Monthly Archives: August 2015

Grazer Dome

On MacCurdy farm we try to maximize the power of the sun by getting all of our animals on pasture. With a fleet of pastured poultry pens (chicken tractors) already in action, it was time to get our turkeys onto pasture with the good ol’ fashioned grazer dome raising.

Turkeys, depending on the quality of pasture, can meet up to 70% of their dietary needs from pasture.  At present we don’t do a rotation with cattle. Instead, we harvest a first cut off of our hayfields nearest the farm and then start our meatking chickens and commercial turkeys onto pasture.  We have used Joel Salatin’s golden ratio by housing turkeys with meat chickens with some level of success but this year we felt it was time to construct a new type of housing for our turkey poults.  Generally, one would keep young poults inside the grazer dome only until they are aerial predator proof at which point the dome becomes enclosed by our poultry netting so they can get out and get working on naturally fertilizing our hayfields.

We pride ourselves on being erudite in all aspects of preparation and decision making concerning our animals so I set out earlier this summer to a farm in Colpitts Settlement, just outside of Riverview, NB for some networking and to pick up my favorite breed of heritage chicken, the Delaware.  Maplehurst farms, owned and operate by the Beatons, had a beautiful pasture based rotational operation in place in their picturesque slice of heaven.  After a tour of their pasture and some introductions to their Berkshire pigs and Dexter cattle, I found myself intrigued by a portable hoop house design that they were currently housing turkeys in.  My project gears immediately started to turn at the sight of the housing on skids.  “How am I going to find the time to build this?” I thought to myself. After, an exchange of emails, Jason shared the materials list along with pictures and other bits of advice on his Facebook page that set the project into motion. I attribute the design of the grazer dome to the Beatons and a book entitled, “Chicken Coops: 45 building ideas for housing your flock“.

Grazer Dome

Grazer Dome

I have a tendency to apply a twist to projects to make them unique to MacCurdy Farm but I made very little alterations with this project.  However, I will highlight those aspect of the grazer dome that are different than the ones at Maplehurst farms to show you other options in building the turkey grazer domes.

The Skid

As with most projects, you build from the ground up.  However, after calling around to local hardware stores I determined that 16′ 4″ x 4″ lumber only came in treated form, which we do not use on the farm.  Option B, fire up the Stihl chainsaw and cut down four straight cedar trees, delimb, and truck them to a local saw mill.  For a small price I had two 16′ 4″ x 4″s and two 10′ 4″ x 4″ along with two 16′ 1″ x 4″s sawn up.  On the two 16′ pieces you will need to angle the ends to create a skid plate on each piece.  I measured 6″ back from the top and then plumbed to the bottom.  Next, measure 2 inches down from the front of the piece.  Finally, using your speed square or a straight edge, connect both marks to form your cut line.  I used a chainsaw to make a clean cut.  After arriving back at the farm, I quickly trimmed the 4 x 4 lumber to length and then laid them out in a rectangle with each corner propped up on two foot 4 x 4 blocks.  With a cordless drill, I first predrilled three holes at each corner with a 6″ 1/2″ bit.  Working solo, this allowed me to bring about a tight and properly aligned fit between the 16′ and 10′ four by fours.  I used three 6″ by 5×8″ lag screws on each corner.  Afterwards, I took four pieces of 4 x 4 and using a speed square made two 45 degree cuts to create a corner brace for each corner.  Using the speed square to bring the corner into square, I then used 4″ galvanized spiral nails to secure the corner braces.  You will use the same type of bracing to plumb the corners of the side walls except you will use 2 x 4 in place of 4 x 4.

I chose to go with 24″ studs on the side walls, which equates to a 32.5″ jump for the turkeys to get onto the roosts.  You will require approximately 140 linear feet of 2 x 4 to complete the side walls, which does not include the end framing.  An additional 50 linear feet for end framing would suffice, but I just used old 2 x 4 hanging around the farm.  I always take the approach of using left over materials on previous jobs to finish new projects.  I placed vertical studs at 4′ on centre on each 16′ side and at 2′ on centre on the 10′ end walls.  The fewer studs used will allow more air to pass through the fenced in side walls.  The opening in the door is 32″ between each jack stud to allow sufficient space for several chickens, turkeys, or pigs to cross the threshold at once.  These structures can be used for varying purposes on your small scale family farm.

