The Grass is as High as an Extremely Short Elephant's Eye

by Robert

It must be spring. The grass is getting way out of hand, but it's too wet to mow. This happens every year.

Chickens on free range like short grass. Back in the Golden Age of scientific poultrykeeping (roughly 1910-1960), this sort of thing was researched. Chickens did best on grass that was 2" high. Once it reached 6" it became a barrier to foraging. If it gets even taller, the chickens are confined to a few paths through the tall grass.

Tall grass also shorts out electric fence and can conceal predators. A field that is kept short has a lot of succulent, green regrowth, and bright green grass is the only kind that provides any nutrition for chickens. This nutrtion, by the way, consists of more vitamins than you can shake a stick at, some protein, but no calories.

Rain, rain, go away!

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Feeding Random Stuff to Chickens

by Robert

Okay, so someone has given you some exotic ingredient you've never heard of, like okra tofu, or banana seeds, or worm legs. Should you feed it to the chickens, and, if so, how?

The general rule for feeding miscellaneous stuff to chickens is to feed it in a separate feeder, while continuing to give them all the ordinary chicken feed they want. The chickens are pretty bored with the same old chicken feed and are sure to take an interest in anything new. They'll eat as much as they want.

The trick is to avoid trying to make them eat more. Chickens are quite good at figuring out whether feed is good or bad, and how much is good for them. In fact, they're better than you. So never starve them in order to make them finish off their yummy dish of politician's hearts. Just take away what they don't eat.

Try to feed them only what they'll clean up in a short time -- 20 minutes is traditional. In particular, don't let things that are capable of spoiling sit out to grow bacteria and mold, or attract flies and rats. The refrigerator is your friend. Use it to store the excess, rather than setting out too much.

You can also do it the hard way by looking up the foodstuff in question in a poultry nutrition reference. My favorite is Feeding Poultry by F. G. Heuser, which is one of the old poultry books that I brought back into print. It doesn't have an entry for politician's hearts, but it does list some pretty bizarre stuff, like whale meal (page 170) or silkworm chrysalis flour (page 173). The mind boggles. But you'll still want to use the "try it and see" technique with a new ingredient.

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Comment from: Nobis77 [Visitor]
Just found your site/blog yesterday, and love both.

..Been trying to learn re/invent the micro-farm foraged-flock wheel and your site's been a breakthrough.
Hope you don't mind weird/frequent questions. Cheers.
05/18/09 @ 15:24

Tires for Rural Use

by Robert

My 1993 VW Eurovan needs new tires. We had a flat, and while we were changing the tire we took a good look at the ratings printed on the sidewall, and realized that the tires that were on the vehicle when we bought it (a couple of years ago) are inadequate to the load.

We live two miles up a gravel road, and this is hard on our tires. We get a lot more tire damage than we did when living in the city. Whenever possible, we use six-ply commercial tires on our vehicles. And we do this the other way around, too, preferring vehicles for which six-ply commercial tires are available. I ordered a set of appropriate German-made tires, which of course no one has in stock and won't arrive for a few days. They cost over $200 each. Ouch! This is the penalty I pay for choosing an obscure imported van. Commercial tires for more popular vehicles are cheaper.

We frequently load our vehicles to capacity with feed, so it's good to have a vehicle with a commercial chassis. We used to have a Ford Taurus station wagon, which went through a surprising number of tie rods and shocks because it's not designed for that kind of service. Our Isuzu Trooper and VW Eurovan don't have this problem. Having a commercial chassis doesn't force you to have a stark, utilitarian commercial vehicle (though that's not a bad idea). Our Eurovan (designed originally as a commercial van) came in a a seven-passenger semi-RV configuration, with a fold-up table and fold-down bed. It's great for family outings. Just don't expect a sedan, minivan, or even an SUV built on a non-commercial chassis to last like the real deal.

We learned the hard way that conventional wisdom is wrong in one area: never overload a pickup truck! Not if you want to end the trip with the same number of wheels that you started with, anyway. A lot of people told us that you can overload a full-sized half-ton pickup to a full ton with no problems, and this quickly chewed up the rear bearings and spat out a rear wheel. Not fun! (Why would anybody make a full-sized half-ton pickup, anyway?)

