What sun? What solar?

So, I read back through some of my chicken stuff I previously posted and I must look into that solar waterer I mentioned.  This is the second winter with the chickens and this winter it is mighty cold out there for Texas.  I really like that solar waterer, but what if the sun just isn’t shining?  That is one drawback for solar but there are really no alternatives short of hooking up electrical cords which I just will not do for safety reasons, mine and the animals.

The  chickens do have a backup plan and that is the alpaca’s five gallon buckets I have their water in.  Standing on the ground, the chickens can reach the uppermost bit of water if the bucket is 3/4 full.  Any less than that and they just hop on the bucket edge and dip down.  Works all year round for them.  So really my dilemma is keeping the alpaca’s water unfrozen for everyone to use, which I keep in the barn and are not in the sun, intentionally anyway.  The buckets are positioned near doorways and so if the sun happens to be shining in, then they are in the sun for a short time.

One thought I had  was superheating some rocks and placing them in the buckets. The danger I am reading is that they can dangerously explode when any moisture in them explodes them as it heats.  I don’t know how long they would hold their heat (based on size and mass this science flunky knows) but surely it would be of some use. I am looking into that idea (it’s free anyway). I might try the idea of using the lava rocks that are used in some outdoor grills.  Those kind of rocks can be heated safely, but can they be reheated safely after being in water?  Many questions; looking for answers.

Our record breaking cold weather will be even more so in the next few days as we get more rain (snow, ice?) and dip down into the 20’s in the DAY, and low teens at night. 

However, I must say, even in the cold, I do enjoy going out to the barn around 9 pm and tucking everyone in, filling chicken feeders, closing them in the coops, throwing hay to the alpacas and taking out chunks of ice in the water so they can have a sip as they settle in.  When the air is calm, the air cold and crisp, the sky clear and star- filled, there is nothing better than to be in the barn tending the animals.

Some links to heating water ideas:

 http://www.bird-house-bath.com/heated-bird-baths.html

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/horses/facts/info_water.htm

http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/pubnwsltr/TRIM/10003.pdf

http://cancrete.com/cdn/products-C350.asp

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex5421

http://www.solarpowerfamily.com/solar-power-livestock-water-heater.html

http://www.nelsonmfg.com/a700H_006.htm

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The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

How appropro that the name of this song from the musical Annie is what we have been singing the past few weeks.  So much rain, we are just mush around here.  The pastures have not had so much standing water since I can remember, and we have been here 4 years now.  Finally, this week, we are supposed to have sun each and every day.  We need to mow the pastures to get some weeds down so we can see grass, if there is any that hasn’t drowned.

I have to call USDA and get someone out to look at the pastures and get us on some kind of yearly program to maintain through whatever means to keep the grass in good form and the weeds out.  A couple of pastures have good grasses and few weeds; the other two pastures really are weedy and alpacas don’t eat the coarse weeds generally like goats or sheep do.

So, this week, before the Memorial Weekend, we are crossing our fingers that there will NOT be any rain and we can enjoy some time outside in the sun. The alpacas are loving it; I look out and seem them spread out on their side in the sun, not moving, except for maybe an ear to follow a sound.  We all missed our sunshine these past few weeks.

Five management tips to use on the ranch

We all discover a little tool or helpful hint that makes our life a little easier each day. Here are 5 of my favorites so far:
1. an old tire around a 5 gal bucket I use to water the animals (keeps alpacas from kicking them over and chickens like to stand on tire and drink from the bucket too)
2. A little keychain penlight/alarm holds exterior building keys (the light is handy to light my way and check on the chickens after dark); bought at Dollar Tree for one dollar
3. plastic tubs also bought at Dollar tree for one dollar each; used as nesting boxes (husband built a frame with the cut out narrow enough that the box drops into and hangs by the lip surround; easy to take out and easy to clean)
4. A big thermometer bought at Dollar Tree for one dollar; hangs inside each chicken coop and the barn to keep an eye on hot or cold temps and monitor animal health
5. old unusable metal water troughs salvaged from our pastures; I keep all my feeds in these; mice cannot climb up and into and the feed stays organized and dry; they are not pretty (bent and dented) but that’s okay, they are in the barn storage area

Alpacas and hot weather

The alpacas are a pretty durable animal but they should/must be sheared in the spring before hot weather arrives.  We sheared later than usual this year, in late April, but I have decided that is the best time, late April into May.  Earlier than April and we have cold weather that hits us late in the season; one year we were shearing in March and it was sleeting!  The alpacas were shivering.  The later in the spring you shear, then the less “grow back” of their fleece by the time the hot weather is here.

