Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the Holidays!

Yes, we're still alive and well up here in the frigid Far North. It's a balmy -44F today, which I think is a record for our location and is certainly the coldest Christmas since we've been here. The weather this winter has been crazy -- warm and windy then cold and bracing then back again for some more of the up and down. It's kept us on our toes, for sure.

I know we haven't posted in a long while, and truthfully it's because there hasn't really been much to post about. We were kind of de-motivated this year, having spent most of our time and money on repairs/replacements than on anything new or interesting. Not being able to make much progress sort of took some wind out of sails, and seriously triggered my Aspie frustration (i.e. OCD backlash) which left me stressed out and less than communicative.

Meanwhile, we're hoping to have both trucks fixed and all equipment in working order in time for spring chores. Hopefully, we'll also have enough money saved up to get a few new projects started and a bunch of old ones finished this coming year. If the weather cooperates as well, maybe we'll start making progress again and have more to post.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I thought I'd share this because it's cool.

Here's your own official Alaskan Ice Bucket...

It's totally natural with zero intention to create it, the crack in the back of it is because I got it out by kicking over a bucket, in fact this one...

However even with that flaw, it's still pretty cool, I particularly like the nice flat top edge and it's symmetry.

How was it done you ask? Easy, have a bucket sitting outside full of rainwater, and live in Alaska in September.

Anyway while taking this, this is the first attempt of the photo of the ice bucket.
Yep the dog saw the camera and just had to stick her head in the way. However I know people like dogs, and she's looking cute in this shot, so I thought it would be nice to post anyway.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Peeves and Rants

The Weather

I guess summer must have decided to go for broke and get itself all in during July & August's heatwave. It's been cold and rainy for the last week or so, the trees are all turning and the fireweed has blown its top. We didn't really even get a normal temp sunny day without mosquitoes this year.  [[[SIGH]]]

Road "Improvements"

We did an up-and-back supply trip into Fairbanks today despite the rain. First bit of nightmarish Hell was on our gravel portion of the Elliott where DoT has taken it upon itself to "improve" a 25 mile section of the road. I don't know what they were planning to do or why, but what they've managed to accomplish is a quagmire of hazardous mud right in one of the steepest, bendiest parts.

The second bit of nightmarish Hell was on the paved portion just outside of Fairbanks. They blocked the entire right lanes of traffic in both directions AND hung everyone up with a pilot car... just so they could sweep the shoulders.  I mean, REALLY!?!?! Closing lanes for several miles in both directions when the sweeper is only running on one side is just retarded. Why even close the lane!?! The sweeper barely edges over the line! And why, why, why have a pilot car directing a huge line of traffic in one direction at a time when both left lanes are still completely open and viable?!?


OK, I must admit, this one is really chapping my ass... so prepare for a rant.

There are turnouts (scenic overlook and mountain chain-up areas) all along the gravel portion of the Elliott Highway, and most of them are at the top or bottom of the really steep squirrely parts. Every bleeding fall when moose season opens, we get droves of urban commandos from the city down here tailgate hunting because their Game Management Unit is pretty much hunted out for moose. Anyway, these nimrods in their multi-$K sport-trucks & RVs with their toy haulers set up tent villages (complete with campfires and kegs) in EVERY  SINGLE turn out and park RIGHT IN THE ROAD to glass for moose.

Seriously?!?  It's dense boreal forest, people, what the hell do you think you're going to see from the road? I can't even see a moose in the trees on my own damed property less 100 ft away. And do you really think you're going to get through the trees on your decked out ATVs? Sorry to say, but you're going to have to hike your ass in there, and you should be humping your tent and gear out there as well instead of blocking the road and being a nuisance! And you certainly better not expect me to stop or wait for you to get your shit out of the road and your act together... I live here and I've got shit to do, I'm not on the road for fantastical funsies.  (And, YES, my husband did flip you the bird when you were waving us to slow down so you could back your trailer that's bigger than our cabin into that emergency turn out... he called you a lot of interesting epithets as he drove by without slowing down, too... deal with it)

Oh yeah, and BTW, half you fidjits are glassing in the wrong direction -- there's no general moose hunt on tribal land south of the road! ADF&G publishes a comprehensive book of regs with maps and everything -- so why don't you RTFM and learn some nav skills!?

So, hey better yet, why don't you take your digital camo & misc. hunter-porn crap and go hunt caribou from the Forty-Mile herd back in your own damned GMU, and let us have our moose because we actually hunt to survive out here!  If you wanted to park your vehicle in the turn out so it was safe while you hike out for a proper hunt, that's one thing... but this Hunter-palooza crap is an insult.

