Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Animals, Healthy Animals

The Chicken coop as it was.

This was the very first project I tackled on our little hobby farm.
Since the house came with 2 living animals (the chickens)
their needs came right after the people and animals in the house.
Our barn is about 110 years old (possibly older) and I think the coop is about the same. It is an amazing coop, and we're so lucky! It was properly constructed with a lot of knowledge of animal husbandry and making work easy. I'll do another post about the coop itself in the future, but this one is about what happens when people maybe don't know too much about what they are doing take over...

These photos are from March when we went to look at the house. If you look at the ground you can see it is gray, not just because of the concrete but that was the colour of the old shavings and bird-poo. If you look at the walls and ceilings those are not bits of fabric hanging down, but cobwebs. There was also a huge load of rat-poo in around the chicken feed (which was thankfully stored in a good plastic container so it's not spoiled).

Keeping animals can be a lot of work but the basic principal comes down to: no animal should have to live in their own poo (even if sometimes they want to).

Poo happens, and on a farm it happens a lot; but keeping their poo away from the animals is the easiest thing you can do to keep everyone healthy. Sometimes that means removing pieces of equipment in order to clean things up. I had to take the 2x6s off the back roost in order to remove the caked in bird poo that was on each one.

Cob-webs are a fire hazard, and there is no excuse for webs like these, they were thick as fabric in some spots! Go in with your broom every day and keep an eye out of cob webs as you move around your barn. Once a week go around and make sure you've removed all of them. Making it part of your daily routine will make this into a non-job instead of a huge one a few times a year.

I don't know what happened to chicken #3.
When it comes to chickens, nest boxes need to be kept clean. You don't want bird poo in your breakfast, clean out your nest boxes as they are soiled. Since we only have 2 chickens and 10 nest boxes I'm going to cover a few so the girls don't poop in them (they have their two favourites already picked out anyway).

There is a place for garbage, and sprinkled around your buildings like a treasure hunt is not it. I'm sure it is easier just to stuff feed bags into the rafters instead of hauling them out to the curb (and in some older barns they were used as insulation) but they keep & hold and incredible amount of dust and dirt in those little nooks and crannies. You're much better off hauling garbage back with you every time you go to the barn, and putting it away wherever you're keeping your garbage, and getting real insulation.

Everyone needs fresh air. I appreciate that an Ottawa winters night can get very very cold, but you're not doing your animals any favours by blocking out all the cold air so they are re-breathing all the ammonia and bacteria in their home. Instead, choose animal breeds that are best suited to your climate, feed extra and learn more about what equipment you can use to help keep everyone toasty (safely!).

Chickens especially need fresh clean air, the coop had feed bags stuffed in it's ventilation shafts, and the entire roof of the coop is covered with plywood (and MORE feed bags) which is just trapping more dust in the coop. Every single window was also caked closed with dirt, rotting wood & poop. The girls are SO much happier to have their windows open. There is a reason all this great ventilation was put into the coop in the first place, I'm glad it was easy to bring back.

We'll be removing the ply-wood ceiling and putting up more chicken wire instead (to keep the ladies from roosting in the rafters & making a mess); but that's not a priority so we're leaving it for later in the summer while we get more of the main barn ready for animals.

It's not just about keeping the animals area clean, but my works-space as well. Now everything is tidy and well-laid out so I can find what I need right away, plus it's off the floor away from the rats. 
The run has been trimmed down, we left a small patch in the middle for
sun and predator protection, not really necessary with the coop door
open all the time, but the chickens seem to enjoy it.
A million times better! Clean, airy & and it doesn't smell.
I added two bags of shavings over the ground, then some really old hay 
(so they aren't going to eat it) around the back of the pen.
We've replaced the 2x6s I removed from them roost on the back wall 
and replaced 2 dowels so far, this way it will be easier to clean in the future.
The ladies were so pleased with their newly cleaned coop they spent almost and entire warm and beautiful Sunday afternoon inside the coop, sitting in their nest boxes talking to each other. I had been getting 1 egg a day from Henny only, but Penny was been so pleased with the box she's been laying too.

