people transported panels, and they said with a long trailer, which makes perfect sense. We don’t have access right now to a truck and a long trailer. And it’d be a little overkill for a couple panels for one small coop anyway.

Geodesic Designs

When the hoop house idea didn’t pan out, I started thinking about other sorts of materials. What about a hoop house made out of some sort of PVC pipe? I’d seen greenhouses done that way. Although most of the green houses weren’t designed to be portable in the sense that you could drag it to a new location. It might be portable since you can take them down on and rebuild them somewhere else, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. Then I started thinking about geodesic structures, which have always fascinated me, but how would I do the hubs on the geodesic structure?

It raised the obvious question: had anyone else already solved all of those problems and built a geodesic chicken coop? A quick search online turned up the folks at Zip Tie Domes. Created by the Hurt family, Zip Tie Domes produces a variety of domes for livestock housing, including chickens, and designed to be used as greenhouses.

This looked like the exact sort of thing I had been thinking about. Lightweight, easy to move, and still somewhat within the price range that I had in mind for the project. After talking it over we decided to go ahead and order their small 10 foot dome chicken coop kit.

Assembly part one

The dome kit (poultry edition), came in two large boxes weighing 51 pounds and 41 pounds. Inside were the materials to construct the dome itself. That’s all the PVC struts, the patented hubs, handles, door struts, and of course, zip ties. They also provided a copy of the manuals that are also available on the website.

After unpacking boxes and removing the wire that bound all the struts together in a role, I started to work on building the dome. The process of building the dome is pretty simple. It really doesn’t require much in the way of building skill. Anyone who can follow simple directions shouldn’t have any problem. The basic construction method used is to insert the PVC struts into the hub and attach it to the center ring with zip ties. That gets repeated over and over again.

Laying Out Struts
Laying Out Struts

 

First Tier Raised and Inspected
First Tier Raised and Inspected

 

Second Tier Rising
Second Tier Rising

 

Second Tier Raised
Second Tier Raised

 

Completed Dome
Completed Dome

Next steps

It took maybe about two hours to put the dome together. About the time that they had estimated on their website. With a larger dome I would’ve needed a ladder to reach the upper levels, but in the 10 foot dome the top is easily within reach. High enough to stand up at the center. The dome kit comes with two struts to form a diamond-shaped door on one side (by removing one strut from the top of the first tier). With the dome complete the next step will be finishing it off.

After building the dome it will get covered with chicken wire, a large tarp, and I will add the door. The kit also comes with a number of PVC handles to attach to the framework, to make it easier to move the coop. It also needs to be anchored against wind which could potentially blow the coop over. The folks at Zip Tie Domes use bungee cords and cinder blocks that anchor the dome. I picked up a swingset anchor kit, which has four screw into the ground anchors that attach to a chain which is bolted to a metal band that can be fastened around the struts. The ground anchors may provide a more secure mounting, but might not be as easy to move as the concrete blocks. Depending on how much we move it, we may find that the anchors don’t exactly work as we want. We’ll see. Along with the new digs and I picked up a couple I high-sided litter boxes to use as nest boxes, and a new water bucket with nipples to provide clean water. It’ll be suspended from the dome structure, as will their food and roosts.

I’ll post again when we get the next phase of the project done and get the chickens moved into their new home.

Backyard Entry and other Improvements

Yesterday I worked on the backyard entryway, laying down paving stones that we had picked up a while back but hadn’t used yet. I used fill dirt from the septic project to set them in place. It was a quick project. It’ll probably need some more dirt as things settle into place and it gets rained on.

We also recently took a load of trash off to the dump. Previous owners left us with a legacy of trash to get rid of, and now that we have help (thanks to my folks and their truck) it’s easier getting rid of that stuff. We’ll still have more trips to make, but it’s been a start.

In a few days we’re tackling a new exciting project. That’ll be fun. Stay tuned!

Cleaning Up

The septic has been covered again with screened topsoil this time so it won’t be full of rocks the next time it has to be dug up. The rocky soil removed will get used elsewhere to fill in holes and level off areas where it won’t matter. Today we also took a truck-load of trash from the pile off to the dump. Until my folks moved nearby we hadn’t had access to a truck to help get rid of all of the trash we’ve gathered here on the property. There’s still more to be removed, but we’ve made a start at cleaning it up at least.

We’re also working on figuring new coop plans for the chickens.

Septic Maintenance

This is a chore I’ve put off for quite a while but finally broke down today and started digging up the septic. Unbelievably it’s already been five years since we moved onto our property. The as-built drawings from the county show a rough circle with the word “Septic?” in the general area where the septic is located. Past inspections filed with the county revealed information about the tank and the type of system, but didn’t give clear details about the exact location.

Judging based on where the pipes leave the house, and where there was a depression that I thought was where it had to be, I started digging. Around 20″ down I hit the tank. From that point I widened the hole. It was tough digging. The dirt is full of rocks but I really couldn’t believe it when I found very large rocks placed right on top of the manhole cover.

Crazy rocks!
Crazy rocks!

Given that you’d have to dig up the tank to pump it or inspect it, making the job harder by dropping big rocks into the hole hardly made sense. The ground was rocky enough already with plenty of good sized rocks!

