Wrong Direction Farm

Freezer Figuring

Freezer Going Up

Panels go back together pretty easily. There were lots of bolt and conduit holes we filled with spray foam. We also sealed any gaps between the panels before adding an extra layer of polyiso foam board.

I always enjoy the opportunity to put on my engineering hat and delve into a new project.  This evening I did the work to figure out how to size the refrigeration unit for our walk-in freezer.  I wouldn’t be interested in sizing refrigeration systems as a full-time job, but I enjoy digging into the details of tables and formulas to figure out what’s really going on.

There are convenient websites to approximate the BTU loads, but I found that they oversimplify things.  First, I’ve added extra insulation, so the heat loss defaults are overstated.  Second, most walk-ins are designed with restaurants or stores in mind, where the doors are opening often, sometimes propped open for a long time.  In my case, the door will be closed all day most days, only opening on days when we are adding meat and unloading meat.  Third, designs are usually based on bringing warm products into the freezer and then cooling those down.  We deal with frozen products from start to finish, so there are really no additional cooling loads.

I calculated that our actual load is 2,840 BTUs per hour versus the online estimate of 5,760 BTUs.  This is about a $900 savings in the cost of refrigeration equipment.  It also drops us from the 1-1/2 hp motors down to 3/4 hp motors, so the cost of running the equipment will be far less.  (There is a little complexity in this topic, since an oversized system would run for a lot less time, so the overall ampere-hours is close.  On the other hand, oversized systems tend to short-cycle, leading to more wear on the components.  The bottom line is that I’m not sure if there is a noticeable operational savings available by correctly sizing the equipment.)

I also calculated how much money I’d save because of the added insulation.  For $400 of insulation, I save $400 in the cost of the refrigeration equipment, a complete wash.  But without the insulation, my actual BTU load would be higher.  So my extra-insulated box can get by running a 3/4 hp motor for 18 hours per day in 95 degree weather but the off-the-shelf box would need to run a 1 hp motor an equal amount of time in those same conditions.  The insulation gives me a 25% energy reduction, so it should pay back starting at day one.  Of course, there are some mitigating factors that reduce the payback.  The most obvious is that we rarely have 95 degree days in Canajoharie, NY.  For the six freezing months of the year, the extra insulation gives us less than 5% energy savings.

Hospital Ward

We’ve all been talking about this absurdly mild winter, but a few weeks ago when we had the coldest period we’ve experienced this year, we noticed a few piglets suddenly looking very badly.  The self-feeder broke (that’s another story) and left all the pigs on short rations for a few days until we figured it out.  Their feeder would trickle grain, but only when the pig pigs bumped it, so they little ones weren’t getting anything out of it.  They still had whey and hay, but younger pigs don’t have as big a digestive tract as older ones, so they are less efficient digesting roughage.  And in cold weather, just a short period of deprivation can take a toll on small pigs.

Piglets in Recovery

Piglets chowing down on grain mixed with wood ashes, an old cure-all.  Note the thinned hair along the backbones.  Sudden-onset hair problems in pigs are indications of health problems.

Once we realized what was going on, we airlifted the pigs to a hospital pen.  They’ve been there a week and a half, eating both pig grain and higher protein chicken feed.  With a little attention, they are all starting to bounce back.  It is interesting how the hair coat on pigs does so much to indicate their general health.  Now that they are on the mend, they are starting to lose their mangy looks and are already beginning to regrow a normal glossy coat.  Not that they look great yet; they probably have another two weeks before they look presentable.

Piglet Pen

All under the watchful eye of a self-appointed livestock guardian cat.  Actually the cat is  just detouring after patrolling for rats and mice that live in the rows of hay bales next to the pen.  Two opportunist hens adopted the pigs after realizing how much food there was for the taking.

The obligation falls on us to be better observers and to take quicker action.  I could present some mitigating factors to justify things, but we have these animals and it is a responsibility we need to own up to.  Sorry piggies.  We’ll do better by you next time.

