Your Chickens in July [Newsletter]

News from the Farm

We couldn’t ask for better weather: warm but not too warm, encouraging us to spend time outdoors. The only fly in the ointment is that our tractor is still in the shop.

Publishing News

Poultry Breeding and Management: 100th Anniversary Edition

A big milestone in the Golden Age of American poultrykeeping (roughly 1910-1960) was the publication of Professor James Dryden’s Poultry Breeding and Management in 1916. Working just down the road at the Oregon Experiment Station in Corvallis, Dryden accomplished a lot, It’s not clear whether he was more respected for being the first to prove that you could breed hens for higher production, or because his simple, effective management methods made two generations of farmers far more successful.

On the breeding side, Dryden was the first person to demonstrate conclusively that you can use selective breeding to increase egg production. Others had tried and failed (too much inbreeding, too little out-crossing). In 1913, one hen, dubbed “Lady MacDuff,” produced 303 eggs in 365 days. This was in an age where the average farm hen produced fewer than 100 eggs per year. Not only did Dryden prove this, he proved it three times over, producing three improved breeds simultaneously (Barred Rocks, White Leghorns, and a hybrid of the two called “Oregons”). And these weren’t just successful on paper: demand for breeding stock was so high that sales of these birds paid for many of the buildings on the Oregon State University campus.

Dryden’s book remained in print for about 30 years, and Dryden is the only poultryman ever inducted into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Anyway, this is a great book, full of ideas you can still use: some directly, and some with s few modernizing twists. I’m calling it the “100th Anniversary Edition.” Check it out!

Win a Free Book!

I’m trying out Amazon’s “giveaway” feature, so if you’re quick about it, you can win a free copy of Poultry Breeding and Management! How? Use the following link to enter the giveaway (or sweepstakes, or whatever the right word is). Basically, if you enter, you may or may not win a book: free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one entry per customer.

July Poultry Notes

If your flock consists of laying hens, July is an easy month. Pretty much like June, only hotter. You need to be ready for the hot weather. Remember that chickens don’t like heat very much and really love shade in sunny weather.

Don’t let their drinking water get hot; they may refuse to drink it, and this can kill them on a hot day. Keep the waterers in the shade.

Hot weather also means that things spoil more quickly. Get those eggs into cool, shady places (preferably a refrigerator) as soon as they’re collected, and avoid feeding the chickens perishable feeds in quantities that they can’t gobble down in 20 minutes or so.

Predators may be getting a little hungrier, so keep your eyes open.

To do in July:

  • Sell or butcher surplus cockerels. Traditionally, most of the male chicks were sold or turned into “spring chicken” (small broilers) as soon as they could be identified reliably. Having troops of young roosters around is a nuisance: fighting, annoying the hens, crowing, and eating their heads off while laying no eggs. We like having a few roosters around, but no more than the few that slip into our “100% pullets” orders. (Chickens of all ages can easily be sold live though a Craigslist ad to people who want them for various kinds of traditional ethnic cuisine. But you can’t even give away roosters “to a good home.”)
  • Sell or butcher early molting hens. The natural rate of lay peaks in April or May, but hens shouldn’t actually be molting yet. Early molting hens are low-producing hens. In the fall, they’ll all molt, but now, any hen that drops her feathers is a known slacker that will probably do even worse next year.
  • Replace litter. If you’re using deep litter, replace part of it so you don’t bang your head on the rafters. See my Deep Litter FAQ.
  • Provide shade on range. Chickens are easily overheated on sunny summer days.
  • Provide additional ventilation. Most chicken-coop designs are grossly under-ventilated. See Fresh-Air Poultry Houses for lots of ideas for light, airy chicken coops. Once they’re out of the brooder house, it’s impossible to provide too much ventilation during the warmer months, provided your chickens don’t actually blow away into someone else’s farm!
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather. This is especially true if you can’t put them directly into a refrigerator. Egg quality declines far faster at high temperatures than room temperature, and far faster at room temperature than in the refrigerator, so leaving them in the nest for a few extra hours on a hot day can cause a perceptible decline in quality.
  • Control roost mites. In most of the country, roost mites are the biggest health threat to chickens, and they multiply alarmingly in warm weather. The mites are most troublesome on roosts and in nest boxes. See my Chicken Heath Issues FAQ.
  • Cull weak or runty chickens. Yep, more culling. Runty, stunted, or sick chickens won’t recover to the point of being profitable. This may not be an issue with pet chickens, but for even a small-scale commercial flock, it’s best to get remove them as soon as they’re detected.
  • Feed moist feed to maintain egg production on hot days. This is an old-time farming trick that I don’t use myself, but that some people swear by. Feed a small amount of moist feed once or twice a day to perk up the hens’ appetite. It has to be a small amount, so it’s all gone before all the hens get all they want, to spur competition-based eating. The idea here is that hot weather dulls the hens’ appetites, and if they don’t eat enough, they don’t have the resources to keep laying. The classic way of doing moist feed is to feed ordinary chicken feed in long troughs and dribble about a quart of water per 100 hens down the middle of the trough, creating a stripe of moist feed that’s consumed instantly.
  • Be aware that egg production has probably already peaked for the year. This is deeply inconvenient for those of us who sell at farmer’s markets, where the sales potential peaks in August and September, but it’s hard to influence the natural egg-laying cycle.

