How Not to Have a Dam Failure

After the recent failure of the Oroville dam’s main spillway, the question I keep asking myself is, “Where did the engineers go to school?”

Back in 1889, the South Fork Dam broke after heavy rains, opening up like a zipper and flooding Johnstown, Pennsylvania, killing 2,209 people. The dam had overflowed, and dams fail catastrophically when this happens. Especially earth-fill dams. Read more...

Your Chickens in January, 2017 [Newsletter]

chickens in range houses and snowNews from the Farm

  • Happy New Year! We’ve been having unusual cold this winter. Not record-breaking, but with more cold and snow than usual: many days with snow on the ground and temperatures down to 17 °F or so. That counts as cold by Western Oregon standards.
  • Before the cold set in, we took our last two pigs to the Woodburn Auction Yard. While selling pastured pigs at auction is no way to make money, it cuts our losses. (We raised a record eight pigs and sold six to our customers.)
  • Around here, the nastiest weather and the biggest chance of power outages happens between December 15 and the end of January, so we tend to take it easy this time of year. We’ll be brooding more and more baby chicks in a little while.
  • The chickens are holding up well. They don’t mind this kind of weather if they can stay dry, stay out of the wind, and have plenty of feed and water. Of these, the water is proving the most troublesome, since our pasture watering system is mostly just endless lengths of easily frozen garden hose.

Farmers’ Markets? In Winter?

Our local Corvallis Indoor Winter Market has been highly successful. It’s been operating for more than a dozen years and gets bigger every year.

How do you do an indoor winter market? Not by importing produce from sunnier climes! In January, local producers have root vegetables, nuts, eggs, poultry, cheese, meat, baked goods, honey, and other products. And soon the local greenhouses will provide flowers, early vegetables, and vegetable starts. Winter markets are apparently still unusual, but they can probably be duplicated anywhere. Ours gets positively mobbed! Read more...

Your Chickens in December [Newsletter]

News from the Farm

Our  farmer’s market season ended the day before Thanksgiving. We have a mild climate here in Oregon, but don’t kid yourself: an outdoor farmer’s market in November can be challenging! One market was canceled due to high winds. We’ve had some heavy rains, with 3.5 inches of rain falling on Thanksgiving day alone! This flooded our back pasture, and the hens there were wading through a couple of inches of slow-moving water for a day or two. They weren’t enthusiastic about this, but they didn’t panic, either. Things are now back to normal. One of the things that’s part of the package when you do old-fashioned free range is that weather matters more than it does with confined chickens. Now that it’s December, the weather is turning cold right on cue, with snow in the forecast for the first time today.

Free range hens on snow
My hens in snow, a few years ago.
  • Egg production has recovered somewhat, probably due to our use of lights, as discussed in my October newsletter.
  • We had some mystery predators killing a few hens on the back pasture. This seems to have stopped after we added some solar-powered anti-predator blinky lights. I’m trying the Yinghao anti-predator lights: so far, they seem excellent, both fancier and cheaper than the Nite Guard lights I use on the front pasture. Both models have simple red LED lights that blink all night. These are supposed to make predators think they’re being glared at by other predators. They work pretty well.
  • My Neighbor Invented the Modern Christmas Tree

    One of the inventors of the modern Christmas tree, Hal Schudel, lived a mile or so up the road from us. He introduced all sorts of innovations, including hauling out the trees by helicopter to eliminate the need for roads and their attendant erosion, and the introduction of the Noble Fir as a premium Christmas Tree. Hal, who was once an agronomy professor at Oregon State University, knew a good tree when he saw it! He also figured out how to raise them sustainably in bulk and help many farmers make a living from them. He passed away two years ago at the age of 96. Read more...

    FAQ: Chicken Feeding Tips

    Here are my most reliable tips on feeding your chickens: feeding them simply, feeding them cheaply, and feeding them well.

    1. How Can I Save Money on Chicken Feed?

    Here are some tips:

    • Girl feeding free-range chickens by handAvoid “cheapskate feeds.” There are a lot of cheapskates out there who don’t care about quality. Most mills have a line of cheapskate feeds that you need to avoid, because they’re bulked out with fillers like wheat-milling byproducts that have little nutritional value. Cheapskate feeds often have keywords telling you what they are; words like “Country,” “Thrifty,” and so on. You’ll save money if you quality feed.
    • Buy from the best. Ask your practical-minded acquaintances who the best feed mill is. Usually the verdict is almost unanimous. Buy from the best feed mill: it’ll saves you money.
    • Use the “grain-on-the-side” method described further down in this FAQ.
    • Minimize feed waste. Most feeders on the market are really just baby chick feeders, no matter what the manufacturers say. Their feed pans are too shallow, and the chickens throw feed in all directions. In some tube feeders, it pours over the side on its own! Losing at least 10% of your feed to the poor design of the feeder is very common. Find the deepest feeders you can get your hands on, or make them yourself. Never fill trough feeders more than 1/3 full. Spend more time watching your flock. If you slow down, you’ll notice things and everything will magically improve, including the bottom line.
    • Get a book about poultry nutrition. A lot of what you’ll read on the Internet or hear from your neighbors will be nonsense, and you’ll want to immunize yourself. Also, it helps to have a complete reference manual handy! The best poultry nutrition book in print is the one I reprinted myself, Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. There are other excellent books on the topic, but they are all out of print. (I can’t figure that out.)
    • Read my blog postings on saving money on chicken feed.

    2. Do I HAVE to Feed Free-Range Chickens (or can they find their own feed?)

    Remember: Chickens can’t find feed that isn’t there, and the more chickens you have, the less feed there is to go around. You have to match the number chickens to the feed supply, or nature will do it for you through poor health and starvation. Read more...

    Flyover States and the Election

    I live in the country. I have a farm. I’ve spent most of my career in high-tech: I’ve lived in the city, too. So I’m fluent in two languages: urban and rural.

    I rarely post here about politics, since politics doesn’t get the cows milked. And this isn’t about politics anyway: it’s about mindset. I’m just using the election as an example. Read more...