Green At Green

Sigh. If you blog, you can probably relate to what I am going through. I want to write about something, but I keep putting it off because I once I start that post, it is going to require hours and hours of soul-searching, then typing, then editing, then re-writing the whole g*ddam thing, and maybe deep down I know most people don’t care too much about the subject matter. Don’t get me wrong, as an activist for the Democratic Party, Immigration reform, and GLBT rights, I am quite used to ridicule and out right meanness. I’m too old to let that shit bother me. I usually enjoy the back and forth, and I usually don’t waste time with trolls, or with people that are merely trying to drive traffic to their sites. This is different. This subject isn’t one that I know alot about. I’m reading as fast as time allows, and talking to people who know more than I do, but as I have told some friends and family members recently, once I got here, there was no turning back.

So there it is. Yes, if I was a better writer, or at least a more disciplined and organized writer, I could pull all of these random thoughts together, and then the reader could see how this now permeates my entire life. By now I am sure most of you that got this far are asking me “why the hell don’t you just spit it out?” So, Ok, here goes. It’s about oil. It’s about energy, its about turning a small farm into a self-sustaining autonomous collective, wherein each member acts as a sort of Executive Officer of the week, but all decisions of that officer must be ratified by a 2/3 …(sorry, I tend to riff on Python when I get lost in thought.) Seriously, it is all about turning 50 and wanting to use this land to it’s full potential. This farm used to sustain many families. Not so long ago, there were cows, chickens, crops, and the people that lived on this farm traded with local families and shared the experiences, good and bad.

I feel like a huge antennae, taking in all these seemingly random signals and still only spitting out the same TV show. It’s not that I dreamed of doing this. Oh, sure, I like to plant a row or two, I enjoy cutting up trees for firewood, mending the occasional fence line, you know, gentleman farmer stuff. At the end of the day, though, I run out to Kroger, buy some meat and vegetables, fire up my grill, and then relax in my air conditioned home, watching HBO. It ain’t a bad gig.

But, something is clearly up. I intend to write about it over the next few days, weeks, and months. Perhaps I’ll just start by asking if any of you are asking yourself some similar questions. I am starting on my chicken coop this week. I spent the last two weeks gathering material on the cheap, and now all I lack is, um, experience. I got to spend some time with Aunt B’s brother today, and he is easy to hang with, and he cleaned my clock at cribbage. He is coming out this week to help me build this coop, and in the Fall, I’ll be re-fencing for more livestock, maybe he’ll get involved in that too!

So, I wanted to break the inertia, throw caution to the wind and just share whats up here at the Chronicles. You know, it was easier when I could just get outraged at this administration and vent. Now, I have to actually admit I am learning this as I go.

Thanks for stopping by.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Green At Green

  1. nm

    Mack, do you remember the friend I told you about, who is slowly becoming a farmer in Georgia? She blogs about it at 10 Signs Like This. Not that you’re necessarily gonna go in the same directions as she has, but it’s a good picture (if you go back to the beginning) of the steps along the way. And she didn’t know anything about farming when she started, either. Maybe looking at her blog will inspire you, or even help with suggestions.

  2. nm

    Damned link didn’t come through. It’s http://10signslikethis.blogspot.com/

  3. As we’ve talked about, I have definitely thought about it. Thought about how we may not have enough oil to sustain us through my daughter’s lifetime. Thought about what would happen if a major catastrophe happened to our infrastructure through a terrorist attack or other breakdown. How would I survive? How could I provide for me & my child to get us through the crisis and then to sustain a survivable lifestyle.

    Problem is, I have not the finances, land, knowledge, or ability to work out a plan should the inevitable happen before I’m dust.

  4. bridgett

    If you’re looking for practical advice on building your coop, try this:

    http://www.piteraq.dk/gok/smallhouse.html

    http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/poultry/factsheets/designs.html

    In my experience, the key was adjustable ventilation and drainage (either sandy soil or if you’ve got a sawmill handy, sawdust). Design it so it’s easy to clean — the kids will thank you for it if they don’t have to wade through swill to shovel out the chickenhouse. I’d recommend screening the floor under the roosts as manure pits or otherwise you’re going to wind up with a bunch of sick chickens. You’ll also have to resign yourself to cleaning it more than you really want to, so do yourself a favor and put in a lightbulb and a socket.

