July 28, 2014

Idea For A Round Goat Barn

Folks sometimes comment that Dan and I seem to get along so well in spite of our many home remodeling and homestead projects. Many a marriage has taken its hits from differences of opinion! Our ground rules are simple, but effective.
  1. Brainstorming stage - anything goes. we can throw out any idea, no matter how fantastic. No criticism from the other party allowed.
  2. Discussion stage - we take a closer look at all the options and try to list pros and cons for each one. Again, no criticism, we just try to take a realistic look at feasibility. The wildest ideas usually get canned at this point.
  3. Decision stage - if we both agree on an idea, it's a go. Likewise, if we both disagree, then it's crossed off the list. If one feels strongly and the other doesn't care, then we go with it. If we differ in opinion, then the idea in question is set aside and we keep looking until we both agree. This has actually been a marvelous rule because it forces us into better solutions than we previously thought we wanted. 
But on to the idea for the barn. I've showed you a couple of our ideas for a goat barn, one here, and the plan below.

Click for larger view. Details here.

This plan has been the top contender so far. It fits within the footprint of the outbuilding we just tore down, and pretty much resolves most of the problems I have with managing my goats. We still discuss options from time to time, but always come back to this plan in the end.

While we were working on the coal barn demolition, Dan said, "What about a round barn?" I said, "Let's look into it." We found a great website, which has a collection of photographs of round and polygonal barns from all over the U.S. and Canada. Dan immediately starting thinking about the how-tos of constructing such a barn, while I started thinking about the how-to of dividing the space within. We came up with a rough sketch of a floor plan for a bottom floor. A second story would be the hay loft.

 photo round_barn_floorplan_zps1d96970a.jpg
Rough sketch for a round barn idea. Click for a larger view at Photobucket.

The challenge to doing this is working around the concrete slab that used to be the carport for the old coal barn. Dan doesn't want to tear it out, so we figured it would make a good floor for a milking/feed storage room. That was placed in the center of the plan.

At the bottom of the plan is a loading bay, large enough to back the bed of a pickup truck into. Things could be carried directly into the storage room, or goats could be loaded or unloaded from their area on the left. We're also considering making it open to the hayloft above. The truck could be backed in and the hay hoisted up with a block and tackle. This arrangement would mean we wouldn't have to have a hayloft door on the outside. In fact, we could likely leave the bay open with no exterior door. The goats would still be protected from rain, snow, and wind, but have excellent ventilation.

Goat area on the left. A hay shoot from the hay loft would allow for direct dropping of hay into the feeder. For the goats, I'd have both entry and exit doors for the milking room. No more clogging up the door for feed! At the back (top of plan) a large 8 or 10 foot gate would access an open area as a covered loafing area. I haven't figured out where yet, but I'll have portable pens for kidding (no more territorial fights over the kidding stall!).

The goat porch in the back would be open to the outdoors, no walls, just the roof overhead. It would be open to a small courtyard with gates to either of the back forage areas, easily enabling pasture rotation.

On the right would be a room for processing feed and storing the equipment needed to do so: my corn sheller, a threshing machine, and a hammer mill (both items on my wish list). We'd need to add a door into the milking room. This room is also where we'd have a narrow stair or ladder to the hay loft.

The round barn idea is still in the discussion stage, but we both really like it. We haven't yet figured out if it would be truly round or polygonal, nor things like where to put windows. The milking room being in the center presents concerns about light and lighting. Also trying to work a round building off a square room is a puzzle. We haven't dared consider the cost either! That would likely be so discouraging as to us abandoning the project. We'll continue to work through the details, discussing if this is truly a feasible idea. Like everything else, we'll plan it out and take it one step at a time. That being said, there's no telling when we'll actually be able to get started. When we do, you'll be the first to know. 

July 26, 2014

Before There Was Duct Tape There Was Baling Twine

I love baling twine. It's always been a favorite of mine for holding things together in an emergency. When Splash kept slipping through the fence and getting into the blueberry bush ...

Splash looking longingly at the blueberry bush, now off limits.

The first thing I thought of was rabbit fence and baling twine.

Old baling twine easily ties rabbit fencing to the
rail blueberry fence. It is made out of sisal fiber. 

I could have used staples, but that would have meant going to buy them and dragging out tools (I was in the instant gratification mode, you see). I could have used wire, but I don't like working with wire if I can help it. (BTW, a roll of wire is cheaper in the electric fence department than the same gauge in the hardware department). Wire is more permanent than the twine, but it gets caught on everything making it a nuisance to work with. Besides, baling twine has worked well for patching fence in the past.

This was a hole that Elvis tore in the fence. It's
new baling twine, made from a synthetic fiber. 

I know folks love their duct tape, but I couldn't have done that with it.

There are some things baling twine isn't so good for, such as deterring chickens from fence hopping.

My baling twine chicken barricade was a fail.

Maybe I should have tried duct tape for that.

Then there are the times when only duct tape will do.

Not to hold it in, LOL, for leaking.

I reckon if I keep both handy, I'll be prepared for just about anything.

July 24, 2014

Cucumbers For Chickens, Cucumbers For Goats

First garden pickings of anything are exciting. Eventually, however, things are going gangbusters and the question often becomes, what do I do with it all? Things I can can or freeze are no problem, neither are cucumbers if I need the pickles. But with my pantry shelves full of pickles and relish, I was looking for something else to do with them. To complicate matters, my cukes were getting bitter from so little rain. I managed to keep them watered enough to get small ones for cucumber salads, but when it's dry plants seem to be in a hurry to complete their life purpose of producing seed. Composting is always an option, but with critters, somebody is always happy to eat the surplus!

