Friday 28 July 2017

Easy To Build Mobile Chicken Tractor For Under £120

I'm really pleased with my lately creation. 
I set myself a design brief on a good movable chicken coop, that's easy to construct and costs under £120 if you buy everything.
I'd been seeing a lot of chicken tractors in the states (on Justin Rhoydes YouTube channel) and I've always like the idea of having movable chicken tractors. The trouble is I end up leaving a pen in one place too long otherwise. 
One pen really caught my eye and that was one moved by a sack truck, why I'd never thought of moving them in this way before was beyond me. Suddenly I could move a much bigger coop easily and make it so it could fit a reasonable amount of birds in (the video that inspired me is here)
The trouble is they built it out of cattle panels, which are really popular in the states but not over here. 
That got me thinking about what we could use as an alternative, it was only when a friend came round and he suggested Heras panels, that the solution had been right in front of me the whole time (and was evening forming the pen for the chickens at the time!). 
Also they're cheap, strong(ish) and readily available. 

So I set about making the rest of the pen in the easiest way possible. 

Here are some key points:- 
  • Easily houses ten birds.
  • The roof is just a tarp (nowhere for red mites to hide) also easy and cheap to replace.
  • Wheels on the back make it easy to move.
  • Small access door on the front means you can get in if you need to.
  • Food suspended with a spring feeder so no wasted food or grain left out overnight.
  • Anti predator netting as a skirt around the outside so no need to shut the chickens in at night.
  • no floor to the coop means no cleaning out and pastures are improved as it's moved along.
  • Nest boxes easy to construct as they're made from builders buckets.  
  • Perches are just cable tied to the heras, making adjustment easy if you need to. 
  • Chickens are moved each day so the risk of picking up parasites is minimal, food consumption is reduced and pasture is improved. 
  • Nest boxes are easily accessible from the back - my children now collect the eggs each day. 

I've been using this coop for over a month now and it's been great. You can see where it's been over that time and see the grass coming back at different rates, it's great that the hens are moved from their dropping each day. 

Moving it is easy (although I need to improve how it turns), so much so I've made up three of these coops, two for laying hens and a third for meat birds. 

Watch the video above to see it in action and let me know what you think. 

I'll draw up some plans and share them for free on here as well at a later date (when I get time) as well as doing a video on how I made it if people are interested. 

Thursday 27 July 2017

Five Acre Community Farm

Yesterday I spent a really interesting day at Five Acre Community Farm near Coventry. 
Where the shares are placed and everyone helps themselves
In wanting to expand what I do here I want to get as much training and tuition as possible so I applied to the CSA Network for some mentoring as a veg box scheme really appeals to me and having it in the model of community supported agriculture as they do in the states looks like a really interesting way of doing things. 
During the day I picked up some great tips, got to see organic growing practices on a larger scale and talk to really interesting people who are doing this day in and day out.
I had many (and I mean many) questions about how it's run, how the financing works, and what the smallest they thought I could go with it was. To provide produce for 12 months of the year is tricky just for yourself but to do it for others (who are paying) is even harder, they provide 60 full shares each week off this plot. 

Hardening off area outside the poly tunnel
It was really interesting hearing what worked for them, what people like to see each week, what they see too much of and how they like to get it - the share holders here bag their own produce from a central area. They also have some work shares as well where you can do work for some or all of your share, they were telling me they even had one guy in the past who would help maintain the tractor for his.

The one tunnel with peppers, aubergines and some cucs down the middle

Leeks being dug up and trimmed to transplant outside

Over wintered onions being dried after harvest

Tomatoes on one half of the tunnel
 It was also really interesting seeing how this all worked out int he field, I was expecting to see clean beds, but there was some quiet strong weed pressure, which I think is going to be there with organic growing. The amount of veg in the beds spoke for itself though, there was plenty of it and it all look good.
The beds had been set out to be easily worked by a tractor that they use for cultivation.
Although some quiet high weed pressure there is so much veg on this 5 acres! Here's the squash area.

Soft fruit, done as a pick your own for the CSA members that want it. Strawberries and blackcurrants
 Weed membrane was used in places and around the soft fruit it was really effective, something I'll be copying here over winter.
The plastic seems to work really well for the soft fruit and it's something I'll be trying

Dwarf ballotti beans for drying to be added to shares in the hungry gap
 Anther thing I found really interesting was how they provide a share during the hungry gap. using a mixture of stored crops (onions, squashes, roots), some dried beans as well as potted herbs. They were also experimenting with quinoa as something that could be given out during the leaner months.
Nets are used to keep some pests off, mainly on roots and on brassicas 

Green manures on fallow areas to build soil fertility
 Maintaining soil fertility with green manures was also really important to them and I got given some great ideas down this line, my use of green manures is something that really needs to improve!
Trimmed leeks just transplanted

Showing an area of netted produce, all rows are 70m long
To see a small farm in operation is always great, to see one that can pay staff a reasonable wage and be viable is even better. These guys were really passionate about what they were doing and how they were doing it and I certainly came away feeling that I could make something on a smaller scale work here for me. Lots of planning and prep will be needed!