One Beef Quarter-Share Available

Beef Quarter

We sold out of our beef halves and quarters this past fall, but we were able to purchase extra quarters through another farmer with whom we regularly work.  We have one quarter left, so for those of you I’ve given the “try again next summer” message, well, you have one more chance.  We’ll charge an extra $0.25 per lb above our usual rates to cover our costs of buying the beef.

This is grassfed beef from a farmer we’ve known and worked with for four years.  He also grows the organic oats we feed our pigs and chickens.  We still have our beef for sale as individual cuts in our online store, but this is the last chance to get a quarter share of beef until late this summer.  Email or call for more details.

Poly Pipe Hay Bale Rings

Bale Ring Feeding

This is our first season bale grazing with poly pipe bale rings.  We are completely impressed with them.

We originally bale grazed without rings, following the advice of various conference speakers who scoffed at the idea of wasted hay.  “Wasted hay is just added fertility!”  But when we looked at our hay feeding costs, we realized that unless one has access to free hay, fertilizing a field with wasted hay is the economic equivalent of wallpapering a room with five dollar bills.

Digression:  Related to this topic of wasting hay, I have some thoughts about the tendency among the most popular agricultural conference speakers to oversimplify complex economical and ecological realities.  They probably do this because they need to be disruptive enough to be noticed and to disturb the status quo of conventional agriculture.  But my experience in following their advice has been quite mixed.

These rings give us 27% better feed utilization compared to bale grazing without them (comparing our average consumption in bales per head per day).  Based on the cost of hay (and not even counting our time, trucking costs, and tractor costs) they’ll pay for themselves in 90 days of hay feeding.  That’s a pretty good payback.

Moving them by hand is easy.  Thus far this winter they haven’t frozen into the ground.  They are light enough to roll, but substantial enough that they don’t skitter over the field when the cattle lean into them.  They cost about twice what the economy steel rings cost, but they should last indefinitely.  They are built with longevity in mind, since the hardware is all stainless steel and the nuts are nylocs.

The real big deal for us is to be able to roll the bale rings over the polywire electric fences without getting shocked.  This allows us to advance the rings and set up everything, then reel back the wire and admit the cattle to the new bales.  Being able to work with the cattle sans drama is priceless.

The Good Winter

While we’ve felt chilly recently, this winter has been a real pushover.  But even though we haven’t been brutally tested like last year, looking back over pictures of summer fields still manages to bring a pang.

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Like this humid July afternoon watching a narrow band of rain clouds slot through our valley.

I miss summer, but I’m not aching for warmth like I was last year.  It is a nice feeling to be at peace with winter rather than feeling like each day is a fight against it.

Sunset Jan2016

Even though the landscapes aren’t colorful, the sunrises and sunsets have been vivid.

Political Farmers

Overheard today a group of farmers talking about how they had visited the USDA FSA office to get their paperwork in order for 2016 funding.  They have bigger plans for this year than last year, so they wanted to get more money for those projects.  Then they started complaining about the EPA having unwarranted authority to regulate how farmers use water.

Funny how consistently I hear the inconsistent message from farmers that they want lower interest loans, easier access to grants, more generous subsidies and better price protection plans, but they also want less government regulation and lower taxes.  Socialism (more government services, more government regulation and taxation) is a valid position with internally consistent logic.  Libertarianism (less government services, less government regulation and taxation) is a valid position with internally consistent logic.  Gimme-but-don’t-bother-me-ism is invalid and illogical, but it certainly is prevalent.  And understandably so.  It is nice to have the best of both worlds.

Am I oversimplifying?  Of course I am.  No political discourse is complete without a generous dose of oversimplification.

 

Cattle-Proof Water Trough, Improved

Our previous tire trough blog post has always been the most popular post on the site.  But the old trough was just a tank.  We had to truck the water to it or rig up the gasoline pump and a lot of hoses and pipes.  Trucking water is bad, bad, bad, but it was our only option for years.

