How A Tractor Can Be A Chicken Farmer’s Best Friend

How A Tractor Can Be A Chicken Farmer’s Best Friend

While we use tractors on our farm, we don’t use them that often.

But they’re great for lifting heavy items, moving manure, and so much more. So, I invited Julia of Hello Homestead to tell us all about how she uses hers!

How A Tractor Can Be A Chicken Farmer’s Best Friend

If I had to choose one thing I could not do without on my homestead it would be a farm tractor.

 

Sure, I realize there are homesteaders who lead quite happy and very productive back to the land lives without a tractor. I’m just very happy not to be one of them. Especially if you run a solo operation as I do, your tractor is an extra set of hands, extra muscle, a tool, a mode of transportation and a confidant.

 

That’s right, I’m not ashamed to say I talk to my tractor. And, depending on how it’s behaving, I also have been known to beg, cajole, threaten, and bargain with it.

 

My primary homesteading operation is a flock of egg-laying hens, each of whom I love dearly.

chicken farmer tractor

The author with a display tractor at a Museum in Iceland. Tractors are everywhere!

How I Use My Tractor

Think of a farm tractor as a mechanized farm hand.

 

Thanks to the front-end loader — a bucket attachment at the end of two hydraulic “arms” extending from the front of the tractor — I can move loads of fresh straw, piles of dirty straw cleaned out from the coop or large containers of water. All of which would be too heavy for me to tote by hand.

 

Sure, it’s work that could be accomplished with a shovel and sweat, but with the tractor, it’s a job that takes minutes versus hours, leaving me more time to play with my chickens.

 

Likewise, my farm tractor comes in handy when every so often it’s necessary to move the coop to a new location. That usually happens when the chickens have completely denuded their fenced-in yard of all vegetation.

 

With my tractor, it’s a matter of wrapping a sturdy chain around the structure, hooking the other end of that chain to the back of my tractor and carefully dragging it to a new location with greener pastures.

 

The chickens find this entire operation both alarming and fascinating, by the way.

 

Another way I can give the chickens fresh grass is to custom cut some for them.

 

In the spring of the year I will attach the “brush hog” — a giant lawn mower pulled by the tractor — and leave it on most of the summer.

 

Then every couple of weeks I can go out and mow a swath of pasture grass to create a path of tasty green shoots and cut clover the chickens love.

 

In fact, they love it so much they have been known to follow me as I mow in a sort of tractor-chicken parade.

 

The bucket is also super handy in the fall for getting chickens ready for winter by hauling in a month’s worth of wood chips, feed and straw to keep them fed and cozy. In the winter I use it to dig out snow from around the coop and in the spring to dig trenches to direct the melting water from all the snow away from the coop and chicken yard.

tractor with wood splitter


During firewood season, a tractor can haul wood and a hydraulic woodsplitter can mount to the rear.

Practice Safety on Tractors

As much fun as my tractor is to drive — and I’ve been known to take it for leisurely joy rides down my dirt road from time to time — I can never forget it’s a machine capable of as much destruction as it is productive work.

 

When operating it, I can never, ever get distracted.

 

Once, while using that bucket to dig a trench I got to day dreaming and ended up lowering it so much that it hit the ground and then forced the tractor’s front wheels up and off the ground. I panicked and hit the lever to raise the bucket — thereby lowering the front wheels — and ended up forcing the front wheels even higher, almost upending the entire tractor.

 

Safety and tractors have to go hand in hand.

 

This is a machine with a myriad of moving parts — any of which can catch an errant piece of clothing or even human hand in seconds.

 

If not covered with the appropriate safety shields, fast moving parts like the Power Take Off — or PTO, the spinning cylinder that uses a series of gears and cogs to transfer power from the tractor’s running engine to an attached implement — can harm or even kill the most experienced operator.

 

Because of their high centers of gravity, tractors can tip over more easily than cars or trucks and should always be outfitted with roll-over protection systems — bars that extend up and over the driver to prevent serious injury from being crushed should the tractor overturn.

 

But I am happy to report that, thanks to my healthy respect for the tractor, other than a couple of scares and some bashed knuckles from tightening bolts, my tractor has never been the cause of serious injury.

chicken farmer tractor with adult and child

It’s never too soon to learn the safe operation of a farm tractor.

How to Care for a Tractor

In return for all the help it provides, I keep my tractor in a warm shop during the winter which makes it very, very happy and — more importantly – super easy to start on even the coldest of a northern Maine morning.

 

Tractors like mine run on diesel fuel, a liquid that is not cold-tolerant.