There has been a crazy amount of bears this year, blacks and grizz, and the salmon are running &  blueberries are popping nice and sweet right now. Not saying I truly wish anyone ill, but it would be poetic if one of these set-ups gets a close encounter!

ETA: P.S.  Ripley and Jackson are getting along much better, although there is still some sibling rivalry... and all food is apparently Jax's now LOL.  We also stocked up on soil & amendments on this trip during the end-of-season sales (had to fight somenoe for the last bale of peat moss -- I'm a scrapper when I need to be!), so we should be able to get at least some of our garden started next spring.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

OK this is getting ridiculous...

Yes, that's not a kick off the ass of 110F on our deck

I said it was Alaska... Not Arizona...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Midsummer Updates

Wow - time sure flies! Somehow I managed to miss 4th of July and wouldn't have known it was my birthday except for cards and emails LOL. Losing track of the date & day is a hazard of living off the grid out in the boonies, especially when the sun doesn't set in the summer or rise in winter.

Anyway, thought I'd drop a few lines letting everyone know what we have haven't been doing.

Well, this year has been back-to-back plagues for sure. All spring we were battling some weird funk, which turned out to be mini-epidemic of strep and whooping cough that was going around in Manley. We never came down with either fully, but it knocked our immune system for a loop so we got every other cold, flu and poor G-man's allergies were rampant. So we finally get over that, in time for a ultra-heatwave, a plague of carpenter ants and a truly obscene amount of mosquitoes... still battling those. We headed up to Fairbanks early July, and picked up a few obligatory injuries and lovely case of food poisoning. So, we're just now starting to feel ourselves again and getting our energy back. Of course, I suspect that we're anemic due to Culicidae exsanguination every time we step out the door!

Our friends from Manley, Mike & Dana, moved down South in July and we purchased their truck... she's a baby version of (Red) Sonja, and we've dubbed her (Black) Betty. It's sure a load off our minds to have a second vehicle, and Betty's smaller engine also uses a lot less gas for small-haul trips. She's also a 4-seater cab, so I can finally take a trip without Ripley in my lap the whole way! And she isn't a lifted off-road truck like Sonja, so she's a bit smoother a ride on the road, and I don't need to pole vault to get up into the cab ;) 

Of course, we coordinated our supply trip into Fairbanks on the weekend they flew out so we could pick the truck up at the airport. Just after turning onto the paved portion of the Elliott, Sonja started pulling to the right, so we got out to check... O Nos! A flat... big sidewall puncture in the front passenger tire! We tried to plug it with our Black Jack kit, but it wouldn't hold pressure above 30 psi. So we finally drop our "full-size" spare and manhandle the back tire off, replace that with the spare, and then replace the front with the back... and then get the flat up into the bed of the truck.  This is where our injuries came from! See we have 38" x 15.5" x 16.5" mud & swamp tires and they're really really heavy. In comparison, the 30-ish full-size truck tire we had for the spare looked like one of those dinky donut spares LOL.

But we managed to get into town ok, and the awesome guys at Giant Tire (on Williams Gate off Richardson) actually had a good-condition used tire and rim that is exactly the same as the ones we're running, and they did a full patch-up on the punctured one so we have a spare that is actually "full-size" for Sonja; and shifted the standard sized spare over to be a second spare for Betty. All-in-all it only took a couple hours and a couple hundred bucks... which is freakin' awesome since our mud tires are around $500 a piece new and the rims are about $300. WHEW! We got lucky, doubly so since this is the first road flat we've had in over 4 years. But we got our share of bumps, bruises, strains and dislocations... and plenty of bug bites, too!

As for projects...

Well, the garden is out for this year, but we're planning to stock up on everything this fall before winter so we'll be ready in the spring.

We haven't gotten to the siding and outdoor electrical yet, or to the last bit of roofing left from last year, or the clearing and fences. It's just too hot and too buggy to be messing with that when we're not feeling 100%. But we have all the gear here, so when it cools down and the bugs die down a bit we'll get on it; and probably screen in the porches while we're at it!

We did manage to plumb in a water intake pump (thanks Big Sis & Jimster!) so we can haul our water in from the village well in big drums and pipe it up into the storage tank instead of lugging a bunch of 5-7 gallon jugs up the stairs all the time. We had to do a little bush engineering on the potable water hose fittings, but hey that's life out in the boonies and the #1 reason to have several boxes of random spare parts :D

We also finished building a baker's rack with overhead pot rack and beverage shelf in the odd corner on the other side of the propane range. Now I have heat-resistant shelves for each of my cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens so I can put them away hot where they aren't in the way and without risking rust. The overhead is for the few stainless steel pots with the kettles, canner, and woodstove box-oven on top. Finally, my big bottom cabinet is empty of all that so I can finally put my big mixing bowls away in there instead of crammed into the pantry... yay! more room for jars and cans!

