Monday, June 12, 2017

New Book Underway: Low-Nonsense Doomsteading.

   Doomsteading.  An admittedly sensationalized term for taking what country folk have always done (making ready for lapses in infrastructure) up a few notches.  Building a rural homestead that can endure extended, even permanent loss of utilities, services, and regular supply sources.  That sort of thing.

   We've been quietly doing this for quite a while.  Thought of doing a book on the subject a year or two back, but it seemed like it might have been be too late.  Appeared to be time to focus on actually hunkering down for the collapse ourselves...

   Then, somewhat to my amazement, Western Civilization managed to dodge the kill shot in November, hopefully buying us a little more time to prepare.

   So the composition of Low-Nonsense Doomsteading is underway.  I'll rotate rough draft pages through this blog as the work proceeds...


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LND: Horses. (Part I)

   This may seem strange, coming from the LATOC's Old Horseman, but horses may not figure into many preppers' plans.

   Our grandfathers switched from horses and mules to trucks and tractors for good reason.  Horses require considerable knowledge and skill not only to work well, but just to keep sound and healthy.  Unlike infernal combustion machines, which can be put into the garage and ignored, equines have to be fed and cared for three-hundred and sixty-five days per year, whether you're using them or not.  They need pastures and paddocks with well-maintained fences.  Properly constructed stables.  Hay, feed, hoofcare.  Etc., etc., etc...

   Fuel, replacement parts, and other things needed to keep tractors and automobiles going may someday become inaccessible, making horses the best solution for rural transportation and farm traction again.  But, if all you really need is a light motorcycle for errands, and a rototiller for the kitchen garden, you might be able to scrounge up a few gallons of gasoline and motor oil to keep them going for years to come, even in the face of shortages or rationing.

   On the other hand, if you need to transport people and cargo beyond what you can move with a cycle, or your doomstead operations require substantial pulling power, equines might make sense.  Riding horses are excellent for long-range reconnaissance, being quieter than motorcycles, better off-road than wheeled vehicles, and having a built-in GPS system.  (Horses are great at finding their way back to the feed trough, no matter how lost their riders get.)

   Whether you have a pressing, practical need for them or not, the opportunity to keep horses may be considered one of the benefits of doomsteading.  If you're living out in the boonies anyway, may as well take full advantage and experience the joys of horsemanship, if you are so-inclined.

   If you are one of the few 'steads in a 'neighborhood' with solid workhorses and equipment, you could find yourself in a position to provide valuable services to your community should the petroleum-fed equipment be silenced.  Hobbies sometime become lucrative occupations.

   Horses do require a substantial investment in treasure and/ or personal effort.  The more equestrian knowledge and skill you have, the less coin you'll need to spend.  Many books have been written on husbandry, training, horsemanship, and farriery.  (Some by myself.)  So I'll try to keep it to an overview here...

Speaking the language...

    An intact male, adult (usually over four years old) horse is a stallion.  A juvenile male is a colt.  Stallions are sometimes called studs, especially if they are used for breeding.  Some folks, especially our cousins across the Big Pond, call a breeding farm or program a stud (shortened from stud farm or stud book).

   A castrated male horse is a gelding.  Most colts are gelded, as geldings are generally the preferred gender for riding and work horses.

   An adult female (usually over four years old) horse is a mare.  A juvenile female is a filly.  Mares are very rarely spayed, as the surgery is far more expensive and risky than gelding colts or spaying smaller animals.

   Very young horses of both genders are foals.  Pregnant mares are said to be in foal.  The birth process is called foaling.

   Horse height is usually measured in hands (four inch units) followed by remaining inches.  "15-3" means the horse is fifteen hands and three inches (63" total).  This measurement is made at the withers, the bony protrusion where the top of the neck meets the horse's back.  

   A pony is a small horse.  Usually less than 14-2 hands, though breed and show organization standards vary.  A pony under 9-2 hands may be called a miniature horse.  Ponies and miniature horses are the same species as full-size horses.

   The donkey, also known as an ass or burro (especially smaller specimens), is a separate species in the same genus as the horse.  Donkeys tend to be smaller, slower, less athletic, smarter, surer of foot, more fuel-efficient, and tougher than horses.  The go-to beasts of burden in the Third World, they can be prone to some maladies due to easy living here in Cornucopia.  (Like founder from overeating.)

   A male donkey is a jack.  A female is a jenny.  Large donkeys are called "mammoth jacks" (over 14-2) and "mammoth jennies" (over 14 hands).  The largest are up to 17 hands.

   A mule is the result of a mare being bred to a jack.  Being a hybrid of two distinct species, they are almost always born sterile.  A male is a john, and is normally gelded, since he has no reproductive potential, and all the behavioral challenges of a stallion if left intact.  A female is a molly.  In extremely rare cases, mollies have been fertile, but it's a literal one-in-a-million fluke.

   A hinny is the result of a jenny being bred to a stallion.  Generally smaller and less strong than mules, and harder to successfully produce due to the genetic technicalities of having the female parent with the lower chromosome count, hinnies are somewhat rare.

Horse types....

   There are countless breeds and types of horses on the market today, each with their ardent fans.  Since the focus of this book is doomsteading, I'll be omitting horses bred for show, novelty gaits, and racing.  We're looking for animals who can get enough useful work done to justify their upkeep around a self-supporting farm. 

Quarter Horse.

