I love raising chicks, it’s one of my favorite parts of spring. I can’t give you all a clear reason why, Hubster is always asking me and I can’t really ever give him a good reason either. It’s a hobby I enjoy. That’s all. This spring, we had too many chickens and I was told I was not allowed to get chicks because we had nowhere to put them. So, when I went to our local feed store for some other random farm necessities, and they had chicks, I was feeling the longing pull me to their bins and stare at their cute fluffiness. MMMM, they are so cute and fluffy and chirpy……..ahem, where was I? Oh right, ducks, so they had ducklings. Which, if you’ve never seen are even cuter and fluffier and chirpier than chicks. But of course we had no room for them. So what did I do? I bought 4, duh.
So when I brought my purchase home and proudly presented them to Hubster, he asked me: “So, where are we putting them?”. I admit this made me take pause for a moment….um….”Oh, I’m building them their own coop” I blurted out, proud of myself for my superior problem solving skills under pressure. “Uh, huh. And where are they going until it’s built?” he asked patiently (He did marry me after all and so he has a vague awareness of where this is headed). “Our basement! I said proudly, I mean, I’ll probably need a little help…” So after we got them settled in our chick brooder down in the basement, I began hunting Pinterest for awesome duck coop designs.
I settled on a simple A frame design that would maximize floor space, while minimizing materials necessary. And Hubster and I got to work. Our base was 5’x5’ plywood on three 4”x4” pressure treated skids. We arrived at these dimensions slightly arbitrarily and given a redo I would have made the base 4’x4’, making more use of our 8’x4’ plywood materials, and would not have been THAT much smaller as to be cramped. Oh well, hindsight is 20:20. We used 5 regular 2”x4”s as “ribs” and T1-11 as the fronts and backs. We used corrugated metal roofing with a top vent for plenty of ventilation. And we finished just in time! Because the ducks had been sharing the coop run with our younger chickens and were getting rather uppity about their cramped quarters.
Their size had been worrying me from the very beginning actually. They started out in my regular chick brooder with no indications of the approaching problem, but within two weeks of having them, I knew we were going to have space issues. Here’s all my chick brooding stuff: feeder, waterer, and mini pond. I have since upgraded to this waterer (the ducks make a huge mess on any water dish and the drinkers help to reduce that somewhat).
The ducklings grew much more rapidly than chicks their age and I was unprepared. They would soon outgrow their small brooder, and as soon as it was safe we moved them outside. After we moved them however I got slightly concerned that maybe they were like goldfish and just grew to the size of their enclosure, in which case I would come out the next morning and their heads would be above the 8’ tall dog kennel fencing we use for our chicken runs, looking down at me and quacking at me in a deep dark voice “Hey Mom!”. But then I woke up and they were still their normal (albeit still rather large) selves.
They seem much happier to be in their new digs and I look forward to adding 2-3 more next year (Honey if you’re reading this I’m just kidding. Hehe. Maybe)
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Recently I had a friend introduce me to some new people at a party and she said “This is Meredith, she’s a farmer’s wife.” If I was a cartoon, my head would have spun around exorcist style and fire would have shot out of my eyeballs. I know that several of my contemporaries experience similar treatment. We know the things that we do to raise our families, our animals, and our crops. But to the rest of the world, we are invisible. An accessory to the Farmer; the “real” worker. I know people imagine they get up before the sun, feed the animals, do chores, hop on the tractor and do field work all day, and come in well after supper time. And while that may be true for some, there are many more women out there that not only support their husband’s work, but also do a fair bit of farm work themselves.
I’m here to tell you that I am a Farmer too, I’m a FarmHer! I wake up early (most days before Hubster) get breakfast for my boys and us, then he and I do the morning chores TOGETHER. He goes out and does field work on the tractor while I go take care of our children. We work on large and small projects around the house or barn (And I usually have a baby on my back). We put in the endless feet of fence TOGETHER. For more on the fence, check out my other two fence posts. We suffer the same disappointments and celebrate the same joys that accompany farming TOGETHER.
The US Census Bureau collects a lot of Agricultural statistics that are available here. One of the most important statistics they collect (in my opinion) is the number of farmers that are women. However, the way they count women farmers may need some updating. They count women farmers as any woman that is listed as the sole or majority operator of a farm. These women are significantly in minority accounting for less than 10% of all farmers in this country. But, I reject the idea that because I am in a partnership with a man, that he is the farmer and I am the accessory.
Hubster and I are true partners, in everything (farm work, housework, parenting, bringing home bacon, all of it). It’s truly wonderful and I am so so grateful. And if you tally up “years of experience in farming” Hubster has a few more than I do (but only a few). But especially because, without me, this farm would never have existed. My hard work, long days, blood sweat and tears, and my vision are the foundation of this farm just as much if not more than Hubster.
So I beg your pardon friend who needs some educating, while it’s true I am technically a farmer’s wife, I am also a FarmHER!!!
Are you the primary farmer in your family? Even if you contribute support, be proud! Comment below!
Our most monumental task to date has been installing all of our fencing. I say that, and it’s true, but it’s actually still not finished! HA! It’s not funny, I’m laughing because I am slowly being driven insane over this monumental task. If you can afford it, you should pay someone to do this for you!! I repeat, do not DIY a farm fence unless you absolutely have to because your poor like us!!!