I built a long gun rack with a pistol & ammo cabinet underneath that's mounted between the bathroom and pantry doors in the middle of the house. Might seem odd to some folks, but we need our guns handy from either the front or back door with all the moose and bears out here. So finally they're put away in a nice home of their own. Now I just have to figure out what to do with their Pelican cases gathering dust under the bed!

Our next big chore is getting our firewood up, which shouldn't be horrendously diffult, just a couple weeks of dedicated work and trips back and forth to Manley since they've got tons of free-for-hauling logs at the new airport. We had to wait until the trail to the site was thawed, then agains for our trail and driveway to dry up enough, and then WHAM! on came the heat! No worries though, we'll get it done in time :D

We're still hoping to get the sheds up properly, since the ad hoc tarp-shedlet-enclosure-thingy we threw together last fall when the snow flew leaves a lot to be desired in terms of space and weather tightness. The hardest part is going to be moving the one shed down from the tent clearing -- it was a PITA to put together, so we really don't want to take it apart to move it. We'll figure something out I'm sure... heck, we still need to get the skid foundation cut in and leveled, so we might be able to slide it off the gravel pad directly onto the skids and then drag it back with Willow (the ATV).

While we've gotten a really slow start and feel a bit like slackers, it's better not to risk serious injuries and longer convalescense by pushing ourselves to complete non-critical projects that can be postponed or scaled back. Maybe if we lived closer to the hospital and were within cellular or ambulance range - ROFL!

Now, if we can just keep Ripley and Jackson from wanting to come in-and-out-and-in-and-out bringing those hitchhiking bloodsucking fiends in with them :D

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nature Walk June 2013 (pics)

G-man and I have been researching the possibility of "silvopasturing" on our property. Essentially, silvopasturing is the agro-forestry practice of grazing your livestock within forested paddocks rather than clear-cutting the lot and planting out to straight pasture. In most cases in the US, this is done so tree farmers can realize profit/benefit on their plantations during the long tree-growth period before logging for timber. However, in other parts of the world, silvopasturing is used as a forest maintenance strategy to control undergrowth that compete with maturing trees and provide ladder fuels for forest fires... and that is our primary interest (well, besides feeding the critters).

Since our livestock plans primarily center around goats and chickens, with a hog or sheep thrown in, silvopasturing makes sense... goats prefer browse, chickens like to have cover, hogs love to root, and sheep don't care as long as there are tasty weeds. By dividing our acreage into 1 acre parcels, we can turn the animals out in rotational without having to clear anything other than a perimeter lane to run the solar-power portable electric fencing. Since they won't be on this temporary "pasture" more than a couple of days and won't be densely stocked, their feedings will be of more benefit and less detriment to the local ecology. As our herd thins out the underbrush and opens up the lot, we can seed in highr feed value grasses, forbs and legumes if necessary. By combining this method with Small Bag Silage, we (humans) can manually-cut and bag forage between the trees on the pastures that weren't being grazed during their prime nutritional growth stage.

With all this in mind, we went on a nature walk to determine what flora we had in the targeted areas, and get an estimate of the feed values. I missed inflorescence (bloom) on a few things, and some things are in a growth stage where identifying characteristics aren't as pronounced; but I think we've been able to identify most the dominant flora. We're stuck on identifying the grasses since our best AK Grass Field Guide is online and most of the species we're finding are similar enough at this stage that we'd need to nit-pick the characteristics to get a positive ID... but we're close enough to determine rough forage estimates. According to the AK Forage Manual, looks like our place has plenty of good quality forages, although we'll probably need to inter-seed some legumes (most likely white clover and field peas which are also good for the wildlife).

The Flowers

Alaskan Starwort - tiny white flowers in the ground cover

Chiming Bells -- we missed the Hare Bells, and the Fireweed isn't out yet.

Grove Starwort -- more tiny tiny flowers

Wild Prickly Rose -- Vitamin C all over!
Labrador Tea -- all over the place!

The Berries

Bog Blueberries

Lowbush Cranberries (upright) and Kinnikinnick (prostrate) -- these two often grow together in clumps

More Lowbush Cranberries -- there's also Highbush Cranberries and Wild Raspberries, but I didn't get a pic

 The Willows

So, I'm guessing a bit on the identification of these, and some I couldn't even identify. I'm not a botanist and sometimes the keys are totally confusing especially when different species are all growing together in huge clumps. Heck, some of them may even be Alders (which I can only seem to ID correctly in the firewood pile!). But in any case, we have a crap-ton of several different Willows all over the place in our understory... awesome, goats love them and they grow back after grazing.