   The American Quarter Horse got its name for being bred for the equestrian version of drag racing; quarter-mile races from a standing start.  Their explosive acceleration and agility made the breed dominant in cutting, reining, rodeo, gymkhana, and similar competitions.  Handsome in form, calmly alert in disposition, muscular but compact in size, the Quarter Horse became the default ranch horse...  But the primary breed registry, the American Quarter Horse Association has a long history of tossing the breed standard out the window in favor of generating revenue for the organization, so there are horses of such broadly ranging types with AQHA papers now that registration is virtually meaningless.  There is little wonder that, in recent years, "quarter horse" has come to denote any generic riding horse between pony and draft size, including paints and appaloosas.

   Quarter horses are your basic American riding stock.  It's easy to find tack, equipment, and everything else to fit them.  Most are pretty durable and easy keepers.  And they can do a very wide assortment of things well in terms of riding styles and activities.

   Quarter horses can be trained to harness, and many do quite well.  But sudden acceleration and turn-on-a-dime agility are definitely not desirable between cart shafts or in a plow row, and the 'rear wheel drive' conformation of the quarter horse is not ideal for pulling.



   The old-school Morgan is like the quarter horse's even more blue-collar cousin.  Not quite as athletic, but strong, compact, rugged, and utilitarian.  Unfortunately, Saddlebreds (among the least practically useful horses for real work) have been a corrupting influence on the Morgan breed in recent decades, making the classic type Morgan harder to find.

   Traditional Morgans are the quintessential, jack-of-all-trades farmstead horses.  Being a little heavier on the forehand, they generally fall just shy of quarter horses for riding applications, but tend to be superior for harness work.  Their compact size makes them easier to manage and fit with tack than draft horses.


   Draft horses are the giants of the horse world.  Commonly a foot taller and a half-ton heavier than the typical quarter horse.  And they're even stronger than they look.  Because the draft breeds were developed with matching hitch teams in-mind, they tend to be very uniform in appearance.  (American Belgians are usually red with blonde manes, blaze faces.  Percherons are usually either black or grey with stars and minimal white leg markings.  Clydesdales and Shires usually have dark body coats with lots of white on the faces and limbs, long 'feather' hair on the legs.) 

   Draft horses are bred to pull heavy stuff.  If one gigantic superhorse isn't enough to move something, they like to work in teams.  Draft horses are usually calm, even stoic. (But don't buy into the 'Gentle Giant' thing too much. They can spook like any horse.  Some know their own strength and get pushy.)  Most are fairly fuel efficient, needing no more feed than quarter horses, and only a bit more hay.  When it comes to pulling deep plows through tough ground, big combines, or freight wagons, draft horses rule.

   Draft horses can be ridden, and doing so has become quite popular lately.  But, honestly, they aren't very good for it.  They're slow, lumbering, and lack endurance.  Their height makes them difficult to mount.  Their size can be problematic all-around.  The horse world is geared for quarter horses.  Harness and tack for full-size draft horses often has to be special ordered.  They may not fit into horse trailers for transport.  They require double-doses of dewormers.  Draft shoeing is widely considered a specialty, and farriers competent to do it properly may be expensive and hard to find .

   In the Deep South, the square-cube law, which dictates that bigger horses have less skin surface per pound of body weight, hits draft horses hard.  (Darn you, Galileo!)  They have considerable trouble coping with the heat and humidity of the Dixie Summer.  In my own experience, top-quality bred drafters have had a distinct inability to bounce-back from infections the gigantic Petri dish that is the southern environment can throw at them.  Perhaps due to inbreeding.  They don't seem to get sick more often than other horses, but they tend to die (despite massive veterinary intervention) when a quarter horse would have recovered.


   Once upon a time, some Belgian draft horses got so dirty that their people washed them with REALLY hot water, and they shrank somethin' fierce! 

   Okay.  The Haflinger is an old and storied European breed.  But they do look rather like one-third scale Belgians.  Usually large pony to small quarter horse height, around fourteen hands.

   With their modest size, strong build, and tractable nature, Haflingers could fill a farmstead role similar to the classic Morgan.  They are about the least intimidating mounts for inexperienced riders due to their modest stature, sunny look, and friendly disposition. 

   While they are strong enough to carry men, their size does make them more suitable for kids and ladies when it comes to working under saddle. 


   The Standardbred was developed for harness track racing at the trot or pace.  Those that retire from or don't make it to racing careers are often picked-up by the Amish and other folks looking for good light driving horses.  They are similar in height to quarter horses, but a bit lankier.  Bred for function, they do tend to be a bit plain in form and coloring.  But that may be considered a plus from a doomsteading point of view.  They are generally less high-strung than their Thoroughbred cousins.

   When it comes to driving the buggy or buckboard into town, the Standardbred will get you there faster and easier than any other.  They are bred to trot or pace long distances, and most get basic driving training at an early age.  They are the size of an ordinary riding horse, and many serve well under saddle as well.

   Standardbreds are a bit light for heavy pulling and farm work.  (Cultivators, hay rakes, and the like should not be a problem for them.)  Under saddle, it may take some work to perfect a smooth transition to the canter, as Standardbreds are trained never to canter on the track.  Some Standardbreds are bred and trained to pace rather than trot.  This is fine for driving, but the pace is not a desirable gait under saddle.  Most can be trained out of it.

Draft Cross.

   "Draft cross" covers an awful lot of territory these days.  The ups and downs of the Premarin market have flooded America with assorted draft and part-draft mares and their offspring.  Essentially, big mares whose previous greatest value was the ability to make copious amounts of urine, and the results of them being bred to whatever stud was handy.  Not exactly a recipe for consistent quality.

