Prep Test Time – Power Outage

Power outages can be a pain; however, most of the time they excite me. Not only do I get to enjoy the absolute quiet, without all the hum from electronics such as refrigerators, fans, dishwashers, computers, etc., but I get to play around with my preps.

Before I had much in the way of preps, when we lived in town, we had a unique situation where we were the only one on the block without power for 4 days. I get it, major storm, LOTS of people without power, and one house without power in the middle of many with power isn’t a high priority.

Since we moved to a rural area, fortunately or unfortunately depending on the way you look at it, we’ve not had a power outage that lasted more than a few hours. But that doesn’t stop me from frequently breaking out some of my preps and having fun when it happens.

Recently the power went out for about an hour. Since I didn’t know how long it would be out, I started the generator so we could continue cooking our crock-pot meal without worrying about it going bad. This spurred me to take some pictures of some basic preps and share.

#1) The generator. I understand, not every budget can afford a generator, but once you’ve been without power for 4 days, that’s not a place you want to be in again. Our current generator is a smaller 3200 watt unit, but I have plans to upgrade to a 5500+ watt generator when the budget allows.

Currently we just use extension cords and run them through a window, using towel(s) to seal the window cracks and keep cold air out.  With these we power the necessities such as FREEZERS for the Brothers M chickens, refrigerators, oven*, and I guess now a crock-pot. Of course we’ve run the coffee maker too; can’t live without coffee.

I mentioned oven. Our stove is gas on purpose. We can run the stove-top without electricity and if we want to run the oven, we only need enough power for the electronic controls. You cannot do that with an electric oven unless you have a much bigger generator than we have.

One last thing on generators, I use mine as an alternative to battery powered tools. There are frequent times where I need to do some work beyond where an extension cord will take me. I have a cordless drill, but have not invested in a lot of other cordless tools. I do have the essential power tools in a corded variety. Wheeling the generator to a remote part of the homestead to power tools is not as convenient as battery powered tools, but it has sure come in handy, especially when I built our mini-barn on our land before there was even a house or power.

#2) The fireplace. Our house is electric heat. This 74% efficient fireplace will heat the whole house, including the basement if we could force heat down there. It is much more efficient with the built-in electric fan, so in a long power out situation we would power the fan with the generator, but even without the fan, the radiant heat does a good job of heating the house, especially if close the  door to the upstairs and focus on the main level.

#3) Propane heater. I installed this propane heater in the basement to help with heating the downstairs when the fireplace is heating the upstairs floors. This one has a thermostat to kick it on and off and does not need electricity. If for some reason we didn’t have power and couldn’t use the fireplace, we could close off the upper levels of the house and use it to keep an area of the basement until power was restored.

#3.5) Emergency outlets. You may have noticed the odd grey outlet next to the heater. While I was finishing the upstairs and basement of our house, I wired the lights and these grey receptacles on their own circuit. They are all on one breaker circuit per floor, so that once I’ve properly bypassed the external power*, I can hook the generator into the breaker box, shut off all breakers except these lights and receptacles, and have lights and a place to plug in essentials. NOTHING is permanently plugged into these receptacles so we are not powering any phantom draws off the generator by accident.

*DO NOT just plug a generator in to your breaker box without properly disconnecting/bypassing it from the main power line. This poses a safety hazard for the linemen trying to restore power to you and in most places is illegal.

#4) Decorative wall sconces and candle/flame power, possibly my favorite. I’ve always liked wall sconces and candles as decorations, mood lighting, and fragrance. We have them in many rooms, especially the bathrooms. We keep a supply of cheap unscented tea lights on hand to put in the sconces when the power goes out to provide light. You want unscented because after a while the scented ones can become overpowering.

We also have scattered candles and oil lamps. I love the ambiance of an oil lamp, but I only pull them out when the power is out which is probably why I enjoy power outages so much. I also have this cool candle-powered LED lamp that is powered by a tea light candle. It’s somewhat expensive as just a prep, but it was a special birthday gift for me and it provides so much more clear light off just one tea light.

#5) Uninterruptible Power Supply(UPS). I picked up a cheap 1200 watt UPS that needed a new battery; batteries are not especially cheap, but not overly expensive either if you shop around. The 1200 model is designed to run a PC and monitor for 15+ minutes. I plug our internet router and Wifi router into it. The UPS will keep them running for at least 60 minutes. This enables us to surf the net on smart phone, laptops, or various other battery powered devices.

#6) A laptop. I started a draft of this post on my laptop while the power was out. It’s usually fully charged and can run off battery for a couple hours give or take. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good working laptop. I buy previous generation, refurbished business class equipment that is designed to last a long time for a fraction of the cost of a new piece of equipment.