Thanks again to Gareth, Becka and Hannah for your time yesterday! I hope I didn't ask too many questions!

I'm wondering if a mix of CSA shares as well as restaurant sales might be the way to go, that way I spread my risk and I might get interest from both sides of things. then again I might be mad to consider it at all!

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Changing The Chickens

I got 20 new chickens for the homestead on Sunday night.
These are ex commercial birds again (Hi line) from a free ranged flock where they were up for slaughter as they've become uneconomical on large scale. 

These birds have no trouble settling in as they had free range on 20 acres, although with as many as 36 thousand birds in the sheds (divided up) some never see the outside. When I've been past many, many birds are outside. Into their new pen they were straight on their perches, and acting normally. Much more settled than when I've had ex battery hens that take a few weeks to become normal chickens. 

Now before anyone says what a good thing it is I'm doing "saving birds" I'd like to state that I do this each year because, for me, it's viable. 

To house these 20 birds I first culled the 10 I had left from last year when I got home. 

These hens have, on average, 600 eggs inside them. When I get the hens they've laid, on average (again), 320 eggs over 12 months of laying. That means they've got 280 left to give and as I tend to get around 8 eggs off ten birds a day there wasn't much time left for them to still be productive, time to change the flock. 

Also I have to time it right when the large chickens farms are changing their flocks.

I got these birds for very little so it also means I've not had to invest any money compared to buying in hybrid pullets at £8 - £10 a bird where they have to lay a lot of eggs before they've paid for themselves, or hatching out my own and waiting the 21 weeks before they start to lay. 

This week I'm going to show you my new chicken pens I've designed to house these birds, I'm really pleased with them, each house 10 birds, easy to make, easily moved on to fresh grass each day and cost under £120. 

Who else has ex commercial birds?

Do you cull your old hens to make sure you stay productive?

Friday 21 July 2017

Slow Cooked Mutton

Earlier in the year we had a ewe killed. 
The price for cull ewes was rubbish at the time and in all my years of keeping sheep I'd never tried mutton and I quite fancied giving it a try. Mutton is a popular meat all round the world, just in the UK we seem to think that sheep should only be eaten as lamb. 

The ewe was three years old, fairly big and as you'd expect, had a good layer of fat on her. Mutton has a well placed reputation for being fatty, all this means is you need to be careful in how you cook it. 
Talking to friend we decided to make a rub for the meat and cook it long, slow and low. Making the rub in the recipe above (my mate had to come over as I didn't have many of the ingredients!), we then covered the meat, scored the fat and set it in a low oven (160) uncovered for a little while then covered with some water in the tray until the fat started to come out. 
After an hour or so I lifted it up onto a rack on the tray to continue cooking (still covered), this bit is essential because I wanted the fat to cook out of the meat. 

The joint was in the oven for a little under five hours and was cooked to perfection (if I do say myself). I did brown it off a bit at the end by cooking with no cover. 

as you can see the half inch layer of fat in the bottom of the pan shows that this is the right way to cook it! 
The meat just fell off the bone.
I served it chopped up on some rice with steamed french beans (french beans with everything at the moment!), it was beautiful. So tender and so full of flavour. 

Who else likes to eat mutton? 

How do you cook the big joints?

Thursday 20 July 2017

Another Preppers Paradise - Farm To Sit Out The End Of The World?

I've no intentions of ever moving from this place but sometimes I stumble on an interesting property and just have to share it with you guys.
What about this for another Preppers Paradise
I say it's a little harder to get to than the last one, as this one has a causeway you can cross at low tide. but from the Orkney Islands! 

It also comes with 40 acres of land and although not in what I'd call "prime" growing area, I'm sure you could support your own family on an area like this, with sheep or goats as a main meat source as well.
It has a range of out buildings and some breath taking views as well as a seal colony!
I'd imagine to make it work you'd need to make the farm earn it's keep but also have something you could do from home (writting, workshop work, etc) that would pay in the quiet times, I'd imagine (although I might be wrong) that jobs might be hard to come by out there.

Certainly an interesting property and not badly priced with offers over £300K, maybe someones dream property, I know my wife would hate it! 

What do you think? 
Your type of property? 
Too remote?
Somewhere to watch out the end of the world?

