Another Chicken Fatality

We lost another chicken last night meaning that we’ve got something infectious. I didn’t have the stomach to do a post-mortem exam, nor would I know what to look for anyways (chicken CSI would make a nice class if only there were someone to teach it). I thumbed through Gail Damerow’s Chicken Health Handbook, but I don’t have much evidence to go on.

I didn’t see any obvious symptoms other than a very small amount of listlessness just before both chickens died and a bit of what might be bloody diarrhea on the roost. Mrs. Homegrown disinfected the coop as best she could and I swept out the bedding. A heat wave last week may have weakened the flock and helped bring this on.

We are now down to two chickens, one of whom does not lay any eggs. Looks like we’ll be either not be eating eggs or we’ll have to buy them at the farmers market for the next few months.

Mrs. Homegrown here: 

I wanted to add that the remaining hens seem perfectly healthy.  If they drop over dead tomorrow, it’s going to be quite a headscratcher. They’re out happily roaming in our yard right now, all bright-eyed and perky. I’ve eyeballed them for signs of respiratory infection or diarrhea, and see nothing. All the poop under their roost looked fine.  It’s a mild day, as was yesterday–so I don’t know if heat was the culprit in either death. The possible bloody diarrhea that Erik mentions above consisted of a couple of  small dark stains on the roost. Hard to say what that was–if it was anything. All in all it’s quite a mystery.

It could be coincidence. Both of the deceased hens are of the same breed, from the same hatching, same store–maybe they were even sisters. They were very close. Maybe when one went the other followed, like devoted old couples sometimes do.

I say this just to keep hope that this isn’t some bacterial thing. It’s impossible to truly disinfect a wooden coop with a dirt floor. We’ll do our best, open it up to light and give it a good airing and hope for the best.

It looks like we might get a chance to start our flock fresh, and this time we’re going to do things differently. It looks like there are two paths we could follow–those paths, and the choice we make, will have to follow in the next post.

Noodler’s Ink Reusable Fountain Pen


Julia just wrote a post on Ramshackle Solid about our newest solution to the frustration of disposable pens: Noodler’s Ink and fountain pens.
From the Noodler’s website:
Why Noodler’s?
“Noodler’s Ink” has the lowest cost per volume in stores that carry it and it’s 100% made in the USA from cap to glass to ink. The ink with the catfish on the label symbolizes a southern sport that attempts to equalize the struggle between man and animal in the quest for a sense of fair play — and thus a fair price.
Besides being made in the USA “from cap to glass to ink” Noodler’s appears to be especially focused on delivering value (all ink bottles are filled right to the brim) and something I had never previously thought about: ink security.
EVERY bottle has slightly different ink component proportions. This is done by hand (one of the major reasons for Noodler’s constantly being in short supply). This production method security feature enables most of our inks to be unique in a forensics lab on a per bottle basis.
Our experience is that the roller ball pen performs as well as much more expensive fountain pens, holds a lot of ink and doesn’t leak (at least ours haven’t even over multiple flights on our recent vacation). Best of all they aren’t disposable.
If you need more convincing, Lyanda Haupt has a nice post about fountain pens and Noodler’s on her blog “The Tangled Nest”: Fountain Pens for Everyday

How Long Do Chickens Live?

This morning we found one of our hens dead in the coop. She’d died near the feed bin, which shows she was a true chicken right to the end. This is our first chicken death. I’ve been gone most of the weekend, but Erik says she didn’t seem ill, though in retrospect he thinks maybe she was little slower than usual for the past few days. The other hens seem healthy enough. There was no sign of predation or injury.

I suppose we’ll find out soon if there is some kind of infection that will take the remaining three. But for now we’re chalking it up to age and general frailty. This hen, Jane, was always the smallest and the weakest of the four, and lived a hard life at the  bottom of the pecking order. Poor Jane. She’s the hen I’m holding in that picture of Erik and I over at the right hand bar. None of our ladies like to be held, but Jane was always the most patient with photographers.