Besides the obvious advantages of being connected to the internet through my router on UPS, it also can double as a power station to run/charge phones through the USB cable.

#7) Emergency radios and flashlights. We have several AM/FM/Weather band emergency radios. When the kids wanted their own radio, we purchased these emergency radios for them instead of just an AM/FM radio. Most can be charged with a crank, some can be charged via USB or Solar. Most also run off regular batteries and some have lights. My favorite is my eTon Scorpion(the black one) that I bought many years back to take with me on some hikes.

We also have some cheap crank flash lights, but they mostly just stay in the “storm box”. Periodically I’ll get them out and crank them to charge the batteries, but mostly we rely on regular flashlights.

I really like the little $1 flashlights from Wal-mart. They are much brighter than I expected from a cheap light. The also come with batteries, so you can store them unused and have them ready when you need them. Most of all, with 4 kids in the house, I find that no matter how many flashlights I have, nor how many death threats I give to not use them, they disappear. At this price I buy a bunch and let the kids use them, so my more expensive lights can stay where I want them to be.

#8) Rechargeable batteries. The last thing I’m going to mention is the rechargeable batteries and charger. We purchased these primarily to have batteries for all the game controllers and later purchased more batteries for some robotic building sets. However, they serve as a backup power source if we ever needed to go an extended period of time without power.

Running the generator constantly can get expensive, not to mention you’re limited to how much gas you have on hand or can get.  For example, in an ice storm we may find yourself in a rationed situation since there’s a fairly steep hill between us and town. A good strategy is to run the generator for an hour or two at a time, then shut it off for a few hours.

Refrigerators and Freezers can easily go 4 hours or more if you’re not opening them. Run them on the generator for an hour or so to keep them cold.   If you can charge the batteries as the same time, if the generator isn’t big enough, run it for another hour to charge up you rechargeable batteries, phones, and laptops. Then you can shut off generator to save gas and still function off the stored power you just saved. Several hours later, when you need to recharge batteries or cool your food, you start up the generator and repeat the process.

A lot more can be said about preps of all types, these were just a few that came to mind around power outages. There’s a lot of information out there. Hopefully you’ll find things that fit your situation and lifestyle to help you live a better life, even if you only ever use them for the “fun” times.

2020 CSA Update

Wow, what a month February was.  It’s been a little over a month since we kicked off the 2020 CSA season and our CSA slots are almost full.   A huge thank you is in order for everyone who’s supporting us by ordering.

If your considering a CSA order, we have a couple slots open so let us know what you want.

Thanks again for getting 2020 off to a great start.

 

Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Solar non-freezing chicken waterer – Best design yet

frozen water previewProviding unfrozen water in the winter can be a challenge and time consuming.  Since we pasture the chickens “tractor” style with the portable coop, power to heat the water is the issue.  I believe I’ve finally figured it out.

First year we started with multiple plastic waterers that we swapped out multiple times a day.  This works decently, but the water still freezes, it’s labor intensive, and someone needs to be around during the day to swap waterers.

The next year we steped it up by heating the waterers with a light bulb.  This worked pretty good, but required us to keep the coop within extension cord distance of an outlet and periodically water would freeze in the top  of the waterer.

I did not do a post on the tire waterer.  It was disappointing and it was easy to find info on it.  However, I still had the tire and pan laying around so I threw together a quick pic for reference.

Last year I built a tire waterer to try and keep the chicken water from freezing.   I put a board inside the tire on the bottom side, stuffed the inside of the tire with old tarps for insulation, and fitted a plastic pan in the tire.  My experience with that was poor and I do not recommend it.  The biggest issue was that the chickens would stand on the tire and mess in their water all day.  By the time I got home to change it, it was pretty bad.  It did help slow down the freezing process; however, being open air, it still allowed the water to eventually freeze solid, especially overnight.

I’ve been playing with an idea of an enclosed PVC and nipple system.  Basically building an insulated box and filling it with 3″ tubes of PVC, shown in the graphic.  There would be a cutout of  frame and insulation in one top corner to allow access to add water. One bottom corner would have a smaller PVC tube that protruded through the box with a water nipple on the end.  The front would be Twinwall Polycarbonate glazing to let the sun in and the inside would be painted black to absorb as much heat as possible.

It was getting cold this year and I needed to get a waterer made for the chickens so I decided to not build the PVC waterer for the following reason.  One,  my chickens are not trained to a nipple system yet.  I’m having trouble figuring out how to attach the PVC box to the ‘Pequod’ chicken coop, especially since it’s going to be heavy and need decent support.  The 3″ PVC fittings are expensive and I have concerns the metal part of the nipple would still freeze and cause issue.