This list is inspired by a similar one in Jull’s Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
  2. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  3. A Thousand Miles Up The Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
  4. Genetics of the Fowl by F. B
  5. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.

All of these are fine books (I only publish books I believe in). If you’re like most readers of this newsletter, you’ll enjoy starting with Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks. These cover the basics of healthy, odor-free, high-quality chicken housing and zero-mortality chick brooding, respectively, and get good reviews.

I started Norton Creek Press in 2003 to bring the “lost secrets of the poultry masters” into print—techniques from the Golden Age of poultrykeeping, which ran from roughly 1900 to 1950. I’ve been adding an eclectic mix of non-poultry books as well. These include everything from my science fiction novel, One Survivor, to the true story of a Victorian lady’s trip up the Nile in the 1870s, A Thousand Miles up the NileSee my complete list of titles.

Recent Blog Posts

Here are some new and updated posts since last time, from my various blogs:

Adventures in Social Media

And if that’s not enough, you can use social media to stay up to date:

Living With a Low-Yield Well

Slow wells and running out of water are no jokeSlow, low-yield water wells are no joke, as I learned when I nearly ran out of water one summer. Yikes! Running out of water is seriously Not Fun.

How did we fix our problem? More importantly, how can you fix your problem?

Can you need a new well? Maybe not! With the right setup, you can have all the water you need with a very slow well. We do fine with a well that gives only a quart per minute.

Table of Contents

What is a Low-Yield Well?

A low-yield well (also called a “slow well”) is a water well that has delivers water more slowly than you need. Since a well is basically a hole in the ground that water seeps into, if you pump the water out of it faster than it’s flowing in, eventually the water coming out of the pump falls to a trickle or stops altogether.

Symptoms of a Low-Yield Well

If you have a low-yield well, you’ll have at least one of these problems:

  • Running out of water. Everything is fine for a while: you have plenty of water and plenty of pressure, but after a while the flow and pressure fall dramatically, possibly to zero. If you turn off the taps and wait, everything recovers after a while.
  • Low water pressure, low water flow. For example, shower dribbles instead of spray.
  • Dead pumps. Your water pumps don’t last long before burning out.

When I first moved to my farm in Oregon, we could water the lawn for about an hour, and then our water pressure would fall almost to zero and we’d get only a trickle of water. If we turned off the hose, our water pressure would recover in about twenty minutes, but would quickly fall again if we turned the hose back on. We’d have to wait hours to get another chance at watering the lawn.

Depending on your particular well, you might run out of pressure even faster: partway through a shower, for instance.