   On the other hand, some breeders have crossed carefully selected light and draft horses to achieve an intermediate type, physically similar to European Warmbloods.  Our own program bred full-sized, fancy hitch type, pedigreed Belgian and Percheron mares to extremely sound and athletic American Quarter Horse stallions. 

   The better draft cross horses are bigger and stronger than quarter horses, but have better speed, grace, endurance, and hot climate resiliency than full drafters.  The have the mass for fairly heavy pulling and farm work, but don't need to stop and blow too often when pulling the buggy down the road, even at a near Standardbred rate.  They fit well under a big man's saddle, yet you don't quite need a ladder to get onto them.

   While some 'rescue' part-draft horses are surprisingly good specimens, many more are about what you'd expect from such programs, or from breeding Premarin cast-off mares to Billy-Bob's backyard spotted rackin' hoss stud.  Big, intimidating horses originating from situations where training isn't a priority, 'rescued' by well-meaning but not horse-wise people, can be a menace. 

   Most draft cross horses can use large or warmblood sized tack and trailers, and can be serviced by general practice farriers.  But some of the larger ones may require draft specialty equipment and services.


   Mules come in all sizes, from miniature to draft.  Their application is generally the same as the corresponding type of horse.  But they tend to be stronger for their size, surer of foot, more durable, and able to stay in good condition on less feed and hay.

   Since mules don't reproduce themselves, quality specimens of working size can be hard to find and sometimes expensive.  Mules also tend to be noticeably more intelligent than the average horse, which may not always be a good thing.   Pretty much all equines can physically overpower their human masters.  We don't need them outsmarting us as well!


   Most ponies today are the outgrown and forgotten playthings of children, who are lucky to find a place as pasture mascot or back yard pseudo-dog somewhere.  But that doesn't mean they can't be useful on a doomstead.

   Ponies tend to be proportionately stronger than horses, as well as tougher and more fuel-efficient.  Their small size makes them suitable mounts for children, less overwhelming for inexperienced handlers, and more maneuverable when working in tight spaces, like short crop rows.  Harness and carts are widely available in pony size, and the little guys can pull a considerable load.  Ponies seem to have an extended life expectancy, though this is hard to pin-down since many have been hanging-around in the background so long that nobody remembers exactly how old they are.  Reasonably healthy, young ponies are often very inexpensive, though training is usually required.

   Ponies have a reputation for bad attitude, though this may be due to being handled by ornery children, then abandoned and neglected.  Short legs don't make for speed or grace.  Size does matter, so they are limited when it comes to how much they can carry or pull.  They can be 'easy keepers' to a fault, becoming obese on just grass in some cases.  Founder is a very common problem with ponies.

------------------------------------ End Part One -------------------------------------

   Looks like this will be a long chapter.  So I'll put up the rough draft in parts.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

LND: Outhouse.

   The medical / pharmaceutical industry always tries to take the credit, but the real boons to human life expectancy in modern times are taken-for-granted things like indoor plumbing!  Like refrigeration, it's the sort of thing we'd do well to hang onto as long as we can.

Vaccines and wonderdrugs get the credit,
But here's your REAL hero!

   If you have conventional toilets and septic system, you're in business so long as you have water.  (If you're building your doomstead from scratch, spring for a couple levels above what required for your house size in terms of septic tank and drain field size.  Doing so may avoid the need for pumping or professional maintenance for you lifetime!)  Even if you don't have running water, you can flush with a bucket.  Pour a couple gallons into the main bowl, and it'll trigger a flush.  Or you can fill the rear tank and flush with the lever.  Lugging buckets of water in is a healthier and more elegant solution than lugging festering chamber pots out.

   But, if water is too dear in your situation to be used for waste disposal, or you're one of the 'composting toilet' / 'humanure' obsessed hippies, the good old outhouse is the next best thing to indoor plumbing.

   If Family Guy is any indication, most of America has forgotten how a traditional outhouse works.  (Hint: They aren't like modern Porta-Johns.  Tipping one over will not get 'it' everywhere, or even into your raccoon wounds.)

   Basically, an outhouse is a movable shed with a wooden floor and a bench with a hole in it.  A deep hole is dug into the ground away from the house, shallow well, etc., and the removed dirt is preserved in a pile nearby.  The shed is then moved over the hole so that what is dropped through the hole in the bench falls into the hole in the ground below.  When the hole gets close to full, a new hole is dug, the shed is moved to it, and the dirt from the pile is used to fill and mound-over the old hole.  After a year or so, the hole can be re-dug and used again, with the now thoroughly composted / decomposed black soil usable for plant fertilizer.

   The floor and bench should be tightly constructed so that fumes from the pit don't fill the shed.  A lid over the bench hole helps with this as well.  (Modern toilet seats can be used if you're highfalutin.) 

   In addition to toilet paper (or a reasonable alternative), outhouses are generally stocked with a bucket of wood ash or slaked lime and a cup or ladle to dust over the pit contents after each use to reduce acidity, odor, and insect activity.

   Traditional outhouses usually had a base of heavy wood runners to withstand dragging, and an iron ring for attaching the mule's singletree to pull it.

   Somewhere along the line, a crescent moon shape cut through high on the door became the most familiar way to admit the modicum of light needed to do one's business...  Some say this was originally an ancient symbol for the ladies, with men's outhouses having a sun or star shaped cut-out instead.  Others say it's a 20th Century contrivance, probably invented by a cartoonist who'd never seen a real outhouse.  Be that as it may, the moon cut-out is the norm now.

