A Brilliant Modular Pallet Chicken Coop Design

pallet chicken coop

pallet chicken coopIf you’re looking for a simple, well-built, cheap, predator proof pallet chicken coop design… here it is:

Bonus: this is a chicken coop made of pallets.

Pallets! That’s cheap and strong.

The problem with many chicken tractors is that they’re not predator-proof. I’ve gone from free-ranging birds to keeping them totally locked up to experimenting with tractors to building tougher coops to again building tractors… but Allan’s pallet chicken coop is a great design. I also like that it’s modular. You can build it in pieces, then bolt it together, provided you can find the right-sized pallets for your chicken coop design.

We should write up some plans! I was impressed.

Here in Florida, predators are always a problem. I’ve lost more chickens to racoons, possums, hawks and even snakes than I care to mention.

It’s all well and good to talk about the “natural” way of letting them run around the yard, but at the end of the day, homesteaders are keeping chickens for eggs and meat – and chickens are a tasty prey animal. If they aren’t completely protected in a predator-proof coop, you will lose some – or all – of your birds.

Putting hardware cloth all the way around may cost some cash but it’s better than coming out in the morning and finding out that your birds have been decapitated and strewn around the yard.

Been there, seen that, hated it. Never again. A safe, tough, pallet chicken coop like this one is a great idea and I thank Allan for sharing it with us!

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David-the-good-books-revised

What To Plant in a Florida Orchard

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Luscious purple Florida-grown figs.

Last night I noticed this comment on the high-density orchard post over at The Brilliant Homestead:

Most people think “apples” when they hear orchard. What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard? –Phyllis Franklin

Ah-ha!

Thou art in luck: trees are one of my favorite topics!

For those of you who don’t know Phyllis, she is a writer with her own homesteading blog “Evolution of a Farm Girl.”

Even better, she’s a homeschooling mom. (Since I was raised by a homeschooling mom, I’m rather partial to that rare and wonderful breed of lady.)

Now: trees.

The question, “What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard?” is not easy to answer without knowing a location.

The one thing I wouldn’t plant anywhere in the state is citrus. Just don’t do it – you’ll lose the tree.

That aside, here are my recommendations.

Trees for a South Florida Orchard

A fragrant lychee.

In south Florida and large parts of coastal Florida, your options are incredible. My in-laws, for example, bought a house that had a small mango orchard planted in the front yard. The trees are now gigantic and bear incredible quantities of mangoes which bring them a decent side income during mango season.

My parents have a tamarind, a canistel, an acerola cherry and a jabuticaba tree in their front yard in Ft. Lauderdale. In the side yard they have a fig and a tropical almond. Out back there’s a chocolate pudding fruit, a mango, a Key Lime, a coconut palm, multiple bananas, cattley guavas, Surinam cherries, dragon fruit cactus, a Grumichama, a starfruit, plantains, papayas and probably a few more trees I can’t remember (they’re all parts of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project).

If you wanted an orchard in South Florida, all of those trees would be excellent choices.

I’d also add:

 

Sapodilla (Mmmm)
Jackfruit (Largest fruit in the world)
Mulberries
Longan (high market value)
Lychee (high market value)
Custard apple
Cashew (a fruit AND a nut!)
Macadamia (Awesome nut, nice big tree)
Soursop (anti-cancer!)
Ackee (poisonous unless harvested at the right time)
Loquat (grows in north and south Florida)
Jamaican cherry (delicious)
Tropical guava
Cinnamon (large tree and very beautiful)
Peruvian apple cactus
Coffee (Yep, it grows into a small tree)
Nutmeg (probably marginal)

 

…and probably a hundred more tropical trees.

The quantity of fruit you can grow down there is astounding. I’d bet on at least a 1,000 species since the Tropics are BY FAR a much more productive region than the world’s temperate zones.

Trees for a Central/North Florida Orchard

A tangy loquat.

The further north you move in the state, the more your options dwindle.

That said, you do pick up a few new species that cannot be grown in the southern tip of the state, such as plums, peaches and pears.

The transition isn’t immediate, but basically once you have overnight lows that go below the upper 20s, your tropical trees become a hard-to-grow liability rather than good orchard fodder.

My favorite three N/C Florida fruit trees are mulberries (white, black, Persian and Pakistan), Japanese persimmons (be sure to get both astringent and non-astringent types – they both have their uses on the homestead) and loquats. Finding improved loquat varieties isn’t easy but they’re worth buying since they bear larger and sweeter fruit than the landscaping seedling trees usually found for sale.