Also, the problem may be seasonal, with plenty of water during months where the water table is high, and little when the water table is low. Your well may still give water during the driest months, but not enough—unless you take the steps I describe later on.

It’s All About Your Local Geology

If you’re in an area where it’s easy to drill a well that gives you all the water you need, you’re lucky! Here in the Pacific Coast Range, we suffer from the irony that we get a lot of rain, but the aquifers yield up water grudgingly. Good wells are few and far between in my area, so we learn how to get the most out of poor ones.

Anatomy of a Basic Well System

A home water system is a pretty simple proposition:

  • Drill a hole in the ground until you hit an aquifer and water pours into the well.
  • Drop a pump down the well and connect it to your household pipes.
  • To keep the pump from running 24/7, add a pressure switch to turn the pump off when no water is being used.
  • Add a pressure tank to hold enough water at pressure so the pump doesn’t have to turn on every time you open a faucet.

Typical domestic water well


If water pours into the well faster than you pump it out, you’ll always have plenty of water and plenty of pressure. You don’t have a low-yielding well.

How Much Water is Enough Water?

When I bought my farm, the rule of thumb lenders preferred was that the water system should be able to produce 600 gallons over the course of two hours, or five gallons per minute. It can be difficult to finance a home purchase if you can’t pass this test.

What if your aquifer is stingy, and simply can’t deliver this much water?

My well produces only about a quart per minute, or 360 gallons per day. How can I pass a 600-gallon flow test, let alone have enough water during peak usage periods during the day?

Water storage, that’s how. Clearly, through the miracle of a full-to-the-brim 600-gallon storage tank, anyone can pass a 600-gallon flow test. You could have a dry well and still pass, if you have a water holding tank and pay someone to truck in the water to fill it with.

So the test the lenders use doesn’t actually measure the water well yield. Which is nice, but what about after you move in? If your lack of water is driving you nuts, it’s time to do something about it.

The Slow Flow Paradox

One thing about my quart-per-minute well is that a quart per minute is somewhere between a trickle and a dribble. It takes more than six minutes to cycle a 1.6 gallon/minute toilet, and taking a shower is almost impossible.

On the other hand, there are 1,440 minutes in a day, and in that time my quart-a-minute well produces 360 gallons. This is plenty of water for a family of four. So if I capture all the water my well is capable of yielding, we have plenty of water.

How do we capture 360 gallons per day, so we can use it whenever we want? We need to acquire some storage. A cistern, a reservoir, a storage tank, a holding tank—call it what you will.

Why? Because, unless you have an artesian well that has water flowing right out of the top, without a pump, every well fills itself up to a certain level (the static water level), and then stops. No more water flows in. If you pump some water out, more flows in. But once it’s filled to the static water level, it stops.

I need to be able to harvest my well’s pathetic dribble of water. I can’t afford to have it sit around at the static water level most of the time, not producing water for me. So we need to do one of two things:

  1. Drill the well with a large diameter that there’s plenty of water storage inside the well itself.
  2. Add a storage tank for the well water, and run the pump often enough that the water in the well doesn’t reach the static level.

Storing water in the well itself

Storing water inside the well shaft works just fine with a simple well setup: well, pump, pressure switch, pressure tank. The pressure tank really only stores a few gallons, so that’s no help. But you can store water in the well itself. That’s what a well is: a hole in the ground with water in it. You can create storage by making the well wider, or deeper, or both.

My older well has the aquifer at 85 feet, but the well is 145 feet deep. That extra depth acts as a reservoir that holds about 150 gallons. Using extra depth for storage is a side effect of the luck-of-the-draw nature of the well-drilling process. You’re never sure what you’re doing to get, and if you hit a shallow aquifer with a disappointing flow rate, you tend to keep going, hoping to find more water further down. If you don’t, at least you’ve created some water storage.

So let’s do the math. If my well yields a quarter-gallon per minute, and the well has 150 gallons of water capacity, how long until it’s full again? Ten hours (600 minutes).

