Dust bathing and fires

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project-dustbath-buffDespite the dramatic headline, this has nothing to do with dust bathing causing fires. The relationship is all in the re-use. We heat our home with wood and collect the fireplace ash to use in the barn for making dust baths for the birds. The enjoy the ash and combined with a little sand, it is a great way for them to clean themselves and keep the biting pests at bay.

Here you can see Gladys, one of our Buffs enjoying one of the pans we set out for them. There is a line waiting for the bath! It is funny to see chickens line up to take turns, and they seem to do it on a regular basis for baths and nesting boxes, though never for food. When it is dinner time, it is all hands (wings?) on deck at the same time.

Chicken Nesting Box with access door

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building the frame and attaching it to the wall


Filling in a little nesting material


Whoo hoo – an action shot with the Orpingtons


Easy access from the barn hall way

In our large common indoor pen, we built an access panel to accommodate access to future nesting boxes and we finally got around to building the nesting boxes this winter.

For those of you who saw our post about the turkey nesting boxes and noted the 2×4 roost, this one is considerably smaller. That is due to the fact that chicken hens way a lot less and also have smaller feet, allowing the more size appropriate roost.

The external access is great, and would make egg collecting chores easier, except we added other nesting boxes in the main pen for breed isolation during the spring egg season. Once we mix the hens again, this will be more helpful!


Turkey Nesting Boxes

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Our turkeys got to laying stage and needed something besides finding piles of hay or straw to lay eggs in so we used up a variety of the scrap bits we had around to set up a 2 seater nesting box. The back is screwed into the barn structure, so there are only legs on the front.



Installing the frame


Roof on, ready for hay

The front of the nesting box has a 2×4 step up rail to give the girls an easy way to get in and out of the nests and has worked quite well.


all ready for turkeys when they are done in the dust bath!

Now we are ready for eggs! We did note that we should have installed the back rail to keep eggs from rolling out the back when the hens got carried away, but that was an easy fix and we are now in business.


Items to remember if you build your own:

  • A nice sloped roof that overhangs the nest by a few inches discourages pooping in the nest.
  • Make sure you have the nests high enough to reach in comfortably without too much bending.
  • The girls need a roost bar to get in more comfortably, but it is not required.
  • Hay is better than straw inside as it is softer and makes a nicer nest

Making Tomato Powder

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When we were making our tomato sauce, we made it both with and without skins. For the batch without skins, rather than throw out all the seeds and skins, we decided to process them a bit more and make a tomato powder, usable for soups, ketchup, etc…20150809_135800_001
20150906_120408Once we had all the skins and seeks extracted, we put them in trays in the decorator and dried them until they were a crispy layer.

Once they were completely dry, we processed them in the blender to make a powder as you can see here. It is pretty neat to see an entire blender of skins and seeds reduced to just this much powder in the end. You can imagine the flavor intensity.20150906_133354Here is a jar of the final resulting tomato powder, which is delicious.

Banana Slicer for Dehydrating Chips


We enjoy banana chips, as well as many other dehydrated fruits, but making them is a tedious process. We invested in a food slicer to process bulk meats and more solid fruits and veggies, but bananas are a different challenge. When my wife brought home a large load of very ripe (and discounted) bananas, I decided to make a large batch of chips, but wanted an easy way to slice them. I looked at the egg slicer and decided it would work great if it was a larger version, so I whipped up a prototype.

20150823_130721 I save the better logs I cut around our property to make boards, and here you can see my stash of mostly white oak boards.

I pulled one and ran it through the planer after cutting it down.


I cut the board down to make the frame pieces, and also the internal cutting board, then glued and nailed up the frame. I then spaced and drilled a series of holes to weave the wire in.

I did not buy any special wire since this was just a prototype, but I did have some steel wire on hand I use for repairs, and it worked great.


After cleaning up the boards I oiled them with some olive oil I had on hand and you can see the result here. It was an acceptable finish for this little project. 20150823_142108_001 Here is the test cut in action. It worked exactly as planned.


Building an apron for access to the barn

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FB_IMG_1429635140386In the construction process, we learned we needed to build an apron to facilitate entry and exit from our property. The apron provides a transition from the road, to the driveway / field and cleans the mud off from tires as well. to build this, we had to excavate a foot +/1 to cut through the top layer of dirt and get to the clay base, then fill it with tire scrubber rocks.

FB_IMG_1429635145197We learned a couple of key things in this process.

  1. An apron is important and needs to be planned for (whoops, missed this at first)
  2. Excavation can be done pretty easily on this with a tractor and bucket, no expert help needed (cost savings)
  3. When ordering the tire scrubber rock, be sure to be clear about the grade of rock you are getting. We were not clear enough on this and ended up picking out re-bar and some scrap metal from the end result.
  4. Pick out any scrap metal from the final product.
  5. If you did not get a driveway permit, your township may take offense and ask for one, viewing this as a driveway…


Building an Alpaca feed shed

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Our Alpaca were coming and we had no facilities for them, as it was something of a surprise the way it came together.

Fortunately, they were coming on a day I had off from work and so Tommy and I ran to the store for some supplies and went to work. Here we have our generator and tools set out and are starting to lay out the simple framing. Our plan was a small 4×8 feed shed with a hay rack.

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We built the base up on landscaping timbers  to both keep it off the ground and also to allow us to move it more easily with the tractor. Tommy was running the screw gun on this and did a great job.

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The hay rack was made by ripping down 2x4s into strips, then making the lattice on a frame cut at an angle to allow for hay to load up, while still being strong enough to support the Llama and alpacas sticking their heads in it. So far it has worked out great. We built the whole house and feed rack for about the cost of buying a ready made feed rack, so it was a pretty significant savings and not that much effort.


The alpaca like to lounge in the house as well as eat there, and it provides sufficient cover to get out of the elements with the over hang.

Chicken (and Turkey) Ladders

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20150227_112545One of the first things we made when we got birds, was a little entertainment for them. They like to roost, even as babies. Jessica looked on line and we were both surprised at the costs for these little accessories. I whipped up a few models in my shop to see how they worked and the birds really seemed to go for them.

These were very effective when they were little and we scaled the idea up as the birds grew, from just a couple of inches off the ground, to about 18 inches and now we have birds roosting in the rafters of our barn!

I tried a few ideas as you can see here, from blocking on a 45, to ladder cutting like a stringer for stairs. They all worked well, but the ladder approach seems best for the small applications.

20150227_112604Lessons learned:

  1. Leave plenty of room for each bird to roost on a level without interfering with the one below it.
  2. Ensure there is sufficient off set to avoid raining poop
  3. A poop tray under the roost is a great addition for clean up.
  4. Ensure the ladder is balanced with a ground extension to prevent tipping, unless it is otherwise fastened down.