   There is some potential for methane build-up in an outhouse that might be considered before using an ignition source like a candle or lantern in one.  But just opening the door to get in would probably air out the shed sufficiently to prevent serious problems.  Modern LED lights should be even safer.

   A stovepipe drawing vent can be added to prevent fumes from building-up under the floor.  The opening at the top of the pipe needs to be lined with fine mesh wire (like chicken wire overlapped to make the holes half-sized) to keep birds out of the pipe.  The feathered morons love to go down stove pipes, and never figure out how to get back up.

   Come to think of it, there's no reason you couldn't use PVC pipe here instead of steel stove pipe.  Either should work.



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Monday, May 1, 2017

LND: Security.

   There's no point in building up a well-stocked, self-sufficient doomstead if the unprepared can just waltz in and take everything from you.  So security and defense are essential considerations.

   Guns and other weapons are always a popular topic among preppers, and I'll be getting to those shortly.  But, if you find yourself going through a lot of ammo resisting constant siege, your prospects for long-term success are pretty miserable.  Old Horseman's First Rule of Gunfighting: Stay the heck out of gunfights!

Be out of the way and out of sight.

   Perhaps the most important aspects of doomstead security were touched upon in the Location and Layout sections.  Many doomers have the notion that people from the city will pour out into the countryside in the event of a discontinuity.  Like a plague of locusts, the unprepared will sweep across the land, looting the farms, picking the woods clean of game...

   Historically, that is not what happens.  Urbanites don't disperse, they gather.  Most just wail about how SOMEBODY needs to make it all better for them.  The worst of the lot will loot their own neighborhoods.  They do not embark on multi-day hikes into the boonies, then spend hours pushing through the woods in the hopes of finding resources.  Not even if their city is literally in flames or under water.

What city people really do when SHTF.

   So putting your doomstead a good distance out from the big city, laid-out so that it's not visible from a major thoroughfare, is your first line of defense.

Activate SEP Field.

   One strategy survivalists like to talk about is being a Gray Man.  Someone utterly unnoticeable whom nobody would bother to mess with...  The same concept applies to a doomstead.  The appearance of the place should say "Nothing worth stealing here!" with an undertone of "You got a real purty mouth".

   This actually seems to contradict the basic idea of prepping, which is to have a relatively high standard of living despite TEOTWAWKI.  But looking like Poor White Trash doesn't mean you really have to live that way.  A storage shed or smokehouse built to look like an old outhouse creates the impression that you don't have functional indoor plumbing, even if you do.  Dilapidated vehicles rusting in the barnyard can provide storage space, spare parts, scrap steel for the smithy, all while creating the impression that looters are going to come away with nothing but rat bites and tetanus.

Silence is Golden.

   "Loose lips sink ships", the old idiom goes.  The last thing you need is a lot of people knowing where they can go to mooch, beg, burgle, rob, or 'confiscate' your limited doomsteading resources when things get rough out there.  So don't advertise, brag, or show-off too much.

   On the other hand, you don't have to treat your preps like nuclear launch codes.  It's not like someone who saw your FaceBook post in a doomer group is likely to come halfway around the world to grab your Spam stockpile when SHTF.  For all he knows, you were lying to begin with!   Most people, especially the criminally inclined, wouldn't have the competence or know-how to make use of doomsteading stuff anyway. 

Latest doomstead investment was four tons of concrete for Maudie's night corral.
Good luck stealing that.

   Don't aggressively evangelize or recruit preppers.  Let networking with other prepared folks happen organically in its own time.  Everyone has access to the same information you do.  It's not up to you to carry people whose idea of planning for trouble is to show up on your doorstep when they could have made their own preparations.

Perimeter Defenses.

   If you have to defend your doomstead, it's generally best to do it at as great a range as possible.  So long as civil authority is a thing, hardcore perimeter defenses like landmines and punji traps can get you into a lot of trouble...  Even in a WROL situation, maiming someone for simple, possibly unintentional, trespassing isn't going to go over well with the victim's people.  But less brutal approaches like maintaining thick brush with plenty of briars and difficult to navigate access roads can discourage strangers from taking an interest in your place without making it obvious that you have anything worthy of defending.

Alligators In the Moat.

   Animals have long been valued for their ability to detect (and perhaps deal with) intruders.  Most obvious are dogs.  But guineafowl and peafowl are also known as great natural alarm systems.  Horses will usually detect anything out of the ordinary well beyond their fence line, and a horseman who knows the herd can deduce what they sense by how each of the individual horses respond.  Even the wild animals serve as perimeter alarms, as it's nearly impossible to push through the brush without causing SOMETHING to be noisily startled.

   Getting chomped by the mongrel hounds is relatively low on the trespasser's list of concerns on a rural doomstead.  Cross into the wrong paddock and one could be set upon by an ornery bull, territorial stallion, defensive mamma cow or mare, or worse.

Cue 007 Theme.

   Whilst technology holds out, it can be used for additional perimeter security.  Discrete, wireless video cameras allow you to watch and record what's going on at remote parts of the doomstead.  You can even use camera drones to fly in for another look.

   If you're technically inclined, you might even consider more... assertive... remote security systems.


   I've always been a bit dubious of the hippie ideas of post-collapse communes, but that doesn't mean we expect everyone to be isolated in their own bunkers.  Mostly self-sufficient doomstead folks will still form ties with their neighbors for their mutual benefit, and that includes security.  This means everything from an informal neighborhood watch, so that problems can be identified and guarded against, to forming a posse or ad hoc militia to cope with more serious threats in WROL situations.

