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.

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

Brothers M. Mondays in May – Market Fun

Brothers M. Mondays in May is back – A new post each Monday in May 2019.

We enjoy seeing everyone at the Farmers Market.  Come visit and say hi.  Feel free to ask questions about what, why, and how we do what we do.

We always try to have fun at the markets and thought we’d share some of the experiences from our side of the booth.

Sometimes we maker our own fun.  Like participating in the monthly library crafts.

 

Or moving around to stay in the shade of our tent on a hot day.

 

Sometimes others bring the entertainment to us.

 

Even when it’s cold and wet we do our best.

And sometimes it’s just what we hear.

Regular patron buying chicken:  “I came to the farmers market and all I got was chicken and eggs.  By the way, the eggs came first.”

So come see us this year and help keep us smiling.

Brothers M. Mondays in May – Work days

Brothers M. Mondays in May is back – A new post each Monday in May 2019.

Taking care of the chickens can be fun and entertaining, but it’s still a lot of work.

The bulk of the work is in the daily feeding, watering, and moving of the chickens.  Multiple daily trips to the pasture are required to properly care for the birds.  We take pride in the care we give to raise quality chicken, even when it’s raining.

Besides the daily care, there are several other days that require extra amounts of labor.  Over 200 chickens are handled once when we receive them.  Handled two times when moving from the brooder to pasture and three times during processing. There are also maintenance days such as working on the chicken tractors and cleaning the brooders and equipment.

 

 

 

 

But, my favorite are the days we get the feed.  Helping the kids lug around 50lb bags of feed makes a person feel good.

Usually we load a lawn trailer to carry the bags down the hill.  This year we had mechanical issues half way through so Matthew got to strut his stuff by doubling up.

 

 

Brothers M. Mondays in May – Freezer Fun

Brothers M. Mondays in May is back – A new post each Monday in May 2019.

One of our big investments for raising chickens is the freezer space and the space the freezers take up.  We have one porch freezer and it picked up a lot of rust over the last couple years.  I figured I’d wire wheel it down and repaint it to try and keep it around longer.  Here’s some of the pictures of the process.

After I painted it, Samantha added her special touch to the lid.  She originally didn’t want to add any color to it, but the family kept at her and this spring she added some color.  Unfortunately, you can see some of the rust coming back, but it’s still lots better than it was.  And I love the Totoro!

 

Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Electronics

Electronics were a must for me.  Probably the best thing I liked about keeping the birds in the chicken tractor was not having to open and shut a coop door each day.  Therefore an automated coop door was a requirement for this build.

When I started the electronics, it became a “give a mouse a cookie” event.  Automated door meant battery, battery meant solar panel, and since we have a solar panel, let’s do lights.  And for grins, I’m toying with adding a winch to raise and lower the aviary, so let’s add something for that.

I already had the battery, lights, and timer from the A-Frame build.  However I wanted to add solar to charge the battery instead of manually charging it 1-2 times a week.  I looked at some kits online and chose a cheep 20W panel and charger off Amazon.  The door automation took more thought.

I looked online and saw people using car antenna motors to open and shut the door.  I like this idea.  It would limited the amount of push pressure when shutting the door, which would prevent birds from getting caught, but this could also end up leaving the door open if the door got in a slight bind.  The biggest con for me not to use this was that, for my build, constant power would need to be applied when the antenna was extended, which would be during the nighttime when the door was pushed closed.  This would cause a draw on the battery; however, it would be a slight draw because it’s not running the motor.

Liner actuators are the other main way I see coop doors automated.  These are on when moving, then switch off once extended or retracted.  To reverse the direction, you reverse the polarity.  So they only draw power twice a day when opening or closing.  They also have a lot more push/pull torque.  This would prevent the door staying open at night because of a slight bind in the door; however, poses a danger if a chicken is in the way.  I was leaning toward the linear actuator when once again my father-in-law helped out and gave me one he had.

The actuator  requires a DPDT relay to reverse the polarity.  In the end, the power draw from the power antenna was probably a wash with the relay draw; however, the way I architected my door, the relay draws power during the day and the antenna would be drawing at night.  Theoretically there should be less draw on the battery as the solar panel will power the relay during the day.  Again, the draw is slight and probably not worth worrying about, but I do.

I’ll still have a constant phantom power draw from the photocell (circled in red in the picture of the solar panel) that’s used to trigger the door at morning and night, but that’s used for either method.  I like the photocell because it changes with the season and will be more consistent with morning and night than trying to use a timer.

