Friday, December 6, 2013

Tour D'Coop # 4

Welcome to Coop stop # 4, complete with vertical gardens, an off-the-grid house made out of straw, an unusual history, humanure compost system and a Conestoga wagon chicken tractor.

The coop location were miles apart, so there was a lot of driving up back roads and over mountains to get to each location.  The convoy had about 18 cars by the time we arrived here.  We had blue skies and semi clear dirt roads. Many farmers were haying and driving their fresh hay back to the barns so the summer smells of August were delicious!

Linda, was our host for this coop and she had been traveling with us all day touring the other coops and gardens.  She greeted us in her driveway as we all arrived and showed us her favorite poultry book:  The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery.
I also have a dog eared copy of this book and have changed some of my flock management because of the suggestions in this book.  It's the best poultry book written in this decade.
You can order this book HERE, or look for it at your local library. Well worth reading!

As stragglers continued to arrive to this very rural and hidden location, Linda told the group a few of the unusual things that her property, that she purchased 5 years ago, contains.

Historically speaking, in the 1930's this entire property was known as the Fox Farm. Every inch of it was dedicated to the raising and killing of foxes for the popular fox fur coats of that time. There was even a slaughter house on the property to slaughter cattle, lame horses, old sheep and anything else, to feed the hundreds of foxes that lived in cages and large outdoor pens.  Many in the audience remember their grandparents talking about bringing old, sick, injured or lame livestock here.  Others said their parents told them that when they were children in the 1950's, they would shoot woodchucks and bringing them here to sell them to the Fox Farm owner for 50 cents.

Linda is still learning about the history of this property and today she certainly got many significant stories about how this Fox Farm evolved.

As we stood listening to some of the fascinating (and horrific) facts about fox farming in the 1930's thru the 60's, Linda pointed to three nicely constructed wooden compost bins that she uses to compost the humanure from their very simple  toilet system.  The bins are near her big garage, near the side of the blue truck with white cap that you see in this photo, and I appologize as I was unable to get a non blurry picture on that day. All of us went over to the bins and were amazed that:
1.  they had no odor, at all
2.  looked like just regular tall, well packed and layered compost bins, covered with straw.
3. had a thermometer with proof that all the contents were "cooking" correctly.

The goal is for the "finished product" to come out looking like rich, black topsoil.
(Update-- it did!)

Bin # 1 was predicted to be ready to be unloaded and spread in October on specific gardens they were creating.

Linda suggested the 3rd edition of the Humanure Handbook for those of us wanting to conserve water, eliminate a flushing system and make our own manure properly work for us in our gardens.  There is also a humanure website for more information

Moving clock wise from their driveway, our next stop was near their front door, to the sapling trellises that her husband created from small trees already growing in the woods surrounding their home.  A very simple design that the beans, cucumbers and melons were enjoying.  There were also various herbs dispersed in the various gardens near the house as Linda is a very very good cook.

There was a tepee sapling trellis in a garden on the side of their house as well.
Squash, tomatoes,  morning glories and other climbing plants were reaching new heights.

As soon as we heard the chickens, it was a mad scramble over to the chicken tractor, which was still "under construction."      Nothing occupies  and focuses young children (and adults!) like chickens do.  It was the kids reactions to the poultry and livestock, all day, that really kept me smiling.

Linda explained that they needed something efficient, secure and portable so they could move it around their yard and eventually to the rows of newly created larger gardens so the chicken manure will go directly into the soil.  The inside has roosts and nest boxes.    No free ranging allowed here as the coyote population is really large in this rural wooded area and I felt some were probably watching us as we walked around the property.

As I listened to Linda answer dozens of questions about the building of the chicken tractor, how she selected her breed of chicks (red sex links), predator control, proper ventilation, feeding her flock (she wants to grow her own grains and seeds) and winter housing for her growing pullets, I looked at the hugelculture beds on the side of the house. 
Hugelculture is as old as the earth.  Basically it is using old wood, tree limbs etc and putting them in a trench or a pile and covering them with soil.  Plant seeds and watch your plants and veggies grow. They will need less water and the soil will retain fertility as the years pass.   Lots of great info HERE
Mother Earth has been using this method of sustainability for millions of years. You will recognize the concept when you read about it.

This is their hugelculture pile in August.

 Here is what the same pile looked like in May when I came for a preliminary tour of the property to see if they could be considered for the Tour D' Coop.

Linda & Brad are covering this pile little by little with soil so they can actively plant on top of it next year.
That's their house, completely built out of bales of straw.

 More photos of all sides of the chicken tractor, now with the cover pulled off.

All the wood and wire was recycled.  I think the pvc pipe was the only part they had to purchase.

I gave them the metal waterer as it did not work in my coop at all.

The roof is still unfinished as they are waiting to find some used metal roofing or shingles to complete it.
The rear wheels came from an old wheelbarrow

The 5 red sex link pullets enjoy their housing.  Linda and Brad move it several times per day so the flock constantly has grass and bugs to eat.

These two youngsters are from Coop #1 stop.  They asked lots of questions and I bet they will be building a chicken tractor of their own very soon.

Linda has been building a rock walkway from big stones found on their property.
Their new walkway is right next to a completed hugelculture mound (on the left) that has been covered and recently planted.

Its about 20-25 feet long and and 6 feet wide.

It has varying levels and widths.

There is another wonderful sapling trellis at one end where there is a "female" squash growing....

I call it "female" because it is growing IN a nylon stocking....

Linda thought the squash would need "support" as they grew up and grew big on the trellis so she placed 6 squash in recycled nylon stockings. I love this idea.

Four weeks later the squash were so huge they burst out of the stockings and kept growing!

This trellis is also by their front door so they can easily access the veggies and herbs that they need for a meal.

Good planning.
Linda was peppered with many more questions about all her assorted growing techniques, which she answered pleasantly and with good humor.
This is her first year with garden beds, humanure, trellises and chickens at her home.  So its all new.
Linda also is a volunteer at the local Rowe Community garden and has blessed us with her positive attitude, weeding endurance and 15 ways to use the 14 rows of kale!

The next stop on this unique tour was to the INSIDE of her straw bale home.

All the beams and wood are all recycled from a 200 year old barn in NH.
The paint is "milk paint."  The house faces south and has a lot of natural solar heat that heats the floor and holds it.

Linda showed all of us a section of wall that has been left open so the layers of straw can be seen.  She even found an antique frame to highlight this viewing area.

Amazing and simple.

This 2 story off -the-grid house uses about 1.5 cords of wood PER WINTER TO HEAT THE ENTIRE HOUSE.
Linda says they may light a fire in the wood stove on Monday and let it die out, but it keeps the home warm for 2-3 solid days.

Again there were lots of questions.  Many of the guests had never heard of or seen a straw bale home.
They walked through every inch of it including the bathroom and the simple humanure toilet.(a 5 gallon recycled white plastic bucket with shavings and a toilet seat on it)

I realized we had been at this coop stop for over 2 hours ! and still had TWO MORE coops to go see, so I tried hard to hustle all the tour-ees out and into their vehicles for another "over the mountains" drive to Coop # 5.
I can't wait to return to this location next year to see the additional gardens and unusual methods they use to remain sustainable.

So tell me what you liked about coop stop # 4.
Do you have either of the books mentioned ?
Planning on getting any ?

If you would like to enjoy the other unusual coops and gardens on this tour,
click HERE for Coop # 3.

Don't forget to share this post with your chicken-loving pals.


  1. what a great post! i would love to see that house.

  2. The area where I live was home to exactly the same kind of fox fur industry in the 30s. I live on the corner of Fox Farm Road!