Bebb Willow

Chamisso Willow

Diamond Leaf Willow

Halberd Willow (looks similar to Diamond Leaf, but the catkins are longer and the leaves are different -- I could be wrong)

Another Bebb? It's hard to tell, there are about 6 similar-but-different shrubs in this clump.

???? I couldn't find any catkins and the leaf & bark characteristics lead me to 3 different willows and an alder in the key

The Grasses

Again, totally guessing on the IDs here since I had to base some of them on what remained of last year's seed heads. I think I've gotten close on most, the right species if not the right subspecies. Since most of these are growing in mixed-species clumps, I'm not going to caption each pic, but I'm fairly certain that we've got some variety of Hairgrass, Brome, Polargrass, Reedgrass, Bentgrass, Ryegrass, Wheatgrass and Oats. We may also have some Quackgrass, most likely brought in by some musher's dog straw at some point... as long as it doesn't take over, I'm OK with it since it does have good forage value.

 Doesn't matter really, since all the ones I think I've found are good forage value regardless of which subspecies they are and at least a few of each seem to be flourishing unaided in the various site conditions around our property.

Ripley's Stress

And we finally figured out what has been causing Ripley to lose her mind every dawn & dusk... the moose are using our driveway!

Momma Moose on one side

Baby Moose on the other

P.S. One day I'll have to get a camera with decent macro capabilities so I can take better wildlife closeups :D

Friday, May 31, 2013

Snow to 85 in only 30 days

Yes, folks, only in Alaska can you go from below freezing with snow to 85 and roasting in only a month... and be under red-flag fire warnings and severe flood watchs at the same time :D

But, hey, at least it's nice and windy. With all the windows open, the cabin isn't quite a kiln -- although you don't want to spend too much time in the loft! The wind also helps keep the skeeters at bay when we're outside, even if our winter-bleached fish-belly skin still sizzles like bacon!

No wonder we're both down with a horrible head cold. G-man is also suffering from major "spruce fever" on top of that, poor baby. Ripley is blowing her coat like a dandelion on meth and miserable. She's dug a hole under the cabin so she can wallow in the cold mud in the shade. Even Jackson is sprawled out in the shade like a puddle of ink (yes, cats can lose their bones and get really flat!!) trying to catch as much wind as possible.

With the head cold, we had to postpone our trip into Fairbanks until next week. Judging from the forecasts, we're likely to be driving through a forest fire, the road will be flooded out, or it will be raining... maybe all three at once or one right after the other, a lot can change in 150 miles and all those elevation changes. JOY!!!

But really, I am NOT complaining. After 3 summers of gray and rain, I'm totally happy with the current hot, sunny, windy weather. Despite the increase in fire risk, we desperately need this dry spell to help with all the mud! If this continues, maybe all our trouble spots will finally harden up like they were the first summer we were out here. Solid ground and a dry trail that will support vehicles and equipment makes projects go soooooo much easier.

Now, if we could only figure out whether the large critter we've heard crunching through the brush for the last couple of days is a moose or a bear....

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer's Here and New Family Member

Summer has come after only a few hours of spring. Seems like it went from snow-covered and 20F to squishy and 50F overnight. Despite a fluke snowstorm last Friday, our temps are consistently above freezing already so the Summer Project Rush is on!

Friends of ours are moving back to the L48 and we've adopted their kitty, Jackson. He is such a little lover and already knew us from our many visits, so he's fitting into our household like a champ! Unfortunately, Ripley is having difficulties adapting to a new sibling and having to share Mom & Dad's affection and attention. We're hoping her bitchiness is temporary and she'll come to accept Jax without any serious damage occuring. In the meantime, they seem to have reached detente... the upstairs is primarily his and the downstairs is primarily hers, but all food is apparently Ripley's (at least she thinks so!).

When we were in Fairbanks in March,  no one had any gardening stuff in stock since it was still winter; and we haven't been able to get back up since due to a leaky transfer case. We aren't planning another trip up for a couple of weeks, so it looks like we'll be limited to only a few fast maturing crops or having to get garden starts from a nursery ($$$$). Our gardening plans for this year may need to be postponed (AGAIN). But at least we know to stock up on supplies before fall so we can get our early start next spring... including seed potatoes, onion sets and garlic sets which are painfully difficult to get up here (must be certified disease-free, preferably Alaska-grown) and impossible to find for spring planting even though nothing overwinters here so fall planting them is not an option.

Once we do some minor repairs to the truck's transfer case, we'll definitely have to get cracking on the firewood. Luckily, there is plenty of logs available free-for-the-hauling at the new airport project site. We just need both the truck and the trail to be in good shape to go get them. With a week or two of dedicated effort and a multitude of trips back and forth to Manley, we should be able to put up enough for this year and maybe even get a head start on next year's... in any case, I want to make sure we have so much seasoning wood bucked, split and stacked that we don't have to play "find the deadites" when it's below freezing again!