After those, I would add these trees to my North Florida orchard:

Pears (“Pineapple” is my favorite – tough and disease-resistant. Orient is a good pollinator.)
Plums (UF varieties)
Peaches (UF varieties or seedlings from locally-picked fruit)
Apples (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet, Ein Shemer. None are particularly easy to grow here)
Pecan (gets big, but has high market value)
Chestnut (fast producer of sweet nuts – get two “Dunstan” types)
Figs
Nectarine (UF varieties)
Avocado (cold-hardy types such as Lila and Mexicola. Subject to early death via disease.)
Bananas (Raja Puri, Orinoco, Red Dwarf, Ice Cream all survive cold)
Pomegranates (Note: some spontaneously die. Don’t get attached!)
Autumn olive
Goumi berry
Black cherry (gets tall – hard to harvest – flavor is amazing)
Japanese raisin tree (rare)
Sichuan Pepper
Jujube (Chinese)

 

Among these trees there are many cultivars and variations that should keep you quite contented as you plan. I currently prefer a food forest to an orchard; however, an orchard is better than having just a couple of trees… and a couple of trees are still better than lawn.

As you plant I would mix up the species rather than keeping them together in blocks of the same type. That makes it harder for pests to jump from tree to tree. Running chickens through the orchard on a regular basis also feeds the trees and knocks back potential pest problems.

Along with these trees, you can add a couple of wires for grapes as a nice upgrade. Or build an arbor.

Now go, Phyllis. Plant!

 

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David-the-good-books-revised

Adding Protein Back to Our Homestead

Rabbits2
Someone asked me a few weeks ago how much of our food comes from our homestead.

The answer was… not enough.

Sure, we don’t really have to buy any vegetables (with the exception of specialty things we don’t grow, like Vidalia onions or tomatoes).

We’re also pretty set on roots like sweet potatoes, turnips and yuca.

I always have bundles of greens.

We also get a decent amount of berries, figs and other fruit (though nothing like we’ll be getting in another year or two).

Where our homestead falls short is in the realm of protein. We’re buying eggs and meat and that’s really a budget-killer, especially with the ongoing inflation in prices. Plus, I like to buy grass-fed and organic meat, which is really, really expensive.

I’ve looked into the possibility of adding rabbits to the homestead for quite a while. They turn weeds into meat… lots of meat… but I just never figured out the logistics.

Then they fell into our laps when I was offered four New Zealand rabbits in a trade for one of the pecan trees in my nursery.

It took me two days to figure out proper housing and build a decent cage out of reclaimed lumber, roofing panel and some hardware cloth, but I did it.

My grandpa would totally make fun of my carpentry if he were still here on earth, but it works and it’s solid. It also cost me very little since it’s mostly pallet wood and old fence boards. Heck, quite a few of the nails are even reclaimed.

Less than a week after I got the rabbits… I ended up getting chickens again.

I know, you read my story on how I got rid of my flock and why… but this time it’s going to be different. I have less birds… and I created a nifty new easy-to-move tractor I can scoot around the crummy part of my front-yard food forest.

Though it’s not in this photo, I tack a tarp to one half of the tractor to provide some shelter for my vigorously weeding and laying poultry.
In the mix are 2 Red Stars, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Gold-Laced Wyandottes and a green egg-laying Americauna.

I’m hopeful that this tractor is good enough to keep out the raccoons. If not, I’ll add wire to the bottom as well. I just hate to keep the birds from tilling.

Anyhow, since the plant nursery has tied me to the house already, I figured I might as well add some meat and eggs back to the mix. We’re already appreciating higher-quality scrambled eggs… and soon I’ll have rabbit stew, not to mention jerky.

Note to self: Build a smoke house.

David-the-good-books-revised

The Chickens are GONE

chickens can be kept in a pallet chicken coop

Getting rid of chickens may be a bad idea… but I did it. You can’t have everything.

After almost three years of keeping chickens, I got rid of my flock.

I know, dear prepping friends, this smacks of heresy. And not only that… HYPOCRISY! After all, was I not the one that emphatically stated “you need chickens?” And was I not the clever innovator that developed a full chicken feeding plan?

Yes. It is true.

The problem is, my chickens were one too many straws on this camel’s back.

I write 12-14 articles and posts per week. I also produce and edit a national radio broadcast. Beyond that, I’m working at keeping up a plant nursery, a teaching schedule, a bunch of garden beds and two food forest projects. Traveling is also difficult when you’re keeping a flock… and I have to travel.

Something had to give. And give it did. After a string of raccoon attacks and a bad run of birds not laying eggs… and a look at how much feed was costing… I gave up. For now.