    Rookie mistakes are pretty common. The biggest one is building too small or trying to get too many chickens at first. If you’re raising layers (I’m guessing you are), they need about 3 feet per hen. Broilers and bantams need less — maybe 1 or 1.5 feet. The second one is putting the nests where it’s too light. Chickens won’t lay much unless it’s kind of dim where they brood. You’ll want a lighter side of the house by the windows and a dimmer side closer to the door where it will be easier to collect the eggs. (Rule of thumb is 2-3 chickens per nest when planning how many nesting boxes you need. They are fiercely hierarchical, but not very territorial.) Last, you need to figure out your feeder and waterer design. Put a grill or something on your feeder so that the chickens don’t scratch it all out and waste it. (Feed is going to be about 2/3s of your ongoing cost. Other than throwing a little grain in the litter to make them scratch and fluff up their own sawdust, you want to make sure that most of the feed gets down their throats rather than winds up glued under the feeder in a chicken pissy lump.) You can make a water fountain using a coffee can and a 10-penny nail hole with a saucer underneath. Again, gotta be sure they can’t wade, roost, or shit in the water.

    I hate raising chickens. It’s a lot of work. But I do like eggs.

  5. NM, I’ll take a look at her site, thanks. It’s weird, this feeling of connection to a piece of land. The responsibility to nurture it back to a sustainable farm is overwhelming me, I’ve decided to just take it slow and address small areas at a time.

    Ginger, yes, oil, or what I believe to be a diminishing amount of it, probably accelerated this process. Before I had land to care for, I wasn’t that mindful of what the Earth is for, truth be told. Water is another scarce resource. I’m in the process of trying to find an affordable lab to analyze the water in my streams and ponds.

    Bridgett, you seem to know your way around chickens. I have read alot lately, and I think I intend to try to let them roam at first. If I lose too many to predators, I have the space to fence in a large area for them to range, and I will build a nice place for them to roost and nest. Yup, laying hens, though I may trade them as food or even learn to clean and cook them myself. It seems like a skill a person should have, ya know?

  6. As we, I think, kind of discussed outside of Lipstick Lounge, it’s something we’ve thought a lot about, too. When we bought our first house, in Portland, Oregon, we really got a chance to get started learning how to provide for ourselves. I mean, hell, I baked bread for the first time in that kitchen. We set up a compost pile. We made a lot of really good progress.

    Then we went through these major life changes, and our priorities became focused in the short term more on survival within the system rather than outside of it. But in the past few years, now that we’re back in a house with a yard, however small, we’re back to being able to think bigger and longer-term. So we’ve been thinking a lot more about community sustainability, and what an urban neighborhood cooperative might look like, and so on. We have some neighbors who are growing a cooperative vegetable garden. We’ve thought about a neighborhood bio-diesel project. There’s a lot of possibility there, but it’s a slowly evolving project.

    So all of that to say that I understand where you’re coming from, and others are looking for their own kinds of answers, too. And I wish you the best success in your efforts. And we should get together for a damn drink. 🙂

  7. Kate, I indeed remember that conversation, and even though i was sparring with Karsten, a little, I heard what you and he said. I think he made a good point, but I also think it is important to not dismiss the message because we don’t like how it is delivered.

    Besides, I can’t help that I am smarter than he is. 😉

    Love to have that drink.

  8. bridgett

    Roaming *sounds* like a good plan until you actually try it. To give the method its due, I think it’s probably healthier for the earth and healthier for the chickens to give them more room, but from a production standpoint, it’s a nightmare. From what little I’ve seen of your place, you’re going to be feeding the hawks and foxes and even your own dogs. Every egg-sucking varmit in the county will head to your place to raid the nests. You might never know, however, because you might not find where yor hens are setting. They’ll head to the thickets where the grass is high or the groves by the creek banks, where it’s cool in the summertime. Like cows, the more inaccessible their favorite spots are, the better they seem to like it.

    The other big drawback with roaming is your climate. Once the daytime temps fall below 55 degrees, you might as well just start wringing necks and putting the water on to boil. They won’t hardly lay if they’re cold (nor if they’re hot, for that matter). It’s a lot easier to control temps in a house.

    A good compromise is to yard them with a nesting shed (as you propose), though you’ll still get some hawk loss. At least you’ll be able to find the eggs.

    You are going to have to get your head around the notion that you’re going to have to kill and process chickens regularly. That’s just a reality of responsible husbandry and population control. Chickens multiply exponentially, with each layer producing an egg a day for a year once it reaches maturity. Older chickens will lay bigger eggs but at a slower rate. You can see how one can wind up overrun with chickens even with a small starter flock. So the kill-optional idea is going to be a practical non-starter, I’m afraid.