When things get real, you don't need Hollywood action hero wannabes.


   Hunkering down too hard for too long can leave one oblivious to encroaching threats until it's too late to react.  It may be wise to quietly venture out, both to touch base with neighbors, and maintain awareness of what's going on beyond the boundaries of the doomstead.  Such patrolling can be hazardous.  If one encounters unfriendly elements, superior mobility, back-up, and force may be essential.  Approach strangers with caution to the point of paranoia.

Stay Connected.

   Communications are covered elsewhere in this book, and are essential to coordinated security.

Worth the Hernia.

   The last line of defense.  Big gun safes are roomy, relatively affordable, and can store much more than just guns.  I prefer the old fashioned mechanical locks over modern electronic types because the latter don't have a centuries-long track record.

   Buying gun safes can be a tricky endeavor.  Sometimes an expensive, prestige-branded safe and a generic brand are identical (from the same factory!) except for the label and price.  "Premium safes" are often glorified lockers that can be defeated with a crowbar, while mid-range safes from other manufacturers are dramatically stronger.

   Real safes are made of plate, not thicker-LOOKING hollow sheet metal.  So even modest-sized examples are obnoxiously heavy.  Our office safe is 5' x 26" x 20", and weighs around a quarter ton empty.  The doors should fit well enough that a heavy tool can't get in to pry at the seams, and the design should be recessed into the jam in such a way that even a thin screwdriver blade can't be inserted more than a fraction of an inch.  External hinges are not a liability, because the hinge side of the door should lock-up independently of them. 

   The safe should be bolted to the floor from the inside, both for safety (with the heavy door open, it may be possible to accidentally pull a safe over!) and security (so bad guys can't wrap a chain around it and drag it off with a truck or something).

   Hiding or disguising a safe adds that much more security.

   Because the safes are fire-resistant and humidity-moderated (with cans of silica gel beads), I keep my stockpile of reloading supplies, including 'gunpowder' in them.  It wasn't until I saw a video of someone demonstrating how he could break into a gun safe with a cutting wheel power tool that I realized anyone doing such a thing would send a shower of sparks into the confined space in the powder-laden safe, creating a massive forced chamber explosion.  Since, in order to get to our safes in the first place, the thief would have to kill our dogs, we think it's totally worth blowing up the house to make sure they get an express ticket to Hell.

   There is no such thing as impenetrable security.  But thieves and assailants don't have unlimited time, energy, or resources.  Your doomstead just has to seem like more trouble than they think it's worth.


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

LND: Chickens.

   Several of the farms I lived and work on over the years had chickens...  And I never really liked having them around.  They're noisy, get guano all over everything, and have a knack for raising a ruckus just when I'm trying to calm down a nervous colt.  They get underfoot, and are far too easily killed.  A handy snack for yotes, dogs, bobcats, foxes, 'coons, and even some other birds!

   But I do like eggs.  And, once I discovered the concept of the chicken tractor, they became a welcome addition to the doomstead.

   In fact, chickens are a no-brainer for anyone interested in self-sufficiency.  They don't require acreage, expensive facilities, or much investment at all.  Nor do you need a lot of skill or know-how.  They eat darned near anything, and pop-out eggs.  And, unlike the cattle and horses we have on the place, they hardly ever bruise us up or break our bones!

Hardly ever, that is!

Getting Started With Laying Hens.

   Just go down to your local farm supply store in the early Spring and pick up a half dozen hatchlings.  All hens.  You don't need a rooster at this point.  Fortunately, they should already be gender-sorted, because it's difficult to tell them apart as chicks.  There are all sorts of fancy breeds, but I just like hardy birds that make big, brown eggs like Cinnamon Queens, Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons and the like.  They cost maybe a few FRNs apiece. 

   You'll need a makeshift brooder for the first few weeks.  We use a big, plastic tub in the store room with a grate over the top to keep the little fuzzballs from hopping out.  An inch or so of pine shavings for bedding.  A heated back pad between the tub and the floor on one end, so the birds can get away from it if they feel too warm.  (Make sure your heat source doesn't get more than just warm... Don't want to melt the tub or damage the floor!)  You'll need a shallow, but heavy (like ceramic) bowl for a feeder, and a water dispenser.  The mason jar type works well here.

   You can feed the chicks fine-ground grits, cornmeal, and other seeds and grains in the post-Cornucopian future.  But, while it's still available, you can enjoy the advantage of packaged, medicated chick-starter.  Pretty much let them have all they'll clean-up.  But don't dump too much at once, or they may get it filthy before it's eaten.  Keep clean water available to them at all times.

   The brooder tub will need to be dumped-out and the shavings replaced every day or two.  It's handy to have two tubs, so you can just swap the birds over to the fresh one.

   Take the little ones outside when the weather is nice and you can babysit them a while.  Hatchlings may be small enough to get through the chicken wire, or careless enough to get hooked by an ambitious cat reaching-in. 

   As they get bigger and stronger, the tub gets too crowded, and the Spring weather stabilizes, you'll leave the chicks out longer, until they're living out in the coop or tractor full-time.

The Chicken Tractor.

   A lot of people like to let their chickens run loose.  It allows the birds to forage for food, clean up grain spills that might attract mice, and even kill mice and some snakes directly.  But, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, we prefer to keep the fowl confined a bit.  So ours live in chicken tractors.