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If It Were Any Fresher, You'd Have to Slap It

by Robert

Karen butchers chickens the day before the farmers' market, meaning that the broilers you buy from us have been on ice for no more than a day. Compare this to supermarket chicken, where sell-by dates are about ten days out from the date of butchering.

Also, our broilers are lovingly handled and kept on ice the whole time. No middlemen, no half-trained help. That's what small businesses and buying locally are all about.

And it doesn't hurt that they're the best-tasting broilers in the world, or that we raise them with respect.

Thought you'd like to know.


Comment from: Karen B [Visitor]
I'd still love to hear about your Karen's butchering techniques... in a previous post you said she was a whiz at it. What does she do to make the process so efficient?

This enquiring mind would like to know because I have about 15 broilers to process in two weeks, and will be raising more in summer.

05/10/09 @ 08:35
Comment from: Don [Visitor]
I too would like to know karens butchering secrets.
05/11/09 @ 11:33

Uncreaking Your Creaky Old Pets

by Robert

We have a Dalmatian, Sammi, who's getting up in years. She gets stiff and sore these days. What's worked for her is glucosamine sulfate, which is non-toxic and available everywhere. If she gets her twice-daily dose, she's much more agile.

It's available in all sorts of forms, including kibbles and dog biscuits. She doesn't like most of them very much, and we have to smear them with bacon grease or peanut butter to get her to take them. Anybody know of a brand that dogs find irresistable?

This stuff is supposed to work on humans, too, though it didn't do a thing for my bad back. I prefer pills to dog biscuits.

1 comment

Comment from: spence gatewood [Visitor]
I've been using glucosamine for a number of years & also feed it to our older pyranees.. works well for both of us. I started using it because of pain in my shoulder. I just thought I was getting older but one of my customers recommended glucosamine. I owe him big time. our pyr doesn't seem so creaky either.we just mix it in her food(open the cap)...spence
05/08/09 @ 10:25

Five Hammers: Quantity over Quality

by Robert

I can never find a hammer. Or a shovel, for that matter. I've got one around here someplace, but that doesn't get the ditch nailed.

One day I couldn't stand it anymore -- I was spending way more time looking for hammers than I was using them. So I went down to the hardware store and bought five hammers: four unpretentious Chinese hammers that they were practically giving away, and one nice American one. (This was in the days when the Chinese could build hammers but not crescent wrenches. Things are a lot better now.)

This plan worked great. It's hard to lose five hammers. It took years!

The same is true for shovels. Actually, it's worse with shovels. Hammers last forever: you just can't find them. Shovels break eventually, especially if you run them over with the tractor. "Oh, there it is!"

So is it moral, frugal, or prudent to buy many more tools than you really need? Define "really need," bucko. Before I bought the five hammers, it wasn't working. Afterwards, it was. I rest my case.

I had a similar experience with cell phones. My son Dan has trouble keeping track of his cell phone, and every few months he runs one through the wash. Lecturing has proven ineffective -- and you couldn't pay me to become his laundry maid and go through his pockets. What to do?

Often the first step is to say, "Suppose the problem never gets better. What's the cost?" It turns out that you can buy used cell phones (just like his old ones) on eBay for almost nothing. I just bought two for a total of $16.00, including shipping. So I gave him one, and he owes me $8. And when he runs it through the wash, I'll give him the spare for another $8. After that, he can buy his own replacements directly.

He can afford this tiny expense, so who cares? Not me. It takes a couple of minutes for me to log onto Verizon Wireless and activate a new phone, but that's it. It's not enough to worry about. We've all got bigger fish to fry.

So my advice is: let's not worship our tools. Sometimes they get lost or broken prematurely, but if this isn't not expensive, forget about it. Manage your time. Stop obsessing about your stuff.

Also, it's worth recognizing that expensive possessions are a burden. You feel compelled to protect and nurture them. There are better places to invest these feelings.

Now, I'm not saying that someone who uses a hammer all day long should use a cheap one. The best hammer you can buy is none too good under these circumstances. But it's still just a hammer -- mass-produced, identical to a zillion others, easily replaceable, and affordable. I'll bet the best hammer you can find is cheaper than taking the family out to the movies. So buy two hammers while you're at it, and don't freak out when someone wants to borrow one.

