Rural High-Speed Internet

My satellite TV signal is going south on me, so I’ve ordered a new antenna. The old one is an ancient Hughes “DirecPC” antenna, which got me thinking about rural high-speed Internet.

When I first returned to Oregon, I used dial-up. It was painfully slow and consumed a phone line. I quickly switched to DirecPC (now HughesNet), which was a huge improvement. No comparison. I got satellite TV at the same time, using the same antenna for both.

Satellite Internet works in places that have no phone service, which is useful for people who are way out yonder. This doesn’t apply to me, though.

While satellite Internet is a lot better than dial-up,it’s a lot worse than DSL. The reason is that a signal going up to a geosynchronous satellite and back again has to travel over 50,000 miles, which adds a delay amounting to a significant fraction of a second to everything you do. If your phone lines can support DSL, that’s what you want. This is true even if the local DSL service is slower. That is, a 768 kpbs satellite link is a lot slower in practice than a 768 kbps DSL link.

People in town can also opt for cable Internet or various forms of wireless Internet served by local antenna towers, but these are typically not available in rural areas.

DSL piggybacks onto an existing phone line in a way that’s invisible to your telephone, so you can use your phone and Internet at the same time.

No one is allowed to use my computer but me. This means that I have to provide the kids with their own computers. With high-speed Internet, everyone can connect to the Internet simultaneously, without fighting over the use of the link. I have Ethernet cables running all over the house to hook everything up. Wireless is easier, though it may not give adequate coverage over the whole house. Inevitably, the room that’s the most impossible to reach with a cable is the one that can’t receive a wireless signal, either. My recommendation for DSL: get a DSL modem that supports both wired and wireless access between itself and your PCs.

Modern computers all have Ethernet ports as standard equipment; just plug in the cable. For wireless, you need a wireless adapter that plugs into a USB port into a slot in the PC.

Speaking of PCs, folks in the country are often subjected to frequent power outages. The most convenient way to deal with this is to use a laptop computer rather than a desktop system. Laptops have batteries and will continue running for a couple of hours after the power fails. This is far more run time than you get with a desktop system and an affordable UPS (uninterruptible power supply). This may not be practical for anyone interested in state-of-the-art games on their PC. Laptops capable of such things aren’t very affordable.

I have found that both desktops and laptops work well off a generator. If you want to combine a UPS and generator use (which makes sense, since it means your desktop systems won’t crash when the generator runs out of gas), I recommend the APC Smart-UPS line, which is better-suited to generator use than other UPS systems. Other UPS units I’ve tried freak out at the least little voltage deviation and switch to battery, exhausting their batteries even when the generator is running. The Smart-UPS doesn’t do this.

Crows, Hoophouses, Predator Control.

Our local crows discovered a loose piece of hardware cloth in of our portable hoophouses and killed about a dozen young broilers. I need to update my hoophouse page to point out that we’ve made all our broiler houses burglar-proof, with chicken wire covering the whole thing, and hardware cloth over the chicken wire near the bottom to keep raccoons from reaching in and grabbing broilers.

While there’s a lot of romantic nonsense about country life being just like a petting zoo or a Little Golden Book, that hasn’t been my experience. If we don’t react to predators right away, all our chickens will soon be dead. We’ve tightened up the house. So far, so good.

Last year I had a lot of trouble from crows. I tried everything. What worked was shooting a few of them. The word got out and the rest stayed away. I was sad that scarecrows didn’t work, because I like the look of a field with a scarecrow in it. (Maybe I’ll set a couple up as a fashion accessory, rather than for any better reason.)

The neighbors report quite a bit of coyote activity, so I suppose it’s time to start patrolling the perimeter fence again. It turned out, rather to my surprise, that finding predator trails is trivially simple even if there isn’t a trail of feathers from stolen chickens. All you have to do is look. Then you use the intervention of your choice.

My personal preference is live and let live, which is why my electric fence is my first line of defense. I’m okay with zillions of predators crossing my property so long as they leave my livestock alone. But the ones that cross my electric fence are showing an excessively high level of motivation and constancy of purpose. With these, the first choice is to exclude them (maybe the fence is too high or too low or doesn’t have enough voltage, and fixing this will exclude the predator and all his friends). If that doesn’t work, shooting is second best and trapping is third.

