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Chicken Killing Cone Fabrication

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Step 1: Design laid out with Sharpie on 24 inch wide roll of aluminum flashing

A brief “how-to” on how I fabricated the killing cone.  There are certainly more ways, and probably better ways, but I was able to put this together in about an hour utilizing materials I had on-hand.  So, it has that going for it.  Design courtesy of Anne Arthur; thanks again Anne!

In the first step (1) I laid out the design on some aluminum flashing material I had left over from a project for two tree-nesting duck nest boxes that I completed a couple of years ago.  I also used some as heat shielding last year around the maple syrup evaporator.  This material is inexpensive and useful.  It is light-weight, so this cone is not has heavy-duty as it might be, but I suspect that it will last years in my relatively light-duty application. Read more

The Chicken Experiment, and Meat Chicken Processing Planning

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The ruler of the roost – click to enlarge

Our roosters are now about 21 weeks old, we have had them for 10 weeks as of this past Saturday, September 3rd.  They are way beyond prime butchering age, but that has not been the only point of the experiment.  We will probably keep them a little bit longer, maybe a week or two, before butchering, for a couple of reasons: 1) we enjoy having them around, and 2) to further acclimate the dogs to their presence.  In recent weeks the dogs have been great with chickens.  A few weeks ago we did lose one of the original five birds to a predator, and we are not exactly sure whether the culprit was one or both of the dogs, or some other critter.  The dogs were caught with some evidence, basically the breast of the bird, in the yard, so they have that working against them.  Still, things have gone well since, and we have been free ranging the chickens all day every day for the past two or three weeks.  The chickens move around the yard and the nearby woods, no problems, and plenty of forage for small the omnivores that they are.

The chicken tractor that Anne Arthur designed and built for us has worked very well, we have had no issues.  The chickens return to the coop reliably at sundown.  For use in free ranging chickens, where they are only in the coop overnight, for the most part, it could accommodate 20 or more.  The chickens have not done any noticeable damage to flower beds, and we have fenced them out of the vegetable garden.  If we were keeping them, they would definitely be turned loose in the garden after we shut it down for the year.

All things taken into consideration, the experiment has been a grand success.  We are planning to raise somewhere between one and two dozen meat birds next year.

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It is Tapping Time, And That Means Spring!

Here we go, in southwest Michigan!  The 10-day forecast includes what appears to be an almost picture perfect start to the maple sugaring season.

10-day weather forecast for Kalamazoo, Michigan

Starting on Saturday, 7 March, you can see that the daily high and low temperatures will bracket the freezing point for six days in a row; that dynamic is what causes maple trees to develop a positive pressure when the temperature rises above freezing, pushing sap out of the tree.  I will plan to tap at least some of our trees on the morning of Saturday 7 March, and I would bet that they will start flowing that afternoon. Read more

Top 7 Messages from The Land Ethic Reclaimed MOOC

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Perhaps as I did, you might ask, “what is a MOOC?”  According to Oxford Dictionaries [1]:

Pronunciation: /mook/
Definition of MOOC in English:NOUN
A course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people:  ‘anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up‘ORIGIN
early 21st century: from massive open online course, probably influenced by MMOG and MMORPG.

My homepage in the Coursera iPad app

I believe I owe a debt of gratitude to Mary C., and the Van-Kal Permaculture Facebook page, for the lead to this treasure trove.  I am sure there are other sources, but this particular course was offered through Coursera, so I signed up on-line and also downloaded the app for my iPad.   There are many course offerings from a large number of prestigious institutions, accessible by browsing or searching the course catalog. Read more

Insulating Can Lights: The Rest of the Story

In my post of 4 February 2015, I discussed “energy leaks,” and specifically leaks that I thought were due to air flow through “can light” fixtures that penetrated the ceiling of the kitchen and floor of the attic.  I noted at the time, “The only break in the insulation envelope, is a pair of can lights above the kitchen counter, their location corresponding to the left (west) edge of the heat shadow on the roof.”  A “small and slow improvement” was made, which was basically to add more fiberglass batt insulation on top of the can lights.  The folly of this effort was soon in evidence, as after a more recent snowfall I could again see a “heat shadow” forming on the roof in the same location.  Fortunately, my friend Sam saw the post, and gave me some good advice:   “As for your fiberglass experiment over the recessed lighting. In my experience the air flow through fiberglass batts make excellent air filters and not much else.  Recessed lighting is notorious for being leaky devices that as you rightly state let the warm conditioned air of your living space into the unconditioned space of your attic.  Fiberglass loses its insulative capacity and is short circuited by air flow, so if it is not installed in a situation where there are an air barriers the R-value is decreased.  You might want to try recessed lighting insulation covers (yes, they are a thing) and then place the insulation over the top of those.  The covers allow you to seal around the light and reduce the air exchange going on with the hole in your ceiling.”  Indeed!  And thank you Sam! Read more