I spent some time to determine the correct wire for the distance.   Based on this chart, the battery distance of 12′ with 5A puts me at 12 gauge.  I decided to use 12 AWG to the battery and 16 AWG to everything else to achieve a 2% voltage loss.  I save old appliance cords that are long, like from vacuum cleaners, and used these for the rest of the connections.  They are 16/17 gauge and should keep me in the 2% drop range based on a combination between the previous chart and this chart.   As with the power draw of the antenna, I may be over thinking/engineering this for a chicken coop.

Finally, I had picked up an old electrical panel box somewhere and I used it to house all brains of the electronics. I added a board to help me mount everything in the box.   Here’s how it fits together.

Battery

First I bring the battery wires into the box to a couple of terminals.  This allows me to connect things directly to the battery and bypass the solar charger, which is rated for 3A.  My first add-on is a cigarette lighter that I mounted in the bottom of the box.

Solar

Then I attached the solar charge controller to the battery terminals.  The Solar panel connects into the charge controller.  Finally I take the load from the charge controller to two more terminals that I’ll connect everything else to.  Connecting solar is pretty simple using a charge controller, especially compared to the wiring for the lights and door.

Lights

As I mentioned in my previous post on the lights, I need a relay for the timer to power the lights.  I could not power my light directly through the light switch.  I also used 3 wires going to the light so I could add a flip switch to override the timer and turn the lights on.  These two items make the wire diagram look like spaghetti, but hopefully you can follow it.

 

**If you’re comparing the diagram to the photograph, the diagram has positive in red and negative in black.  That does not correspond to the wires I actually used so I list the color of the wire in the photograph in (parentheses).

Power(positive) comes from the load terminal to the switch side of the timer, a jumper wire goes to a wire nut that ties to the run side of the timer, which also jumpers with the power(black) wire to the light, and the switch side of the relay.  All these connections have power full time. The other side of the relay switch goes to the switched wire(green) to the light.  And the other switch side of the timer connects to the coil side of the relay.

Negative goes from the load terminal to the relay coil and run side of the timer, where it’s jumpered with the negative(white) wire to the light.  This provides the 3 wires going to the light as Black=always on positive, Green=switched power from the timer, white=negative(common).  Because I’m using wire commonly used for AC, I switched to AC Black/white color standards when I attached the wire or when I ran out of Red/black wire.  It makes sense to me since I’ve dealt with both.

At the light switch, negative(white) goes straight to the light.   Positive(Black) goes to one side of the switch.  Switched(green) goes to the other side along with a jumper wire to the positive side of the light.   So if the light switch is on, it provides power to the green side that’s jumpered to the light and the light comes on.  Turned off and the light is off, UNLESS the time is on and sending power through the Green wire, which in turn will power the light.

Door

Hooking up the DPDT relay to switch the polarity for the actuator is fairly simple if you look at it in my diagram.  You have two COM posts that you hook positive and negative to.  Each one of those two posts will connect to 2 more post, one if the relay coil has power (SNO), the other if it doesn’t (SNC).  To reverse the polarity connect the 4 posts in a crisscross pattern.  The wire going to the actuator will connected to the 2nd pair.  If the direction of the actuator is wrong, just revers the actuator connection.

To connect the coil side of the relay you add in the photo cell so you are providing power to the coil in the day time and not at night.  You need 3 wires going to the photocell, power(black) and Negative(white) connect to the load termnals and switched(Green) will return from the photocell and connect to the coil.

To reduce the number of wires coming from the load terminals I jumpered the negative wire with the COIL and COM terminals on the relay and the (white) wire to the photocell.  I jumpered the positive wire between the COM on the relay and the (black) wire going to the photocell.

** To really confuse things, I accidentally jumpered in an extra (blue) wire with the positive connections.   I didn’t need, but didn’t want to re-do the connection so I just capped it off (white cap_.

Actuator and door

Due to the window, I wanted my door to slide sideways open and shut.  I had 2 keyboard tray slide rails which would worked perfect. They allow the door to slide 1.5 inches.  The actuator moves 10.55 inches, so I just needed to add a little play in the connections and all is good.

I started with framing where the door would slide.   I framed is so the actuator and most of the rails could be enclosed with a piece of OSB (red outline with arrow pointing to the OSB) to prevent dirt and droppings  from getting on them since the perch was close by.  I cut a door that’s wide enough to cover the door opening and slide behind a piece of wood that will prevent the rails from being bent back allowing a predator to squeeze through the door.   I attached the door and rails.

Here’s a video of the door opening and me demonstrating how to manually shut the door.

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