Mess Free Chicken Waterer

2020 update: After nearly two years (originally posted August 2018), this waterer is still working great, conserving water and countless cleaning and refilling trips. I have since made a second one of these for my chicken tractor as the ground being uneven there frequently drained my other waterer. Now I have less to worry about when I am out of town too! 😊

Five gallon bucket with chicken waterer nipples

Tired of refilling and cleaning chicken water all the time? So was I, so I made a mess free waterer that conserves water well.

You can buy the specific chicken waterer nipples I got on Amazon. They recommend around 1 per 5 chickens. You cannot have too many though.

What you will need:

  • 5 gallon food grade bucket with lid
  • Drill with 11/32″ bit
  • Horizontal chicken waterer nipples
  • Concrete block or something to set the bucket upon
Simply drill through the bucket and screw in the chicken waterer nipples

They recommend an 11/32″ drill bit. I did not have one, but 3/8″ worked fine still without leaks. Drill about one inch from the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket and screw in the chicken waterer nipple. Screw it in until the cup part is on the bottom to help hold a tiny bit of water. Fill the bucket with water and make sure there are no leaks (I had none).

Installed chicken waterer nipples

Place the waterer on your concrete block or other pedestal. Try to get the water nipples a bit under chicken head height for ease of use.  Set it in with the chickens with an alternate waterer for starters and keep an eye on them to make sure they figure it out. All of mine picked up on the waterer within a few days. You could also try pushing each chicken’s beak against it to help them along. 

Main pen waterer
My chicken tractor waterer

Is Solar Worth It Yet? (2020)

Though the media and politicians push hard for more environmentally friendly options for power production, is solar ready for most homesteaders to jump on board?

Of course, the answer to this question is, “it depends.”

Are your motivations to reduce your carbon footprint? Or a backup to save tons of headaches in outages or emergencies? Do costs matter much?

Solar panel costs have come down a ton in the last several years. Take your monthly power bill that you currently have and look for your monthly and daily usage in KWH (Kilawatt Hours). Also take note of your power usage in the most energy intensive part of the year (probably summer with AC or winter with heating). Now determine what you can live without to cut down your usage. Are you currently heating your house with electricity? Can you switch to wood heat? Are you using incandescent lightbulbs still? Time to switch to LED. Is your refrigerator fairly old? Switching to a modern fridge will save electricity in no time. Heating your water with electricity? Look into a hybrid (heat pump) water heater or tankless water heaters (a hybrid is cheaper and uses less electricity if you have the requirements). Propane water heaters are also an option.

Once you come up with your estimated electricity usage for the worst part of the year, calculate how many panels you will need. If your house is on Google’s Project Sunroof, that is a simple way to calculate this. Otherwise, you can use the app Lumos to calculate how much sun you can get depending upon your tree placement and whether you should have a ground or roof mounted system.

Do you get a ton of wind regularly (such as at the coast or in a prairie)? Look into wind turbines as well. Have a year round creek on your place and water rights? Hydropower is the most economical and reliable of all home energy. Once you figure out if your property can have solar (if you would have to take out trees or get enough sun to make it worth it), you then must decide what type of solar system you wish to have: Off Grid, Grid Interactive, or Grid Tied.

Off Grid

Are you buying land without power connection yet? Is power a half a mile or more away? You can get a quote from your power company, but in this instance, if it costs more than several thousand dollars, you likely are better off with an off grid solar system financially. Being off the grid comes with pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Not at all dependent upon the power company to have electricity
  • No power bill ever again

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Batteries may need maintenance depending upon battery type
  • If something goes wrong or you do not get enough sun in the winter, you need a gas or diesel generator to keep electricity

Grid Tied:

Already have power from the power company and do not care about occasional outages? A Grid Tied solar system is the most popular installation these days with solar being back fed to the power grid to offset your electrical bill. Many grid tied inverters have a backup receptacle for offgrid use if the grid goes down. Make sure to look into this if you care about keeping your refrigerator or other small devices powered in an outage.