Our neighbor, Sue, has twenty years experience with backyard hens, and once she told us that she figured their average lifespan ended up being about 5 years. I’ve read that chickens have a theoretical lifespan of 13 years, but of course, so many die young of mishap or disease. Sue’s estimate always sounded sensible to me. Jane died at 4 years and a few months old.

How long have you had your chickens? Do you cull them when they slow down their laying, or do you have some Methuselian hens pecking around your yard? What’s the oldest hen you’ve even had? What do you think the average lifespan of a backyard hens is?

Of course, this leads to lots of interesting questions about backyard flocks, how and when to rotate in new stock, to cull or not to cull, the danger of naming, etc. I think all that will have to wait for another post, because it’s a big subject and needs its own space. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow. Right now, let’s hear about lifespans.

Free Preparedness E-Books

Camp loom, for making mats and mattresses from the 1911 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook

Through a circuitous bit of aimless interweb searching I came across a huge list of downloadable urban homesteading/gardening/survivalist manuals on a site called hardcorepreppers.com. Unfortunately, this site is so popular that it seems to be down every time I’ve checked. But thanks to Google’s caching feature I was able to access a list of those documents. Here’s a curated set of just a few of those links (through the letter “f”) that I found interesting. I can’t vouch for the reliability of any of this information but at least it’s entertaining. And if you have any other favorite free e-book sources please leave a link in the comments. At some point I’ll direct the Root Simple staff to add these and more to our resource page.

Food and Gardening
Bulk Sprouter
Bread Without an Oven
Building Soils for Better Crops
Colorado State University–Drying Vegetables
Collecting, Cutting and Handling Potato Seed
Everything Under The Sun: Food Storage for the Solar Oven

Medicine
Making Chinese Herbal Formulas Into Alcohol Extracts 
The Ayurveda Encyclopedia Natural Secrets to Healing Prevention and Longevity
How to Make Cannabis Foods and Medicines
The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees

Energy
Biogas
Biomass Stoves
Build your own Rocket Stove
Camp Stoves and Fireplaces

Transportation
Bicycle Know How

Zombie Apocalypse Skills (or “ZAS” since everything associated with the zombie apocalypse needs an acronym)
50 Emergency Uses for Your Camera Phone
Map Reading and Land Navigation
Boy Scouts Handbook 1911 Edition
Bug out Bag
5 Ways to Win a Fight 
Guerilla Warfare by Che Guevara 
Cold Weather Survival
Field Expedient Direction Finding

Summer Urban Homestead Failures: Exploding Beer Bottles

Somehow in last week’s roundup of the summer’s failures I blocked out of my memory the most exasperating: exploding beer bottles.

I think I may have had a contaminated siphon hose which passed on some nasty, yeasty bacterial bug to every single bottle of two batches of beer I had made this summer. Three of those bottles over-carbonated to the point that they became beer grenades and exploded. One blew up on the kitchen counter and the other two in the garage. Having had a bottle explode in my hand a few years ago (wild fermented ginger beer–a bad idea) I can tell you that bottle grenades aren’t funny.

So having had three bottles explode and all the other bottles I opened showing signs of over-carbonation, I had the dilemma of what to do next. String my bow and shoot arrows at them from a distance? Call in the homebrew bomb squad?

I decided to don a heavy jacket (in 90ºF + temperatures) and safety goggles and uncap each one in the sink. The second to last bottle gave me a cooling beer shower.

Time to clean our messy kitchen and go on a sanitation campaign.

