Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sheep Feeder Project

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly"

-GK Chesterton

When not plowing snow, chopping ice, and cutting firewood, Winter can be a good time to work on homestead carpentry projects. Since we reconfigured the barn, we needed new sheep feeders. When we had a big commercial sheep flock, the feeders were permanently installed They were solid, but the inflexibility of the system made it hard to adjust pen size for lambing, catch pens, moving manure and hay storage. The barn now has only two small permanent pens in the back corner. The rest of the barn has pens made of livestock panels that can be easily adjusted. The new feeders need to be portable too.

We gave serious consideration to buying new metal bunk feeders. However, for our small flock this would have cost us about $900. The metal feeders are really nice, but just not economically feasible. I researched a number of different designs for portable homemade wooden feeders and settled on this one from Canada.
I ended up building it for about $18-$20.

I cannot give you a step by step guide to how I built it, because most of the materials were scrounged. With any project I do, I seldom am able to follow plans to the letter because that would require new materials. I worked with a bunch of free waste lumber I got from a local doctor who was remodeling his office. The boards still had drywall screws in them and some had wiring holes. The other lumber was mostly odd pieces left from other projects.

It takes me much longer to do things this way. I root through piles of wood and try fitting them like a puzzle. I use screws first, before I nail anything, because I may need to take it apart and re-adapt. One adaption with this project was changing some of the width of the lumber to fit the length of a large box of screws I got at a yard sale for $3.00.

The screws only work with one inch stock, so I had to use more one inch stock and consequently more braces to make it sturdy. Here is a castoff clamp that can no longer be used for fine woodworking because the end broke and it mars the wood. I wonder if the sheep will notice?

I thought at this point it looked like weird church pew. The 2x10 on the bottom of the feed trough part and the 2x6 in front are the only pieces of new wood in the picture. I have no idea where the plywood back came from.

Here is a view of the complete feeder. I installed it by skidding it from the workshop to the barn across the ice.

I don't think I will ever be nominated for the fine woodworking hall of fame. However, I was able to save a considerable amount of money and end up with a serviceable feeder that should last for years, even if it was done badly. There is some pride in using castoffs to build something nice. It is also essential to a true agrarian economy.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I was recently reading on another weblog about someone who suffers Winter Depression. I have struggled periodically with this and other kinds of depression as well.

Winter makes the daily routine harder around here. We carry endless loads of firewood. I carry a hatchet each morning and evening to break the ice on the rubber poultry waterers. Plowing snow on an open tractor is cold and accomplishes nothing lasting, but just gets snow out of the way so I can function. The frost heave freezes barn doors shut,and our "frost free" water hydrant in the barn has been known to freeze shut. The man who put it in no longer sells that brand. The diesel tractors can freeze up without kerosene or expensive on road fuel.

When I get frustrated in this way, a few thoughts help. One is not very nice, but I remember that there is some poor fellow in Alberta or North Dakota who has it worse than me.

I also spend evenings reading some of the old Ben East stories published in Outdoor Life in the 1930's and 1950's. East chronicled all kinds of adventures from arctic misery,wilderness plane crashes, and bear attacks. Great reading near a warm fire. I try to soak in all the sunshine I can, on the few sunny days we get in this area in Winter. I try to keep busy, but if a nonessential task gets frustrating I leave it for later.

When I can, I try to have more fun in the Winter. Between the bad storms and cold spells, there are times to indulge hobbies like shooting.

Ultimately, My beef with hard Winter is really a beef against nature. A complaint with the realities of nature is and old agrarian complaint. Generations of Farmers have shaken their hands at the sky in frustration with cold, flood, drought, or heat. If not that, there is some vagary of merciless nature. It can be found in the earliest agrarian literature. Here is some from Virgil's Georgics, though Hesiod would do as well.

Ceres first taught men to plow the land
But soon enough the Wheat fields came to grief
A mildew blight fell on the golden stems
The lazy thistle flourished in the fields,
the crops went under, and a wood of brambles,
Goose grass and star thistle took their place.......

I believe that romantic nature writing was first produced by ancient city dwellers on vacation. Real nature is tooth and claw. It will freeze you, drown you, bite you,starve you, cook you and leave your corpse to rot. The more brittle or extreme the environment, the less room to make a mistake.

A beef with Nature is also a complaint with the Creator of nature. This is my other consolation. I finally figured out after years of anger that the Creator did not intend for this freezing, drowning, biting, or starving. My own nature is no better than the mess around me. However, the Creator took every bit of this painful natural existence upon himself in a great cosmic rescue plan. He even rescued a grumpy middle age Pennsylvania farmer who has been known to shake his fist at the sky in utter frustration.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hunting Bold Reynard

So far, this is shaping up to be a bad Winter for predator attacks on our poultry. Tuesday evening, my wife and I returned from the weekly milk run to encounter a large beautiful Red Fox killing one of our Buff Orpington Hens. I chased him off and he dropped her, but it was too late for the poor girl. I went into the house and grabbed a rifle and began following the feathers. There was not enough snow and I lost the track after about 400 yards. I made a diagonal track in the hope he would circle, as foxes often do. He did indeed circle, in the other direction and right back to the chickens. when I came in view of the farmyard again he was chasing a bantam hen who had the sense to fly away. He saw my distant figure and took off in flight himself.

Since then, I have been spending a bit of each morning and evening casting for tracks and watching the fields. Each night, I shine a portable spotlight. So far, I have not seen him again. My gun in the picture is an older Savage Model 24. The top barrel is a .22 magnum rifle and the bottom barrel is a 20 gauge shotgun in 3" chambering. There is no better homestead varmint gun. It negates the need to decide whether to reach for a shotgun or rifle. If I could only have one homestead gun, this one would be the top of the list.

Part of the reason for the attack was that the chickens have been free ranging in th milder weather. Since the attack, they are a bit nervous, and I am only letting them out for a little bit, while I am nearby. Pumpkinseed, a pet hen, is still insisting to range. but she is acting less bold.

Foxes are easy to kill, but hard to hunt. Their slyness is long a part of legend and his name in folklore is Reynard or Reinhard. The last one I had to kill was a poor thing, and killing him was mercy. This one is big, bold, and in every way a beautiful animal. If he would leave my birds alone, I would be happy to let him live too. If he continues coming and I do not get him, I will be asking one of my friends to come decoy him with an electronic caller.