How long until I have water pressure again? Depending on how things are set up, you might have a dribble of water continuously, but the water pressure won’t rise to normal levels until you’ve been using no water at all for a while. For example, a low-flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water, and if the toilet is flushed after the pressure has fallen to zero, the household pressure won’t rise until sometime after it fills. On a well like mine, pressure doesn’t come back for tens of minutes.

Using a Storage Tankplastic_water_tanks

Our original well, with its 150 gallons of in-well storage, worked okay for us for a couple of years, once we gave up on the idea of watering the lawn during the summer. Later, as we got into the broiler butchering business, we started running out of water at inconvenient times. So we added a 1500-gallon holding tank. We got one that’s basically a big black plastic tank about eight feet in diameter and six feet tall. They’re light. The guy who delivered it just rolled it off his trailer by hand, rolled it across the grass to where we wanted it, and got a couple of us to give him a hand in tipping it upright. Easy.

In my mild climate, you can just set one up outdoors and forget about it. In a climate that’s hotter or colder, you’d either build a shed around it or get a concrete tank instead and install it underground.

With a storage tank, you have a two-pump system. One pumps water from the well into the storage tank. The other pumps water from the storage tank into the house. The well pump is controlled by a float switch in the storage tank. The household pump has a pressure tank and pressure switch, just like the basic water well setup.

When we installed the tank, it went from being empty to having 400 gallons in it overnight, which was wonderful. In a few days, the tank was full, and it stayed full from then on, unless we did something that used a great deal of water (usually leaving a faucet on by accident).


Protecting the Pump and Well

“Is my well dry, or is my pump bad?” Preventing the pump from going bad is the simpler part of that question. Electric pumps rely on the water passing through them for cooling. The pump in a slow well tends to have long periods when it’s running, but not much water is passing through it, so it overheats. This also tends to use up electricity to little purpose. What to do?

There are several solutions for this:

  • Use a float switch or water level sensor down the well that turns off the pump when the water level gets low. End of problem, but it involved dropping an extra cable down your well. I’ve never tried this.
  • Install a Pumptec pump-protection box. This is what everyone actually uses. The Pumptec basically does what a down-the-well float switch would do, without putting anything down your well. It’s an electrical box installed in series with the power to the pump. It monitors the current load of the pump, and if it sees it running with very little load, it infers it’s running dry and shuts it off for a programmable interval. More on this later.
  • Install a cycle timer that only allows the pump to run a set number of minutes every hour or half-hour. If you set this right, the pump will never quite have enough time to pump the well dry. I used to do this, but it confused the electrician and he took it out, and I haven’t put it back. More on this method later.
  • Use a smaller pump that can’t over-pump your well. The 3/4 horsepower submersible pumps I have in my wells pump water 20 times faster than my wells can deliver it. A tinier pump would be better-matched to the task.
  • Put a valve inline with the pump and close it most of the way so the output of the pump is about the same as the production rate of the well. Seems sorta wasteful…

Protecting Your Pump with a Pumptec

protect your slow well with a pumptecIf you have a low-yield well, you want a Pumptec unit to protect your pump. This is a device that sits up in your pumphouse and monitors the load on the pump. If the well runs out of water, the load on the pump goes to zero, and it can burn out. The Pumptec box turns off the pump as soon as it detects the no-load condition, and won’t let it come back on for a while, at which point there will be more water. Mine is set for a two-hour delay, but you’d set it for a shorter delay if your well isn’t as minimal as mine.

Protecting Your Well With a Cycle Timercycle timer for slow wells

But it’s better if you don’t pump the well dry: the well lasts longer if it’s mostly full all the time. If you have one gallon a minute (I wish!), and a pump that delivers ten gallons a minute, you’d never pump the well dry if the pump was allowed to remain on for only six minutes out of every hour. I’ve used a timer with a 30-minute cycle, which would be set for an on-time of three minutes out of every 30 in this example. When you have an external storage tank, you don’t much care exactly when the pump is on.

