After a pretty heavy storm back in July, we got a nifty double rainbow at the ranch: sharp, full colors, courtesy of Mother Nature.
I had been doing really well both with the daily blog posts and with the writing toward the novel, but got derailed because (as usual) I shift a ton of energy to all the things that are on the todo list – which of course never ends – for the business. By the end of the day, between the chickens, bees, and work on the property/in the gardens, and the work work added on top of that, I’m usually falling asleep at my desk.
So, I have to rein in the “everything has to be checked off every day!” portion of the brain and divert that energy into writing. I’ve recruited one of my sisters to act as an accountability person for me, just to ask me if I got my writing done each day around her bedtime hour.
I keep having specific scenes for books other than the one I’m working on primarily, and ideas for other books come zipping into my brain all the time. I suppose this is a good problem to have, Focus. Focus. Focus. Get the first one done. Then you’ll know you can do it, and the next one should be easier in reducing that gut-wrenching worry about finishing something. Anything.
“The writing was superb, and for those who say no I ask you a question “Do you have a degree from a university in English? Have you written a novel? If you answered no to both question well you are not qualified as a professional to discuss writing.”
That’s an actual quote from someone to another party who didn’t like the book they were reviewing, but that the commenter liked quite a lot.
And it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. You do not need an MFA, nor do you have to have a published novel to review books and pass judgment on the writing in a book, just as you don’t need to have played professional football (or to have played football at all) to know that a not-so-stellar quarterback – which, alas, Jax has had over and over and over again – throwing downfield back across his body is a bad idea 99% of the time.
Let me tell you this about writing: there are no rules for the art of writing. But there are rules about the craft of writing. These are two very different realms.
The art of writing may take you to the point of creating your own universe, or only having left handed people in your book, or deciding time is a useless construct.
But the craft of writing means you need to get these things across to people in a manner they can understand, and in a manner that jibes with the world you’re in. Did you write a high fantasy novel? If so, having someone tell another person “Later!” as they’re leaving is poor craftsmanship, and a break in the mindset of the reader. Did you decide in your literary novel that you were not going to identify any characters, ever, in dialogue, leading to confusion on the part of your readers as to who is saying what? Bad idea. Does your thriller have saidisms absolutely everywhere, with people intoning, muttering, spitting, without them every just saying something – or with people “intoning gravely” or “muttering resignedly” or “spitting angrily” versus “saying”? Not good.
What you do need to do: use grammar properly. If you think you must write in the dialect of one character, don’t do it every time the character speaks, and don’t do a wall of text from that character in dialect. When the character first speaks, sure, do the dialect thing. Then let it go, as you’ve planted it in the mind of the reader. Readers are pretty smart. They’ll get it.
Likewise, make sure your continuity is good. Unless you are specifically writing third person omniscient, don’t go into all the characters’ heads. And even if you are, don’t head hop in a single paragraph. Don’t switch from first person to third person in the middle of a paragraph or chapter. This is confusing. Don’t change from present tense to past tense in the middle of the book unless you are moving to something that has happened in the past. If you have a character named Stan at the beginning of the book, don’t start calling him Dan somewhere in Chapter Six. If Stan has dark, shoulder-length hair, don’t make him blonde with a buzzcut three chapters later unless you show us this or at least explain it.
And don’t – DO NOT – wade into your one or two star reviews and tell someone who disliked your book that they’re stupid and obviously don’t know what’s going on in the world. That’s a one way ticket to be put on peoples’ “Never Read” list.
For two days this week, we had no rain. That’s both good and bad, as we were working on a couple of projects: my brother on the chickshaw that will hold the layer birds, and me on the chicken tractor for the meat birds. His was a much more complicated build than mine (and the finished product looks awesome, thanks, bro!).
I had an issue with a couple of the joints on the tractor, and I thought I was going to have to break those joints and redo them. Now, naturally when you create a PVC joint with cement, you want them to be there forever (or as close as forever you can get). And, if you do a search on how to break a cemented PVC joint, there are tons of people telling you it cannot be done – they say resign yourself to your fate and hacksaw the joint out and redo it completely because cement is forever.
These people have never heard of chemistry, I expect. Of course joints can be broken, just like (say) cemented bricks can be broken. For the latter, it’s just a matter of brute force with a hammer and chisel or (in larger settings) a jackhammer. For PVC, brute force is unlikely to work – but really, you just need to heat the joint in order to break the bond the chemical reaction creates when cement is applied to the PVC. If you have lots of toys, you can superheat a piece of metal that fits inside the joint, leave that in place for a minute or two, and then remove the metal and pull apart the joint. Or, you could just use a heatgun and aim it at the joint. As it happened, I did not have to redo any joints.