For those who do wish to take on a task of their own like this, here’s what we did in a some more specific terms. You can emulate what we did, or learn from our pain and just pay the extra money to hire someone. We used both new and used fence posts, we interspersed them so that there wouldn’t be areas where the post were all old and all new. Our neighbor was getting rid of a bunch of them and they were still in great condition. We paid half price for them which really saved us on total cost. The fence posts we used were 6-7-8’s which means (if I remember correctly) that they are 6-7″ in diameter and 8′ long. This is plenty big enough to make our high tensile woven wire fence nice and strong. We spaced our posts every 15′, with 8′ brace posts at the ends of each stretch and around some curves. If we had been using high tensile single strand wire, our posts could have been smaller. We wanted to use the woven wire for our sheep though because that single strand wire fence is really only good for keeping in cattle and very well trained horses that aren’t like normal horses that spend their whole lives looking for a way to die and high tensile 6 strand fences look perfect for that job.
We rented a trailer mounted post driver to drive the posts into the ground. We did this for several reasons. First, the post driver is a faster method then the hole drilling and then putting post in hole and filling in hole followed by much tamping method. 1-2 whacks of the post driver, a stop to check level, another 1-2 more good whacks of the post driver, again stopping to check level, then whack it maybe 1-2 more times and thats it! your done, move on to the next post. There are three versions of this contraption, one is a skid loader mounted version, tractor mounted version, and one is a trailer mounted version. We could have gone with either the first or last option, since we do own a skid loader, but the trailer versions are more readily available for rental, and even with all the posts we had to put in, it was still cheeper to rent than it was to buy even a used one. It did an amazing job in our rocky, loamy soil. More than several times we had to stop and move a post because we hit a spot where the post would go down no further and it was no where near deep enough. Only once did we hammer a post only to have it shatter (and that was because one of the used ones was half dry rotted).
After we drove all the posts it was time to stretch fence. Now, you can buy a fancy fence stretcher that attaches to a come along, but *see above* we are poor, and so we just made a fence stretcher using two 2″x6″s and 6 bolts with washers and nuts on each side. A 2×6 was placed on each side of the woven wire fence and the bolts were put in place and tightened, then a chain was looped around the stretcher at the top and bottom and then around the bucket of the skid loader. The role of the skid loader can be played by any vehicle that is strong enough really. We ended up stretching several sections with our pickup truck, we just looped the chain around the hitch. Just be gentle if your the driver. Pull until the fence is sturdy when you push on it, but still has a little give. Without releasing the tension, we hammered in the fence staples on the first 2-3 posts. Then we could release the tension from the skid loader and I hopped out of my cushy dry seat to help Hubster and T finish stapling in the rest of the fence boards. This is thankless, hard, back breaking work.
At this point, the fence is usable as a fence and you don’t HAVE to do anything else. But we are glutens for punishment, so we kept going. We added a single strand of electric wire to the inside of the fence. This is actually a crucial step in you own animals like sheep or goats to help the longevity of the fence. It keeps the animals from stepping up on the fence and stretching it out. Onto every post we nailed an insulator that would hold the hot (electric) wire out and away from the fence.
So while you are out there enjoying your weekends and going on vacation, we still have 1,500ish more feet of fence to go install. Nunight.
We paid someone to build our barn. I am aware that this option may not be open to everyone who is trying to start a farm from scratch as it did cost us a decent chunk of money. But we had planned for this, and seeing as we already had animals, and winter was fast approaching, we needed reliable shelter for them and fast. We had a small pot of money that we saved to start this project with and we had dedicated a decent amount to building a barn. While we did go the DIY route with a lot of our farm endeavors, we knew that a DIY barn would have taken too long and been far less than what we wanted or needed.
We chose a local, mennonite builder that was very reasonable (Fetterville, located in Southern PA). We decided to go with a three sided tractor/loafing shed style. It is 24’ x 60’ with five 12’ bays. One bay would be for the livestock, One bay for Hubsters “shop” and the other three bays for equipment and hay storage. Our big pie-in-the-sky plan would be to build a shop and another barn to dedicate totally for livestock, and completely transition this current barn to equipment and hay storage. There were several options, we got to pick the roof and siding color and added a side door. Grand total came to just under $15,000 which I know sounds like a lot, but if you look at what we got for that price, I think we did very well. Could we have built something similar ourselves and saved a lot of that money? I’m not entirely sure. The metal siding and roofing is guaranteed for 50 years, and it’s expensive. They used big, heavy, engineered beams to make the whole front open. I love it, it’s perfect, and it took them just over 1 week to build (which includes 3 days of an epic snowstorm which they were not working at all)
Two guys with a skid loader set the support beams on Friday as the snow was starting to fall. We got almost 2 feet of snow in 4 hours (which is A LOT for Maryland, ya’ll….we are thin blooded people).
It took Hubster and I two and a half days to get completely dug out to the road, which didn’t get plowed until the following day.
The workers were back on with one extra guy Tuesday and completed the bracing and rafters for walls and roofing, which went up on Wednesday. Thursday they came back out one more time for some finishing work, putting in trim, soffits, and cleanup. It was very impressive and I am quite pleased with their work.
The sheep moved in the following week and we haven’t looked back. There’s just some more fence to finish now. Ug, not more fence. See my follow up about fencing, and the end of the fencing saga.
We have officially moved in to the house! It’s all finished and we are getting pretty cold in our camper on these crisp late autumn nights, even with our tiny space heater. We’ve had several frosts and I just want to get this thing winterized before we get a truly hard frost. But we got to celebrate Ted’s first birthday in our new house and I couldn’t be happier.
I have to admit that a tiny part of me that is sad to be leaving the camper though, just a tiny part though.