Building a Rainwater chicken waterer

We have built a LOT of chicken waterers in our years of chicken wrangling. They break, clog, or otherwise just become a pain to deal with. No matter the size, filling it is always irritating.

With that experience in mind, we set out to build an easy, affordable and quick to put together rain water chicken waterer.

The supplies

Note: that might not sound inexpensive to some – but bear in mind it has all be eliminated all water hauling for the chickens for about 9 months of the year and has eliminated the need to use well water for the same duration.

The process

Once the materials arrived, we simply laid out eight holes about 2″ up from the bottom of the barrel and drilled them (the drill bit size recommended comes with the packaging for the drinker cups).

Next, we screwed the cups in the filled the water up several inches above the cups to and let it sit a while to ensure there were no leaks.

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We then drilled a hole for the fill hose adapter that came with the rain barrel diverter and screwed in the adapter.

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We then took the waterer down to the coop where we installed the rain barrel diverter into the gutters of the coop. Per the directions, we installed this just a little bit above level with the rain barrel input hose. If it is too high, the overflow won’t easily flow back into the diverter. Too low and you won’t get any rain in your barrel. Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert

Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert it into the bottom of the diverter and re-attach all to the wall. Note: we found that this all worked best with some silicone caulk around the inside. Fiskars should really have designed this to slide INTO the gutter, not over it. Physics – duh!

 

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Easy diverter installation

 

Once all that was done, we simply trimmed down the hose to our desired length put the diverter into the ‘divert’ mode and waited for rain. What does that mean you ask? The inside flips over to direct all water down the spouting (ie. in the winter) or flipped the other way directs water first into the barrel. When the barrel is full, the back pressure of the water causes it to flow back into the diverter where it exits via the gutter.

The first mild rain filled the bucket half way. We’ve not watered our chickens by hand since the installation! We used our fingers to allow enough water to flow into each cup. From there the chickens figured it out quite quickly.

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Lessons learned

  • The Fiskars diverter works okay, but required caulking and some tweaking of the positioning to get the water flowing properly.
  • Take time to observe the water flowing into (hopefully) the barrel during a rain.
  • This won’t work when it begins to freeze, but sure saves labor and time until then!

Homestead Tech: Drones

The multiple ways in which drones can be used for the small homestead.

We typically like to keep things pretty low-tech. We don’t have an aversion to technology, we just want to do things by means which are easily repeatable by anyone. Nevertheless, there are a few modern technologies that can be really helpful at times. Drones are a good example.

We have found the use of a drone to be time-saving or generally helpful in several ways.

Site Planning: Gardening

Planning gardens can be complex when trying to get an idea of the overall “fit” of the garden(s) into the surrounding landscape, even more so if those gardens are landscape-oriented. Aerial photos of the surroundings can serve as a nice backdrop for planning.

We send the drone up to take photos from different angles. We then import or paste those photos into a word processor (Pages for Mac in our case) and then adjust the opacity to about half. We then crop the photos, print them out and then use these to make sketches of our garden beds, landscaping, etc. Drones allow us to get photos from nearly any perspective which allows us to sketch out ideas from nearly any perspective.

Site Planning: Solar

Drones can also provide helpful aerial perspectives of shadows of the area under consideration. Simply launch the drone to the same altitude/location once per hour of the time you anticipate solar exposure. Do this for each season and you can get a rough idea of the shading of the area throughout the day and seasons. This can be helpful in determining solar panel placement.

Of course, an easier way to do this is with a Solar Pathfinder ( an excellent tool for homesteaders).

Inspecting…

There are numerous forms of inspections where we’ve found a drone to be a helpful addition.

One summer, while doing some light excavating, one of us had the unfortunate experience of scraping the lid off of a very large, underground Yellowjacket colony with our tractor. Fortunately, we were able to turn off the tractor and run away without getting stung. Those kinds of scenarios can be fatal you know!

A couple hours later, rather than risk walking into an angry swarm of homeless Yellowjackets, we were able to send the drone into the area and see where the actual nests were, determine the swarm activity and decide when it was safe to be in the area again. This also helped us determine where to make our “tactical” “surgical” strikes with Black Flag later on 🙂

Similarly, as beekeepers, there have been times where sending the drone over to the beehives has been more expedient for our needs than suiting up in bee suits, firing up the smoker, etc. Likewise, a drone can be used to get some perspectives on swarms or atypical behaviors. Note: We don’t like to annoy our bees (or any bees), and would advise keeping drone activity near a hive to a minimum.

… solar panels

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We have roof-mounted solar panels. We can’t see them from the ground due to the shallow pitch of the roof. A drone has come in handy numerous times to check the health and status of the solar panels. This is most helpful in the winter to check for snow and ice build up. After all, who wants to climb on a roof in snow and ice?!

