Posts Tagged homesteading

How To Build A Chicken Coop

When you’re starting out with chickens you need to have a place to lock them up at night.  Building a chicken coop will be one of the first thing you need to do before you order your chicks or pick up some pullets (young hens).  I love how chickens just naturally gravitate to their little home when the sun starts to go down, roosting inside all on their own.

how to build a chicken coop for your chickens

The coop is an important part of your plan to keep your birds safe from predators that lurk in the night.  So we want it to be a sturdy structure that keeps the bad things out, the chickens in, provides a place for them to nest and lay their eggs.  First a few bits of terminology so you can get caught up to speed if you’re new.

  • Roost: a bar that chickens sit on and sleep on at night
  • Run: the fenced in area that chickens walk around during the day
  • Nesting Box: a separate area where hens sit to lay eggs in
  • Hardware Cloth: metal mesh that has very small openings
  • Bedding: saw dust, wood chips, hay or saw

So those are some of the basic terminology, now let’s get into some of the details.

The Coop

my chickens in my gardenYou can build the coop out of whatever building materials you have on hand or repurpose shelters to suit your needs.  When I built my coop I just went and bought a few sheets of plywood, created a box and sealed the entire inside.  Whatever you build it out of, the coop needs to be about 2 square feet of floor space for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

Height wise I usually build the coop so that I can easily clean it and room for at least 2 feet above the upper most roost.  If I have a lot of chickens I’ll make sure whatever it is, I can stand up straight if I need to go inside.

For the floors of my coop the biggest piece of advice is to make the inside as easy to clean as possible, really think ahead on this part.   I design mine so all the corners inside are not 90 degrees and no little nooks.  To do this I build my coop, then lay in a 2×2 cut at an angle so when I lay it in with glue all my corners are 45 degrees, which is much easier to clean.

Once I have my coop inside done I always sealed with a super heavy polyurethane. I coat every surface several times, making sure to soak it into the corners.  I put several layers on all surfaces then let it dry.  Next I focus on adding more layers to floor and the first foot of the walls.  You want a super thick layer of poly covering every inch of your floor and sealing every crevice and seam.

I let the whole thing dry and off gas for at least a few weeks.  If you build your coop before you even order your chicks, you’ll have a lot of time for all the fumes to escape by the time the chicks are grown up and ready to be put in the coop.

Roost Bars

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

The roost bars can be branches cut from your woods or a 2×4.  You want your roost to be about 2 inches wide and not metal if you can help it.  You want a flat level surface around 2 inches wide because chickens like to sleep flat footed.  They can grip if they need to though.

Ventilation

Many first time coop builders forget that coops need to breath, even if you live in very cold climates.  This is because their droppings put off a lot of moisture and ammonia, so you want a way for that to vent well.  You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space in the coop.

Nesting Boxes

You want one nesting box for every 3-4 hens you have.  All a nesting box needs to be is a small more enclosed area roughly 1 cubic foot in size with some hay on the bottom.  I’ve done everything from milk crates to 5 gallon buckets on their side.  Just make sure you can easily get into the nesting box to grab the eggs as they are laid and they you can clean them easily.

Make sure you can see well into your nesting boxes because sometimes you find things other than hens in them.  Here is a black snake that snuck into my nesting box.  The joke was on him though, that egg was a plastic egg that we were using to teach the hens to use the nesting box.

snake in nesting box

A Chicken Door

This door only has to be about a single square foot, maybe a foot and a half tall so that a single chicken can come and go into the coop.  The door should be able to be closed up tight at night with a lock that raccoons or other critters can open.  Some people build in a sliding door that operates on a motor with a special sensor that closes when the sun goes down.

golden comet chicken

When I did my permanent coop I had it so the chicken door opened directly into a fenced in chicken run.  The run was covered too and the whole thing tied into the coop itself so that I didn’t have to be there each night to lock the door.  Even if you have your coop in a protected run like I did, its still good to have a door because sometimes you want to shut them up in coop for you to clean things or if a predator is spotted.