GRazer dome framing

Grazer dome framing

Use 1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth that has been galvanized after the weld around the side walls. I use a 3′ roll around the completely perimeter of the structure, only cutting out the piece over the door opening.  On the ends, you can use chicken wire above the hardware cloth.  You can use a staple gun or hammer in small fencing staples.  A slight overlap onto the 4 x 4 skid is suggested.

End Framing

End Framing

The grazer dome is equipped with a 1/4″ braided metal cable.  First use your cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood bit to dril out a hole on the front 4 x 4.  Push the 1/2″ eye bolt through the openings on either side and place a washer and nut over the ends.  Tighten.  Outside, thread about 8 – 10 inches of the metal cable through the eye bolt.  Using cable clamps, tighten the cable clamp over the loop ends that you have formed.  The grazer dome is now ready to be pulled with a tractor or truck or team of horses.  It’s your choice, really.  If you happen to pull transports for sport, this is an option as well.  Just saying.

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Rebar Ribs

Take all 5 of your 20′ length 3/8″ rebar and cut them to a length equivalent to half of the circumference of a circle with a 10′ diameter, or in my case a 10’6″ diameter.  Input your number into C = pi (3.14) x diameter and then half your result to achieve the required length of your rebar.  With a cut-off blade on a grinder, cut the pieces to length.  I did it on a hot day so I kept a pail of water close by in case a spark caught anything on fire.  Prior to installing the dome ribs, first equip the cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood drill bit.  At four inch intervals drill a hole at a depth of 1″ into the top plate of the side wall.  You will need to drill 10 holes.  Good math, right!  Ideally, find an accommodating person to assist you in placing the rebar into the predrilled holes.  If that said person is nowhere to be found, place the end of one side of the rebar into the hole and gently walk your hand up the rebar until you have created a semi-circle to bend the rebar into the hole on the opposite side wall. Do this five times.  Next, set the 4′ side of the remesh along the side wall and tie at multiple locations on each rebar until it is securely fastened.  Cut metal wire to 4″ lengths in advance, which you will use to attach the remesh to the rebar.  A simple pair of pliers or vice grips will work to twist the two ends together.  Bend the ends at the top of the dome downward to avoid creating rips and tears when the tarpaulin is pulled over the dome.  Once all 8 sheets of remesh have been securely fastened to the rebar ribs, take some 2″ screws and screw them in at an angle over top of the rebar entrance into the side wall.  One screw at each hole will suffice.  On the end framing, you can also use the cordless drill to install screws to keep the rebar ribs in place over top of the framing.

rebar screw

rebar screw

Blue or Green

Chose a colored tarp to impede some of the sun light.  Shade is a necessity for birds in the field.  The tarp will act to provide shade and shelter from rain.  I went with a 20′ x 20′ tarp as I hope to create a roll up side wall in the future.  Positioning and securing the tarp to the side wall will require an additional person or two.  Gently zigzag the tarp over top of the dome until it is evenly divided.  Using the 16′ 1″x4″ pieces of cedar, screw into the 1 x 4 over top of the tarp and into the side wall on one side of the grazer dome.  Do the same on the other side.  At this point, you can grab a pair of scissors or a utility knife to cut off the excess tarp or do as I did and roll it up on the ends where you will sandwich the tarp between boards cut to fit inside of the contour of the end wall.  Screw through the boards over top of the rolled up tarp into the end framing.  This will provide anchoring for the tarp on all four sides of the structure.