    It’s a simple matter to kill and clean a chicken. Set up an outdoor work area near a tree with some low branches or a clothesline — I used a table made of two sawhorses and a plank. You’ll need a clothesline, an ax, some sharp knives, a garbage can or burn barrel, and maybe a galvanized washtub full of boiling water. Grab the chickens early in the morning when they are still on the roost (and you’ll want to do multiple hens at a time because it’s a mess and you won’t want to do this every day). Tie each bird’s feet together with clothesline. Wring each neck to break it and chop off each head on a stump or on the sawhorse table. Suspend the carcasses in a tree or over the clothesline by the feet so the blood runs out and so you won’t have to be bending over to work. You can either skin them like any other animal (but you won’t get the fat from the skin) or you can pluck them. (Holding the carcass by the feet, dip the carcass in boiling water for a few minutes to to loosen the feathers and kill parasites. Pluck with the grain, discard the feathers into a burning barrel, and torch them to prevent disease spread.) Skinning out is quicker and less messy, though still won’t win any prizes for clean. One makes a cut between breast and wing and shucks the chicken out of its skin. Wash the carcasses thoroughly before splitting them open. Gut them (throwing the offal into a garbage can or burn barrel..you don’t want to feed this to your dogs, as they will quickly develop a taste for chicken guts that they will satisfy on their own). Wash them again, wash them again, wash them again with a hose. Take them in the house and wash them four or five more times in the sink with a drop of dish soap in the water. Rinse like mad. Pat them dry, cut them up in parts, bag them, and freeze them. You’ll be surprised to find that you don’t care for chicken much after all that, but your friends will rave about the taste.

    Yep, these are good skills to have. But it’s hard work. I’m glad I don’t have to do it any more.

  9. Bridgett, you’re making me clip Kroger coupons…

    No, I meant that I will build them a nice coop, but during the day give them free-range. My dogs will not be a problem, and they keep hawks away pretty well. It’s the coyotes. We have a million of them. I hesitate to coax them up close to the house, as they keep a respectful distance now. I don’t want my dogs to have to deal with a pack of coyotes that smell a chicken dinner.

  10. I think I’m gonna be sick.

    I’m such a city girl. The only contribution I could make would be sewing or cooking. Much to the chagrin of my farmer relatives, a farm hand I am not.

  11. Char

    Have you called the county extension office, they should know about getting your water tested, they may even test it for you. I am pretty sure the test soil samples. Their # is 384-7936.

  12. nm

    Speaking of the extension office, they have very useful pamphlets on line about a bunch of stuff. I relied on them heavily when I started gardening here. They might have hen-house plans and slaughtering instructions (not that Bridgett’s sound wrong to me, but they would have pictures of how things ought to be set up and all). Check ’em out at http://www.utextension.utk.edu/

    Oh, and I will buy some of your extra eggs and chicken so get cracking, would you?

  13. I finally understand the significance of “Coyote.”

  14. Makes sense.
    I see coyotes a great deal here in West Tennessee. At SQ’s family’s farm, one came up to the door. I’m a dumbass, because I thought it was a sickly dog.
    NOPE, it was a hungry coyote, but I don’t think it would have come up to the farmhouse if it hadn’t of been hungry.

  15. Char & nm, do you guys know about the Ellington Agricultural Center? It’s in South Nashville between Harding Place & Nolensville Road. I’ll bet they have some great resources, too.

  16. nm

    I’ve driven past there but have never stopped. I really do need to check it out sometime. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. bridgett

    Mack, exactly. Both grandparents got out of the chicken biz because the price of feed got so high that it was cheaper to buy eggs and chickens at Kroger. None of the women miss the down-home experience. I have just seen too many hippie-farms fail because the vision never included an assload of debt and 18-hour workdays for the whole family. But that’s family farming in a nutshell.

  18. saraclark

    Don’t sweat the details. Give them a place to sleep/roost, a place to lay(so you don’t have to search for the eggs) and a fenced in area(so you don’t have to search for the chickens) the rest will take care of itself. You don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs (this is a personal preference only).

    My advice for fun-get Auracanna(SP?) chickens. They look like the kind commonly called “Banty chickens” they are tough, mean and easy to raise. They also will lay green, pink or blue eggs instead of the plain old brown. I haven’t purchased an egg in years.

  19. Bridgett, I don’t think I plan to get into the chicken business. I am concerned, maybe overly so, about where our food comes from. So, I thought I would raise some chickens for eggs, down the line, for meat. I will put in livestock (cows,pigs) and go from there. I’d love to grow strawberries, actually.

    Sara, I’m weird about my animals. I probably will let them free range, until I see it isn’t working, the pen is easy enough, I think. Though, we are chock full of hawks. Bantys? OK. I could learn to love blue eggs….

  20. Pingback: Volunteer Voters » Unblogged Tabs

  21. nm

    You could get little lambs, and let Supermousy be Bo Peep.

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