I don’t know how much this actually helps, and neither of my wells have a cycle timer on them anymore, though both have Pumptec units.

All-in-One Solutions

I’m aware of two companies that create packaged solutions to take care of the entire problem, using fancier controllers than mechanical cycle timers or even Pumptecs. These are:

  • Well Manager, which emphasizes its compact rectangular water storage tanks that you can sneak into your basement, behind the stairs, etc., in addition to its controllers.
  • Well Booster, which controls up to five wells with a single controller.

Redeveloping Your Well

With a storage tank, a Pumptec unit, and a cycle timer, all was well for several years. Then, one day, I discovered one day that the tank was nearly empty. A day later, it had gained only 50 gallons from the day before. Hey! It used to gain 400 gallons overnight! Our well had clearly become less productive over the years.

redeveloping a slow water well with compressed airSo I went down to Mainline Pump in Philomath and got on the calendar to have them show up, along with Corvallis Drilling, to “blow out the well.” This is also called well redevelopment or well rehabilitation. Wells can get themselves crudded up over time with silt and harmless slime bacteria, and this can often be reversed by removing the crud by one means or another. I knew I had a slime bacteria problem. This is not a subtle problem, since the hydrogen sulfide smell in the water and the slime on the water filters and in the toilet tank are a giveaway.

When the day arrived, Mainline pulled the pump, and we removed about a bucketful of slime was clinging to the pump and drop pipe even before the main event started, and plenty more came out after Corvallis Drilling dropped their hose down the well and blasted it out with a combination of compressed air and water (airlift pumping). It was an impressive spectacle, but unfortunately the yield we measured at the end of the operation was under a quart a minute. Sigh. There are no guarantees in the well business. You give it your best shot, and you get what you get.

Drilling a New Well

corvallis drilling rotary well drilling rigSo we asked Corvallis Drilling to drill us a new well, not far from the old one. Heck, the rig was already there and everything! The old well was blown out on Friday, and they drilled us a new well on Monday. This was done with a truck-mounted air-rotary drilling rig, which is pretty much the standard these days. The well is six inches in diameter, and after the first few feet, the whole operation was through rock. Most of it was crumbly, easily drilled sedimentary rock, with occasional barriers of harder sandstone. Usually the water is found above these harder layers. The drill turns very slowly. Water is injected as a lubricant, and compressed air blows out the chips as the drilling continues.

I kept sneaking out to watch the drilling in spite of a deadline that was supposed to be keeping me in my office. (But I met the deadline, too.)

In our neck of the woods, there’s no real reason to drill a new well very far from the old one, since everyone’s experience is that nearby wells don’t interfere with each other, and a well thirty feet away from an existing one may find water at depths and quantities totally unlike the first one.

After looking at the well logs of all the wells drilled in my neighborhood in the last forty years, it seemed like we’d probably find all the water there was within 100 feet of the surface, though there was an off-chance of finding more very deep—300 feet or more. Sometimes that deep water is salty, sometimes it’s fine.

We hit water at 55 feet (the old well, thirty feet away, had hit water at 85 feet), but the amount was disappointing, around a quart a minute. I wanted to quit at 100 feet, but the driller offered to go down to 130 feet, and if he didn’t find any more water, I wouldn’t pay for the last 30 feet (except for the 30 extra feet of PVC well liner). So we did, but no dice.

Mainline Pump showed up to put the old pump down the new well, and … it was a disappointment, about the same yield as the old well. Enough to scrape by on if we were careful. Sigh.

I was reluctant drill yet another well (among other things, the State of Oregon charges fees that cost nearly $600 per well, let alone the drilling costs), so we moved on to Plan C, which was to put both wells into operation. Mainline Pump came out yet again and put a new pump down the old well.

Success! In the 24 hours after both wells were in operation, the storage tank gained 500 gallons, and has basically been full ever since.