Part of the problem with keeping birds has been my limited acreage. I like to keep as much as possible on-site. Call it sustainable or call it cheap, I just don’t like having to bring in inputs.

Original artwork by Michael Bingham.

In a couple of years my food forest should be unstoppable. I’m also hoping to acquire more land at some point. When one or both of those events come to pass, it’ll be a lot easier to maintain a flock.

Until then, we’re buying eggs again. We also have relatives that live only 4 miles from us and they have a big flock.

One final thing I’ve realized from keeping animals of various sorts: I don’t really like animals. I’ve never had a dog, don’t like cats, find ducks and chickens irritating… and don’t get me started on goats.

I like people and I like plants. I get to spend more time with both now that the birds are gone.

But boy… I really miss those eggs. And the manure.

Though not the noise or the runaways.

David-the-good-books-revised

@The Prepper Project: Feeding Chickens Without Buying Feed

Rooster

Here’s my latest post for The Prepper Project – it’s on feeding chickens without buying feed… you chicken-lovers should enjoy it:

“There are plenty of theories and grand ideas on feeding chickens
self-sufficiently, but many of them are unwieldy… require a significant
amount of land… are unrealistic… or, in one notable innovation involving
buckets of maggot-riddled carrion… disgusting.

I can’t say that this post is going to have all the answers on
feeding your chickens without buying in feed – but I do hope it helps
you get further in your quest to nourish your flock without trucking in
bags of factory pellets…” (READ THE REST)

 

David-the-good-books-revised

Raising Chickens Naturally

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Raising chickens naturally, the old-fashioned way.

The following post on raising chickens naturally is from an interchange I had at Vox Day’s blog (while he was off torturing people in the woods).

Here are some thoughts on chickens from “jack” and a link to his wife’s blog that contains some homesteading info:

“We maintain a flock of about 25 to 30 chickens. They are let out each morning to free range in the yard and within the first several yards of the woodline and down to the creek. They put themselves up at night and we close and lock the hen house to keep out the predators. We are lucky to have a dog that gets along well with the chicks [won’t eat them] and she barks a good game [otherwise a total coward and she is part pitbull…go figure].

McMurray is a good hatchery. They ship via the postal service. Note that fresh hatched chicks are good on food for about three days; a bit less on water. When the post office calls you go right then, get them and have their tub or whatever ready with plenty of water and feed. Try to use non medicated chick starter for the first several months. Its sort of OK to have them vaccinated for cocci, mareks and maybe bronchitis. Now, that bronchitis stuff can sometimes cause more problems than it helps. We’ve decided to not vaccinate for bronchitis again. By all means let the chickens free range if you can. You end up with near organic birds [eggs etc.] that way. And, happy chickens. Plan on about one nest box per 5 birds. And be sure they always have a lot of clean water. Lack of water can kill a bird very quickly.

On Coops

Yes, predators can be a problem. We had one chicken killed by a hawk. Chigger, the dog, actually ran off the hawk before it could dine. The chicken lived for about two hours but
our best efforts could not save her. Our best layer, too.

With our dog predators are almost not a problem. We’re not fools about it, though. The hen house is overbuilt and the containment runs are
protected by shock wire and overhead netting. I say containment with
qualifications. You have to sometimes lock up chicks in a contained area. Free range as much as possible. Our contained areas are spacious
indeed. Most people that see the setup wonder why we even free range.
The reasons are obvious. Animals are not meant to be locked up. They are much happier on the range and far more healthy. Of course, your
situation may not allow that.

Notes on chicken health:

We use, almost always, natural remedies with the exception of the initial
vaccinations as young chicks. By the way, if you should have to use
human made medi’s after a layer is laying always wait at least three
weeks after ending those meds before eating the eggs again or the
chicken.

Apple cider vinegar in their water…boosts the immune system. Use
about ore or two caps per 1 gallon waterier.

Powdered garlic for worming. Worm about twice a year. Mix the
garlic in chick starter to get the birds to ear it.

Powdered olive leaf for viral issues; mix with starter.

Black walnut powder for more serious infections. Order off net.
Use sparingly. Mix with starter.

Diatomaceous earth for mites. Use food grade only. Get at the
co-op and spread on their earth bath areas that they dig.
Also, this same earth sprinkled on the hen house straw
does a fine job of fly control. If needed, hand dust each
bird with this.

A chicken should have a medium deep red cone without any pale areas.
Anything else is a sign of problems. They should also not look scruffy
and should seem alert with tail feathers perked up.