A Light

Many people put lights for some heat in the colder months.  Unless you are in a very cold part of the world, I wouldn’t suggest this.  Experience has shown me that if you put a light in a coop and then one night it gets broken or burns out, you’ll end up loosing all your chickens.  I live in North Carolina and for many parts of the US I wouldn’t worry about it.  For colder parts of the US, I’d just build a bigger coop so you can keep them inside for a week if you have to when it’s super cold.  Chickens are pretty hearty.

lights in a coop

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.

Chicken Tractors

Many people who want to get into chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.  As you can see above there are wheels on this tractor, I later switched them to larger wheels because some of the bumps and lumps in the grass would catch the edge of the coop or the wheels.

Consider where you’re going to store feed and how you’ll get water to them.  Where is the closet storage spot?  Where is the closet spigot and will your hose reach to the far corner of the yard?hens and a rooster

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Waters

There are three main types of water devices for chickens: Bell, nipple and standard waterer/fountain.  Larger operations tend to use the bell style, I don’t have much experience with those.  The older style of waterer or fountains work pretty well, but I’ve found they get dirty pretty easily.  That leaves my favorite type of waterer which is the nipple style.

chicken waterers

These are just a little valve with a shinny metal tab sticking out that the chickens peck at to get water.  Sometimes you need to show your chickens how to use them, I just take one or two of them and hold it right in front of the nipple.  Basically chickens see something shinny, peck at it and get wet.  Eventually they figure it out and the rest of the flock follows suit.

The nipples are cheap and can be installed into a 5 gallon bucket or into a run of pvc pipe.  This means I can do long runs of these that are tied into a water system so I can set it up for several days of water without any extra work.  An important side note is that you can’t uses these on chicks.

Feeders

There are several types of these, I still haven’t found a favorite type, so let me know what has worked for you in the comments.  I am looking for something that will feed the chickens easily for a few days automatically.  Right now the best option is a vertical PVC pipe about 6″ wide with a opening cut at the bottom.

So that’s some of the key things you need to work into your design when you build your own coop.  Let me know what you plan to do for yours in the comments!

Your Turn!

  • What kind of coop do you hope to build?
  • What tricks have you learned?

What You Should Know About Prepping and Homesteading

Scenes of ramshackle cabins in the secluded woods flash on your screen featuring characters that remind you of Grizzly Adams. He hunts and forages all of his food and cooks it over the campfire while muttering about living off of the land.

Next on your watch list is Survivor Bob. He has preps stashed in the forest, a carefully curated survival kit on his back and lives in a missile silo. He can lock his doors and not resurface for two years if an asteroid hits Washington and the government collapses.

off-grid living

Both prepping and homesteading have been popular on television lately and have gained a lot of attention from the media; but what is prepping? What is homesteading? What are the pros and cons of each?

Homesteading starts as a mindset that says “I can produce that!” rather than feeding the machine of consumerism. It is a movement of self-reliance. It includes everyone from the apartment dweller who cans produce purchased from the farmer’s market to the off-grid, self-sustaining farmer.

Prepping is also based on self-reliance. But rather than the lifestyle of a producer, their focus is one that prepares for one or more catastrophic events that propel them into a survival scenario.

survival

There are positives to each way of thinking, and the line between them is often blurred.

Many homesteaders are motivated by perceived changes and threats in the world and want to be prepared to live without the commercial supply line. More and more, peppers are realizing that stockpiling two years of MREs is not sustainable and have begun learning traditional homestead skills.

What can we learn from homesteaders?

Fall gardening

  • How to grow your own food
  • Self-reliance rather than an entitlement mentality
  • How to be frugal and make the most of our resources
  • A can-do-attitude and a desire to gather and learn new skills
  • Simple living

What can we learn from preppers?

  • Being well equipped for an emergency.
  • How to stock up on first aid supplies.
  • Have a plan if you are forced to leave home in a survival situation.
  • Survival is often a mental game. Peppers have played out scenarios in their mind so that they can quickly and accurately react.
  • You can prep no matter where you live.

 

There are pros and cons to every decision we make in life. Carefully weighing them out is vital. The debate about whether prepping or homesteading is superior is foolish and divisive and needs to end!

Learning lessons from each other is essential to life; no two people are alike. Think of this as a spectrum rather than two separate lifestyles. Find where you fit and make the most of it!