We're hoping to get the siding up on the cabin, and the two decks enclosed and screened. With extremely good fortune and good weather, we may even be able to get all the trim done and get everything painted (outside).  Finishing the drywall and painting on the inside is still a ways off since the outdoor projects take priority during our short summer... I might be able to get the interior work done during the winter, but G-man would die with his asthma and allergies :(

NOTE TO FUTURE AK HOMESTEADERS -- consider interior wall surfaces that do not require extensive sanding and finishing (like ply or plank) if one or more members of the household have congestive/pulmonary issues!! The money you save getting cheaper drywall isn't worth the hassle and continual delays (unless you actually enjoy staring at unfinished sheetrock for years - ROFL).

We're also hoping to finishing clearing the home acre and get the primary fence up. Since this is an actual containment fence for Ripley, the fence has to be solid and strong... so a jackleg fence is out this time. That leaves deadhedge and wattle fencing, so we're debating which would actually be the fastest to build and strong/solid enough to keep the beast in! I think we've settled on deadhedging for the perimeter fence, piling all the spruce brush from the clearing roughly a foot thick and 4 feet high between two upright poles we pound into the ground every few feet. I'll save the prettier, and more time consuming, woven wattle for the inner fence around the garden.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Feeding Pets Self-Sufficiently

According to most veterinary experts, dogs and cats need to eat 2-5% (preferably meat) of their body weight daily depending on their activity level and general climate. Ripley weighs just shy of 100 lbs, is rather active and the climate is cold most of the year... so we're planning on an average of 4% or 4 lbs a day. This equates to about 1 fryer rabbit or broiler chicken (3-5 lbs) a day or 1 chum/dog salmon (8-15 lbs) every 2-3 days. This can be supplemented with tablescraps, slaughter offal, wild game, as well as surplus eggs and dairy... but those are harder to factor into a plan since their amounts vary.

Cats have similar dietary requirements; but considering a cat seldom weighs more than 10 lbs, we can easily lump one cat's feed (4 oz) in with Ripley's calculations. If we have a whole herd of cats, we'll have to refactor for more food. Chicken or rabbit hearts should always be fed to the cat in preference to the dog, since hearts are high in taurine and cats have a greater dietary requirement for it.

Wow! That's a lot of critters to raise or catch.

Salmon & other Finfish: It is illegal to use King salmon as pet food in our district; and Kings don't run our portion of the river. Silver, Pink and Red salmon don't run on the Tanana either. Chum (dog) salmon run July to Mid-August and again in November. The daily bag/possession limit for Sport Fishing both summer and fall chum salmon is 3 per day. The annual bag/possession limit for Subsistence and Personal Use Fishing chum salmon (with permit) in the summer run is 500/year for the summer run and 2,000 for the winter run.

Grayling and Sheefish run the river and creeks June through September; while lower consistent populations of Northern Pike and Burbot can be found year-round. Sport bag limits are low for these species and gear is restricted. There are no bag limits for Subsistence and Personal use unless noted on your permit; however, populations in the creeks are not very high, so you aren't likely to get a huge take even though you are allowed to use gill nets.

Regardless, with the ability to use gill nets and fish wheels with a Subsistence or Personal Use permit, harvesting enough fish to feed Ripley should not be overly difficult or time-consuming as long as we have the means to preserve the take.

Rabbits:non-commercial breeding doe averages 8 kits per litter every 10 weeks with conservative breeding practices (4 weeks for gestation & 6 weeks for weaning). In our extreme climate, we don't feel that breeding during the winter months is wise for the health of the mother or the kits; so at least 2 breeding cycles are forfeit, most likely 3.

It's generally light enough by March for a rabbit to breed, and warm enough by April to kindle in an unheated barn without supplemental lighting. Light and temperatures begin to plummet after mid-September, so the last litter we can responsibly raise should be kindled no later than October 1st, in order to grow out (12 weeks) before the truly bitter cold sets in.

Breed the doe March 1st, the first litter will kindle April 1st and be grown out by July 1st.
Breed the doe May 15th, the second litter will kindle June 15th and be grown out by Sept 15th.
Breed the doe Aug 1, the third litter will kindle Sept 1st and be grown out by Dec 1st.
There isn't enough time before freeze-up to breed the doe again and raise another litter.

We could tighten the schedule by weaning and rebreeding at 4 weeks instead of 6 and slaughtering at 8 weeks instead of 12. That schedule places a lot of stress on the doe during the breeding period, and requires intense feeding for rapid weight gain of the kits which we don't feel is reasonable or responsible for homestead production.