   A chicken tractor is a mobile coop.  You can buy fancy pre-made versions.  I've seen a few pretty neat ones made from old trampoline frames.  Ours were built with simple 2x4" frames and chicken wire.

   The first one I went overboard with.  A-frame design tall enough for a man to stand upright inside, and a big nesting box with room for each of our original half-dozen hens to have her own nest...  This made things heavy and hard to move for no good reason.  Turns out that a waist-high coop that can be accessed through the top is fine, and birds raised together from chicks tend to sleep almost on top of one-another and take turns laying in the same nest.

   The second tractor I built as a temporary home for the second batch of chicks we bought as the first started to age-out.  This time I made it waist-high with a peel-back wire top.  Also gave them a much smaller, lighter nesting box.

   The third one I built when we realized the old and new hens weren't going to integrate well.  It's a larger (but not taller) version of the second, but with corrugated roofing tin for a lid.  This gives the birds shade, rain/snow protection in addition to their little nesting box, but still allows easy access and relocation.

   All three tractors are still in use.  Turns out to be easier to have a few little ones than one huge coop.  And it seems like none of the batches like newbies joining their flocks.


   Chickens are pretty easy.  Get a waterer and keep it full and clean.  (They do like to fill the water tray with crud as they scratch around.)  Throw in some horse grain, dry pet kibble, calf manna, table scraps.  Especially bread, grits, oatmeal, and meat.  They're omnivorous.  Move the tractor to fresh grass/ground whenever the current spot gets bare.  (It'll grow back really fast due to the guano and surface scratching.) 

   Add some crushed oyster shell or other calcium supplements.  They use a good bit of the stuff making egg shells.

   If you have dairy production, chickens do well on milk.  Ours prefer it after it's been allowed to clabber a bit.

   If they don't eat something you give them right away, don't retrieve it too fast.  They may like it better a little rotten.  And they may enjoy eating the flies or ants attracted in the mean time.

   Chickens like red pepper and hot tasting foods in general.  And it's good for them.

   You may want to dump in a pile of COLD wood ashes from the stove now and then.  Chickens like to dust bathe in them, and it gets rid of surface parasites.

   It's best to keep the tractors close to the house, especially at night, where predators are less bold about trying to get them.  Chicken wire will keep your cluckers in, but it's not sturdy enough to keep some critters out!  So you may need something stronger if that's a problem.

   They'll need shade in hot weather.  I set up a couple of large computer fans (quiet and need little electricity) and a small solar panel for them.  In the worst heat, I put large chunks of ice into their waterers.

   So long as they can get out of the rain, have a wind break, plenty of food, and some bedding, adult chickens can tolerate sub-freezing weather pretty well.  If you live where the winters are sub-zero brutal, you'll need a better hen house.


   The really awesome thing about chickens is that they just make eggs.  You don't need a rooster.  They don't have to be bred or anything.  They just reach maturity and start laying eggs.  (Unfertilized eggs that cannot be hatched.)  They start out with undersized, but still perfectly good eggs.  Then make 'em bigger as they get older.

    Check frequently for eggs, and retrieve them immediately.  Chickens can develop a bad habit of breaking and eating them!  Try to make sure the nesting area is shaded, so the eggs aren't so visually attractive in the bright light.  We also added ceramic decoy eggs to help dissuade the birds from the idea that eggs are edible.  They look real enough that I had to put little Sharpie X marks on the ends of them to keep from accidentally collecting them myself.

   Egg production may slow down or stop in the Winter, when the chickens go through their normal molting cycle, or when a hen has passed her prime.  Don't be too quick to make gumbo out of them.  Even old hens who seemed to have retired will sometimes resume laying after a rest.

   Avoid washing eggs unless you really need to.  They'll keep quite a while at pantry temperature with their natural bloom intact.

Eggbound Hen.

   Once in a while, a hen might get an egg stuck inside her.  This will kill her in around two days if not rectified.  You can usually tell that she's going to the nest repeatedly, but not producing an egg on her usual schedule, and generally acting sick or distressed.

   Setting her in a warm bath with Epsom salt, gently massaging her abdomen, and lubing her egg vent with Vaseline, then keeping her warm, comfortable, and undisturbed with plenty of water, maybe electrolytes, will usually allow her to pass the blocked egg. 

Flock Management.

   Seems to me that some people get carried away with chickens, bringing home dozens of chicks at the time.  Remember that when they hit their prime, each of those Marshmallow Peeps is going to be giving you an egg almost every day.  Great if you can trade 'em or use them to fatten hogs.  But overkill if you're just producing for household use.

   Chickens have the shortest natural lifespan of farm animals.  They usually have only a few prime laying years, then slow down as they age.  Fewer eggs per week.  Longer off-season breaks.  They have been known to live more than a decade.  But most don't.  Pragmatic farmers often slaughter hens after one or two seasons.  We find that older birds still produce enough to justify their upkeep, which isn't much after-all.  And, though I know it's anthropomorphic nonsense, I'm not enthusiastic about wringing the neck of a critter that has willingly provided me with a whole lot of breakfasts. 

   Still, age and attrition require that replacement hens be on the rise every year or two.  We have one tractor with the semi-retired survivors of our eldest batch, a second with young hens in their laying prime, and a third with pullets coming up. 

Chick Production.

   Since chicks are cheap, and so easily available, it's really not worth the effort to produce your own.  Even as the Cornucopian Era breaks down, there will probably be farmers in your area with whom you can trade for a few chicks now and then.

