1/4 acre small ruminant production
We've added two new images to the sequence above. One shows the wire simply loosely wired to the tee posts and that is followed by a photo with the wire being stretched with a come-a-long using the pickup trailer hitch. We waited for the temperatures to rise a bit before stretching wire to prevent it becoming too loose on extremely hot summer days.
The pen and pasture combined encompass almost exactly 1/4 acre. The dimensions are 102 by 106 feet. The pen, gate supports, and corner bracing are made from 2 inch i.d. reclaimed well pipe. Check with your local restrictions, but here, we can build structures without permits and inspections if they are 120 square feet or less.
This space is not really large enough to keep sheep year round. The idea is to buy market weaned lambs each spring from the university farm and raise them through the summer months on irrigated pasture. One lamb will be kept for our personal use and the other 3 will be available to the public. Allowing the land to go fallow and reseed with the addition of sheep manure will improve soil conditions. Operations should always include leaving a few inches of vegetation behind. This is called soil armor and provides an environment for worms, and other beneficials that are all natural soil builders.
The wood portion of the structure and corner bracing is stained douglas fir. The corner brace wood was clamped in place to provide a surface for firmly attaching the fence wire. Sides of the pen are 2X6 and about 45 inches to the top. The gap between boards is 3/4 inch.
I went with a 3/4 inch gap because even a small chick could not pass through such a small opening. Once the bottom 2X6 is level, just use a piece of wood like a wood stake (as a spacer), on each end to add the next one above. The thickness of your stake will dictate the size of the gap. Double check level as you go. just in case lumber is poorly cut or warped. This pen will keep out predators but not snakes, mice and smaller rats. It's a pretty tall order to keep those out and are only a small part of the problem around here. In your neck of the woods you may want to add tight mesh to the bottom few courses of planks.
Work in Progress / Building Categories
New Sheep pen and pasture
You may have never heard the term "ruminants". Simply put, a ruminant is any cud chewing animal. They have a four compartment stomach and can regurgitate food to complete the chewing process. Fermentation of plant based nutrients occurs in the first section which is called the rumen. They don't actually have four stomachs, The last or fourth compartment is called the "abomasum" and is the true acidic stomach.
Take a look at the new sheep pen and pasture. Although we're calling it a sheep pen, the area is secure enough to raise a few baby chicks or any other livestock. We usually raise around 8 new chicks each year as replacement layers as part of our small poultry flock. The chicks would have to be in an additional brooder under the cover of the sheep pen. I have trenched to the pen to provide both permanent water and electricity just in case. In these photos the roof has not been completed. OSB or plywood sheeting will still need to be nailed to the rafters. The slope is just above the water trough and we'll set it up to catch rain water.
Baby chicks require heat lamps for the first few weeks until feathers grow in. The time under lamps varies quite a bit depending on the ambient air temperature and whether your brooder is indoors or out.
FYI, The additional commentary uses the word "small ruminants". This would include a class of animals that have the four compartment stomach like a cow, but are much smaller. Sheep, goats and deer are all considered cud-chewing small ruminants. (more on that in a future lesson).
If these projects or our lessons page raise questions, just send out a blog post and we'll do our best to set you on the right path. Hover your mouse on any image to freeze the image.
Assorted projects on the farm
Hens at Clawfoot
Here's a few assorted shots of a few of our hens and a small trailer I'm working on. I took a snapshot of the new trailer ball extension and the pasture gate that was recently welded. The gate when fully open provides a 10 foot opening for moving livestock.
The hens are: Buff Orpington (gold color), Barred Rock (standing near the water source) and a Rhode Island Red (facing toward the camera). Slightly off camera by the water tub is a pipe that automatically fills the water every day at about 4:00 p.m. That is about the time its gets pretty warm and the timer is set to allow the water to run over slightly. We keep around 20 laying hens at Clawfoot.
Just for fun projects
The new birdhouse
Here's a new bird house that we've been working on at Clawfoot. Not all the entrance ports are active, but the very center hole on all four sides would allow purple finches to use the nest sites, yet still be isolated on the inside from the others. The roof and top layer of 16 screened off openings lifts off in the winter time so you can clean things up when the nests are not in use. We closed off a majority of the holes with screen, to prevent hornets from taking over the site. Besides, using all the openings would require internal compartments to keep each separate. As it is, we did that for four of the entrances. The light blue colored house in all the almond blossoms is our blue bird house. We get at least two hatchings of western blue birds each spring and summer. Almost all our bird houses are not just for looks, but actually attract birds.
More fun, more responsibility
Here's a photo of our recent arrivals. We'll share details about raising various animals and proper feeding and housing. The lambs are currently adjusting to their new environment. It's important to remember that all herbivore animals are prey species. In other words, in the wild or without secure housing and pens these species can and do often fall prey to predators. For that reason these animals are often suspicious and bunch together for protection. Just be calm and patient with newcomers. By the way, now that the 50 pound lambs have been here at Clawfoot overnight, I have released them into the main pasture as you can see.
Animal behavior (also see Lessons)
Finishing the roof
Here's a series of photos. Two show the metal roof partially installed and then completely finished on the lamb pen. One shows the curious nature of sheep. The metal roof overlaps with a very tiny section to prevent siphoning of water. Please notice that I took one picture with the roof partially done, so you could see the 30 pound felt paper underneath. There's pieces of wood scattered in place just to prevent wind damage. With the wood pieces removed I finished the roof completely... I'm ready for rain! The last picture shows my sheep checking out some fake metal goats... Pretty funny
The Clawfoot hen house
Our hen house doubles as a potting shed. One of the views is a view from our backyard. If you look closely, the two side windows are separated by a fence on both sides. The far side of the fence is our chicken run. You can see an obvious non-fruiting plum with purple leaves (far right by the roof). In another view you will see the same tree looking into the hen house with the back door open and the tree is very obvious. The tree helps provide shade in the run and as the sun sets, it cools the hen house itself. In the Sacramento Valley and most other places, animals of all kinds need at least some shade. When temps shoot over 90, animals need water and shade! You can see lots of happy hens and a black no waste feeder with a yellow lid. Hover your mouse on any image to freeze the image.