Hanging Onto the Last Few Gallons

If float_switch_water_storage_tanksomeone leaves a faucet open, all your hard-won storage can vanish in a few hours. But you can create a reserve supply easily. Here’s how:

  • Put a float valve near the bottom of your storage tank and put it in series with your household pump. Use the normally-closed version of a float switch, so when the water falls to, say, one-quarter of a tank, the switch opens and your household pump stops running. This will prevent your household pump from burning out and will also protect your last few (hundred) gallons.
  • twist_timer_for_wellsWire in a twist timer in parallel with the float switch. That way, you can go out to the pump house and bring the pump back to life for a limited time. Twist timers are available with durations up to six hours. (You could just install an override switch, but if you’re like me, you’ll forget to put it back in the “Normal” position after the water emergency has passed.)

Making Your Well Last: Disinfection

One thing that well owners are supposed to do is to disinfect the well to control bacteria, including bacteria that can cause disease and slime bacteria that can plug up the well. I’ve been doing this all along, but obviously not very effectively!

Shock Chlorination

use bleach to shock chlorinate wellsThe usual technique is shock chloriniation, where you dilute a appropriate amount of bleach (in my case, 3 quarts for each of my wells) in five gallons of water and pour it down the well, then circulate the water by running the pump and pouring the output back down the well. Then you let it sit as long as you can (at least eight hours, though 48 hours or longer is even better), and finally pump it out onto the grass, since you don’t want all that chlorine in your septic system. This beats back the bacteria. More on shock chlorination.

I recently learned a better system that’s available to those of us with storage tanks, which is to fill the well up to the top with water from the storage tank after adding the chlorine. This water will run backwards, into the aquifer, and kill off bacteria that are relatively far from the bore of the well. Then recirculate and wait as before.

Hydrogen Peroxide

hydrogen peroxide to disinfect and deodorize well waterAnother technique I learned about more recently is the use of ordinary 3% hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine. This hasn’t been adequately researched, so it counts as a backwoods rule-of-thumb technique rather than something that will put a smile on the face of an inspector. The way it was described to me was, “Pour a couple of pints down the well and a couple of pints into the storage tank, and forget about them.”

The theory is that hydrogen peroxide is safe at those levels and doesn’t put any annoying tastes or smells into the water, so you don’t have to dump the water in the pump and the storage tank. Simple.

I wrote two different state agencies in Oregon to get their opinion about this, and basically they feel it doesn’t have enough research backing to be considered reliable, though they didn’t see anything scary about it.

One thing is certain: hydrogen peroxide works great for getting rid of sulfur smells in water, and it’s used routinely for this. When I got a new water heater, I was plagued by rotten-egg small in the hot water, and it went away instantly when I put some hydrogen peroxide in the system.

Because sulfur smell has been a problem for me, I expect that I’ll shock-chlorinate my well every year to stay within the usual parameters (after all, I have a state-licensed chicken and egg operation here), and use the peroxide in between. While I hope that its effects are more far-reaching than this, I won’t count on it.

Water Conservation

I saved this until last because people who don’t have enough water are already conserving what little they have. Just a few tips:

  • It’s ridiculous, unbelievable how much of a difference a low-flow toilet makes. In a family of four, I wouldn’t be surprised if our old adorable antique toilet used 100 gallons per day! Compared to this, all other conservation methods combined were a bit of an anticlimax.
  • If you used to have low water pressure, you probably couldn’t get low-flow shower heads and faucets to work right. I sure couldn’t! But after I added a storage tank and had separate well pumps and household pumps, I had tons of pressure, and swapping out my fixtures worked great.
  • If you insist on sending precious well water through lawn sprinklers, always use one of those timers that shut off the water after the specified time.


More Farmer’s Market Tech

We’ve played with a lot of different technologies at the farmer’s market. Electronics used outdoors need to be rugged, easy to protect from rain, and usable in bright sunshine.

Back when we made people order fryers in advance, we brought a Panasonic ToughBook so we could take the deposits and enter the orders on QuickBooks. We stopped doing this when we started bringing chickens on spec, rather than just to fill orders. Because every cop car in the country seems to be equipped with one of these, used ToughBooks are plentiful and affordable on eBay and other places.