I was basing the PVC system on principals I learned from this solar horse tank.   Then it hit me, how about trying to replicate the horse tank at a chicken waterer size!  Since the amount of water would be significantly less, I wouldn’t want to leave the top exposed, but chicken heads are small, so I took a gamble that they’d stick their heads through a hole instead.

 

My first thoughts were to use a bucket, but I didn’t like the clearances nor dealing with bending and attaching the polycarbonate glazing.  So I decided to use a tote, black obviously  so it will absorb the heat from the sun.

Using similar principals as the solar horse tank. I first put 2″ foam on the bottom to have an insulated base to sit the water on.   I measured from the top of the foam to the bottom of the lid and subtracted 2 inches for the foam that would be attached to the lid.  This gave me the height for the foam sides and Twinwall Polycarbonat glazing

Next I added the 2″ foam to the sides.  I looked at the shape of the tote and measured across the end where I could fit a straight piece of foam.  The bottom of the tote is narrower than the top, measured top and bottom and cut sloped pieces of foam.

I measured from the floor to top and between the insides of the sides to cut a rectangle out of the front of the tote for the window.  I cut a piece of polycarbonate glazing slightly larger, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, than the hole on the sides and bottom so that the foam could help hold it in place.  I used duct to hold and seal the polycarbonate glazing in place; this also sealed the tubes.  I put the scrap piece of plastic from the side on the floor in front of the window to try and suck in more heat.

On the other side, I placed the water bowl in the tote and used the top of the bowl to mark the bottom of the drinking opening.  Using a hole saw, I cut two overlapping circles to make the oval shaped opening for the chickens to sick their head in to drink, cleaning up the oval edges with a utility knife.

I thought it would be better to use a thinner foam where the hens stick their heads in, so I cut a piece of 1/2 inch foam, from scrap I had, to cover this side, removing the same oval.  I used duct tape to hold the foam pieces together and seal the seams.  I also used several pieces of duct tape to secure the foam to the hole and prevent the chickens from rubbing the foam.

Next I cut the 2″ foam for the lid making it fit snug when placed in the tote, but not too snug as it’ll need to be opened and shut frequently.  With the foam in the tote and the lid on, I drilled 4 sets of 2 holes so I could use zip ties to secure the foam to the lid.   I also cut some small squares of plastic from something in the recycling to prevent the zip ties from digging into the foam and pulling through.

From the drinking hole, I wanted to minimize  the surface area of the incoming air over the bowl.  I used 2″ foam to make a bridge over the bowl, then added 1/2 foam on either side of the hole to create a smaller cavity where the outside air had direct contact with the water.

At this point I put the waterer into action; however, I forgot chicken peck.  I’m not sure why I thought they wouldn’t peck the foam bridge, but I did and they did, effectively destroying the bridge.

So… I redid the bridge.  I used corrugated plastic from an old ‘For Sale’ sign I had on all the pecking sides of the bridge and plenty of duct tape to hold it in place.  The 2″ foam was replace with 1/2″ foam over the bowl.  I didn’t account for needing to remove the bowl to clean it and the 2″ foam made it so I had to tip the bowl to get it out.  Now I don’t have to.

How well does it work?  Great.  Basically, overnight at 15-19 degrees Fahrenheit I had about 1/8 inch of ice frozen on the top of the bowl.  Down in the teens is a bit thicker.   In the morning if the bowl was full of water, pull the bowl out and bang it upside down on the ground to remove the ice.  If it’s half or less, then fill it with warm water from the tap and melt the ice that way.

During the day, in the teens and twenties the water stays unfrozen, especially if there is sun, but even on overcast days, there should be enough solar to keep it unfrozen.  Unfortunately, we only had a few days this winter where it stayed below freezing night and day for 2 or more days, so I cannot give accurate results for long cold spells; however, given what I’ve seen so far it should work great.  The heat from the warm water in the morning in conjunction with the passive solar heat should keep the water from refreezing during the day.

With all my scraps, this was a pretty cheap build and worth every penny.  $6 for the tote and $10 for the rubber bowl, and $20 for the polycarbonate glazing. (the link isn’t the one I purchased, but this is a similar 5 pack)   I had 2″  and 1/2″ foam left over from insulating the basement and other projects.

Back to main Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor page

 

-Jason

Guinea Fowl – The Next Generations

A post on Guinea Fowl to make up for missed posts.

We’ve been raising Guinea fowl since we move out to Westport.  Tricia ordered our first batch of 15 to help with bug control and because they are so ugly they are cute.   They are free range and though we lock them up at night, the flocks numbers vary due to predators.

I wasn’t convinced they were doing all that great of a job until we lost all of them for about a year, summer to the next summer.  The second summer, we had bad Japanese beetles and more ticks than normal.  While America doesn’t have a predator for adult Japanese beetles, guineas eat the young grubs in the ground.  Coincidence or not, I’m attributing the low beetle and tick population to the guineas.