I have a big, cheapy  thermometer I bought (Dollar Tree store, everything really is a dollar!), and it helps me keep an eye on the temp in their barn.  We designed it with doors on the east and west sides so there is usually always a very nice breeze that comes through and they like being able to see all around them and not feel trapped.  They hang out in the heat of the day and I turn on the ceiling fans in the late morning which really move the air (they are 3 blades and look like airplane propellers bought through Farmtek catalog, Canarm reversible, with manual speed control). 

 

pregnanat Sarah's Flashback (aka Flash) enjoying her hay

pregnanat Sarah's Flashback (aka Flash) enjoying her hay

Hershey Surprise, settled in with his hay

Hershey Surprise, settled in with his hay

The nice green grass has slowed down growth and so I divided up a bale of hay so they could munch on something and they each got their own flake today; I am using the hay troughs, turned over, to keep their buckets of water raised up high so they can’t dip their feet in the buckets in the hot weather.  This is another project on my husband’s list, after the chicken coops, is to build a platform the water buckets can sit on.   So I got a few pics of them enjoying their hay today.

I usually will top off their water late in the morning and while I am there I give them a spray down to cool them off a bit.  They line up for this and jockey for position to be directly in front of the hose.  Keeping the water on their lower and underneath sides keeps the wet off their back and from trapping in the heat in their fleece, creating a sauna effect.  They are happy campers after a bit of a spray.

Alpaca air conditioning

new alpaca barnThe alpaca barnIn the hot and often humid northeast Texas, the alpacas need a way to cool off.  They do like water and for many a pond is ideal.  However, those can be  less than ideal as they may tend to just lay in the water which will rot their fiber and I have read that a female actually chose to birth in the water and her newborn drowned.  So we limit their water accessibility to either just a shallow wading type pool or wet down sand pit area, although sand may tend to clog their fleece. 

I have seen some owners hook up a hose to a faucet and hose their undersides (getting their back wet will trap in their heat in the fleece and create a sauna effect and not cool them) or hooking up a sprinkler set on a low to the ground spray.  I decided to try an idea of buying one of those tank sprayers (I found one at Big Lots for eight dollars) and fill it with water and walk to them.  It eliminates the puddling of water and creating a mud hole, and I can move around with it easily.  I also use it to spray down the barn floor; they like that and come in to cush in the cool.  I turn on the industrial ceiling fans to downdraft and it is pretty much as good as it gets for them.  

We designed the 30 x 50 barn so that it is segmented into three equal width areas the 50′ length of the barn.  The middle width is my work area and has tall kennel fencing on each side, front to back of barn, with a walk through gate in each side.  One gate enters into the girls area and the other opens into the boys section. As you look at the pictures above, the girls are on the left and the boys on the right end of barn.  Each end has access to two pastures that can be closed off as needed.  You enter the barn through the center person-door into the center work area.  Each alpaca section has access to two different pastures through roll up doors, which can be further fenced off into additional smaller pastures with gate access when we are ready to do that.  Each alpaca barn section has two 10′ wide x 9 foot tall roll up doors, one door in the barn front wall and one in the back wall of the barn, mostly for security if needed, or bad weather.  Either one, or both roll up doors, can be closed.  The barn is a 12 foot gable roof with low ridge vents, so plenty of room for air movement and we put in two industrial fans (they look like airplane propellers) that are on a switch and can choose whether they will updraft  or downdraft  and choose what speed.  We designed the barn and Mueller did the rest.  We situated it so that sun does not enter in the summer, except for just a little in evening and morning through the roll up doors that we keep open and they face east and west.  In the winter, the low sun warms the interior and in the cold mornings our alpacas are cushed in the warm space.  Other than that, the interior is shaded in summer and creates additional shade outside opposite the side the sun is on. In the winter, it is protected from the north wind because the south and north barn ends are solid with no doors or windows. 

Inside, and outside in pastures, we have tall above ground water faucets to keep water buckets full and irrigate as needed.  We had a great husband/wife team install all the fencing and they did a great job.  We will have more fencing added as we need it.  We had a great electrician who advised on lighting placement and fan placement.