Three litters will average 20 kits (conservative loss estimate of 20%); which means we'd need to breed 18 does (and 3-4 bucks) on this schedule each summer just to feed Ripley if rabbits were her only food source.

Rabbits have a feed conversion rate of 4:1 (4 lbs of feed = 1 lb of growth). You should budget 150-200 lbs of feed for a doe and her litter (for each litter from conception to slaughter); and budget 1/2 lb of feed per day for open (unbred) does and bucks. For us 54 litters, 4 bucks for 12 months, and 18 does for 3 month comes out to 9,640-12, 340 lbs of feed a year.

Chickens: Given the sheer amount of birds required, it may be wise to consider breeds that mature quicly, and to plan on purchasing broiler chicks every summer rather than attempting to hatch and brood our own flock naturally. Because we don't intend to keep the broilers over the winter like we would our laying hens, it is less important that they be cold-hardy and robust breeds; however, we do intend to house them in portable tractors on pasture, so they can't have any serious health or vitality issues.

Cornish-Rock hybrids are genetically programmed for rapid growth (particularly breast meat), and can reach slaughter weight in 6-8 weeks. However, I have some serious ethical issues raising a non-viable animal that could not survive reliably on its own... and Cornish-Rock, or Cornish-Cross, are notorious for heart, lung and bone/leg disorders due to such rapid growth. These birds are approaching geriatric at 8 weeks and need to be slaughtered before succumbing to health issues... the only reason their meat could be considered "succulent" is because they can't really move around very well.

Brahma, Jersey Giants, and Langshans were considered "Meat Birds" before Cornish-Rocks came along; but they are even slower to mature (12-14 weeks) than many other Dual Purpose/Heritage breeds.Orpingtons were also considered "Meat Birds" and they are reasonably fast to mature, normally reaching slaughter weight in 10-12 weeks. And really -- what's waiting one more month when the birds will be happy and healthy?!

So, perhaps I should be looking for heavy Dual Purpose/Heritage breeds that are considered "fairly fast maturing" - like Australorps, Chanteclers, Delawares, Dominiques, Faverolles, New Hampshire or Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Sussex and Wyandottes. All these breeds are considered cold-hardy, and most are also winter layers (except Australorps)... just in case we want to keep some for the laying flock or eventually consider a flock large enough for natural brooding. Really, the only breed I'm interested in for layers that is missing from the "early maturing" list are the Buckeyes.

Since we'll be purchasing chicks and brooding them ourselves, we certainly want to wait until it warms up a bit because we most definitely don't have room for 400 chicks in our cabin!! It would probably be better to raise these guys in batches to help spread things out a bit. I think it's safe to assume the chicks will need some supplemental heat for 6-8 weeks until they're fully feathered before leaving them outside in a tractor, and it's really not warm enough (overnight above 40F) to do that until mid-May. Again, we aren't overwintering these birds in an insulated coop, so the last batch needs to be fully feathered and out on pasture before it gets consistently below freezing at night (around Halloween).

We can brood in 3 stages: (1) three weeks in a brooder indoors when they're really fluffy and tiny, (2) three weeks in a larger pen on the enclosed porch with constant supplemental heat, and (3) three weeks in an even larger covered pen with supplemental heat only at night. And then (4) three weeks out on pasture in a tractor until (5) slaughter time. 

Raising the broilers in continual batches allows us to have less dedicated equipment because each batch can be moved into the next stage when the previous batch moves on.... it also means we don't have to kill and slaughter 400 birds all at once, which is emotionally draining as well as physically exhausting. Spreading out the harvest also allows us to spread out the preservation of all the meat; much of which will need to be canned since we have limited freezer space.

Batch 1: (1) March 15, (2) April 5, (3) April 26, (4) May 17, (5) June 7
Batch 2: (1) April 5, (2) April 26, (3) May 17, (4) June 7, (5) June 28.
Batch 3: (1) April 26, (2) May 17, (3) June 7, (4) June 28, (5) July 19.
Batch 4: (1) May 17, (2) June 7, (3) June 28, (4) July 19, (5) Aug 9.
Batch 5: (1) June 7, (2) June 28, (3) July 19, (4) Aug 9 , (5) Aug 30.
Batch 6: (1) June 28, (2) July 19, (3) Aug 9, (4) Aug 30 , (5) Sept 20.
Batch 7: (1) July 19, (2) Aug 9, (3) Aug 30, (4) Sept 20, (5) Oct 11.
Batch 8: (1) Aug 9, (2) Aug 30, (3) Sept 20, (4) Oct 11, (5) Nov 1.