Survivors. Far right is the lonely teen.

Starting 2019, our flock was down to 4.  Guineas lay eggs in late May and like to lay in tall grass in the open field, not in convenient boxes like chickens.  So it’s hard to get eggs to hatch; however, by keeping their aviary door closed for a few days, I was able to get 8 eggs in May; 4 hatched. I kept

Hatch-lings from clutch of 40

these in the brooder about 5 weeks so they’d be bigger when introduced with the others.  Guinea flocks are fickle and instead of having one flock of 8, we had a full grown flock of 4 and a flock of 4 smaller “teens”.  They would not join flocks, but frequently the flocks congregated near each other.

In July something attacked them during the day.  I had 8 when I let them out and that night only 3 adults, 2 injured, and 1 teen.  While the Guineas didn’t want to combine flocks, they decided to take in the stray teen.  So the adults adopted the teen and we were back to a flock of 4 again.

18 days prior to the attack we found a clutch of 40 guinea eggs hidden in tall weeds.  I had people interested in guinea chicks if I could get them, so I figured I’d try hatching them.  After the attach I was glad I did.  I managed to fit 29 in the incubator, but not knowing which ones were newer or older it was just a crap-shoot on how many would hatch; 12 did.

Combined flock, teen is second from Right on the back perch.

I broodered these for about 2 1/2 weeks, then added them to our flock thinking we’d have 2 flocks again.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the adults take them in.  Maybe age was a factor.  Or maybe with so many, they figured the better join forces or be the minority.  🙂

Harassing our dog

It’s been fun watching our 3 adults, 1 teen, and 12 younglings run around.

 

-Jason

2020 season kickoff

 

Our off-season hiatus is over and the 2020 season is officially kicking off.  We’ve been reviewing, planning, and scheduling so we could get the 2020 info out to you.

And here it is.

 

Now taking orders for our CSA.

We’re now taking orders for our CSA.  Please consider ordering a CSA to get our best pricing and guarantee your spot in line for chicken in case we sell out early again.

Your support through our CSA support it is the heart of our operation. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to provide produce our quality chicken for you.

This year we have to increase our prices for the first time.  To help compensate, you’ll notice we’ve increased the CSA discounts.  It makes even more sense than ever to purchase a CSA.

Check out our CSA Page for full details and to order.

 

2019 Season End

Thanks to everyone who supported us this year.  Our freezers are empty. You guys were great and surpassed our expectations helping us sell out of chicken earlier than expected.     THANK YOU.

If you were still hoping to get more chicken this year, we’re sorry to disappoint you.  However now is the time to be thinking about our CSA for next year.  Not only is it our best pricing, it’s also a guaranteed way to get the chicken you want.

Our CSA really is the life line of our operation.  Without it we couldn’t keep selling quality chicken.  So keep a look out towards the beginning of the year for more information on our 2020 CSA packages.

Now’s also the time to like us on Facebook and/or join our mailing list so you don’t miss out.

We, mostly Jason, also try to do a monthly post on the blog here at our website, in addition to posting important update.

 

Legacy

Here’s a post I composed last year and was saving.  Read the bottom to find out why.

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It’s interesting the things we think of when we talk about legacies.  Looking at this picture, you might think about John Deer, or other famous people? (**Spoiler Alert! See below)   Other times things like farms, homes, and family come to mind, this is where I usually go.  But here lately, when I think of legacy, I’ve been thinking of a little brown trailer.

I don’t know when grandpa built the trailer, but I remember dad borrowing it to haul firewood when I was a little kid.  It’s just a wooden box sitting on a metal frame with a 1940 Chevy front axle under it, but it has served grandpa, dad, and me very well, including being recently customized to use with the Brothers M. chickens.

Grandpa always took very good care of the trailer and dad refused to sell it so I think it was special to both of them. I know it’s special to me as I’ve made many repairs to it.  I don’t know if grandpa ever imagined the legacy he created, but I’m glad he did.

-Jason

**Spoiler Alert.  The John Deer link goes to a Mike Rowe’s ‘The Way I Heard It’ episode and I just gave away the ending; however, if you haven’t listened to Mike’s podcast, I recommend it, even if you do know the ending of this one episode.

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And why did I save this post? I got on a roll for over a year of getting at least one post per month out.  I wrote this, but decided to save it for when life got busy and I needed a post. Well I missed Jun and July, and August isn’t looking much better for me to get back to my posting.   So time to pull out the reserve.

Hope you enjoyed and I’m looking forward to finishing the portable coop series.  I’ve not had much time to do many of the updates on the original coop, but I’m slowly working on it.  Season changes have a way of changing my priorities and the coop may trickle up to the top again.