All tarped up and ready to go

All tarped up and ready to go

The Doors

Human entry at the front, turkey door at the back.  I won’t bother to give dimensions with the door, but take care to leave a 1/2″ of space between the width of the door and the width of the opening so that the door closes without jamming.  I double latch the door at the same height at the T hinges.  A quick google seach of barn doors or a look at my photos will set you on the right track.  We’ll be adding a sliding turkey door between two of the wall studs at the rear in the near future.  This will allow the turkeys to come and go from the dome with more facility.

Roosts

Turkeys, like other birds, prefer to roost in the night time.  I fitted the grazer dome with two roosts supported by angle braces on either side.  They bear all 200 lbs of farmer MacCurdy plus some.  In my opinion, it is essential to include angle braces if you are housing larger birds.  I always enjoy having a staring competition with the birds while they are on the roosts.  They usually give me a look that I anthropomorphize into curiosity.

Modus Operandi

It is best to move the grazer dome when the manure application inside of it covers the better part of the pasture.  We currently move the dome after 48 hours in one place.  We undo the poultry netting, move the s17 solar charger to the next location, drag the grazer dome to it’s new piece of salad bar, reposition the poultry netting, and lead the turkeys to the next rotation.  Lots of feeders, waterers, and the occasional greenhouse lettuce or edible weeds treat keeps the turkeys happy.  Not to mention they are free to explore the expanse of their surroundings visually, run around their portable enclosure, and, when the opportunity arises, chase Farmer Mac’s children into a flight of fear…haha. Turkeys are remarkably clever, communal, and tasty.  Support your local farmers and get out and visit a small local family farm when you have the chance.

Materials List

2 16’ 4*4
2 10’ 4*4
2 8’ 4*4 for cross bracing the sled
8 sheets 4*8 remesh
5 20’ lengths of ½’ rebar
A roll of rebar wire tie
A tarp at least 16’ * 16’
12 5/8” by 6” lag bolts with washers
Bag of screws or nails
If you want to build a wall some more 2*4 will be required
Also some more lumber to board in the ends

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, farming, livestock, organic agriculture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Learning Through Trial by Fire: How to prevent farming burnout

Farming can test one’s mettle no matter your prior level of experience.  The tail of the tape can read very differently for each individual farming journey.  If one is not careful, the fiery flame inside your heart can quickly become extinguished and leave you burnt out.

Although I’ve been working the farm from a young age, like the previous generations before me, the past three years have been particularly trying as we attempt to establish ourselves as local food producers on top of running our cow calf operation.  This blog attempts to elucidate some of the warning signs for burn out.

Entrepreneurial pursuits can, in retrospect, seem as though they went very smoothly when one peers back into their origins from a perspective of feeling burnt out.  However, burnout can begin in the very first year if we blaze into terra nova without any respect for our mental and physical health.  It is important to always lend an ear to voices of reason and advice concerning the level of work one does in attempting to bring a farm to sustainability.  Often my parents have kindly suggested that I do one of the following: (1) Slow down, (2) Stop doing so much, and/or (3) take a break and do something fun.  However, we can’t simply assume that our loved ones will have timely advice.  If we fail to have conversations about our emotional, physical, and spiritual health the tell-tale signs of burnout might go completely unnoticed and we’re left to suffer.  Thankfully, farming is usually a family endeavor with shared responsibility.  Our co-workers are often our family, so there is a pre-existing safeguard in place.  Attending to advice from parents, siblings, etc. can free us from the mental stress of not living up to expectation and remind us that others can see our fatigue and stresses that we wear on our faces.

It is important to have some safeguards in place as a prevention for the damaging effects of stress.  They may seem like common sense but often these safeguards are overlooked as we strive to meet our goals.  Entrepreneurial nearsightedness sometimes keeps us from seeing the bigger picture.