 

At 32-degrees Fahrenheit diesel will start to get cloudy and thicken up — something we in the tractor world call “gelling.”

 

Once it gets down to around 15-degrees, it gets so thick it won’t flow to the engine and your tractor is dead on it’s wheels.

 

Trust me, you never want to be out in a frigid snowstorm at midnight covering your tractor with electric blankets, down sleeping bags and aiming a kerosine-powered heater at it all in an attempt to thaw out the fuel.

 

This is also where the begging and pleading came in.

 

Instead, make sure to always purchase “winter grade” diesel when the thermometer drops int ehf all and use an additive that further prevents gelling.

 

Also make sure you keep an extra fuel filter on hand because once the fuel inside a filter gels, you need to switch out to a new filter.

 

I love tinkering on my tractor and have gotten fairly good at routine maintenance like changing the oil, adding hydraulic fluid, changing filters and switching out implements.

 

Due to necessity, I’ve also gotten good at replacing broken sheer pins.

 

Sheer pins are specially designed bolts that are made to break — or “sheer” — if too much pressure is placed on a more important component of an implement.

 

The best example is the commercial snowblower that attaches to the back of my tractor.

 

If it happens to suck up a rock that then jams the blower, the PTO is still providing maximum torque to power it, but the blower’s auger is no longer spinning.

 

Before it breaks, the sheer pin attached to the auger will snap, bringing the blower to a stop.

 

I always have a handful of sheer pins tucked away on the tractor.

 

By taking care of my tractor, it takes care of me and, by extension, my flock of hens.

 

tractor with a charger

Even the best tractor needs some TLC from time to time. A battery charger is a handy device to have on the homestead

 

Chickens love a clean home, so when it’s time to clean the coop, the tractor is perfect for dragging away — far away — all the winter straw raked out of the coop.

 

My chickens seem to appreciate the tractor, as well. I will never forget the day I came out to find an egg careful laid right on the seat of my tractor.

 

tractor with chickens

Nothing says “homestead” like chickens and a tractor.

 

That, my friends, is reason enough to have a tractor.

 

Julia Bayly is a staff writer for Hello Homestead. She lives in far northern Maine with a flock of very sincere egg-laying hens, two retired barn cats who decided to move into the house, one tiny dog and whatever woodland creatures happen to wander through at any given time.

Simple things you can do to help the planet this Earth Day (or everyday!)

So here at the farm we try and do the best we can to treat the Earth with the respect it deserves. We are so grateful for the amazing planet we live on that allows our homestead to function! With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd I thought I would share some ideas with you of simple things you could do to help the plant this Earth Day.

Actually use your reusable bags

Ok I know, this one is kind of a given. But, we’ve all got those reusable bags that are sitting in the back of our car or are stuffed in the back of a closet. I don’t remember to bring my reusable bags until I get to the checkout and see them bagging my groceries in plastic. Oops. I’m working on it. But this Earth Day try and start the habit of bringing your reusable bags with you to the store. I buy the bags like this one that I can fold up into a small bag and then leave in my purse. That way I always have one with me.

Buy in bulk

Not only is it normally cheaper to buy things in bulk, but when you buy things in bulk they tend to have a lot less packaging which means, less plastic. I use these bags when I buy things like bulk nuts, seeds, oatmeal etc so that I’m reducing the amount of plastic I’m using.

Recycle. Obviously.

Really though. Look into what you can and can’t recycle in your area, and try to recycle as much as you can.

Reuse things instead of throwing them away.

 

So on our homestead we’re pretty frugal. I try and reuse things as much as I can. Before you throw something away try and think of a way you could repurpose it or maybe donate it to someone else who could use it.

 

Compost

 

Composting is awesome! It’s good for your garden and it reduces your food and garden waste! Check out this article for tips and trick on how to make composting easy.

Buy a water bottle you can reuse!

 

Buy a good water bottle that you can fill with tap water and use over and over again. I use this one because it keeps your water cold for so long which is amazing for a long day working on the homestead!

 

Fix those leaky sinks!

 

It’s crazy how much water is wasted when you have a leaky sink, toilet, or shower. The EPA  estimates that the average family can waste 180 gallons of water each week due to leaks. So fix those leaks!

 

Try out xeriscaping

 

Xeriscaping is landscaping your yard in way that reduces or eliminates the need to water. This not only saves money, but it also conserves water, especially if you live in a dry area. Xeriscaping includes choosing grass and plants that are native to your area, using a drip system, and using water-efficient plants. Xeriscaping can also reduce the amount of work required to maintain your lawn and flowerbeds. Bonus! Check out this article for more information about xeriscaping.