   But, if you're determined to be as self-sufficient as possible, you can hatch your own replacement birds.

   First, you'll need roosters.  One for every five to ten hens should be more than sufficient.  Keep in mind that cross-bred chickens like Cinnamon Queens don't breed to type, so the offspring may bear little resemblance to the parents.

   Fertile chicken eggs stay pretty much dormant until subjected to continuous warmth, which triggers embryonic development.  Then it takes around three weeks for them to hatch.

   Some old-style homestead farms are essentially chicken anarchies, with hens nesting hither and yonder.  Most eggs get collected.  But there are usually a few broody hens who want to build up a clutch (like a dozen eggs) and set them 'til they hatch. 

   Many modern laying hens tend to have weaker brooding instincts, so reproduction is more successful if fertilized eggs are collected and placed in incubators.  Small, electric incubators are reasonably affordable for home use...  There are even kerosene fueled models out there for off-grid.

   Incubators maintain constant warmth and humidity.  They may also turn the eggs, which has to be done frequently by hand if the machine doesn't handle it. 

   If everything goes well, you can look for 50-75% hatch rate on fertilized eggs from your own hens.  About half of the chicks will probably be roosters.  One of the advantages to most homestead chicken breeds is that they are dual purpose for eggs and meat...  Which is good, since nobody needs a bunch of ornery roosters.  As soon as they start to be a nuisance, you channel Colonel Sanders and deal with 'em.

- - -


Friday, April 7, 2017

LND: Backup Generator.

   Some preppers dismiss the idea of generators.  After SHTF, fuel will run out, right?  A generator will be useless.

   But I think there is a high probability that modern civilization and Cornucopian infrastructure will stutter and grind to a halt over the course of years rather than stopping all at once.  During this time, the power grid will become unreliable, and fuel supplies may become erratic.  Being able to stockpile fuel when it's available and generate one's own electricity during outages could smooth-out the bumpy road of the collapse, at least for a while.

   (Of course we're big into non-electrical alternatives where they're practical, and solar/wind electrical generation for things electricity does best.  Covered elsewhere in this book.)

   The best approach to getting a generator is to buy a proper back-up system and have it professionally installed.  The things appear to be pretty awesome.  They look like an extra heat pump behind the house.  Start automatically during power failures.  Shut down when the grid is back up.  Even do maintenance runs and diagnostics by themselves.  Owner just checks the oil a couple times a year.

   Complete with a dedicated transfer panel, these generators are safe and code-compliant.

   But they are rather expensive.  Complex installation means that you may be dependent on the professionals if service is required in the future, and who knows if they will be available then?

   The deal-breaker for us was that these systems run on propane or natural gas.  And not just a barbecue bottle.  Since we don't have gas service here, setting it up just for the back-up generator was an excessive hassle and expense.
   (In retrospect, a gas home might be a pretty good way to go for a doomstead.  A big tank full could keep the appliances going quite a while, and only a small back-up generator system would be needed to go with it.)

   A popular approach to back-up electrical power is the gasoline-powered 'portable' generator.  These are widely available, reasonably affordable, and fairly simple to operate.   Of course, you have to wheel 'em out, start 'em manually, and plug things in yourself.  And they are obnoxiously loud.  But still: POWER during an extended blackout rocks!

   The 'proper' way to use a portable generator is to set it up outside the house (the gasoline engine exhaust can kill people with carbon monoxide in an enclosed area), then run extension cords from it directly to the appliances or devices you want to power.  This reduces the possibility of electrocution, fire, and damage to electronics and household wiring.

   But there are considerable safety hazards in doing it the 'right' way.  You're going to have to leave a door or window partially open to admit the extension cords, possibly letting out heat, letting in bugs, fumes, or worse.  There's also the possibility of the extension cords being damaged by accidental closing in the door or window, creating a shock and fire risk. 

   Having extension cords running across the floor in a poorly-lit house is a tripping hazard.  The most important things you may need to power could be loaded refrigerators and freezers, which often have stuff stacked on top, and are recessed into the counters and cabinets with their short power cords behind them.  Trying to drag the blasted things out so as to plug them into the extension cord can easily result in injury from strain, having the icebox tip over onto a person, or gashing a hand or arm fishing around behind for the plug.

   Making matters worse, long extension cords don't play well with 120v heavy-load appliances.  You may find your generator breakers tripping every time the fridge cycles on.  And other things you may need to run, especially your well pump, may be 240v and/or hard-wired, so you can't just plug them into an extension cord.

   Wouldn't it be easier just to connect the generator to the household electrical system?

Please review the disclaimer at the start of the book.

We're heading into sketchy territory now.

Quick Primer On Household Electricity.

Voltage:  There are two general voltage standards for US household electricity.  120v is used for lighting and common wall sockets to supply power for most devices and light appliances.  240v is used for heavier demand appliances like stoves, electric furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, and deep well pumps.

Amperage:  The load on an electrical circuit (or maximum safe potential load) is measured in amps.  Increasing amperage tends to heat-up electrical components, especially wires.  So higher amp rated cables have to be thicker and heavier to avoid melting or burning under a full load.

Wattage:  Watts are a measure of the actual power being applied in a circuit (or potential maximum power).  It's basically volts multiplied by amps.  So a 60w bulb puts a 0.5 amp load on a 120v circuit.  A 1200w hair dryer puts a 10 amp load on a 120v circuit.