Pros:

  • Least Expensive
  • Keep the simplicity of staying on the grid and do not worry about not getting enough sun for your electrical usage
  • No more power bill if your power company supports net metering and you have enough solar

Cons:

  • No electricity in a power blackout (unless limited power is supported during the daytime by your inverter via an offgrid receptacle).
  • If no net metering, this provides little benefit financially.

Grid Interactive

This is the best of both Grid Tied and Off Grid except the upfront cost. This system allows you to still use the grid but be independent of power outages. Your batteries do not have to be as big as offgrid use if you are willing to live without some appliances when the grid is down.

Pros:

  • Keep the reliability of the grid (no longer worry about no sun or electrical usage)
  • No power bill if net metering is an option and enough solar
  • Stay independent from power outages still with an inverter that turns off backfeeding to the grid but still powers the house during an outage (Most self sufficient of the three options)
  • If net metering is available but ever is dropped by your power company, you can easily switch to off grid usage should you no longer wish to pay a power bill.

Cons:

  • More expensive than Grid Tied and off grid
  • If no net metering is available, you still have to pay at least some of a power bill

Conclusion

Figure out your priorities.

Reducing carbon footprint or minimal cost? Grid Tied is the way to go. Get a secure power option and maybe some usb power packs for a limited backup to charge phones and lighting.

Backup for power outages but not off grid? Grid interactive. Or grid Tied with secure power backup and a generator if finances are limited.

Complete independence from the power company? Off Grid

Doing the research and installing solar yourself can save you a ton of money but does take extensive research and time. Look up diy companies like Wholesale Solar who can give you basic diy info and can help support you through the installation if you order from them.

I bought my solar panels from someone on Craigslist and tested each before purchasing. Doing this saved me quite a bit of money but does come with risks of its own (probably does not include a warranty from the solar manufacturers). I got my panels for around $0.30 a watt which was around a third of retail price at the time.

More grid tied inverters are adding backup options while the sun is shining. Some SunnyBoy, Solar Edge, and soon Enphase IQ8 inverters will have these capabilities even without expensive batteries. But do your research and find what works for you.

Solar is getting more affordable every year. Get quotes from multiple sources and do the math to see if it makes sense for you.

How To Make a Rodent Proof and Less Wasteful Chicken Feeder

In my childhood, having rats and mice living off of the chicken’s feed during the night was a fact of life. We would set traps, but they always seemed to come back. Where there is available food, there will always be rats and mice. Looking online for rodent proof feeders, I found some very expensive feeders up into the hundreds of dollars or complicated plans for building your own that seem to have a chance of failure, not allowing chickens to eat if it failed.

Hens using my feeder

Chickens can be very messy with their food and spill it all over the place, digging for their favorite grains. This is not always a problem as I usually do not fill their feeder until they clean up after themselves, but when it rains, this food will disintegrate, get covered in mud or manure, and go to waste.

I finally found some 5 gallon bucket plans that were fairly simple and did the job for a few dollars rather than hundreds.

Many recommend using food grade 5 gallon buckets if you are concerned about plastics leeching into the chickens’ food. Though this is better with dry food than if it were wet, it can still be a concern.

All you will need is:

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • lid
  • Two 1/2″ eye bolts
  • a screw, hook, or something else to hang the bucket handle by
  • a drill with 1/2″ or larger bit

Drill two holes in the bottom of the bucket. Make these holes larger than the eyebolt shaft but not wider than the head portion so it cannot fall out. Fill your bucket part way with feed after placing the eye bolts in the holes. Rotate the bolts back and forth and see if a decent amount of food comes out. This may take some adjusting to find a balance between too little and too much. You can always duct tape the hole from inside the bucket if you need to start over with a hole.

1 eye bolt in the bucket

Once you have the hole the correct size for the feed and eye bolts, you are ready to hang your bucket. I chose a tree growing on the edge of my chicken pen. Try to hang it about chicken head height so they do not have to bend down to get under it but low enough they can still reach the eye bolts and holes (my chickens sometimes peck the feed right out of the hole instead of the eye bolts).