So it looks like we've got enough time to do 8 batches of 50 chicks, with a conservative loss estimate of 10%, to feed Ripley for a year if all she eats is chicken (with a bit left over for us too!).

Chickens have a feed conversion rate of 2-3:1 (2-3 lbs of feed for every lb of growth). You should budget 10 lbs of feed for each broiler chick. Each batch of 50 broilers will need 12.5 lbs of starter feed, 287.5 lbs of grower feed, and 300 lbs of finishing feed. So, for our 400 broilers, we're looking at 4,000 lbs of feed plus the cost of the chicks.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy (snowing) Easter!

It's Easter, and while that means Spring for most people, it's snowing like crazy here!  Should make the egg hunt interesting ;)  We wish you all a happy holiday and a lovely spring!

April is Autism Awareness Month

Please visit the Autism Society website to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorders, the people affected by them, and what you can do to help. Keep in mind that children born with autism grow up to be adults with autism :D

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Found this infographic that totally sums up Alaska's weather...

I think I should point out, we had that day in March where it's really warm and we got irrationally optimistic. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Even More Snow

Seems that predictions for an early spring were greatly optimistic. While the temps are around 0F during the day, it's still getting down to -20F or lower at night; and the warmer daytime temps are bringing snow, snow and more snow. In the past 5 days, we've gotten nearly a foot of the white stuff and 6" or more is predicted in today's winter weather advisory.

Looks like our outdoor projects will be delayed for few more weeks yet -- SIGH.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Problem(s) with Can Rotators

I'm always looking for pantry solutions to maximize my canned food storage and make it easier to use. Keep in mind that I have U-shaped shelves with enclosed ends in my walk-in pantry, so I can't do the more common style of storage shelves where you load on one (high) side, the cans roll down (perpendicular to the wall) and unload from the other (low) end. My solution has to work back to front (parallel to the wall).

So, this winter I played around with two different styles of can organizers: an angled shelf, and a can rotator. Eventually, I want to make custom "cassettes" for each of the foods that I regularly stock so that they fit my particular can and shelf sizes, similar to "suitcase" boxes you get canned fruit & veg cases in from bulk stores (that are always the WRONG size for MY shelves!!). I wanted to fiddle with the two units to see which functionality I preferred, so I got (or made) a few different kinds in each of the two designs.

Surprisingly, I actually found that I didn't like the can rotators as much as I thought I would.

Firstly, you get less cans for the space with the rotators because the reverse angles eat up at least 1.5" for each turn with average soup and veg cans. You need to add at least 4" of height to get the same number of cans. This might not make much difference if you have tons of space, but when every inch counts, it gets to be a real problem. In my opinion, the auto-fed rotation functionality doesn't justify losing up to 25% of my precious shelf space... I have more time than space!

The following is an illustration of this, using a 3" diameter x 4" tall can in a cubic foot of space (remember that you need at least 1" drop every 12" to make a can roll):

Secondly, unless you have an even number of shelves in the rotator, you STILL have to load them from the BACK. You can see this on the above illustration. Pretty much reduces the cool factor of auto-fed rotation to moderately tepid.

Thirdly, unless the chutes are curved (which reduces the number of cans by at least 1 for each curve) or you put angled blocks at the bottom of every turn, the stupid %#$%! cans drop weird and get jammed up. This is especially true if any of the cans are dented even the slightest bit.

Fourthly, these don't work at all for funky shaped cans that won't roll. So no hams, no SPAM, no sardines, no corned beef....

Conversely, I found there were really only two true drawbacks to plain angled shelves:

Because the shelf must be angled, in order to get the same number of cans you do need to increase the height, BUT only as much as the back angle (1" up for 12" out)... not the full diameter of the can!

You always have to load from the back, which would be a PITA if you have to take everything out first one-by-one, but not as much of a hardship if everything is in "cassette". The cans still roll from back to front, you just have to work out a system for using up a vertical column because it doesn't autofeed the whole lot to the bottom slot.

There are two major benefits to the angled shelves though:

You can still use them with a can placed upright (slide on their bottom instead of rolling on the side) which also allows you to use them with jars, boxes or odd-shaped cans.

When you have extra deep shelves, you can make a single column cassette and put something different in each row (or just make individual staking modules) which lets you utilize the full depth without stuff getting lost the back.

So, it looks like I'll be designing and fabricating my cassettes to be angled shelves loadable from the rear. I made a rotator out of heavy cardboard and that held up fairly well, but I think I'll need something sturdier if I'm going to be pulling these off the shelf a couple times a year... maybe hardboard or acrylic.

I'll post my results and plans when I finally get to that project ROFL!!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where Did February Go?

... battling freak weather extremes and an underestimation of firewood, that's where!!