I fall more in the category of a homesteader than a prepper but find myself inspired to keep more emergency supplies on hand when I talk to my prepping friends. We face the possibility of significant winter storms that could have us holed up in the house for a couple of weeks at a time. If we aren’t prepared for that, it could be a dangerous scenario.

 

What are the pitfalls of homesteading?

  • Very labor intensive.
  • Not sustainable in poor health.
  • What if an emergency forced you to leave your homestead?

How does prepping fall short?

  • Can become too focused on prepping to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily living.
  • What happens when the preps run out?
  • Eating MREs for two years is less than satisfying.

Are you Grizzly Adams, living off-grid, or are you Survivor Bob, ready for a major catastrophe? Be inspired by both. Stop and smell the fresh herbs on your window sill and then take a hard look at what you can learn from your prepping or homesteading friends.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a prepper or a homesteader?
  • What skills or preps do you want to add to your current lifestyle?

5 Things Most People Get Wrong About Being A Homesteader

You envision this perfect homestead, chock full of adorable animals, lush gardens and delicious meals at the end of a long day on the farmstead.  It’s human to think the grass is greener on the other side, to think that the simple way of life is the ticket to a happy life, but experience has shown that people get many things wrong about homesteading.  Here is my list of 5 things most people get wrong:

Growing all your own food

garden beds

You hear this time and time again, “I’m going to grow all my own food!”  The tough pill to swallow for many first time homesteaders is that you simply can’t do it all.  Talk to any seasoned homesteader and they’ll tell you they can meet many of their needs, but not all of them.  Common things are items that can’t be grown in your climate, or that require special equipment to process or things that aren’t cost effective.

cost to grow wheat flourSome examples:  For me in my climate, North Carolina, its very difficult to grow good citrus without a lot of headache. Another example, is flour. Flour is possible for you to grow and process with about 2,000 square feet per person for a year’s worth of flour. But, I can buy the same amount of flour for much less.  I took a look at my local big box, and a name brand organic flour costs $1.22 a pound!

The truth is you will never be able to learn the intricacies of every plant, animal and farm. Good, and even great, farmers have bad crop years.  You can grow a sense of community by growing and trading a crop that you’re good at.

Homesteading isn’t an inexpensive way of living

While some cost savings can be had, I attribute most of the cost savings to a mental shift in how you use money.  A lot of homesteaders keep deep pantries to take advantage of sales when they buy. Most homesteaders are DIYers when it comes to fixing things, they buy used, and other cost-saving behaviors.  The truth is, you can adopt these habits now, in the city, and save big.  When it comes to homesteading, the cost savings is negligible because you need land, equipment, materials and feed.

An example:  University of Wyoming did a study on raising your own beef vs buying retail. The difference?  You save $235 dollars on that meat per cow.  But if you factor in time and say you, on average, spent 5 minutes tending that cow per day (very low if we are realistic), average time to butchering is around 2 years, that’s 60.8 hours of time ($3.86 per hour). The average hourly wage in the US is around $24 per hour, that means I could work a side gig for a week and eclipse that: 10 hours vs 2 years of work and not able to take a vacation.

It’s a lot harder than you think

You may have dabbled with things here and there, but until you take the leap you don’t understand what its truly like.  I remember the first year I went from two 4×8 beds to 1/3 acre; from 64 square feet to 14,500 square feet.  With the growth I added a few labor saving items: timer drip irrigation, a standup broad fork and push precision seeder.

That summer was one of the hardest gardening years of my life.  Everything was brought to another level of labor and when something went wrong, it went wrong in a big way.  Even the good things were tough.  I remember one day harvesting 350 lbs of produce in July. It was 95 degrees and so humid the air felt thick.  I got it all harvested, washed, processed and stored, then collapsed on my couch and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

You’ll probably still need a job off the homestead

There are a lot of costs that you can offset by running a homestead. You can barter, trade, and earn money from your wares, but its very difficult to go cold turkey from a steady paycheck.  This isn’t to say it’s not possible, but its very, very difficult.  Take it from me, someone who made the leap from full time traditional to self employment, it’s hard. It took me about 5 years to fully make the leap.