And then, it rained. A ton: just over an inch and a half in about half an hour. At the peak of the downpour, it was falling at a rate of over four inches an hour.
I had put a temporary tarp on the tractor, just to see how it would look It lost its tiedowns.
Einstein kept watch over things.
This morning, I went out to take a look at it, and found that Mother Nature yesterday called out all those people who claimed joints couldn’t be broken.
The design obviously needs a bit more support on the crossbars. The original design uses metal roofing panels on the back end, which lends a tad more structural support, but I can’t use that here, as then we’d have our own personal solar powered chicken roaster. But as to the joints: I found these two broken joints..
These are where the door to the front of the pen lies and the second crossbar, respectively.
Do you know how hard it is to get a section of PVC back in when the two ends are not easy to completely get to and when the entire section would need to be disassembled? I managed to get it back in place with (new) cement, then added a brace at the joint where the door sits on the first crossbar.
I hung up the waterer at the front of the pen, and the food at the rear, for two reasons: one, so the feed wouldn’t get wet – the feeder has an open top. Two, it’s to force them to get some exercise, versus just plopping down and spending the rest of their days parked in front of the food and water, were they together.
Then, it was time to separate the meats birds from the layers and toss them out into their new home. Mother Nature decided to join the party.
I had to hustle to beat the gigantic storm that was showing up on the radar, so I went to the brooder and captured the meaties, putting them into a bin for transport. For all their squawking when I was catching them, they calmed right down and settled nicely.
I put the birds, bin and all, into the tractor, then slowly tipped the bin to its side to give them access to the open ground. They were hesitant to leave the bin initially, but finally made their way out.
The storm was advancing, so I left the birds to figure things out (and hopefully, one of those things to figure out was to get out of the rain, since they are generally not terribly bright).
I went out after the first round of rain and only found a small pool of water on the tarp, so that’s promising. I also found them all piled into the bin, which I’d left in place on its side, and which I will leave there throughout their growth. I had to crawl into the back end of the tractor and toss some food into a trail to lead to the feeder. They hadn’t quite made it before the storm forced me back inside.
This is their first night out in the tractor on the grass. I’m restraining myself from popping out there with the flashlight to see how they are. Either the tractor is secure and they will be fine, or it is not, and something will get them (and I will learn a lesson from that). I’m hoping they’ll find the waterer. I’ve had the same type of waterer in the brooder (sitting on a brick versus hanging) since the end of their first week, and if they can’t keep that in their tiny brains, I’ll have to crawl in once more.
Think of it as a mobile chicken coop without a floor, sometimes with wheels, sometimes not, sometimes holding just a few chickens, sometimes holding a bunch of them. The chickens can be free ranging when let out of their tractor, or they can be kept just in the tractor, being moved to fresh grass when they’ve worked over the ground they’ve been on.
Most of the time, the penned birds are the meat chickens. They are just too big and too slow to be able to run for cover when a predator shows up. That’s how my meat birds will be. The layer hens will be allowed to come and go as they please, with nesting boxes available for them to do their thing.
Why is it called a tractor? Mainly because the chickens mimic the use of a tractor, pecking and scratching at the ground, and leaving manure on the ground they cover.
For people with backyard chickens, the tractor is often a light A-frame type structure, housing a few chickens. For more chickens, the designs vary widely.
Ours is a rectangular tractor, built using pvc and chicken wire. Once the base is in place, the rest of the assembly flies right by.
Top level completed except for the crossbar I’ll attach a tarp to, in order to shed rain. With a flat design, you have to do something about the water that will collect on the tarp when it rains, and it rains quite a bit here.
With the frame finished, I moved on to making the doors. There are two in this build, one in the front and one in the rear. I want to have their feed under cover, since they’ll be receiving it in a trough versus the no-spill, no-waste feeder I made for the layers. Their water will hang from the crossbar that holds the tarp.
This was the beginning of the front door.
Both the doors will be covered in chicken wire, just as the rest of the coop is. I put together all of the upper part of the tractor, plus built both doors, plus skinned the frame in chicken wire. This while I was also handling business stuff, and helping people out of their jams.
The completed shell, wrapped in chicken wire, with the frames of both doors lying on it, zip ties holding them in place so I can get their hinges on and put chicken wire on without having to squat down if it were on the ground, because my knees were yelling at me pretty loudly by the end of the day..
This tractor is about 12′ long and 6′ across, so will hold lots of birds. This time, it will only be holding ten birds.
I plan on finishing it tomorrow, and my brother is working on the chickshaw, a mobile coop based on the design of rickshaws. That one will hold layers hens, and I’ll be able to move them around the property – they will peck and scratch far more than the meat birds, who only want to eat, sleep, and poop. I have a PT appointment tomorrow right in the middle of the day, and I’m a little bummed out that I won’t be able to film the whole chickshaw build. I might be able to rope my mom or my bro into running the camera.