… roof and gutters

A quick drone flight can spare us the need to get out a ladder and climb on a roof. The detail level of a drone cannot match a visual inspection, but it can determine if such attention is necessary. It’s much safer than climbing a ladder! It can also be helpful in determining if out-of-reach gutters need to be cleaned.

… fences

A drone isn’t going to be able to replace a human when checking fences but could help small landowners with quickly evaluating the condition of pastures and such. Walking is, of course, better, but not always practical within time constraints. A drone can be treated like a virtual teenager – sent out to do a job 🙂

… animals

Similar to fences, Wayward Bernese Mountain Dogmaking brief checks on small animal herds is also a helpful way to use drones. If you want to check on the location or general well-being of some animals, or perhaps help locate a stray animal, a drone can be a useful companion in such a task.

Oh… and drones are also useful for quick aerial scans for wayward Bernese Mountain Dogs :-/

 

Monitoring property boundaries

Trespassing is an unfortunate, but very possible and common issue for landowners. In our neck of the woods, this is often in the form of unauthorized hunting, and bored young people with nothing better to do than exploring and destroying other people’s (private) property. Rather than risk confrontation with persons of unknown character and intent, a drone can provide a means of monitoring and

Rather than risk confrontation with persons of unknown character and intent, a drone can provide a means of monitoring and recording of trespassers (in daylight at least) and provide photographic/video evidence if a legal need to do so becomes necessary.

Historical Records

It used to be that you had to pay companies to get aerial photos of the family home and farm. These days, you can buy a drone for a fraction of that cost. Furthermore, you can get aerial photos and videos of your property annually, serving as a nice record of the changes over time. These photos and videos will be important to the generations that come after you.

Real Estate

If the time comes to sell your homestead, aerial photos and videos of your homestead provide a unique perspective on your property to the prospective buyer.

Homestead uses for Thermacore panels

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Thermacore panels (these are 8′ x 24″)

Thermacore panels are the technical/trade name for insulated garage door panels. They have many valuable uses on a homestead or farm. At $.70/sqft (in our area), they are among the least expensive options for most cases where they can be used.

Thermacore panels are painted steel panels filled with about 1 – 1.5″ of solid foam. They have an Insulation value of about R-9 and because they’re steel, have the possible added benefit of being compatible with magnets. Because they’re metal, they cannot easily decay and are easily cleaned with a power washer, etc. Remember… these are made for garage doors.

The panels are easily cut with standard power tools. We use a circular saw with an old blade installed in reverse. We make finer cuts for fixtures and such with a jigsaw with a long metal blade.

Walls

One of our favorite uses for Thermacore panels is for finishing walls in outbuildings, basements, etc. Compared to installing (and more importantly, finishing) drywall  (“sheet rock”) which takes several cycles, Thermacore panels go up very, very fast by screwing them to the framing.

With some forethought in framing, they are very structurally sound and stiffen up walls much more than drywall does. If one is okay with the white-colored finish, the attached panels provide a surface that needs no other finishing aside from a wipe down with a damp rag.

We prefer to install the panels vertically because of the paneled appearance of the panels. When doing so, we have found it adequate to fasten with self-tapping hex screws (3″) at the top and bottom and if possible, the middle of the panels. Usually this requires about a dozen screws per panel. This also sometimes requires horizontal blocking in wall framing About half way up the wall.

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Thermacore panels used as wall sheeting

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These panels are about 1.25″ thick. There is a .25″ gap between the panel and lumber above because it has not yet been fastened tightly.

If  installed horizontally, just fasten to the wall studs as you would with drywall. The panels are designed with edges that slightly overlap the next panel creating a nice fit.

Thermacore panels make great wall sheeting for barns, mudrooms, root cellars, rabbitries, some animal stalls (and with great care to handle sharp edges!) and more.

Shelves

Thermacore panels are very strong. We’ve seen them used for canning shelves, with vertical supports about every four feet. We use them ourselves for barn shelving that hold the largest of plastic tubs filled with all manner of supplies. They are very quick to put up and much less expensive per square foot than a comparable lumber solution. Further, since they’re metal, they’re more forgiving to spills and such.

Raised Garden Beds

Thermacore panels make for very quick and easy garden beds. We’re able to secure them locally in 21″ and 24″ widths and just about any length. Married with 4″ x 4″ corner posts and decorative caps and you have some very nice (and deep) raised garden beds. These panels are metal, and as such could potentially rust if areas without paint are exposed to ground moisture for long durations, but we feel that is less likely to happen compared to wooden beds that would likewise rot.

See an example here: http://yourhouseandgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Garage-doors-into-raised-garden-bed.jpg

Cold frames

Thermacore panels would also make great (though opaque) walls for cold frames. Since these panels have an insulation value of R-9, they provide a very easy means for insulating the sides of a cold frame. Too tall for your liking? Just bury them a few inches into the ground.