With our new pond and buried siphon lines in place, this fall we moved the tire and plumbed it with a float valve.  Most of the pictures are from a couple months ago, hence the lack of snow and ice.  But I didn’t want to put this out there until I gave it a thorough shakedown.

Tire Plumbing
This time we installed plumbing through the concrete.  The center has a 6″ PVC sleeve around the supply line.  The last foot of the supply line transitions from plastic pipe to rubber hose because I wanted to give the pipe a little protection in case of any settling.  At the 1 o’clock position the float valve penetrates the PVC casing.  The valve wasn’t intended to be installed on the curved side of a pipe, so I made some rubber washers out of neoprene scraps and then gooped up both sides of the penetration with Lexel caulk.  If I were to do it over I’d go with an 8″ or larger casing; 6″ is a little too tight for making up the connections.  After everything was connected, I installed a 6″ rubber Fernco cap over the supply riser.

The overflow drain is in the 7 o’clock position.  Lots of folks have included overflow drains on their tanks, but I found this detail in a few tank designs and it made a lot of sense.  Instead of gluing the PVC fitting at the bottom of the tank, in this case its better to just friction-fit the pipe.  It will be water-tight (or tight enough) without glue.  Whenever I need to drain the tank for maintenace or winterization I just pull the pipe out of the hub down at the concrete level.  It works well.  The drain pipe leads downhill about 20 feet to keep any overflow away from rock and gravel pad near the tank.

Tire Filled

Tank filled.

Tire Capped

Cover installed over the plumbing.  I was going to run an electric fence line over the top to prevent the cattle from messing with the cover, but they only nosed at it a little the first day and then lost interest without ever making trouble.

Tire Curb Valve

The curb stop valve next to the trough allows us to shut off the water if we want to leave the tank empty.  We had to order a self-draining 1-1/4″ curb stop valve from our local plumbing supply.  If we didn’t have the self-draining model, then we’d be susceptible to freeing the riser pipe when the tank wasn’t in use.

How has the tank been for us?  Funny you should ask.  The answer is that it has been great during the mild weather, but not so great during the cold weather.  The problem really isn’t with the tank though.  The cattle are wintering in a field that has a few natural seeps that trickle water below a surface crust of ice during the most of the winter.  So while we’d prefer for the cattle to drink the clean water  we’re providing, they take the path of least resistance and drink from the seeps, no matter how fouled they become.  Without much usage the tire tank freezes up.  We’ve been chopping the ice daily, but not many of the cattle use the tank.  If the winter turns dry, cold, and snowless, then they’ll need the trough; otherwise it is redundant.  Next winter they’ll be wintering in a drier adjacent field and they’ll need to use this tank for their water, so the ice breaking chore may be easier then.  But for this winter the trough requires daily maintenance to keep it open.

Last weekend I drilled a 5/64″ weep hole in the overflow pipe and that slow leak seems to circulate enough warm water into the tank to reduce the ice build up, but that’s not enough to keep the drinker ice-free.

Would I build another tire trough?  You bet.  In fact I have.  I’ll show you the sow’s trough in a future post.  For the cost of materials, you can’t beat them.  They are wonderfully customizable.  I love that they are so tough.  The bull can ram all he wants.  I chop ice without worry about the axe punching through the sides.  I’m sold on them.

New Ordering Site, New Pickup Locations

UPDATE 14 JAN 2016:  Some users have reported problems with Internet Explorer with text floating up from the bottom of the page and blocking other content.  I’ve been in touch with our developer and I believe this is now resolved.  In general, the developer recommends using Safari, Firefox, or Chrome instead of IE, but they will support IE11.