The meat birds weigh just under a pound. Keep in mind that these birds were just as tiny as the layers when I picked them up from the post office on August 1. That’s 12 days to a pound. If they keep that up, they will likely be ready in about nine weeks. If their weight starts to accelerate, they’ll be ready sooner. Most of the time, they’re ready in eight weeks, and that’s what I’m basing things on.
You can see how large they’ve gotten in about a week and a half. The bird on the perch I added to their brooder is a layer.
Birds huddled up to nap. The difference in size is readily apparent.
Nifty watering bucket. It took them awhile to understand it when I put it in the brooder, but eventually, they got it. Some of the fat meat birds settled themselves right in front of the bucket where the nipples are. They also have a tendency to plop themselves in front of the feeder to eat, then sleep, then eat, then sleep. It’s like Mr. Creosote, except in chicken form (luckily, no vomiting, but plenty of pooping).
By the end of the week (and hopefully sooner) the meat birds will be taken out to their new tractor – their home for the duration until it’s time to end their happy, although brief, lives.
I’ve eaten now, and the day is getting to me, telling me to go to sleep. I may catch a nap.
A work in progress for the meat birds. They do not range or scratch and peck well as they get older and heavier, and they are generally not fast enough to take cover when a predator appears. So, they get to hang out in their own private space. But they’ll be on fresh grass, have clean air and water, and will be mighty tasty when the time comes to process them.
The bottom of the build, looking from what will be the front to the back. This was a dry fit.
Then, a look at the back toward the front. There’s one more cross pipe that will go through the center of it.
Once everything was double checked and arranged, I moved on to the cement phase of the build. The left side and the front and back are glued in this view from the front.
And a look from the back – the right side and front and back are glued.
I also managed to drop the can of cement thanks to the issues with my left hand (fuck you, cancer!). Half of it is on the driveway now. At least I have plenty left to get the rest of the build done.
A work in progress that needs to get done quickly, because the meat birds are getting huge. All of them were a little skittish about the watermelon rinds I put in.
I know chickens are bird brains and not terribly smart, but they peck pretty much anything – just not tonight, i guess. All they did was walk on those rinds, pooping on them.
Tomorrow: onward with more mowing (did the beeyard today) and more assembly of the chicken tractor. If we get it done in the next couple of days, I’m going to kick the meat birds out of the brooder and into their nice, spacious, outdoors condo.
Don’t forget, space nerds: the Pleiads are peaking on the 12th, so look to the skies.
So I had a CT on my guts yesterday, because I’ve been having some pain around where the balloon is in my stomach. This time around, I got the great thrill of “drinking” barium as well. I’ve done barium swallows before, and the stuff is not totally off-putting, but at least this time I didn’t have to taste it: right down the tube, two 450 mL bottles.
We’re going into the next nectar flow down here, and I’m hoping the established hives will be laying in good amounts of honey I can take off them next month/into October. Word of mouth for our honey is terrific: we heard from a person who knew someone who knew someone who got a bottle of our honey at some point, and that person wanted some. After she got some directly for us, she contacted us not too long after, with eight(!) people who wanted some.
What this means, of course, is that I need more bees! I’m planning on expanding pretty seriously next spring via splits of the hives out in the beeyard right now. This year, I made two splits from hive #8, the hive who kept their 2016 queen well into 2017 but then replaced her on their own. That queen is still there (for now) and she is a laying machine. The two daughter hives: also laying machines. Her genetics are those I want to establish more of in the yard. Better layer = more bees – more production = more honey = better split maker. This is a photo of some larvae and some eggs (the rice-looking things in the cells just below and left of center).
There are also some bee butts just above center: the nurse bees crawl into the cells to feed the larvae as they develop. To the far left is capped brood; the larvae in those cells will develop into bees who will then chew their way out of the cell and then start working in the hive.
The cover crop germinated and is taking over the half frame row that I threw down. More to come of that for soil building!
Today, mowing, including some areas that have been under water for two weeks and avoided the cut they needed. Today, though: down with the high grass!
There’s an old movie called The Lost Weekend. Ray Milland stars as Don, an alcoholic writer willing to pawn anything or steal from anyone to get a few bucks to buy whisky. (It’s an excellent movie and you should watch it – Milland rightfully won an Oscar for his part in the film, and Billy Wilder took home a Best Director statuette.)
I had a dream the other night where Robert Redford (of all people) for some reason asked me what I really, really wanted to do. I had no answer, which was odd, because I do know I want to write and run my business and have my dogs and my bees and my chickens, and that’s what I’m doing. I don’t recall the actual context around the question in the dream – was I someone else, or myself, doing something other than I am now? Maybe.