Sure, some tools are fragile or customized, and we need to keep other people's mitts off them. But this is a bug, not a feature: a burden, not an advantage. We should keep this sort of thing down to a minimum.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some more hammers.

1 comment

Comment from: John Sealander [Visitor]
Yes Robert, I had the same realization a few years ago after spending several hours each day 'huntin up' tools on some other part of our little farm. Out in the barn I need the hammer..oh its over at the house. Down in the pasture/garden I needed the shove...oh, its up in the barn. Nope, not there must be over at the house...GAWD! Plus I live in the mountains but I swear, 75% of those hikes were all up hill!
Now I have a cheap copy of each tool I use frequently in all those places where I usually work. I don't get any more work done, but now I spend my breaks sittin and thinkin rather than hiking all over the mountain side. I may have to join a gym!
05/10/09 @ 03:58

Part-Time Farming as the Road to Riches

by Robert

The best thing about farming is that it allows you to become an eccentric -- everybody around you expects this -- which is enough all by itself to gradually make you rich.


  • Farmers typically stay on the same farm forever, thus relieving themselves of the expense of buying a bigger McMansion every few years. For most people, buying houses they don't need is the stupidest waste of money in their lives.
  • Buy a fancy new car? When your gravel road is going to ding it up and it's always going to have half a ton of feed or livestock in the back? Are you crazy? Besides, no one expects you to. Everyone smiles and waves when you drive by in your elderly pickup. That takes care of the second-stupidest waste of money.
  • Nor are you tempted to buy a flavor-of-the-month politically-correct car, like a hybrid. Where does the half-ton of feed go? Even the most repellent snob won't begrudge a small farmer his 10-mpg pickup truck. Face it, you're surrounded by a cloud of political correctness (and possibly smoke from your worn rings) wherever you go.
  • And the same goes for clothes, too. A farmer doesn't gain any points for wearing the latest fashions.

So even if your part-time farm never makes a dime, it provides you with a tremendous level of social approval for living like a cheapskate. If you take the slightest advantage of this, you're likely to retire rich.

(Assuming that farmers ever retire. I think they live forever.)

1 comment

Comment from: Pablo Teodoro [Visitor] Email
Hilarious! Thanks for the yuks after a morning working inches deep in mud (from endless rain) mixed with rotting chicken feed, rotting hay, and lots of chicken poop. You can probably smell it from there!
05/05/09 @ 09:30

What Ever Happened to the Word "Epidemic"?

by Robert

Looks like the 2009 H1N1 is likely to turn into a fizzle. This shouldn't surprise anyone, since being sensible always involves a high click-to-bang ratio. That is, you can have a great batting average simply by waiting until all the evidence is in, but by then it's too late to do anything. Sort of defeats the point of the exercise. So you decide on purpose to jump the gun and put up with the low batting average.

What irritates me is the way the news media, particularly TV, pander to the fact that they get higher viewership during a crisis, and so they need to create a crisis from whatever material comes to hand. In that spirit, they've removed the word "epidemic" from their vocabulary. In the real world, diseases go from "outbreak," to "epidemic," to "pandemic." But the media has gotten to the point where any news-worthy outbreak is a "pandemic" -- or at least a "potential pandemic" -- while the word "epidemic" isn't used at all.

Does crying wolf actually work? Less and less over time, I'd say. The crowd at Saturday's farmers' market was about as large and about as happy as usual, though a nearby college had closed due to a suspected flu case. Probably a lot of people were like me, and looked at the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control, then went about their business.

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May Newsletter is Available

by Robert

I've emailed my monthly newsletter, which you can also read by clicking this link.

You can subscribe to the newsletter from the box on the right-hand side of this page. I think it may have been broken for a while, but try again now if it didn't work for you before. (It's supposed to send confirmation emails pretty quickly.) If in doubt, send me an email (

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Our Eggs Were Featured in the Buy Local Breakfast

by Robert

Today is the first Buy Local Breakfast of the season. These happen every year in Corvallis and highlight local farmers. We always donate the eggs. It's probably too late for you to rush out and scarf down some yummy local food, but it'll come round again on June 6 and July 4.

The forecast is for rain at the farmers' market, but I'll be there, and so should you! Today's special is two dozen Extra Large eggs for $8.50.

Don't forget to print out a copy of the Norton Creek Farm Web page, since it doubles as a dollar-off coupon.

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