 

Ride your bike or walk

 

Using your car less is an easy way to help the environment. And it’s fun too! Ride your bike to the park with your kids instead of driving. It’s also a great way to motivate your kids to get outdoors and play!

 

Eat locally grown produce or grow your own garden!

 

It takes a lot of energy and natural resources to ship corn to the United States in the middle of January. So head out to your farmers market and pick up some fresh, local produce! It tastes amazing and you’re supporting local farmers. Growing your own garden is also an awesome way you can help the environment.

Thanks for reading our simple tips to help the planet this Earth Day! I would love to hear your tips on how you help the planet in the comments below!

How To Heat A Greenhouse In Winter

How To Heat A Greenhouse In Winter

Wondering how to keep a greenhouse warm in winter without investing in electric or fuel-supplied heating systems?

Yes, it can be done. And without adding any more costs to your household budget. I mean, who needs another bill right? Right.

Now, you might be wondering why bother keeping your greenhouse warm during the frostier months anyway – why not just enjoy the season? Well, this girl likes her greens.

Ok, you caught me. I DO like greens, but I’m not a superfan. I like them…but more like sprouts on a sammich. NOT full blown salads. Unless they’re Southwestern salads. Then, bring on the arugula. ANYWAY, I like to keep growing over the winter because, well, I like to grow vegetables. Like any normal, sane person.

The other reason to keep a greenhouse warm in winter is because if you ARE growing anything, you’ll want to provide a healthier living environment for your vegetables, prevent cold spots, and reduce the risk of fungal diseases.

I have more readers growing crops in the winter, and naturally, a common question is how to heat a greenhouse in winter for free (which mean you can grow a wider variety of vegetables, too).

 
Wondering how to heat a greenhouse in winter? Here's 4 easy but genius ideas to heat a greenhouse without electricity! You can even heat a greenhouse with compost!

Understand the Basics of How to Keep a Greenhouse Warm in Winter

Before we delve into our ideas, let’s first establish some basics. In this season where temperatures can go unpredictably low, you can only do so much. In other words, don’t try to grow oranges in sub-zero weather. You won’t be successful, right?

So, let’s talk about some basics to help you run your greenhouse in winter.

  • Choose the right crops to grow for the season. Go for low-lying greens like kale, spinach, and mustard greens that can stand below-freezing temperatures
  • Invest in a good quality thermometer like this one that can read max and min temperatures throughout the day.
  • Only heat the areas necessary. Grouping plants together will help you save energy and cost.
  • Install proper ventilation to prevent the spread of fungal diseases and maintain a healthy growing greenhouse.

Here are 3 more effective strategies in controlling the temperature inside your structure without having to waste fuel or energy.

Store Thermal Energy Using Thermal Mass

Thermal mass heaters are the bee’s knees, and easy to incorporate into your greenhouse. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, thermal mass, sometimes called a heat sink, absorbs and stores solar heat energy.

This involves putting materials around your greenhouse that absorb heat from the sunlight during the day. These heat sinks are then capable of slowly releasing thermal energy at night time when the mercury drops like crazy.

Here are some effective methods to collect thermal mass:

Idea 1: Build a cobbled pathway across the floor of your greenhouse using dark gravel or small stones (you can reach out to a local nursery or a dealer that sells rocks for driveways).  These rocks naturally absorb heat – and the release of this heat keeps your plants warmer during the dark, cold hours of winter.

Idea 2: Since water has higher heat capacity than land or soil, try putting water or rain barrels around the interior of your greenhouse. Place dark barrels at a Southern-facing location, where they can easily absorb sunlight in the day. Make sure they’re also near tender plants that need more warmth at night

Idea 3: Use cinder blocks or earthenware ceramic pots to further absorb solar heat. They can be used to support planters on table-tops and benches, and they can release their heat around the plants (this is also a good idea to keep your chicken flock’s water from freezing over the winter).

Note: Painting these materials dark (i.e. black) helps absorb more thermal mass and one additional tip on how to keep a greenhouse warm in winter.

square foot gardening plant spacing

Build an Indoor Compost Pile

This is a genius idea that’s also one of the most sustainable techniques to keep your greenhouse warm this winter.  (Psst…it’s also cost-effective since you can build it nearly for free AND you won’t have to use power or fuel to heat your greenhouse. This is what we call Win-Win-Win.)