An iPad is also good, and has enough battery life to last all day, which the ToughBook never had. I haven’t used my iPad for serious work at the market yet, just to goof off during slow periods.

This is about to change! I’ve been playing around with the Square Register, a dinky little credit card reader for smartphones and tablets, and it’s pretty cool. You can take credit card and debit card payments from anyone, and the money ends up in your bank account after about two days, with a flat 2.75% fee. It works really well.

The farmer’s market is one of the last bastions of, “Whoops, I ran out of cash, so I can’t buy your stuff,” and as a vendor, this is a problem I want to solve!

I’ve also used Wells Fargo’s smartphone app to electronically deposit checks, which involves taking a picture of the front and the back. This is a great idea, but it’s too time-consuming when you get a lot of checks for small amounts, especially when the checks insist on fluttering in the breeze as you try to get a clear picture. For big checks, yes, absolutely. For smaller ones, it’s easier to go to the bank and deposit them the old-fashioned way.

I’m an audiobook addict, and over the years I went from listening to books on cassette to listening to them on an MP3 player — first a Rio 500, then an iPod Nano, then an iPod Touch, and now an iPhone. The farmer’s market is too busy for this, but it’s nice when doing farm chores and during the half-hour drive each way.

I’m always amused at how products that are initially marketed to urban hipsters seem to be useful down on the farm.

Pre-Season Work

We’re gearing up for a busy year in 2013 and are catching up with repairs and upgrades before the busy season starts, with contractors doing the difficult parts.

The upper part of the barn roof has been redone. In the Seventies, corrugated roofing had been nailed over the original cedar shakes, which didn’t hold the roofing panels securely enough, and they were starting to blow off. So we had that all taken off and re-roofed with new steel roofing that Karen had acquired at bargain prices.

This was not a beginner’s project! We stayed on the ground and let the experts do the work, which they did safely, well, and faster than I expected, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the barn roof remained leak-free for another thirty or forty years.

Inside the barn, we started to suspect that the wiring might need to be upgraded when we went to turn on the lights and showers of sparks rained down from the fixtures! I like a little excitement, but not that much, so all the old wiring is gone. No more metal conduit, no more fuse boxes. Modern wiring and a circuit breaker panel, plus better placement of the lights and outlets than before, mean that we can flip a switch without flinching.

If you do your own wiring, which I do sometimes (but not this time), you’ll want a copy of Wiring Simplified, especially for farm wiring, which is a whole different world from the residential wiring you may be more familiar with.

I’m a little afraid to add up what all this costs, but we’ve built to last, so I don’t expect to do any of it again anytime soon.

How do you find good people for this kind of work? Asking around helps a lot, especially when you ask people who’ve had the same sort of work done. The secret is to ask, “Who’s the best?” rather than “Who do you use?” because when you ask about the best, the same names come up over and over, and the best hardly cost any more than the worst in a down economy, and they do much better work. If you’re going to cut corners, cut ’em on something that wasn’t going to last anyway. If you try a cheap brand of kitty litter and don’t like it, the experience runs its course and is soon over, no harm done, but it’s different with major repairs.

Come to the Indoor Farmer’s Market!

The Corvallis area is lucky to have an Indoor Winter’s Market, where year-round produce such as greens and eggs are available every Saturday, plus items that store well, like roots and bulbs and frozen meat and canned goods and honey, and also baked goods and other yummy stuff. Not for us is the notion that farmers’ markets are a summertime thing!

I’m surprised this hasn’t caught on more. Oregon has mild winters, but so do a lot of places. And it’s nice to have the market in a large, heated building when the weather is nasty out.

Karen and Karl hold down the indoor market, selling fresh eggs, fresh stewing hens, and frozen broilers. If you’re in the area, drop by Guerber Hall at the Benton County Fairgrounds from 9 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays, mid-January through mid-April.