Anyhow, I missed yesterday’s blog appointment because I was dealing with a massive issue with work that I’m not going to go into except to say it sucked. Royally. Today, we’ve dealt with two majo spamming issues related to peoples’ contact forms on their web sites. For the love of whatever you hold holy, put a fucking captcha on your forms. And DO NOT enable any “send a copy of this to yourself, submitter” crap. It’s an invitation to arbitrarily insert anyone’s email address and spammers will find it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they will, eventually, unless you secure it.
There ends your tech lesson for the day.
The chicks continue to live by the tenets of their lives, which is to eat, drinks, poop, and sleep, in any order they feel like it. At least they know what they really, really want to do. The meat birds, bred to get big, very quickly, are certainly living up to it. After a mere week, they are twice the size of their layer bird companions. Some of them just sit in front of the feeder and eat, sleeping in the same spot. When they go out on pasture, I’ll only be feeding them once during the day. What they eat in the daylight hours will be it until the next day. Letting them eat freely 24/7 for all their time will be too hard on their bodies, and they’re not terribly good about reining in their eating habits.
Got a start today on dry fitting the pieces together for the chicken tractor the meat birds will call home. It’s probably too large for the ten of them, but it’s easier to get more chickens down the line and have the space available than it is to decide to get more in a batch and have to scramble to make a new, larger tractor for them.
We’ll also have the mobile layers to move around the place. At first, there will only be five in there, but we would be able to put more if needed, and if the whole meat bird thing works out, I’d really like to get some turkeys next year in addition to more meat birds, to have for the holidays. And they would be hanging out with the layer birds, so it would be nice to be able to move them with the layers and let them range alongside.
Tomorrow, I get to pour barium down my tube and go get my guts scanned. I can’t eat anything, either, which is why I’m about to have my last meal, as it were, just after I post this. It’s gonna be a thrill, I’m sure.
Time for another hive inspection as we go into the second nectar flow of the year. It was a brilliant but hot day.
All the hives are still with us (yay!)
There’s nothing quite like a freshly-mowed piece of land.
Also, if you’re a beekeeper with more than one hive, you should keep notes about your inspections.
Especially if you find the (unmarked) queen in a survivor hive from 2016 . This is the granddaughter of the original queen from in this hive . It’s also the hive I’ve been making splits from, as the bees are vigorous and the two queens since 2016 are just laying machines.
Space nuts, unite! The Perseid meteor shower will peak on August 12. Get out and do some sky watching. If it’s mosquito season, as it is here, and you have lots of standing water from constant rains, as we do here, put on something to repel them. I was out taking some pictures of Mars this evening, and they were horrific.
Speaking of Mars….
Taken with the Canon.
Taken with the Nikon. Mars is just below and left of center. Hit the image to see the fuller version. This was taken with an extended shutter time, because of course it’s dark as hell out here at the ranch, and I wanted to capture more as we have a rare clear evening here in the summer tonight. It’s gorgeous and rather humbling to gaze up at the night sky.
Back here on the mothership, though, we still have things to do, people and animals to take care of, and on and on. I spent several hours at the NOC today, redoing a server for someone who wants a testing server in addition to their production server, and crawling around, tracing lines. It’s time for our location audit, and at least one part is done: the physical locations of every piece of gear. Tracing power cables and ethernet cables, though, is tedious, dirty, sweaty work (because you’re on the heat side of the row, with all those servers blowing hot air on you) and takes more than one trip (unless it’s a completely epic trip where you get to ignore everything else in your life for eight hours).
I had stepped outside last night to look off to the east where a storm was passing, to see it was viable to set up a camera to try to capture some lightning. It was not, but I did find this fat bumpy guy hanging out on the porch.
He didn’t budge, even when Einstein was sniffing him.
And because I have 21 chicks hanging out in my garage, here’s a pic of a bunch of them piled up in the corner after I had changed out the pads in the brooder. You’ll notice there’s already poop on the new pads. Apparently they cannot go more than two seconds without pooping. But, they are all still alive, happily peeping away when they’re not sleeping.
After the NOC work, I popped by Tractor Supply to get some pine shavings for their bedding. They’ve had enough time to understand what their food is and where, so they should not be trying to eat giant volumes of the bedding. At first, they didn’t want to walk on it. But as I spread it out all around them and then into the corner they all ran to, they got themselves together and went back to their pooping, cheeping ways.
The Cornish X bird – the yellow ones – are growing much more quickly than the layers. You can tell already. They are going to be good eating when their brief, but happy, lives comes to an end.