Place your feeder as the only source of feed (or transition them to the new feeder if you wish), and when they are hungry, tilt the eye bolt a couple times. My chickens caught right on and started pecking the eye bolt and feed from the hole. Frequently, one chicken gets some feed out while the others eat it underneath.

Finished feeder hung on a tree

If you find the chickens start dumping too much feed out, you can either disable one hole with duct tape, place a tray underneath to prevent the feed mixing with manure or mud, or take their feeder away until they eat up the mess. One 5 gallon bucket feeds my 7 full grown chickens for about one week. Supplementing this feed with kitchen scraps will help it last even longer.

How to build a chicken tractor

As much as I would like to let my chickens free range, there are far too many predators where I live from raccoons to foxes to skunks. I also do not want all my chickens crowded in the small run, however. I discovered a good compromise for getting a lot of the benefits of free ranging with the safety of a run: the chicken tractor. 

The chickens when first moved out to the chicken tractor

Yes, it has a peculiar name, but it is an ingenious invention I learned from a video with Joel Salatin. It is a portable fenced enclosure with an open bottom where the chickens can eat bugs and greens and scratch and till soil. 

I plan to keep two separate flocks. One in the tractor and one in the existing pen and coop. I can collect the manure from the stationary pen chickens and use the tractor throughout our field. Our septic drain field area is fenced in anyway and growing plenty of grass, so I might as well make use of it and let the chickens mow for me. 

After I took down my temporary greenhouse from last winter, I had some spare small logs lying around. I resembled a rough a frame and wired and screwed them together. Though notching and all would look nicer, this was a basic project, and one of my first, so I kept things simple. I screwed a few supporting boards on and stapled chicken wire on. I recommend at least 1 inch chicken wire or even hardware cloth for some protection against small predators.

After stapling and tie wiring the fencing together and on, I used some spare panels of metal roofing lying around from when we bought the place. I cut them to length and screwed them to the logs and boards. I kept a gap between the ground and the roofing for ventilation. The roof keeps the chickens out of the hot or rainy weather and protects their feed and egg box from getting wet. Chickens also prefer a cozy high up place to roost for the night.

Putting roof panels up

To discourage predators from digging under the tractor, I added a 2 foot width skirt around the base and attached 2x4s to the end. These can be folded up and attached to the side of the tractor when moving it off necessary. 

I installed perches along the top to add dimension, giving them more room to spend their day and a few roosts for the night. I also constructed a basic egg box for multiple hens to lay at one time. I added a door to access the eggs from the outside. 

I am working on a feeder and waterer that can be refilled from the outside that last at least a week.

 took right to their egg box

Upon moving the chickens to their new home, they immediately started eating greens and bugs and scratching around. They even manage to take dust baths. All but one used the egg box right away, and that one has only lasted in the pen once. They use all the roost space. Mr. Rooster likes to roost in the egg box though, so if you want to prevent that, you can add a removable partition to keep them out of the box until morning. 

This design is a little on the heavy side. Ideally I would have used lighter lumber or installed wheels to make it easier to drag and move. Perhaps I will add wheels later on.

If I wish to expand my garden, these chickens can be moved to weed and till the soil first, fertilizing it as they go. We also have lots of grasshoppers and other pests that like to eat some of our plants. The chickens may help control their population. 

This tractor serves its purpose well. The chickens seem to enjoy the freedom and fresh air along with the new grass and bugs they keep from entering our garden. 

How I Made a Greenhouse for Free

My finished makeshift greenhouse

Though we planned on focusing on renovating the inside of our house this last year, I did complete several projects outside. One of these was the garden. After resurrecting these raised beds for use as our first garden here, we harvested a small but tasty collection of vegetables and some fruit. The tomatoes performed very well giving us more than we could eat all the way through September.

I knew they would start slowing down once fall hit with frosts and less sunshine, so I began planning to throw together a temporary greenhouse.

I hiked around the woods next to our house and cut down small trees that were too close to large ones to ever be healthy. I used an axe to cut most of them and a bow saw for the rest.