As you enter from the backyard door, you enter the first 1/2 of the small building. This first room was created as a potting shed. The basic hen house and combined potting shed is set on a concrete foundation that measures 8 by 15 feet outside. Directly in the middle and bisecting the building is a second wall and door that passes into the hen house portion. The two halves are a bit over 7 by 7 feet inside. I'm sure each half is more than 50 square feet of floor space because there's plenty of space to move around and work. Besides, 8 by 15 means the outside dimensions create 120 square feet of outside foot print. The potting shed portion (which is the end you see from the lawn side) has a concrete floor with lighting and a sink. On the far end, the laying hens have a dirt floor and light, but their water source is outside. A walk through the back exit takes you into the chicken run with is a high fence that allows the laying hens access to the outside all day until they are secured at night. The outside run is just under 1000 square feet. A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to describing something, so we'll just let you take a look.
We added a picture of the door because it was such a big deal. During the building process, I layed out the foundation and walls before I actually had a door. Once the new building was up and the opening was created, I searched all over to find a door that matched the windows and also still fit the opening. I finally found this one at a second hand store, but it was too wide by four inches. The door had to be completely disassembled... then cut narrower and rehung. Imagine, we even had to recut each piece of glass! It was a major task and not easy. Never the less, we feel like the end result was worth the effort.
The mid-section wall and door that was mentioned above, can only be seen in the one picture from directly behind with the back door open. You'll know you're looking at the right photo when you can see the dirt floor inside the hen house. That center inside door prevents the laying hens from access to either the potting shed or even our yard unless we allow it. None of the windows actually move, so ventilation is provided by eave vents and the opening above the ramp. There's a fairly large opening that has heavy predator wire even when the ramp is up at night. When I close up the hens at dusk....Nothing can get in, and the girls are all safe. During the day, the chickens have full access to the run and also the nest boxes in the building.
Anyway, my summer project is to finish some of the missing trim around windows and doors. Once that's done we need to repaint or finish painting some portions of the hen house and give it a good cleaning. Living in the country and having animals is wonderful, but does create a lot of dirt and dust. Yep, it can be work too, but its all exercise and health giving activity in my view.
Spring clean-up and Baby Chicks
Spring cleaning has begun at the farm. No one is perfect.... and I'm no exception. Because of all the activities on a farm it's pretty easy to make messes. Sometimes it's scrap left over from a building project or maybe I just lost track of some tools. Which ever it may be, I need a workshop overhaul. It's pretty funny but quite often I tend to go buy material for a project but the project never gets started. When I run across the purchased materials its game on again. I built my barn/shop several years ago but I never totally completed the inside paint. It may not seem like spring cleaning but I think its time.
Spring brings baby chicks to Clawfoot. The babies above are actually part of a new brood that hatched on 3/1/2019. Here at Clawfoot we annually raise a few chicks to pullet aged young hens. This particular group has 3 barred Rocks, 3 Ameraucanas, 14 Speckled Sussex and 3 New Hampshire Reds. 12 are being raised for one customer and 6 for another neighbor. The few that remain will all be Speckled Sussex replacements for our Clawfoot flock. I charge customers to raise these babies until they no longer need a heat lamp. It's not a big money maker, but helps to offset our own feed costs. This picture does illustrate the inside of our plastic brooder, the bedding and the effects of our heat lamp. This photo was taken when the birds are just reaching 10 days old. The exception is the small Ameraucana chick in the foreground. That little gal is only about 4 days old and was added as more Ameraucanas became available at the feed store.
Creating the Brooder Box Base or bottom
Building a brooder box is relatively simple. Nevertheless, you must have a power saw, a power drill, a four foot straight edge, a tape measure, a few other tools and some basic building skills. This brooder will house about 12 baby chicks for 6 to 8 weeks.
The schematic image above shows where to make the necessary cuts to create 4 of the 6 sides of a box. The top image (a photo) shows the base only, with the 2 by 2 pieces glued and then screwed into place. all the 2 by 2's go to the very edge except the 2 by 2, where your back piece will attach. That one 2 by 2 is held inside by just the thickness of your material. The process mentioned here, leaves an edge where the brooder box back piece will set. (see actual photo with hand clamp in place and see the "edge"). In this case the edge is about 3/8 of an inch. The two side pieces will not set on an edge but instead will run past the side 2 by 2's and be screwed on to the side of the 2 by 2's.
When cutting the plywood (or OSB) measure for the bottom 36 and 1/8 inches across the 8 foot sheet and draw a line straight across (very straight!). Cut the piece, so the cut piece will measure 36 and 1/8 inches by 4 feet. That is the "outside width" of the base or bottom. Now put the piece you just cut on top of the remaining sheet and use that piece to draw a new line for your second cut. Double check, but the process should help you to create two exact pieces with the above dimensions. The piece that remains, will be the back of your brooder and will measure a "little less" than 2 feet by 4 feet. (see schematic and the piece on the right labeled "Back of brooder")
Now, use one of your matching pieces and cut it in half exactly. Doing so will create the two side pieces. If you're confused, check out the center section of the schematic image above.
Concerning the 2 by 2's... cut two pieces exactly 4 feet or the width of your new brooder bottom. Remember to place one of the two pieces in from the edge before you attach. Then make two short 2 by 2's and fit them between your 4 footers. I don't want to lose you, so create this much and I'll give you more information and new photos in a few days. Can you wait??