Lots of people would phrase that last part to be, “Trapping is the method of last resort,” but that implies hesitancy, and when you hesitate in the face of predators, more of your critters get killed. Responding quickly is very important.

I’ve found snares to be very effective when used sensibly. I don’t like leg-hold traps. I’ve found Hal Sullivan’s Web page to be very informative, and I’ve used his snare kits and benefited from the DVD that comes with them. The main thing to do is to identify trails used only by the predators eating your chickens, and set a snare in that place only. You don’t want to go setting them in the local equivalent of Grand Central Station; you’re after specific animals, usually a single individual.

With pastured poultry, placing the snares inside the electric fence pretty much guarantees that you won’t be catching innocent bystanders.

Privett “Slow Cornish” Broilers — So Far, So Good

Karen makes all the decisions on the broiler side of the farm. (Actually, she’s in charge of almost everything, these days.) Two years ago, she experimented with the “Freedom Ranger” broilers, which gave mixed results. These were supposed to be more like standard-breed chickens, which they were, with all that this implies, good and bad (which I may go into later).

For many years we got our modern, hybrid broiler chicks locally, from Jenks’ Hatchery in Tangent, Oregon. This worked very well for us, and we had our operation tuned to the strengths and weaknesses of the modern hybrid broiler. These broilers grow like weeds but are lethargic and “don’t act like real chickens” after the first few weeks.

Well, Freedom Rangers went out of business. Jenks’ Hatchery has been mothballed after losing their contract with Draper Valley, so we were forced to try something new.

Karen turned to Privett Hatchery in Portales, New Mexico, which is where we always buy our egg-type pullets. At the moment we’re using their “Slow Cornish” broilers, a white-feathered, broad-breasted hybrid broiler that looks like a modern broiler but acts more like a real chicken (active and alert).

So far, they seem to be on the growth curve in Table 20-10 of the the 1991 edition of “Commercial Chicken Production Manual,” which puts them in the right ballpark. They’re only 6 weeks old right now, and the few we butchered dressed out at 2 lbs. This is too small, of course, but we expect 3.5 lbs. at 8 weeks and 5.75 lbs. at 12 weeks.

This is way faster than standard-breed broilers, which dress out at 2 lbs. at 8 weeks and 3 lbs. at 12 weeks — if you’re lucky. I think it’s also faster growth than the Freedom Rangers provided, though I’d have to dig up Karen’s records to be sure.

So far, so good. It’s a little early to tell at 6 weeks just how they’ll turn out, but I have a good feeling about these broilers. I recommend Privett Hatchery. They’re very good.

Keeping Track of the Blog: Email or RSS?

Several people have asked me if they can get email notifications for new blog entries, so I’m trying a third-party notification service called “Bot-a-Blog”.

Just click the “BOT ABLOG” button near the lower right-hand edge of the page and sign up for an account. (Let me know how you like it.)

Another, probably better alternative, is get your feet wet with RSS, as follows:

1. Go to http://www.igoogle.com and follow their “Create a home page in 30 seconds” instructions.

2. Bookmark the page, or make it your homepage.

3. Click the “Add Stuff” link near the top of the page.

4. Find the “Add feed or gadget” link and click that.

5. Enter http://www.plamondon.com/b2evolution/blogs/blog4.php?tempskin=_rss2 into the box and press “Add”.

6. Click the “Back to iGoogle home” link, and you should see “A View From the Farm” on your iGoogle home page.

That solves the immediate problem. The iGoogle walkthroughs and help pages are worth looking at. You can add any page with an RSS link (see below)to your iGoogle page.

[RSS]

Practically all major Web sites, blogs, and forums have RSS feeds. The titles of the most recent articles, events, or postings will appear on your iGoogle page. The iGoogle page becomes your window into the Web. Pretty nifty!

Interesting Article on Early Egg Farming

A Watt Poultry article gives a pretty good rundown of the early egg industry, marred mostly by a few patches of garbled numbers.

The authors correctly identify the pioneering breeders who changed the egg industry in the first third of the 20th century (including James Dryden, whose book I need to reprint some day) and have some interesting tables of productivity per hen.

The numbers giving the amount of labor required per hen are garbled, but the numbers that report how many hens represent a full-time job at different technology levels are correct. The numbers tend to explain why you shied away from doubling your flock size this year!