Winter 2014/2015 – Work in the Woods, Hunting, and Planning

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The forest in snow

Winter is hard, though perhaps not always in the sense you would at first imagine.  In one sense, there is of course the weather, but I rather enjoy winter, absent the freezing pipes of winter 2013/2014, and the aftermath.  I spent all too many hours under the house replacing the plumbing.  In terms of the variety of the work there is to do, there is less in winter it seems; there is no gardening going on, the bees do not require any management, no maintenance of other plantings, and so on.
Temperatures have been relatively mild compared to last year, so there has been no ice fishing, yet.  There have really only been three activities calling for my time and energy; hunting, wood harvesting, and 2015 planning. Read more

Forest Products: Hard Maple Flooring

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American hophornbeam for fencing

I have posted on more than one occasion, regarding the felling of trees, bucking and splitting to produce wood fuel, and chipping to produce mulch.  There is also American hophornbeam (aka ironwood, see under “Trees” on the Plants & Animals page) growing on the homestead, which makes great fence posts; I have perhaps 15 to 20 such posts air drying now.  Hophornbeam can also be used to make long bows and re-curve bows, which I intend to attempt in the future.  Of course maple syrup is another  forest product, and one we intend to expand our production of in the spring of 2015.  And the list goes on.

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A Jackie Clay-Atkinson Homesteading Seminar, Summer 2014

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Earlier this year, I had decided to give my wife for her birthday, the gift of attending a Jackie Clay-Atkinson seminar.  For those of you who might not know of Jackie, I submit the following from the Backwoods Home Magazine entry on Wikipedia, “Jackie Clay-Atkinson, an independent off-grid homesteader in northern Minnesota, writes articles on all aspects of self-sufficient living, from growing herbs to butchering elk. In addition, her “Ask Jackie” column answers questions from readers on many topics, with emphasis on home skills like safely preserving foods. She brings similar topics to her Backwoods Home blog.”  To find a list of Jackie’s articles at Backwoods Home Magazine, click on this link.  At first I had not planned to attend the 3-day seminar, but as time passed, and the date approached, I finally decided to see if there was room left in the seminar for me.  Fortunately there was, and in a effort to make it more than a purely educational endeavor, I decided to rent an RV and make a vacation of it.  Geri loved the idea of the RV, and on Thursday the 5th of June we headed for the far north of Minnesota, and the homestead of Jackie and her husband Will, just 90 miles from the Canadian border.

The trip was 12 hours more or less, with occasional stops for rest and to refuel.  On the drive, we listened to the audio-book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, by Michael Pollan. Audio-books, and podcasts, are both good ways of putting your daily commute, or a long drive, to productive or entertaining use; this book by Pollan was both entertaining and educational.  Pollan has written several other books, the most well know of which might be, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals; you can check out Michael’s author’s page on Amazon at this link.  If you are in need of a laugh, listen to A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson, though you will be laughing so hard you may not want to be operating heavy equipment at the time!

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Home Improvement – Heat Loss Prevention

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Last winter, our use of propane was exorbitant, and with propane prices high and climbing, and availability limited, the situation presented real financial hardship for many.  Fortunately, Geri had locked in low propane prices when we moved in, otherwise it would have been literally twice as painful to absorb the cost.  In two deliveries, we put almost 1,600 gallons of propane in our 1,000 gallon tank, between December and February.
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The (Early) Education of a Homesteader

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I have heard several questions along the lines of, “how did you learn how to do that,” “where did you learn to do that,” “when did you learn to do that,” or “did you grow up on a farm,” and so on.  The short answers to the “where and how” questions are, between the covers of books, on YouTube, or by trawling the internet, and by asking folks who know more than I do, either in person or in on-line forums.  The answer to the “when” question is, recently, in most instances.  And to the final question, the answer is “no.”

In fact, in my inaugural post I stated:  “I also realized that what I do for money, provides directly for precisely none of my or my family’s needs, in fact I am quite practiced in doing nothing that can be bartered for anything, except for money.  This last piece of the puzzle is tantamount to having one’s “man card” revoked, or at least it was in my opinion.  Until 1995 I had never had a vehicle in a repair shop, I had never had a maintenance man of any sort in a home I owned, I had never paid anyone to mow my lawn, I was a fairly proficient welder with oxygen and acetylene, and could recharge my air conditioner properly with Freon, I had fairly recent memories of successfully hunting and fishing, and if I dug deeply enough, trapping.  Until only recently though, I had done none of that for the better part of 20 years.  And for food that is grown from the earth, I was almost completely blind to its sources; I didn’t know that broccoli was a seed head, or that Brussels sprouts were a bud and the plant a cultivar of the cabbage group, and worse.”

So in short, my ignorance, and lack of skills, or at least a lack of recently practiced skills, were key to my decision to homestead.
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