One of the biggest advantages to homesteading with a job is health insurance and a retirement plan.  I’m going to avoid the politics on this, but right now for just me at the cheapest health plan available ($7,500 deductible), I pay $5,400 a year as a young healthy guy with no medications.   My self-employed friends with families are paying around $23,000 a year for the same plan that I have.

So, if you have two adults in your household, there are advantages to having at least one of them working a traditional job.

You think independence will be great – you’re wrong, it’s awesome!

I have had conversations with friends who live what most would call a “typical” life, and they try to understand what it’s like to live outside the norm.  You try to explain it and you try to share what it’s really like and how clear it has become to you. The movie The Matrix tries to explain it with the blue pill or red pill metaphor, but until you actually take that blue pill and your eyes are opened, you cannot possibly grasp the gravity of your old life.  It’s absolutely true.

desing your life

I don’t even know how to put it into words, how profoundly different my life is now that I’ve taken that leap. I’ve become self-employed, live in a tiny house and living a life on my terms!

 

Your Turn!

  • What surprises have you found in your own journey?
  • What appeals to you about homesteading?

Tiny House Preppers & Prepping

It is interesting to see the different types of people that are drawn to tiny houses, they come from all walks of life, all political leanings, religions and nationalities.  We are read in over 160 countries so we get quite the mix.  Over the past few years we have seen a lot of interest coming from the prepper community, the survivalist community and from the homesteaders.  While each unique groups in their own right, they all have a good bit of overlap.

fdgfdgI’ve come to know people from these groups and while it’s true I get the occasional “the sky is falling, put on your tin foil hat” email or phone call; by in large these folks are very normal people that have a practical way about them.  I don’t particularly subscribe to prepping mentalities, but I thought I might share some of what I have learned over the years from talking with them.  I do spend time on various prepping, homesteading and survivalist websites because they typically are the best source of information on things like off grid living, practical solutions to modern day problems and other useful skills.  There is a strong overlap between between my interest in permaculture and tiny house living, and these schools of thought, so its an interesting topic to me regardless.

Preparing for what might come, whatever it is, seems to be a balancing act; everything in moderation right?  I like what Jack Spirko says about preparing “everything you do to prepare should help you today, not just in a disaster”.    So whatever you do, should improve your life and situation now.  Along with this, is enjoy the life you live now, don’t spend it worrying about what could happen later.

Another lesson I learned from studying permaculture and the Transition Town Movement is that there are simply too many possible things that can go wrong and while you can make educated guesses, even those are just guesses and how they actually play out will vary wildly.  Take the email I got recently that sparked the idea for this post.  The person that emailed me was worried about hurricanes threatening the coastal town where she lived.  It is true that a hurricane could rock their world, it’s happened plenty of times before, but how the aftermath plays out could vary.

So the take away that I gleaned was that there are any number of things that could happen and each of them could have a wide array of outcomes, meaning an almost infinite possibilities; including the possibility that nothing will happen at all.   So how does one prepare for that many events?  The simple answer is that you don’t.

32366bb40d9ae2b8fdac1c506156b3f7Preparing for all those things isn’t practical, so the only thing we can do is to become resilient to changes that will come at us.  Resiliency is the ability to react to changes in our system, adjust our environment, behaviors and systems to then rebound from that.  Our ability to recover from the shock to the system is key, the faster we can recover, the better we will be.  We start with being resilient as an individual and then grow it to our neighborhood, our town and beyond.  We can achieve this by generating our own power, growing our own food, building community and other proactive steps.

So how does this all tie into tiny houses?

Tiny houses present an unique set of hurdles because of the space that we live in is so small.  While many peppers focus on gathering and storing things that they might need in an event, this doesn’t work well with limited square footage.  So how does a prepper manage this?

The likely hood that of a long term event is generally pretty small and most of them will be localized.  Most events will disrupt things for only a few weeks at most and if we are in good financial shape, we can recover quite well even if we loose everything.  The likely hood of a long term event that is wide spread is significantly less likely to happen.  Equipped with a few tools, a knowledge base and a plan, we can be pretty resilient to most things.  So if we can prepare for a 3 months disruption we can either last the event or move to an area that was effected and since we have our ducks in a row, we can start a new life.

