Roofing Progress, Gardens, and Automatic Barn Water

Roofing progress has been slowly progressing forward.  Slowly.  Due to various summer activities (county fair, work, CCP recertification, family events, and other commitments) and weather, the roof is still a work in progress.  The good news?  What little I have completed, has stood the test of the elements. We have been hit by several thunderstorms over the past few weeks.  No leaks in the new roofing!

The dormer roofing and chimney roofing took a while to figure out as this is my first non-barn roof that I have installed.  So far it is looking about how we had planned.  For reference, my partially completed 3D model in Sketchup (thanks to my cousin Brad for the software suggestion!).

Looks like another storm’s a brewin..

While my nerves were on edge as our roof was undergoing moisture testing, the ducks were thoroughly enjoying themselves as parts of our yard became over-saturated..

The rain and the hot sunny summer days have started to bring our gardens to life!  Flowers that we started indoors from seed are just starting to bloom.  The hard work and planning of spring is just starting to pay off!

This flower bed did not exist a mere 2 months ago!

Nor did this one!

Not only are the flowers in bloom, but the garden harvest has switched from strawberries, to everything else…  Over the last week or two, I would guess that nearly 80% of the food we have consumed has originated from our property.  Venison, pork, rabbit, potatoes, beans, zucchini, beets, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, peppers, herbs, and even a few early apples!

Another quick sneak peak at the latest house progress.

This side of the house has reminded me a lot of the barn.  The roof sagged about 2-3 inches in the middle.  This required a bit of work to remove and will result in a hopefully mostly squared up looking roof.

It has been a while since I have posted an update on here, so, I am going to cover all the bases!

We have laid down the rest of the cardboard we had stored up for the garden as part of our permiculture sheet-mulching technique.  As the rabbits produce more “fertilizer”, we will lay it over the cardboard, along with waste straw from the barn hayloft.  This method seems to so far be fairly effective at keeping the weeds at bay, while at the same time helping the ground retain moisture and receive nutrients.

Had enough yet?  There’s more…

I finally had some time this weekend to install the automatic water valves for the yak, goats, and cows.  At least through the summer months, this will save us lots of time as it eliminates the chore of filling up their waters!

Water aside, it sort of feels like spring again around the farm, in July.  We not only have a new litter of fluffy kittens, but also…

baby bunnies..

I think that about brings you up to date with the happenings on our little farm.

I’ll end the the same way I end every evening here.  This is our naughty hen that refuses to roost with the rest of the chickens.  Instead, she chooses to roost on the rabbit cages.  Maybe she thinks she is a bunny?  Maybe she dislikes our two juvenile roosters that are the cause of chaos before all the hens go in to roost every evening?  Either way, for the last few weeks, every night, I have to sneak up on her, grab her, and toss her back into the coop. Every night!  Without fail!  I hope someday she will learn!

-Jeremy

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Automated Rabbit Watering System

What is the first thing you think about when you think of a farm?  Animals maybe?  Fields, orchards, or gardens?  Tractors? How about chores?  Pretty sure that the word “chores” comes quickly to the mind of any farmer or homesteader out there, past or present.  Chores, they consume our most valuable resource.  Time.  One of my goals (among many others) when entering farming at a small scale was to see how many of the processes I could automate.  Some day I can sit back in the porch and sip some iced tea, maybe watch the chickens and ducks do their thing while the farm tends to itself.  Haha, that will be the day, but you have to start somewhere right?

I have most of the parts to automate our chicken door, but more pressing for us now that the summer heat has hit, has been handling our rabbit water.  How tedious it is to go to each cage several times a day to ensure the water level in the rabbit bottles is okay and to top off as needed.  It is especially nasty when you get to the male rabbit cages.  I haven’t found it yet, but I am pretty sure the water bottles must have a target on them, only visible to a rabbit eye.  Soiled and slimy hands are a sure guarantee (I won’t elaborate).  There has to be a better way.

Sure enough, there is!  For under $60 in parts and less than 2 hours of assembly, we can now water up to 20 rabbit cages.  For comparison, with $60, I could only purchase 3-4 decent new cage water bottles, and I would still have to manually fill them daily.  Boo!

I started by saving an old drywall mud bucket and cover. One can never have enough buckets!  I had stopped at the local fleet supply and picked up a stock tank float valve, typically used to regulate the water level in a stock tank for goats, horses, or cattle.  I cutout the bucket lid so that I could fit the valve and float assembly in the bucket.  I wanted to still be able to put the lid back on there to prevent nasties from getting in their water.  I then ordered a 20 pack of rabbit water nipples and some plastic tubing online.  I had some 1/2″ pex tubing and a valve laying around from house projects.  With a water line already in the barn, I tapped into it with the pex T-fitting and put in a new valve to feed this new rabbit watering system I was going to setup.  This valve would ensure I could isolate this system if I ever had problems with the rabbit watering system in the future.

The pex was then connected from the new valve to the float valve I attached to the bucket.  I drilled a small hole in the bottom of the bucket and installed the plastic tubing through that hole.  I then ran the tubing to each rabbit cage using the fittings provided in the rabbit nipple kit.