Gadget Love: The Johnson Temperature Controller

A friend of mine gave me a chest freezer recently and I augmented it with a handy gizmo, a Johnson temperature controller. The temperature controller allows me to run the freezer at any temperature between 30 and 80ºF. It works by cycling on and off the power to the freezer as needed. You just stick the copper probe in the freezer and adjust the dial to the desired temperature. So far I’ve thought of the following uses:

  • Proof bread overnight at 54ºF. I used to proof my dough in my refrigerator, but the chest freezer, running at this higher temperature thanks to the temperature controller, results in a more active proofing.
  • Make lagers (which ferment at low temperatures).
  • Make ales in hot weather. The house gets too hot to make beer in the summertime. Now I can make a batch or two without having to worry about the weather. 
  • Use the chest freezer as a backup when I need to repair the gasket on our Scandinavian refrigerator YET AGAIN!

Not wanting to be a profligate energy user I only use the chest freezer periodically.

Now if only I could lower the temperature of the whole house which, thanks to the first heatwave of the summer, is now warm enough to make yogurt!  

    Tomato Report II: Franchi Red Pear

    Franchi’s Red Pear tomato is a beefsteak variety we’ve grown for several years. It tastes phenomenal either fresh or cooked. From the Seeds from Italy website:

    This is an old North Italian variety specially selected by Franchi Sementi. It is an indeterminate red, pear-shaped beefsteak. An outstanding producer of huge (as in 8-18 ounce) very tasty fruit. Great fresh eating. Early for such a large plant (70-75 days).  This is not the small pear shaped tomato called red pear by US Seed companies. Pear shaped with vertical ribs . . . Really meaty containing few seeds. Indeterminate.

    One problem I’ve had with it is that it’s not super productive, at least in my vegetable beds.  I also think I may have over-watered it this summer and, consequently, it’s not quite as flavorful as last year’s more “meaty” crop.

    So what beefsteak varieties do you like? I’m looking for suggestions for next year–hybrids or heirlooms.

    ETA:  Just thought of something that would be helpful–if you rec. a tomato, tell us where you live. It will really help others searching for a good tomato that works well in their climate.

    Tomato Report: Franchi Red Cherry

    I don’t have much to say about this variety from Franchi named, somewhat generically, “Red Cherry”. It grew well and is very productive considering the compact size of the vine. The taste, however, was acceptable but not exciting. This could be because of over-watering on my part.

    I could find very little information about this tomato on the interwebs other than that it is an indeterminate, early variety that grows well in pots (though I grew mine in the ground).

    In the interest of a sweeter cherry tomato I think next year I’m going to plant the reliable Sungold.

    What’s your favorite cherry tomato? Leave a comment . . .

    ETA:  Just thought of something that would be helpful–if you rec. a tomato, tell us where you live. It will really help others searching for a good tomato that works well in their climate. You know how it is: location, location, location…  And if any of you who have already rec’d one see this, feel free to pipe up again regarding your location.

    Philosophical EDC: Seneca

    The most important part of my “everyday carry” is not my pocket knife. It’s my slim and easy to tote copy of Seneca’s Moral Essays, Volume II. Why? Passages like this:

    But it does no good to have got rid of the causes of individual sorrow; for one is sometimes seized by hatred of the whole human race. When you reflect how rare is simplicity, how unknown is innocence, and how good faith scarcely exists, except when it is profitable, and when you think of all the throng of successful crimes and of the gains and losses of lust, both equally hateful, and of ambition that, so far from restraining itself within its own bounds, now gets glory from baseness — when we remember these things, the mind is plunged into night, and as though the virtues, which it is now neither possible to expect nor profitable to possess, had been overthrown, there comes overwhelming gloom.

    We ought, therefore, to bring ourselves to believe that all the vices of the crowd are, not hateful, but ridiculous, and to imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. For the latter, whenever he went forth into public, used to weep, the former to laugh; to the one all human doings seemed to be miseries, to the other follies. And so we ought to adopt a lighter view of things, and put up with them in an indulgent spirit; it is more human to laugh at life than to lament over it. Add, too, that he deserves better of the human race also who laughs at it than he who bemoans it; for the one allows it some measure of good hope, while the other foolishly weeps over things that he despairs of seeing corrected.

    From De Tranquillitate Animi – On Tranquillity of Mind