As the material in your pile composts, bacteria that break down organic material generate a considerable amount of heat to the environment. We cover compost piles in depth in Organic By Choice: The (Secret) Rebel’s Guide To Backyard Farming. Save 10% with coupon code GREENHOUSE right here.)

Insulate!

Insulation is another option to keep a greenhouse warm in the winter.  So what do I mean by insulate?

Well, you can insulate the entire greenhouse using plastic sheeting, OR you can add row covers (yes, row covers over crops inside your greenhouse) for added protection.

Plastic helps absorb more heat without keeping the sunlight away from your crops. Combined with the other ideas in this article, you have quite a few ways to keep a greenhouse warm in winter.

There are many other natural techniques for keeping your greenhouse thermally controlled throughout the year. In the most challenging seasons, let these suggestions guide you on how to heat a greenhouse in winter for free. You don’t have to do everything. You just need to find the right combination that will work best for your set-up.

square foot gardening plant spacing
Five Depression-Era Tips You Can Use Today

Five Depression-Era Tips You Can Use Today

Although we live in a fast-paced, plastic-infused world, I know a lot of you want to slow down and live a simpler life.

 

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and in this article, I’m going to share some Depression-era strategies handed down from that generation.

 

We all know that the Great Depression brought major changes to the US, and it forced the closure of many businesses, left millions of people without jobs, and created crippling poverty worldwide.

 

People were forced to learn to live on tight budgets and in smaller spaces. While it was a harrowing time for Americans, the struggle wasn’t in vain. In fact, it left behind a legacy of triumph in the face of stark adversity and fostered a spirit of survival in many people.

 

I think these tips are a gateway to a simpler life that honors well-made items, and reduces waste. Here are a few of the lessons learned during the Depression that will still hold families in good stead today.

 

Make It Do or Do Without

Learn how to get the biggest bang for your buck by using everything you pay for. How often do you toss a product because it’s hard to get to the bottom of the jar, tube or container? A variety of rubber spatulas and a pair of scissors will ensure you use up every last bit of product you paid for. How about covering torn or stained furniture instead of replacing it? Or mending clothes or handing them down? Make what you have last as long as possible before throwing it away or replacing it.

 

See What Isn’t There


The Depression Era saw women learn to make dresses from flour sacks and it saw companies meet this need by making flour sacks sturdier and printing them with patterns and colors that became pretty, serviceable clothing and undergarments. This action allowed families to clothe their children and it showed them the compassion of big enterprise to meet the needs of the people they did business with.

 

Grow A Garden

Growing your own produce is still a smart way to cut costs. Since feeding a family is a major part of everyone’s budget, trimming costs in that areas is just a smart move.

 

Depending on the climate you live in, you even may be able to grow food year-round. You don’t need acres of land or a working farm. Try container gardening, vertical gardening or hydroponic gardening if you live in urban or confined areas.

 

Buy Used And Save The Difference

Secondhand stores, pawn shops, and consignment shops abound in the US! You can buy everything from clothes, special occasion apparel and furniture from secondhand and consignment shops.

 

A working lawn mower cuts grass in the same manner whether you purchase it for hundreds of dollars at a big box home improvement store or for pennies on the dollar at a local thrift store.

 

The same is true for kid’s bikes, video game consoles and household appliances. You get the same functionality without breaking the bank.

 

Learn To Share

Splitting the cost of living expenses and big dollar purchases that have single uses is an economical treat to your pocket. A riding mower purchased and shared between neighbors makes much better sense than one you purchase but only use occasionally.

 

An apartment in an upscale area with a roommate can yield not only cost savings, but often, a safer, more appealing living space.

 

While the Great Depression forced an economic reality many were unready for, people who were already living frugally tended to fare better. Those who weren’t living below their means learned to do so quickly.

 

Keeping your expenses to a minimum, learning to live within your budget, and implementing the above tips can help you establish lifelong spending habits that will hold you in good stead no matter what your financial situation brings.

 

Feature photo credit: By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to hear from you!

Which of these tips will you implement immediately? Leave a comment below!

10 Strategic Tips for Choosing the Best Perennial Plants for Your Garden

10 Strategic Tips for Choosing the Best Perennial Plants for Your Garden

Spring is here….and like everyone, we’re not just planting vegetables, but we’re looking to establish permanent flower beds to liven up duller parts of the homestead.

 

I don’t exactly have the greenest thumb out there, and perennials certainly aren’t my area of expertise, so I’ve invited my friend Valerie of Aspiring Homemaker to tell us how to choose perennials that are best for our gardens!