We’ve been working the last few weeks on getting our new ordering website launched.  Projects move slowly around here since our IT department is also our sales department, and our veterinary department, and our manure shoveling department.  Our old site did a lot for us, but it lacked the flexibility we needed.  And it just plain looked horrible on smartphones and tablets.  The new site should solve those problems and it should help us grow as we add delivery locations.  Check it out at https://wrongdirectionfarm.grazecart.com or click the Order menu above.

Speaking of locations, we have expanded our delivery locations for 2016.  Addresses and schedules are all listed online.
NEW!  Westfield NJ
Montclair NJ
Pine Brook NJ
UPDATED!  Troy/North Greenbush NY
And of course on-farm pickup remains an option
Because we are working with a new web vendor, you’ll have to create a new account to order on our site.  The new site has a simpler sign-in and check-out process, so we think you’ll be pleased.
Our upcoming delivery dates are:
Troy/North Greenbush NY  Tuesday 26 Jan 4-5:30PM
Westfield NJ  Friday 5 Feb, 10-11AM
Montclair NJ  Friday 5 Feb, Noon-1:30PM (self service pickup for Montclair Co-op members until 6PM)
Pine Brook NJ  Friday 5 Feb, 3-5PM
We look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming pickup locations.  We appreciate your continued enthusiastic support.

Shivered Timbers

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Everyone who knew me from my prefarming days knew me as a inveterate builder.  So their questions directed toward me are often, “What’s new with the house?”  And my answers for the last five years have been, “Nothing.”  After we moved in, we patched holes in the roof, fixed a few broken windows, and replumbed the rust-clogged plumbing, but we haven’t had the time or the heart to start home renovations.

 

But that is changing.  We’re starting with the worst part of the house, the addition that was built in 1909.  Leaky windows and (apparently) a history of leaky roofing, along with an ill conceived patio that traps rain again the wood framing all conspired against this part of the house.

The first thing to do is to tear out the rotted sills.  One 8×8 sill beam was so decomposed that the kids were able to remove it entirely with their fingers.

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Concrete patio placed right up against siding is a bad, bad idea.

Other sill beams look solid on one side, but when you flip them over they are pretty ugly.  It’s a good thing that these timber framed houses have such structural redundancy.

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I welded a 2×4 channel and some gussets onto a 6x4x3/8 angle for jacking from the outside.  Other jacks are positioned inside the house to equalize the pressure on the wall.

The house is heavy.  I’ve got four 20 ton jacks employed lifting here and there, raising the sill beams high enough above the rubble foundation to slip some rubber sheeting under to prevent capillary water movement.

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Grace Ice and Water shield in place.  Thanks to Joe Lstiburek for good details on rubble foundation retrofits.

Honestly I don’t feel I have the vision for this run-down old house to see it restored to pristine original condition, nor do I have the time or budget to go whole hog for a “deep energy retrofit”.  But I’ve got to do something to keep it from falling down, so I’m putting one foot in front of the other and I’ll see how far I can go with the renovations.

Iced Egg

Frozen Egg

We had our first dose of winter today, windy and cold.  Cold weather means frequent trips out to the hens to gather the eggs.

Most of our chickens behave themselves and lay eggs in the nests, or at least in the cove next to the nest box, but there are four or five hens that obstinately choose to lay their eggs elsewhere.  All but one of these nonconformists pick sheltered spots, but one lays an egg each day right out in the open on top of a mound of snow.  If we don’t collect that egg promptly in single-digit weather, it will freeze and split open.

Frozen eggs remain edible, but freezing often bursts the yolk as well as cracking the shell so they’re only suitable for scrambling.

Update:  For a scientific inquiry into the frozen eggs pursued with Victorian thoroughness, please see Dr Davies’ On the Freezing of the Egg of the Common Fowl.  In case you were wondering if spreading butter on an egg changes its freezing characteristics, you’d better read this article.  The fun thing about this paper is that although it begins as some wacky “let’s see how many ways we can destroy eggs” experiment, it concludes by pondering the great existential question behind the chicken-and-egg dilemma, “whether the germ can exist retaining life without vital action of any kind”.

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