Ceilings & Ceiling Sheeting

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Thermacore workshop ceiling

As with wall sheeting, Thermacore panels make for a very fast ceiling solution. Our bank barn has a lower level that is exposed the elements. Thermacore panels attached to the underside of the floor above not only insulate the floor above, but also prevent bees, birds, snakes, and mice from utilizing the space between the rafters.

Potential pitfalls of hyper-frugality

Frugality often seems to go hand-in-hand with the homesteading crowd. People naturally inclined to do things for themselves that others rely upon others to do results in such, or maybe it’s the other way around?

Frugality is great… but can one get carried away with it? This is what I would call “hyper-frugality” – being frugal to the point of working against yourself.

Has anyone ever said on their deathbed “it’s been a good life…I’ve saved all sorts of money!”? I doubt it. Saving money for saving it sake is kinda pointless. Frugality should lead to freedom from need, not delaying real needs to “save”. The latter doesn’t really accomplish anything and just robs from the present with some hope of future benefit that may or may not ever come.

So consider this, even if it feels controversial to do so:  Some things should not be waited upon until they are, or feel affordable. If you do so, oftentimes you’re not taking advantage of that thing when you need it the most! Here are a few examples:

The kitchen:

On our homestead, the kitchen is command central. Like many, we’ve used odds and ends for kitchen gear. Frugality has prevented us from investing in the nicer things we’ve really enjoyed. That is, until recently it occurred to us… if ever there were a time to have the best kitchen stuff, it would be now, at the time in life when we use it the most! When the kids are grown and on their own, we might be more able to afford those things but will have far less occasion for their use. That just doesn’t make sense! So, we’ve been investing in higher-quality kitchen items that hopefully will make the next twenty years of meal preparation, canning, and freezing much much better. That isn’t to say that quality cannot be obtained inexpensively, it sure can, but that is the exception more than the rule in our experience.

The workshop:

I grew up in a home we always had what I’d call “Big Lots tools” – the kind of tools that one finds in the checkout line at the drugstore. You know, ratchets that freely spin no matter what direction you attempt and hammers with handles the size of your pinky. We never had good tools!

While I’m on that subject… As a newlywed back in the day, it bugged me that people threw wedding showers for the ladies and showed them with every manner of implement for their new home, yet few men did this for the fellas. It would have been awesome to have a tool shower as a newlywed man. A time and place to give a guy the stuff he’ll need to look after some of the DIY needs he’ll encounter. Let’s start a new tradition of showering new families with all sorts of stuff they’ll need!

A while back, it also occurred to us… homesteading is a very tool-intensive, and resource-intensive endeavor. There is almost always something to fix or build. What sense does it make to choose frugality over quality when it comes to equipping your homestead with the best tools for those jobs? This is one of those cases, where hyper-frugality can work against your homestead. If you aim to be homesteading a long time, buy the absolute best tools you can manage and as many of the tools you’ll need as you can manage. Same goes for a good work area. We regretfully didn’t build a good workshop until four plus years into our endeavor. I’ve since kicked myself for making those four years exceedingly cumbersome when a work area would have really made that time much more efficient.

In summary, don’t be afraid to invest, even heavily, into the core operations of your home and homestead. It might feel really scary to plunk down some serious money on such things, but it will reap dividends.

A simple, strong materials rack for the workshop

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I like to keep my materials up and outta the way, mostly because I am a procrastinator and don’t get to things right away (I’ve been thinking about changing, but…. I haven’t gotten to it yet).

I wanted something simple and durable. So I just picked up a few 3/4″ pipe flanges, a few sections of 3/4″ x 12″ pipe, and a few caps. I didn’t want to wait until I could get some pipe insulation because in addition to being a procrastinator, I’m also impatient (which means I can’t wait to stop procrastinating), so I opted to repurpose a pool noodle with a coordinating color for the purpose.

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I just cut this to lenght with my pocket knife, cut a slit down the middle, then secured each pipe flange to a stud using one 3-1/2″ exterior grade screw and one 4 1/2″ lag screws (that I already had). I wouldn’t try to hoist an engine off of these, but they seem plenty strong for holding misc materials.

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One note: I would recommend cleaning the pipes off with a good degreaser prior to use, it will make for much less mess and grime.

 

Don’t forget beauty on your homestead

One thing that has often bugged us with many homesteading approaches is what we would call a hyper-practical approach that many employ. We sometimes refer to this as ‘pallet homesteading’ because of the widespread practice among this crowd of fashioning damn-near everything out of pallets. Pallet buildings, fencing, furniture, etc. Now before you flame us as being anti-pallet, realize that we DO use them!