Wednesday 19 July 2017


The most common question I'm asked is how do I fit so much in when I've got the kids full time?
Simple, they do it with me when they can.
Last night I got the sheep in to check them over. It's proper fly strike weather and the sheep were twitching enough to get me worried. 
Turns out they were absolutely fine, not a maggot in sight but it pays to be careful in this weather. 
The girls weren't going to stay inside, not when there's chance of a ride on the quad bike (the boy was napping and mum was home).
My younger daughter won't leave the bike if she can help it, she comes for the round up and beeps the horn whilst my eldest mans the pen and helps me funnel them in.  
waiting for another go on the bike
We always go for a ride after we've finished, just a quick blast round the field with one child shouting faster and the other saying to slow down!  

Not sure how old they should be before I get them their own motor bikes! I know I was always a little crazy on them! 

Who else can remember being a kid and going on the back or front of a motor bike or quad? I certainly can! 

Tuesday 18 July 2017

First Ripe Tomato

 Each year I'm always desperate to see when I'll get my first ripe tomato. 
This year it's a rather small one and grown outside, but it's a ripe tomato no less!
It was even smaller when I split it into three, but it saved arguments with my little ones! 
Hopefully many more to come now! 

Who else has had their first tomato?

Monday 17 July 2017

Sunday 16 July 2017

Harvesting Soup Peas & Lots More

The garden is constantly producing lots of produce now, I've just set to harvesting my big batch of soup peas and trying to make sure I keep on top of everything else. 
Here's another video showing what's happening in the garden. 

Saturday 15 July 2017

Five Year Old Forager

 This bit of fennel melted my heart the other day.

The girls have the job of collecting the eggs every afternoon now. 

The hens are out of sight of the kitchen but they go off together, without me, and take some kitchen scraps salad leaves with them. I think it's nice to give them a bit of responsibility and it makes them feel like big girls (they're 3 and 5), the 3 year old even goes by herself sometimes. 

They always come back with a big smile and tell em how many eggs there are.
On Wednesday my eldest came up and asked what we where having for tea, when I asked why she said "because I've found some wild food Daddy, it might be nice with tea". 

She'd found some self set fennel down in the orchard, identified it and brought it back for me, she hadn't eaten any because she knows she's not allowed to eat things without showing me first when we're out and about. 

I was so proud of her, to me that was far better than reading a good school report. 

We each had a sprig on our new potatoes for tea that night and she sat there quite proudly as we ate it.

Friday 14 July 2017

Mum's Open Garden

This Sunday (the 16th) and next (the 25th) my mother is opening her amazing garden to the public for the first time! 

If you're local to the area (south Shropshire) make sure you pop in and have a look. I'l be there next Sunday to help out so make sure you say hello! 
It's an absolutely breathtaking garden and all the money goes to a great cause. 

Thursday 13 July 2017

I Thought You Were Self Sufficient?

I had to smile as the Morrisons van pulled up the other night. 
I was half way through butchering three chickens when he rocked up, I kept out of sight - more because I didn't want to put the shopping away than anything else.
But it's funny how our own personnel shopping supply is still at very extremes of the spectrum. 
I grow and harvest fruits, vegetables and butcher much of our own meat but yet we're still very reliant on this yellow van that rolls up each week. 
I try to buy things from other places, our flour is all organic and comes from Shipton Mill, the rest of our meat comes from Rick our local butcher and yet there still seems to be many things we buy each week. 
Year round fresh fruit is one, certainly at this time of year - I'm working on this with plans to plant more berries to help bridge the gap, but I still love fresh apples all year round. 
Snacks are another, mainly for the children, I'm trying on this one as well but I tend to bake a lot less this time of year. 
Some staples and tinned products, again I'm working on this, producing a summer surplus that I can preserve and use year round - this area needs a lot of work! 
Milk and dairy are our other major expense, each week we get through 20 pints of milk, a large block of cheese, butter, etc. I "make" our own yogurt from Easiyo but otherwise I have no intention of changing the way we get dairy yet. A milking cow or goat would be a lot of work and more commitment than I'm willing to give! 
Then there's cleaning products and toilet paper and neither of these I'm willing to give up just yet!

What about you? 

How far are you willing to go in the name of self sufficiency? 

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Dig It Up, Plant Again

Here is a good example of that:
This bed has produced around 35 kohlrabi so far but as I harvested the last one last week it was time to get it producing again. 

I pulled up  the plastic, scattered some blood, fish and bone powder, a bit more compost and raked it over. 
Then I got my Earthway seeder out and drilled five rows of carrots (two times on each row to make it nice and thick) over the 30 inch bed. That's another 50ft of carrots to harvest in a few months time. 
Hopefully the plastic will have killed off lots of the weed seed that was near the surface and because I haven't turned the soil it should have brought any more to the surface. There will be weed pressure but it should be minimal now and by the time the crop grows it, planted close together like this it should form a canopy to keep other weeds suppressed. 
I should say that I also heavily watered this bed before I planted the carrots as it had been weeks without rain and the surface was very dry.

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