At each cage, I installed a nipple.  A word of advice, ensure the plastic hosing is not accessible to the rabbits, they will try to bite through it.  I learned that the hard way!

Wire staples worked well to hold the tubing in place.  Finally, I suspended the bucket from the ceiling so gravity would feed water through the tubes to each rabbit.

Once everything was in place, I opened up the valve to the new system.  The bucket immediately filled with water.  When full, it stopped!   I watched the water slowly fill up the lines and made sure to press each water feeder nipple to ensure that water would flow out and the remaining air would be released from the lines.  After checking on it a few times through the day, I was satisfied.  The water level maintained and the system did not appear to be leaking anywhere!  Perfect!  A simple, yet effective, low cost, low energy rabbit watering system!  All in all, it took about one, maybe two, hours to complete.  I’ll remove the water bottles once I know the rabbits have adjusted.

UPDATE (2017.06.27):  After a couple weeks of use, the water system is still working great!  We haven’t needed to water the rabbits manually at all since installation!  I removed the water bottles about 2-3 days after setting the system up.

-Jeremy

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The Automated Chicken Coop (Phase 1)

We have a lot of projects going on right now, but I guess I like a full plate and am about to throw another one on.  As many of you know, my full-time job involves industrial automation.  Over the next few years, I plan to automate as many farm chores as I can along with adding a hydroponics or aquaponics system and document them on this blog.

Why

Why automate?  First off, it will let us do more with the finite amount of time we are given.  Not only will this make mine and Shelly’s lives easier, but it will also be a learning experience for our children.   I plan to involve them in the steps of system design, assembly, and programming.  This is real-life hands-on homeschooling.

We start in the chicken and duck coops…

Identifying the Problems

The chicken coop is the low hanging fruit of farm automation.  There are many off-the-shelf solutions out there already, however, most homesteaders are a do-it-yourself type crowd, that includes myself.  So I am going to pass over the pre-built solutions and build my own.

One of the advantages to building my own, is that I can integrate it into other future systems that we will implement in the future.

The tasks involved are pretty simple and the solutions, direct.  Before engineering a solution or system for the chicken coop, lets identify a few of the problems or regular tasks that take place in the coop.

  • Low egg production in the winter
  • Opening and closing coop door for night-time predator protection
  • Proper ventilation and ammonia buildup
  • Maintain Water Supply
  • Maintain Supplimental Food Supply
  • Maintain Grit Supply
  • Egg Collection
  • Floor Cleaning

That list added up quickly!  If I missed something, please add to the comments section below.

Most of the items listed above are pretty trivial tasks or problems that take only a little time to deal with. But, our goal here is to waste less time on trivial tasks and allow us to have more time for other things.  The fact that many of these items are trivial makes them great candidates for automation.  I actually compiled this list in order from easiest to automate down to the hardest.

I have chosen to start with the first two, the low hanging fruit.  If I can tackle these, this system will be the foundation that others can be built upon and added to.

Proposed Solutions

As many of you know, chickens egg production is related in large part to the length of time during the day they are exposed to light.  As winter sets in, egg production starts to slow down.  To assist in getting these levels back up, other sources of light can be used (other than the sun).  The downside to adding another source of light in the coop is that it will add stress to the birds, thus adding to a shorter and less healthy life.  I have opted to strike a balance and add a few hours to the morning and evenings in the winter, basically making the winter days in the coop as long as the summer days.  As I am fairly power conscious, I opt for LED lighting whenever I can.  In this initial phase, a simple timer based control will do.  In phase 2, I would like to add a light detector so that if there is adequate daylight already present, the LED lighting would remain off.  Once it is dark and the timer is active, the LED lighting will turn on.

Onto the next item, the chicken coop door.  The chicken coop door is used to keep predators out at night.  It also doubles to keep the chickens in to ensure they lay their eggs in the coop and don’t force you to waste time hunting for eggs in the wild.  For this, I have landed on a 120VAC reversible motor, attached to a vertically sliding door by a used bike chain (finally, I have a use for those old bike chains!).  I will attach a counter weight to the opposite end of the chain as the door.  In the morning, the door will be driven up until a set of magnetic switches are closed.  In the evening, the motor will reverse and lower the door until another set of switches close, indicating the door is fully down.

So with this general idea in mind, I laid out a simple CAD drawing of the proposed system, keeping in mind that I will need space to allow other tasks on this list to be automated in the future.  Here is a quick concept sketch:

Locating the Parts

Thankfully, I have most of the parts on hand to start assembly, with the exception of the motor and switches.  I found a motor on ebay that fits the bill for about $55 and switches on Amazon for about $6-7 each.  I have some sample control hardware I will use for the brains and can probably locate a used electrical enclosure for free from my regular job.  The only other bit I will need to purchase will be some conduit to run the wiring in to protect if from any curious chickens or pesky mice.  The somewhat-local home improvement store should have what I need there.

The Project Begins

The switches have arrived and I have a controller sitting on the shelf.  Check back in a couple weeks for an update as parts arrive and we begin to assemble and program the system!

-Jeremy

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