Here is a pallet chicken coop (before we finished it) on our own property…

 

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Our pallet chicken coop

 

Like many homesteaders, we enjoy resourcefulness, upcycling, etc. – however… we’re not into a homestead that looks straight out of the Great Depression, especially so we can feel like some sort of hero for having saved $10. If we were living during such a time, and that is the best we could do, fine, but for the moment, thankfully we aren’t. Look for a separate post or two from us regarding our thoughts on hyper-frugality.

One of our favorite authors, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms writes that farming and the production of food should be aesthetic pleasing, aromatic, sensual and even romantic pleasure. We would agree! We would summarize all those things as “beauty” and where possible aim to make our homestead as beautiful as possible. To some this is vain, for us, it’s about joy. We are here all the time and want to enjoy where we live. Investing in your home and property – even in what feels superficial, can be a very good and noble thing to do.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so for some, that may result in pallet homesteading, old tires for garden beds, and the like. If that’s your thing, go for it. Our point isn’t to discourage frugality or resourcefulness. Rather, our encouragement is: don’t forget beauty in the process of homesteading.

Hopefully, you’re going to be homesteading for a long time and live where you live for a long time. Someone will inherit your space after you. Don’t be stingy, invest in the beautiful on your homestead, even if it doesn’t directly result in food in the pantry or freezer. For many, this will be hard and may require revolutionizing your worldview, especially if you gravitate towards being stingy. In our experience, this can be harder for men than women. Men might want to give their gals a new casserole dish for a special occasion when their gal would much rather have flowers or an updated garden bed. Beauty is important!

Let us encourage you with this… beauty feeds the soul, first and foremost, the souls living on your homestead – including your own! Secondly, it will feed the souls of those who will visit your homestead. Beauty creates warm, welcoming, and hospitable places to welcome the weary, including yourself. A beautiful homestead delights your soul and brings health to your bones. It’s nice to look with pleasure on your land after a long hard day of working in the garden or orchard. Invest in it!

 

The $2, 20-minute neck-breaking prevention for icy homesteads

Where we live in northern Pennsylvania, winter is some combination of snow, rain, muck and ice. We occasionally see some sunshine in there too!

Mud and ice make for miserable homesteading conditions. Whether it’s navigating steep and slick terrain to cut firewood, or taking care of livestock on icy mornings, opportunities abound for slipping and injury.

We’ve tried shoe spikes that we pull on and pull off, but they are clunky, expensive, and prone to jettisoning off our boots when we’re not looking, and I’ve got better things to do than search 25 acres of woods for a missing shoe spike, especially if that means hopping on the remaining spiked foot!

At our house, Muck Boots (what I like to call “homesteader flip-flops”) can be found in abundance. Since they cost so much, we hate to throw them out when we get a new pair.

Since we don’t need serious traction all the time, we’ve opted to turn our old much boots into Mad Max-styled, all-traction homesteading boots – and we’ve done so for very little investment. These things have some wicked-good traction!

The solution is simple and requires about 20 minutes, a bag of 1/2″ hex-head sheet metal screws, a screwdriver, and some old footwear (unless you don’t mind taking the screws out at winter’s end). Some slick surfaces for testing might also help.

We’ve found that hex heads work the best because there is a tiny lip around the edges that provides the bulk of the traction.

 

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We use about a 1/2″ to 5/8″ sheet metal screw with a hex head.

 

 

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Notice the hex heads have a lip around the outside. This seems to make all the difference for traction. They’re like mini ice spike.

 

The process is simple. Using an appropriate screwdriver, just press slightly into the rubber sole of your boots and begin to turn the screwdriver. It will begin to bite into the rubber sole and once it does, just screw it in until the head of the screw comes to rest on the sole of the boot. There is no need to over-tighten. You’ll need to routinely replace an occasional screw as it is.

 

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The effort is pretty minimal to get these to go into muck boot soles. Upon removing them, the holes are hardly noticeable.

 

Pick whatever pattern you want. This is how I have mine:

 

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The pattern I use

 

These things are the bomb! We could run a sprint across a sheet of ice and not even think about slipping! Perfect for the icy days we encounter, and really helpful in most of the mud and muck we get as well!

You might be wondering… “will these poke through and stab my foot?” Well, we’ve not encountered that so far, even with kids boots. If you’re uncertain, start out by putting one or two in the heel and test it out. Proceed with a few more at a time, testing them along the way and see how they feel.

You might also be wondering… “will the holes let the water and muck into the boots?”. We’ve not encountered this yet. It doesn’t appear that the holes are deep enough for such, which is also why they probably cannot be felt.

You might consider adding in a glue of sorts of you’re super-concerned about water infiltration, or screws coming out. We’ve not felt the need but could see where it might be helpful.