I removed the rocks and kept working, eventually uncovering the first cover. Then I consulted with my Dad about probably locations of the other covers. With his advice and help the work went faster and we uncovered the whole tank.

Tank revealed
Tank revealed

After a lot of work, the tank was uncovered! I’ve scheduled the pumping and so that’ll be another task done once they get out and pump it. The rocks are going to be used for decorative edging different places on the property — but won’t be going back in the hole! It’ll get filled with dirt that is easier to dig, without the rocks. I’ll probably just fill it and plant new grass on the top. I’ve measured the whole tank, the distance from the house and all of that, so next time it’ll be a lot easier to locate and deal with the whole thing.

Tansy Ragwort

We’ve been doing a bit of work around the place. This is a case of there’s always so much to do that it can be difficult to decide where to start. Right now the upcoming project is getting the septic pumped. I’ve been clearing the path from the front gate back along the house and today worked on filling some holes so it’s more level (still have a lot to do).

Filling holes with Mr. Blue Sky
Filling holes with Mr. Blue Sky

The dirt (with grass roots) came from a section of our path that I was leveling off. Basically trying to get it clear and easy for the pumper to get the hoses back to the tank. When that’s done I’ll uncover the tank and set up the pumping. It’s been just about five years since we moved in, so time to get it done.

tansy-ragwort
Tansy Ragwort

We noticed this year that there were a bunch of tall flowering plants and discovered that they were Tansy Ragwort and listed as a Noxious Weed. It’s also on the Thurston county list. A couple patches had sprung up in the chicken yard and on the hill. I cut the stems and dug up the roots. I felt bad for the bees that were obviously attracted to the flowers but we plan to try and remove many of the invasive species and plant either native plants or food-producing plants. We’re still learning about the plants. I need to study more, learn to identify the plants that don’t belong and work on bringing in the plants that do. It’ll take time.

Raising Rabbits, and Other Things

Back when we moved onto our property, we decided to raise rabbits for meat. We bought a couple does and a buck at the feed store down the road and started setting up cages for each of them. And that’s as far as we got. Cages built, but we just had the cages propped up on boards not very high from the ground. We did raise up and butcher several litters but now X. hasn’t wanted to have the young rabbits butchered so we haven’t been breeding them.

They needed better housing with easier access and this morning I decided to see what I could pull together with what we had available.

The result is simple and rough. It used wood we had around the place, some of it supporting the cages before this. One part was the post used to hold the for sale sign when our property was sold. The roof is made from recycled metal sheets that used to be a pool that we took apart and a tarp lashed down to the frame. It raises them up to an easier height. No more bending over to reach inside.

New Doe Homes
New Doe Homes

Here’s another picture from further back. The buck is on rocks and boards raised off the ground, but not very high because I didn’t have enough spare lumber around to do a similar platform for his cage.

All Three Rabbits
All Three Rabbits

The plant right behind them is an apple tree that fell over in a storm but has survived despite being split in half. I plan to remove it, but that’s another thing that hasn’t happened yet.

In addition to getting their cages cleaned and relocated they also had their nails trimmed. Barb, Margie and Nicky are now settled into their new location.

Posting

We haven’t been posting much on the site in part because it’s easy to get discouraged with how little we’ve accomplished compared to what we’d like to do. Lately I’ve been working on trails around the property, and clearing the area where I need to dig up the septic tank to get it pumped. That’s the next big project.

Outcast Chicken

Flock
It’s been quite a while since the last post, but life continues here at Woolly Dragon Farm. Our chicken flock continues to do pretty well. Six of the chickens are in this photo, including Patty and Ren from the first flock. One of the black hens, however, has been the target of bullying by the other chickens. She’s been showing signs of stress, lost feathers, weight and just going off by herself. Today, after chasing off one of the others attacking her, I isolated her in a temporary pen.
2014-01-13 12.41.46

Safe and dry from the other chickens. She looks pretty pathetic, but hopefully will perk up. I think they’ve been keeping her from eating. Kate’s been feeding her, but she’s always by herself. In the coop the others won’t let her on the roosts either. The temporary pen is sheltered by the old truck canopy left by the previous owners so she has protection from the elements. Hopefully she’ll get better.

I’ve been looking at plans for chicken coops, and hope to tackle building a new coop for the chickens, and a new shed for the tools and bikes this year. Then we’ll take down the old decaying shed/coop. Moving onto the property, and our house, has presented a lot of challenges but I want to start making more progress on working on improving things around the homestead.

Update 1/27/2014

Unfortunately, she didn’t survive. I’m not sure if she was sick, or what, but she didn’t eat much and her conditioned got worse. She went to sleep and passed away.

Almond Milk

Today I made a batch of almond milk. First time I’ve done that, and it was really easy! I put the almonds in yesterday to soak, and this morning dumped them into the blender with  four cups of water, and a minute later poured it out into one of those fine mesh produce bags (thanks to the Rawtarian for the suggestion!) to strain out the pulp. I’m going to use the pulp later to make cookies! Yum!

After making the milk I mixed up a bowl of chopped almonds, walnuts, raw pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and raisins. I poured over some of the almond milk and had a fun crunchy bowl of muesli.