After cutting and hauling the small trees down by hand, I delimbed them with a hatchet and cut them to length with the bow saw. The bow saw gives a cleaner cut for the side that was resting against the house.

Decking logs for the supports with our dog photobombing

I propped them against the siding and screwed them to the wood trim. Using screws instead of nails seemed easier to get them off without damaging the wood trim. If using nails, do not nail them all the way in for easier removal. We have tons of screws extra from all our home renovations.

I did not bother attaching them to the bottom side as my raised beds boards are rotten enough screws would not hold. The weight was enough to keep them from shifting. 

After the logs were up, all that was left was the greenhouse plastic. My family had already purchased a roll of greenhouse plastic, so I did not even have to buy this.

I spread out the plastic on the ground and pulled each side up over the logs. It was not a perfect fit but good enough to keep warmth in with some adjustments.

My greenhouse before collapse

Unfortunately, this design was lacking as the rain did not run off the end but pooled at the bottom causing part to collapse.

My collapsed greenhouse from rain

I resolved this by putting the collapsed logs back up and placing small boards at the top, bottom, and middle. I wired them to the logs, pulled the plastic tight, and stapled the plastic to the small boards. This kept the plastic tight so the water would not pool up and collapse again. I had to pull it tight again a time or two again in the coming weeks to get it tight enough to not puddle.

This greenhouse would not win any awards or be featured on magazine covers, but it was free and kept our tomatoes warm enough to produce well into late fall despite our neighbor’s tomatoes dying in early October. I could have cut the plastic to make it look nicer if this had not been a temporary construction. Victoria enjoyed her fresh tomatoes until early December, so my mission was solved. 😋

Resurrecting Raised Beds for Our First Garden

We bought our house last November and decided we would not worry about the outside as renovating the inside is quite a task and requires the majority of our attention to make progress. We reconsidered, however, right before summer when I began researching ways to garden without constant weeding.

I came across the free movie Back to Eden by Paul Gautschi. In this documentary film, a home gardener, Paul, discovers how easy gardening can be with mulch. He uses wood chips and manure and no longer tills, rarely weeds, and does not have to water his plants once they get a footing. I decided to give it a shot and started in our raised beds outside of our house.

These raised beds had been neglected and had grass and other weeds growing over a foot tall. I hand tilled them with a grub hoe and threw out all the grass and weeds I could easily grab and piled them up a ways away. If I had chickens at the time I could have given them quite a meal or used it for compost.

Our garden full of weeds when we bought our house
Our raised bed garden when we bought our house
Our raised bed after manual tilling
After manual tilling with a grub hoe

Since I started so late, I asked my mom if she could pick me up started plants when she stopped by a local nursery for her own garden. She picked up 12 tomato plants, 4 mini bell pepper plants, 4 anaheim pepper plants, a couple lemon cucumbers, and several strawberry plants. I got them planted after adjusting some of them to the sun.

Our first garden in raised beds

A little while after planting, I topped the soil off with some grass clippings, compost, and about an inch or two of wood chips as I was nervous about using wood chips with so many people warning me it would kill my garden. I have since learned that these wood chips are great mulch and should be 4-6 inches to get much benefit from them as weeds still grew through my 1-2 inches (though fewer than if there was no mulch).

We agreed when I got into homesteading that we would try to automate as much as possible to avoid filling our entire days with chores and added difficulty for family to take care of when we are on vacation. I hooked up some sprinklers to our well water with an automatic waterer and watered daily for about fifteen minutes to start. I experimented with once versus twice a day watering but did not see much of a difference.

Right away, we saw some fresh produce to harvest starting with a few strawberries and lettuce leaves, (as they were starts) and weeks afterward, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and a single lemon cucumber (yes, only one all season). We ended up with more tomatoes than we could eat just with the 4 early girl tomato plants. Chipmunks, our puppy, and the chickens enjoyed many of our cherry and yellow pear tomatoes that started going bad.

Eventually we plan to replace the rotten raised bed boards and expand our garden out to our front field with tons more wood chips as mulch.

Seed Potatoes
Countertop full of produce
Our kitchen last summer