And maybe I'm more picky then the average person, I don't know. But I do know that this coop is now a place I want to be, and a place I can bring the kids with me to feed the chickens or collect eggs.

Also if you're ever selling a small/hobby farm. Clean up the barn before visitors come.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prepping the Barn for it's new occupants

Finally arrived on the Farm!

The gardens were such a nice surprise. Since we bought in the winter I had no idea what was hiding under the snow, but I've got lovely perennial gardens!

The former bull-pen.

This stall is right beside the dairy portion.

Silly me, diving in with out getting pictures again, and I missed photographing the huge manger we got out of the back (really it was hubby that knocked it out, that thing was built to last!) . Mangers aren't bad but they are un-necessary for horses. You can use a hay-net if you've got a messy eater, but my girl isn't and removing it added 2' to the back of the stall. Now it's a great size of a horse!

The concrete floor underneath makes it very easy to clean but I will need to purchase some rubber mats ($$!), or because I was already planning on using straw instead of shavings, I may just try bedding deeply and see how that goes. I have a very tidy horse, but if you're got one who likes to churn up their stall, mats are a very good idea.

There were tons of nails we had to send back into the wood, you don't want anything in a stall horse can scratch themselves on. Leave one little nail & they will find it!

There was also a whole lot of very old cow manure in there, gross! I don't know how long it was sitting around but there was really no reason for it not to have already been removed when the animals where. At least it's all well rotten down & perfect for the garden compost.

We are going to re-place a few more boards before the pony goes in, and cover up the hinges, but she could go in today and there wouldn't be any problems.

Mountain Fair
Right on the wall beside the stall, I'm going to put something over it to protect it from any more damage. 

Far left end of the barn
(Yes apparently Madison does need to get her bum in all the photos!)
This is the far left end of the barn, where we've got two large stalls. I don't know, but since this used to be a dairy barn I believe this was where they kept the calves. There were 5 mangers still in here, again not something horses need so we're not sure what we're doing with them yet. They are all very strong & well built with minimal damage so for now they'll go in the keep pile.

Half-way done

Again, full of old poop, shavings & hay over here. The walls are amazingly sturdy, not just the rock-wall but the wood as well. They don't build them like this any more!

The next stall towards the middle of the barn.

The Pig styes? Really I'm not sure what was supposed to be in
here but the door-gates life up & out, so I'm assuming pigs or
sheep maybe. Right now they are holding all the extra wood
out of the way of the aisle while we clean up.

Next... the dairy side!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't leave your boots out in the Rain

I broke the #1 rule of farming, and paid for it at 6am on Sunday morning with an 1" of rain in my boots. My first official day as a hobby farmer and 4 hours spent in the chicken coop with very wet feet!

This idea really extends to all areas of the hobby farm, don't pay later for a lazy decision now. I worked in horse barns for a couple years before my little ones came along, and you learn pretty quickly there is a lot of a value in investing in good tools.

Although farm tools can be very expensive at start-up, the math always works out at that a $35 metal manure fork is going to last years & years, where one of those $20 plastic forks will be replaced every year. Plus you've got to pay yourself for your time, even if you're not planning on making a profit, if you purchase good tools that can get your job done in 20 minutes instead of 30 every day, you're making it worth your while to invest the money.

If money is tight and you're looking for a cheaper option, try hitting up some garage sales or auctions for older tools. They are always built better, in fact my cultivator is more then 20 years old and works like a dream! Right now I'm looking for a handle to replace the one I snapped, because the 1 1/2" thick wood handle broke and the cultivator is still in great shape.

When you're shopping, don't be taken by gimmicky tools that claim they are going to make your work easier. The tried & true is absolute the best way to go. Look for tools that have lots of grip so you don't need to wear gloves in the summer. You also need something that is in good proportion to your body, both in weight and height. There is no point in hurting your back every day swinging a fork that is 20lbs to heavy for you.

If you're not sure what sort of tools your need for the animals you'd like to keep you can always ask the feed store guys, locals you know keep the same creatures, or try an online forum. In general you're going to need:

A muck shovel

A manure fork

A good tough wheel barrow with a no-flat tire (trust me on the no-flat part!)

A good corn broom