We had to deal with days of -40 with high winds, days around zero with lots of snow, days of almost above freezing with blinding sunlight... rinse, lather, repeat. All that cycling made things weird for travel by foot as well as vehicle since the accumulated snow would start melting in the sun, then freeze solid, then get covered with fresh powder which results in thigh-high drifts, ice ledges, bottomless pitfalls and no traction anywhere.

Plus, we never knew what the temps were going to be when we went to bed so had no idea whether to bank the fire (and risk roasting) or let it burn out (and risk freezing). Even in the course of a day we;d see 30-40 degree shifts, which meant lots of small short fires... which strangely burn up more wood than a long burn with a full firebox. Normally we don't get that sort of weather and random heating fluctuations until mid-March, so we ran a little short on firewood (AGAIN!!  Arg!!).

So, off we went trudging through snowbanks in search of more deadites for the woodbin. This combo has a few serious limitations... not only is it difficult to determine where you're going and what's under your feet with any given step, it also means that you can't collect with a vehicle (may be possible with a snowmachine, but we don't have one yet). So, we were stuck dragging a sled of wood through the forest while the sled keeps trying to sink and mire in the snow, and you keep stepping through the hardpack or losing your footing where it's powdery or their are hidden stumps. And, unless you want to completely exhaust yourself, it also means that you can't load up the sled too much or you'll die trying to drag it home. Ultimately, we've found that we can only drag back a sled with 1-1.5 days worth of wood... so this whole process is DAILY (now you know why I'm peeved about the miscalculation!!).

In addition to the wonders of firewood, we did manage to get a few random projects completed (or at least started).

The first was a warming hut for our generator... seriously, it's cold enough at times that the ppor thing won't run... so we built a box out of scrap 2" foam insulation with vents cut out for the exhaust and intakes.

Second, I turned the laminate countertop scrap (the cut out to install the sink) into a makeshift baker's rack for the odd corner next to our new gas range. Eventually, I add some shelves to the frame to store the cast iron that's too heavy to hang, and also some shelves above it to make a hanging potrack for our stainless steel & copper... it'll be soooooooo nice to get all of them out of my limited cabinet space!

I also purchased some battery-operated, self-stick, light-detecting, motion-detecting LED nightlights for our stairwell. The lights are low lumen and angled down, so they don't blind you or wake everyone in the house up whenever you need to go up or down the stairs in the dark (yeah, I've busted my ass a few times on moonless nights!!). They came in a set of 3 so I installed one on each flight and one on the landing, and have been really impressed with how well they're working so far to light up the entire staircase just enough to make things safe. Of course, they still freak Ripley out when she's slinking up and down the stairs at night since they're automatic... poor baby!

I also modeled a storage shelf and desk unit to wrap around the stairwell upstairs, and a utility cabinet to hide and secure the battery bank and water tank on the opposite wall. It would have been easier if we could have purchased a pre-built unit, but with the angled walls in the loft created by the gambrel roof we pretty much have to go custom with everything. Hopefully we can get to those two units sometime this summer, although this summer is going to be focused primarily on the exterior siding and landscaping/garden. (I'll be starting my seedlings this month, so I'll try to do a few posts on our gardening planning for you guys).

We did manage to come up with a workable semi-prebuilt solution for storage shelves down the angled walls on either side of the bed, though. We bought 12' sections of wire shelving in the three sizes that were available (22", 16" and 12") and then made vertical standards for the front from 2x2's screwed directly into the floor and rafters. We had to attach the front of the shelves to vertical standards because we couldn't use the regular shelf supports on the angled wall, and the three sizes allowed us to place a deeper shelf on the bottom, with narrower shelves following the slope... we lucked out and this ended up with all three shelves almost perfectly 18" apart. Instead of the normal "J clips" normally used to attach the back of the shelf on a vertical, we used "U clips" over the back wire that would support the shelf regardless of the wall slope. The wire shelves are also just fleixble enough to bend over the weird waviness created by uneven rafter depths (rough lumber rather than planed), if we'd had to scribe and custom fit plywood shelves to the wall I would have lost my mind!  All-in-all, going with the wire shelving probably saved us around $50 and a day of labor over plywood, so that's a bonus. Anyway, we got the shelves on my side of the bed installed, and will be installing G's when we do the whole winter-to-summer bedding and clothing switch.

While I'd love to have things all done and properly finished (still haven't mudded and painted the walls or trimmed out the windows & doors), I figure it's better to work on weather-proofing, storage, and food production first. Safe, organized and productive first, pretty later :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lapdog ????

In the mind of a dog there really is no such thing as "too big to be a lapdog".
Not even when they're the same size as the person who's lap they're sitting on :)