That isn’t to say there aren’t considerations to be made for longer term events that are wide spread, take the great depression, it affected millions and lasted over a decade.  The point is, plan for the most likely events first.

The one big thing that we have to our advantage with a tiny house is that it is mobile.  If the SHTF we can pack up and move on, maybe even before the event with enough warning.  The only flaw to this is if roads become blocked and/or lawlessness spreads; but these are things we can plan for and develop contingencies for.

Another obvious thing is that most people opt for off the grid solutions for their tiny houses, so this is naturally a happy coincidence when it comes to prepping.  The one thing to consider is how you move these capabilities if you need to bug out.

Bug-Out-Bag-home

A good portion of people also look to the famed “bug out bag” or “go bag” which is simply a bag that is all set to go at a moments notice that contains most of what you need to immediately leave.  Most of these bags are setup to only last short time frames, they are self contained kits to keep you alive if all else fails.  Its a great place to start and I know of several tiny house dwellers that have them in their tiny houses.

Another thing that a lot of tiny house dwellers do is garden.  The ability to grow and store your own food has a ton of benefits right now for your budget and health, but with the added benefit of you being able to keep yourself alive if food becomes in short supply.  While I have seen a ton of people store a lot of food, the truth is that you need to be grow your own because it could be lost and will always run out.

Now growing food is one thing that I know very well, in fact I do it professionally.  I am literally a sustainable urban agriculture professional/farmer.  Here is a sobering truth, even though I do this almost every day of my life, even though I have grown literally tons of food in a given year, if things got really bad for a long time, I’d most likely starve.  This will improve dramatically when I shift to a perennial food forest, but even then it will be tricky.  It’s because growing enough calories for a person, which is expending a lot of energy farming,  365 days a year is a really hard thing. Don’t forget that if food is in short supply, so is gas, materials, seeds, amendments etc. There are many people out there that can grow a few things really well, but can they grow a full diet of crops without any machines or amendments?

permaculture-chickensdsfs

My experience focuses on sustainable agricultural systems, meaning I grow a diversified group of perennial crops organically with on site nutrient sources in a way that cycles through the system.  The problem is that sometimes you don’t have a good crop, sometimes you need something that is from an off site location.  It can be tough to produce enough calories  The point is in a survival situation there is no store to go to and if you can’t grow enough because of a disease or bug, you’ll starve.

So when it comes to food production, start now because it will take a lifetime to get good at it and focus on perennial organic crops.  Taking lessons from permaculture will go a long way to meeting this need.

Finally the greatest asset you can have outside of a few basics, is knowledge.  Knowledge can’t be lost or stolen, it doesn’t way anything or take up space,  it is always with you and it can be shared or traded.  Skills that you have can be practical for everyday life such as food preservation, bartering, fixing things, growing and gathering food, etc.

The one parting thing I will say is that in my opinion, whatever that is worth, is that the ability to take care of one’s self is a powerful thing.  It is why many of use come to tiny houses, because it enables us to live lives that are more practical, purposeful and to live the life we want to lead.  I also feel like your ability to help yourself and your neighbors in tough times is more than just a moral obligation, but should be seen as a civic duty, one that is generally missing from our society today.  Not only does it help to do some of these things in the good times, but it will help in the tough times; even if nothing happens saving money, eating good food, and connecting with neighbors are all things we can benefit from.

Your Turn!

  • What are things can you do that improves your life now, but also increases your resiliency?
  • How do you handle prepping in small spaces?

Skinny House

So frankly, I don’t find this house particularly appealing, but in the interest of covering the topic in full here it goes.   This tiny house is a rather unique approach to housing.  With a focus on outdoor living it comes full equipped with all the essentials, a semi-outdoor living space, a grill, garden tools etc.  One really neat thing I do like is the moon roof on this house over the sleeping area.  While I think it is cool, flat roofs are notorious for leaking and keeping this clean might be less than practical.

I do really appreciate the focus on outdoor gardening, with purpose built niches for tools, watering can, wheel barrel etc.  Its dining area I think would be really fun to have a great sit down dinner with friends on a nice summer night.  All in all it is a very well appointed house that has some serious potential and has been laid out well.

Via