Chickens love water melon. They also love bits of bread thrown at them. But go light on the bread, particularly with active layers. They love crushed crackers. They will eat frogs, lizards, rats, etc. Yeah, I did not believe it either till I started keeping chickens.

Here is my woman’s blog site:

edificerex.blogspot.com

She is the studied expert around here on chickens. She thinks she doesn’t provide enough info. Not true. Plenty on chickens, how we built the chicken/garden complex and, on the right, among other things, a very complete, step by step manual on how to build a passive solar house. There are numerous photos. She should know, she built it herself with little help from custom plans. And, the info is really from the horses
mouth as she worked for about 20 years as a commercial carpenter and and certified structural steel welder. That’s in addition to a bachelor of
fine arts university degree. These days she earns her pennies making
some very fine pottery.”

Raising chickens naturally (for the most part) is a labor of love. Make sure you like chickens and start with a few… then have fun. The eggs are always welcome.

David-the-good-books-revised

You Need Chickens

ChickensAreBack2

Here’s why you need chickens: there’s hardly a better animal for the preparedness junkie, the egg-lover, the avianaphilic, or soup.

On a scale from 1-10 in the “How Ready Are You For The Collapse Of Western Civilization And The Time of Drinking From Toilets” scale, owning chickens is a solid 10. Chickens provide meat and eggs with a minimum of input and can be kept in confined spaces. A henhouse can be much more productive than a garden. Think of how many lettuces you’d have to eat to be satiated. Now think of how many eggs. Plus – eggs provide protein, vitamins and fat that are hard to get from the vegetable realm.

If you’re in the city – what’s wrong with you? CITIES ARE DANGEROUS! Sorry. I get carried away when I remember Miami traffic. If you’re in the city, you can still own chickens. It may be “against the law” where you are – but a little civil disobedience might be in order. I’ve been a part of trying to change city ordinances regarding chickens and it’s almost impossible. Why? City leaders are generally bureaucratic idiots who like feeling important and hate letting people live their lives without government oversight. It’s the nature of the game. The people who want to be in charge are generally meddlers – and those who want to leave others alone never run for office. Great plans for small coops abound on the ‘net and tucking a few hens away in a corner isn’t a bad idea. Roosters are likely to rat you out… and hens don’t need one to lay, so they’re more eye-candy than anything else.

In rural areas, chickens truly come into their own. They provide a wide variety of useful functions, so here’s my list of why you need chickens.

Why You Need Chickens

 

1. Being yummy food (I know… already mentioned that…)
2. Tilling the ground
3. Eating weeds
4. Eating pests
5. Source of feathers
6. Source of fantastic fertilizer
7. Entertainment

Admittedly, #5 is a bit tenuous, and #7 is a stretch, it being rather lame to sit outside and watch the chickens when you could be inside playing rooster with your hen… but it’s better than watching anything on the major networks, including “CSI: Hickville.”

Creating a moveable enclosure (a chicken tractor/ark) for your hens will allow them to tear up the ground and bug hunt. Then, after they’ve bared and tilled and manured that space, you plant it with something tasty. I built my tractor as a 4 x 8’, since that’s a good garden bed size.

Soon I’ll build another and we’ll really have some tilling going.

A family can live off their chickens if they have enough. A family of four needs about 8 chickens to provide enough eggs, a family of 10 about 20 chickens. We eat a lot of eggs so I keep around 25 chickens, make lots of egg stir-fries and egg smoothies, and give away some of the extra eggs as gifts to my neighbors. Openhandedness wins friends and muffles the crowing of roosters.

Hens will generally start laying between 5 and 6 months of age. Don’t mess around with silly breeds if you want dependable layers that will be there for you in hard times. Get Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons or other hardy dual-purpose breeds. (Orpingtons are handsome birds and look great in a flock, though they aren’t quite as excellent a layer as a Rhode Island Red.) One thing to consider: if you want a self-perpetuating flock that maintains its purity for a generation or two, settle on one good breed and get them all in that type. I’ve got a mix and wish I didn’t. When you end up with a few extra birds because one of your hens went broody, it’s nice to be able to sell “Barred Rock Pullets: $10 ea.” rather than “Weird Mongrel Freaks – Austrolorp Bantam Ostriches? Make Offer.”

A good place to purchase chicks through the mail is at http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com, though the minimum order is 25 birds. Of course, if you don’t have room for that many, you can always sell the extras locally or farm them off to other chicken enthusiasts.

The best way to get going with chickens is to read a bit… then get some chicks.

Cluck cluck.

UPDATE: My small homestead instructional video features my chickens and their tractor in a segment – get that here!
David-the-good-books-revised