  1. A routine, preferably written on paper or on your smart phone notes can visually remind you of what lies ahead in the day, week, or month.  As we know, there are only 24 hours in the day, 12 of which should be spent working, 6 – 8 sleeping, and 4 -6 spent with family.  I am by no means a type A personality but learning to write lists allows me to prepare for a week ahead and feel a sense of accomplishment as jobs are stricken from the farmer-do list.
  2. Eat well.  Having a big breakfast has always been a staple ingredient in our recipe for work on the farm along with snacking through the day and a large supper.  Do not skip meals.  Our bodies require a substantial amount of nutrition and it’s recommended that you eat your own supply, seriously.  I even have an extra plant protein shake a few times in the week to repair the muscular wear and tear from the daily grind.
  3. Listen to your loved ones.  Taking time to converse with those closest to you will help you identify areas of imbalance between home and work life.  It’s often overlooked and is a best practice for any farmer, especially those who travel the work path alone.
  4. Set a limit to your work day.  There were days this year that I worked, manual labor, 12 – 14 hour days for extended periods of time, often working into the moonlight or with flood lights to finish a job I started or wanted to get a head on. Given that I don’t live on the farm but nearby, 8 km away, I try to be home before it’s time to put the kids to bed so I can spend quality time with them and unwind.  Going to bed with work on the mind keeps us from resetting our batteries and robs us of a sense of fulfillment by allowing us to think that we didn’t accomplish enough.  Get your rest, shut it down early, and get to it early in the morning. If you don’t establish this as a best practice you will find yourself experiencing an unceasing fatigue.
  5. Relax.  Easier said than done  Find a time at least once a week to do something that brings you peace and rest.  Whether it be prayer, music, or a walk in nature.  Do something where you cast your worries aside and focus on something outside of yourself.  We can’t live our lives forever walking backwards into the future.  We need to find outlets to release stresses, worries, regrets, and mistakes so we don’t carry them with us.  I find time to pray, time to walk through the fields, time to kayak, and time to anything completely unrelated to work.

You’ll never get anywhere you’re meant to be by travelling yesterday’s road.  It’s a new day, find a new way.

Prior to investing a great of time and energy into revitalizing and diversifying the farm I spent time competing in the highland games and in preparation for events, in the gym.  I weighed a solid 220 lbs but in the three years of farming I dropped 25 lbs on account of overworking, not eating a high enough calorie intake, and high levels of stress,  Burn out can happen in the snap of the fingers if we don’t pay attention to warning signs.  Below is a generalized listing of some of the warning signs that I have paid attention to:

  1. Nagging fatigue.  We all know fatigue leads to poor decision making and a higher incidence of farm related injury.
  2. Anger outbursts.  Nobody is perfect and this unfortunately happens when we are pushed to a point outside of our mental flexibility.  The key is to be real, accept that it happened, and ask for forgiveness if someone else was on the receiving end.  How easily we can misdirect our anger so take responsibility for it.
  3. Irritability/Frustration
  4. Feelings of loneliness.  If you put too much on your plate we may feel helpless and start looking for help.
  5. Weight loss
  6. Altered perception of events.  For example, small troubles are amplified to a higher degree. It can take the form of worrying about the state of your health
  7. In severe cases, panic attack, tremors, and high anxiety.

I first thought about writing a blog on burn out after a conversation with another farmer at a local saw mill.  I had driven back, by myself, to get a load of shavings for bedding for our chicken and cattle.  At the time, I thought it strange that the woman and her kids loaded their truck while the father and husband sat in his truck.   I struck up friendly conversation with them to find out who they were and learned that the husband was burnt out.  His doctor had put him off work.  I felt terrible for him knowing how difficult it would be to let go of a passion, even if just for a while.  Flash forward three years later and here I am writing this caveat to help any of you who may be on the verge of burn out or are currently experiencing it.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking it can’t happen to you because, it can.  Set some safe guards in place and make yourself acutely aware of warning signs.  Everyone responds to stress differently so your safeguards and warning signs might not be written on this list.  Take some time to write them down and save yourself the stress.

Finally, entrepreneurship is characterized by innovation.  We purposely cast ourselves into the fire as we establish our businesses.  We have to learn through trial by fire.

Categories: burn out, family farming, mental health, stress | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.