10 Strategic Tips for Choosing the Best Perennial Plants for Your Garden

 

Pouring over the pages of a nursery garden catalog, looking for the best perennial plant is one of my favorite things to do.  I believe most gardeners enjoy this dreaming and planning stage.

 

But wait.  Before you go out and buy, or order that perennial plant that seems to be calling your name, there are some things to consider.  

 

Rushing into it without thought, mostly likely will not get you the best perennial plant for your garden situation.  At best, you won’t be thrilled with your purchase, and worst case it might die, thus wasting your money.

What should I consider when buying a perennial plant?

 

Grab a notepad and pencil, or whatever you prefer to take some notes.  Answer the following questions on your notes.  Your answers will help guide you to find that perfect perennial plant for your garden.  One that you’ll love and that works with the overall landscape.

 

  1.  Do you have a specific location in mind, that you plan to grow your perennial plant?  

If you don’t, then you need to find a place that you desire to plant.  That is your number 1 question to answer.  It’ll be difficult to proceed without knowing that.

 

  1.  Is your location in full sun, shade or partial sun?

Pay attention to the sun pattern as well.  Will there be morning sun, or afternoon? Are there any trees that when leaved out, will block the sun.

 

Sometimes this can throw a gardener off in the planning.  An area will technically be in full sun, but as deciduous trees grow the condition turns to full shade.

 

  1.  Is the area near a southern exposure wall or other structure?  

This could make this area especially hot.  Some plants will not be able to successfully endure there.

 

  1.  Is there any other special conditions that might cause potential problems?  

Look around the location again.  If so, write it in your notes.

 

  1.  What is your soil type?  Do you have clay, sand, rich loamy soil?  

Before you plant your perennial, you’ll want to amend the soil to its ideal condition.  Nearly all plants need well drained soil.

 

  1. Is your potential plant location in the front of a bedding area, middle ground, or towards the back?  

You don’t want to place a low growing plant in the back of a flower bed.  It won’t be seem.  Similarly, you wouldn’t want (in most situations) to plant a large perennial in the front of the area.

 

The general pattern for best viewing is the largest plants in the back, creating a beautiful dramatic backdrop.  Your middle sized plants throughout the center areas.  Lastly the low growing plants in the front where they will be seen.

 

  1.  What plants are closest to the planting area?  

Write those down, and if they are blooming perennials, jot down the color of the flowers.  Make notes of everything to keep in mind regarding design.

 

  1.  What time of year do you want your perennial plant to bloom?   

Too often, this is sorely overlooked when planning perennial gardens. There will tend to be a rush of color when everything is in bloom for a short period of time; then nothing the rest of the year.  Write in your notes when the majority of your plants will be in bloom, particularly those nearest your planting location.

 

The exception to this would be if you intentionally want that big blast of color when everything is blooming at once.  Some gardeners will plant in a mono-color themed garden.  These are examples of intentional garden design, which can be very beautiful.  

 

  1.  Do you have spring bulbs planted in the area that are forgotten about?  

Many times when we think of an area we’d like to add a perennial to, the spot looks bare.  However, it might not truly be.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this.  I’ve dug the hole to plant my new plant, only to realize I had spring flowering bulbs already there.

 

In this case, perhaps a decorative short, ground cover would be a good option.  It would fill the barren look, yet the spring bulbs can easily grow up through it.

 

  1.  What is your plant hardiness zone?  

This will tell you which plants can survive the climate you live in.

 

Summarize your perennial plant notes

 

Look carefully at the data you’ve written down.  There should be some key answers popping out to you.  Some of this information might actually be quite enlightening to you.

 

It may help your plant shopping process to briefly summarize your bottom line notes.  For instance, you may realize you need a tall perennial plant that needs full sun or at least afternoon sun.  It would need to be able to grow in sandy soil.  You decide that you need a plant to bloom in April, or at least have interest at that time of year.  You know your plant hardiness zone.

 

Now you can shop.  Look for plants that fall into your parameters.  You might discover perennials you had never considered before.  Consider plants that are perennial in nature, but perhaps you hadn’t really considered them in that light before.  Examples might be ornamental grasses, bulbs, small bushes, plants in which the foliage is the main attraction.

 

By shopping for perennials in this way, you are sure to find the best perennial plant for your garden.  It’ll be one that works for your situation, and your plant will have the best chance of thriving.

 

By Valerie Garner.  Check out my lifestyle blog at Aspiring Homemaker, you might enjoy the post Poisonous Plants and Children – Symptoms and Tips to Stay Safe.  You might consider following me on Pinterest.  Happy gardening!

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Which perennials are your favorite? Leave a comment below!