The goats love them chopped, and I thought perhaps the chickens might enjoy some too. I cut one in half lengthwise, like I cut overripe melons for them, and set it out in the chicken yard.

Chickens discussing cucumber.

They eyed is suspiciously until the bravest ventured a taste. They talked about it amongst themselves and walked away. Oh well.

Another thought was to dehydrate some to feed the goats next winter, along with their homegrown vitamin and mineral mix. The solar oven was tied up with blueberries, so I decided to dry the cukes in my electric dehydrator.

I grated them first in my manual food processor.

Shredded cucumber draining

Because cucumbers have such a high water content, I let them drain overnight in a colander. I gave the juice to the chickens, who loved it! (Go figure). I put the shreds in the dehydrator.

Dried cucumber shreds

I let them dry all day, then cooled, and finally put them in a storage bucket. I still have more to go and I don't know how much I'll end up with, but I'm glad to have a little more stored away for the goats.

July 22, 2014

An Experiment With Solar Dehydrating

I admit that I never thought solar dehydrating was a very good option for me. We have too much humidity. But when I ordered my solar oven, the preparedness accessories kit was too good a bargain to pass up. It included dehydrating racks, so I thought I might as well give this a try.

The accessories kit included drying racks and parchment
paper, as well as two enameled cooking post with lids. 

July is blueberry harvest so blueberries were a good choice for my first experiment. Solar cooking is a moist cooking method, so it is important to vent the moisture. This is done by resting the oven lid on top of the latches.

Latches used to vent moisture.

At night the lid is secured tightly, and the process is resumed the next day. The biggest challenge was keeping the oven temp low enough. Recommended dehydrating temperatures are 100 - 150° F / 38 - 65° C. If aimed at the sun, my Sun Oven easily reaches temps of 325 - 350° F / 165 - 175° C. Even aiming away from the sun didn't guarantee low enough temps.

Fortunately we had low humidity for several days. After 48 hours, the top rack had dried perfectly,

Blueberries after 48 hours in the solar oven/dehydrator.

but only the top rack. It took a couple more days to get the rest of them dried properly.

The biggest problem was that this tied up the oven for quite a few days. I use my solar oven every day for cooking, if there is sun, so not being able to was an inconvenience in that regard.

Humidity is a big factor for dehydrating here anyway. Even in my electric Excalibur I can't make crispy veggie chips; they start becoming soft as soon as they cool off. Things still keep however, which is good.

I think this experiment was successful enough that I would consider building a dedicated solar dehydrator in the future, rather than use the solar oven. There are some nifty DIY dehydrator plans here. I'm sure I'll have some spare time to do that within the next decade or so.

July 20, 2014

Rainwater Catchment Update & A Few Garden Photos

Last summer it rained so much that we used very little of the water we collected in our rainwater tanks. This summer, we've used it all. We had good rainfall in May, and in June the garden still looked good.

June: Amish Paste tomatoes in front, Zuchetta summer squash behind.

Until last Friday July had been hot and dry and everything looked it. Our highs have been in the low 90s F / 30s C and rain has only been scant drizzles. The ground has been thirsty. That's worrisome for a gardener.

Remember the ground Dan plowed with his new 2-wheel 
tractor? I planted Amaranth and it's doing splendidly
in spite of no rain. This crop will be for feed grain.

We used all the water in the rainwater collection tanks. We have five, 275 gal / 1000 liter tanks, which were full at the beginning of summer. That 1375 gal / 5000 L seemed like a lot then, but during two months of no rain it didn't seem like enough! Even things in mulched beds were wilting. It was hard trying to decide where to use the last of those gallons. I felt like a mother who has only enough food to feed one of her 12 starving children. I finally decided on the okra, which hadn't received any yet.

Okra being watered from the rainwater tanks with the new irrigation pipe.
I hadn't mulched it yet because I did a 2nd planting due to poor germination.

The PVC pipe you see in the photo above is what I'm using to irrigate. I got tired of wrestling with soaker hoses, so Dan drilled a series of small holes in a length of pipe and fitted it so I could attach the garden hose. This works very well and I'd eventually like to have them permanent in every garden bed (I have 30 beds in the main garden).

We were concerned about the corn and decided to set up one of the empty tanks in a front corner of the house.

This 275 gallon tank collects from from a larger area
of roof than the 1st tanks. One inch of rain fills it!

Dan made some changes with this one. He lowered the clean-out plug and you can also see the overflow pipe. It's full because thankfully it started to rain Friday night. We got 1.85 inches of slow, steady rain all day yesterday (just for fun, you can see what Sam did in the rain here.) Temperatures dropped too, so that it was almost chilly.

Garden grown Tendergreen green beans, sweet basil,
Zuchetta summer squash, and Boston Pickling cucumbers. 

Our rainwater collection is something we definitely want to expand. In fact, that's one nice thing about a rainwater catchment system, it's easy to add on to. We've discussed 1000 gallon tanks, but tanks run anywhere between $1 - $2 per gallon, so that would be over $1000 for one 1000 gallon tank. The other possibility is making our own with ferrocement. No plans for that at the moment, but it's a thought. The totes are cheap (about 25¢ per gallon) and stackable. So for now, something is better than nothing; a favorite phrase of mine.