Starting Loads:  Electrical devices and appliances usually require a spike of power to get them started, then settle to their regular operating load.  Starting loads vary between devices.  Incandescent bulbs have a fairly low and brief starting load.  Fluorescent lights take considerably more.  Pretty much anything with an electric motor (fan, pump) will take a big, long gulp of electricity to get going.  Household electrical services are typically wired to handle far more power than normal consumers would usually need just to accommodate simultaneous starting loads that might occasionally occur.

Breakers:  These are switches which automatically turn off (trip) when the amperage on a circuit exceeds the rated limit.  They are usually integrated into the household service panels and the generator as well.  Breakers are there to prevent dangerous overloads. Do not circumvent them.

The Four Wires:  US standard 120/240v wiring use four wires.  Hot #1 (usually black), Hot #2 (usually red), Neutral (white), and Ground (usually green or bare).

   The Hots are opposite 'ends' of your 240v circuit.  Connect red and black an appliance to feed it 240v.

   Neutral taps from the center of that same circuit, putting it 120v from each of the Hots.  Connect black and white (or red and white) to a device to feed it 120v.

   Ground is just what it says on the tin.  The green or bare wire is ultimately connected to a rod driven into the earth to provide a harmless escape path for stray current in the system.  The Neutral wire is usually cross-connected with the Ground at the household main service panel as well as at your generator.  This means that, when a Neutral connection is needed, and there isn't one available, you can usually get away with connecting to the Ground wiring instead.

Connecting a Gasoline Generator to the Household Service.

   This will require a mid-sized (5000w) or larger generator with a 12/240v socket to be worthwhile.

The Suicide Cable.

   If you have a 240v receptacle that is easily accessible from outside the house (back porch or garage clothes dryer, workshop welder, RV shore power...  Make sure it's a 240v, not just a 30 amp 120v!), back-feeding generator power into the house through a Suicide Cable may be a practical solution.  But remember that these things deserve their name.  Screw up the Order Of Operations and you can earn a Darwin Award real quick.

   A Suicide Cable is a generator extension cord that has plugs at both ends.  Nobody manufactures these, so you have to make one for yourself.  Start with a heavy-duty extension cord that fits the 120/240v outlet on your generator.  (Most take a 30 amp, 4-blade twist-lock.  Bigger generators may also have a 50 amp, 4-prong push-in.  May as well go with the more powerful one if you have it.)  Get a replacement plug for whatever appliance would normally use the 240v household receptacle.  Take the socket end off your generator cable and replace it with the appliance plug.

   If your appliance plug has 4-prongs, you're in luck.  Just be sure to get each of the four wires in your generator cord connected to the correct prong.  If the wires aren't color-coded, you may have to use a voltmeter or test light to verify.

   If your appliance plug has only three prongs, double-check to make certain we're dealing with a 240v outlet and not a heavy 120v.  For three prong 240v plugs, omit the dedicated Ground wire.

Backfeeding Procedure.
(Order is more than important!)

-   Position your generator within cord reach of the 240v household outlet.  The generator must be out in the open air, not inside the house!  Take care that there's nothing that could be melted/ignited near the exhaust pipe.  Get it leveled, grounded, fueled, and ready to start.  Nothing should be plugged into any of its outlets at this point.

-   Walk through the house and make sure all the accessible lights and devices are switched off to reduce the combined starting load when you power the house up.  It may be a good idea to unplug televisions, computers, and other sensitive electronics altogether.

-   Start your generator so that it can begin to warm-up.

-   Go to your primary electrical service panel...  The breaker box, usually outside the house, right under the meter.  SWITCH OFF THE MAIN POWER BREAKER.  (This is usually a big breaker switch at the top.  Something on the order of 100 to over 200 amps in most modern houses).  This effectively disconnects your house from the electrical grid, which is important for a couple reasons: 

   It prevents your generator from backfeeding out onto the power lines.  Safety Sallys scream this will kill utility workers, but the odds of that happening are between slim and none.  What should happen is the monstrous overload of trying to power the whole grid with a portable generator will instantly trip the household breaker associated with the appliance outlet, the generator's breaker, or both.

   The biggest reason to make absolutely sure the main breaker is off is that, if it's left on, and the grid comes back to life while you're handling the Suicide Cable, you could suffer a horrible, agonizing, gruesome death.  If one end of the cable is plugged into a live socket while the other is free, the exposed prongs become like an electric cattle prod, but with very lethal current!

-   Plug the appropriate end of the Suicide Cable into the (inactive) household 240v receptacle.

-   Plug the other end of the Suicide Cable into your generator.

-   You should now have normal, but limited power throughout your house.  Everything should run, but don't try to run everything at once!  Or anything you don't really need, for that matter.

-   To go back to grid power, unplug the generator end of the Suicide Cable FIRST, then the household receptacle end.  After both ends are unplugged, shut off the generator and throw the main breaker on the household service panel back on.

   The advantages to a Suicide Cable approach are that it's relatively cheap, simple, and portable.  And, when not in use, you can coil the cable and stow it.  So you don't have to worry about a meter reader or anyone else spotting the code violation and getting you cited.

   The disadvantages include the use of an appliance outlet circuit, which could be the weakest link in your power feed.  No matter how powerful your generator is, if you're backfeeding through a 240v, 20amp circuit, you're going to be limited to 4800 watts, maximum...  Oh, and there's the whole "make one error and have most of your body cremated so quickly that the remainder is alive long enough to 'enjoy' the experience" thing. 

   Note:  120v Suicide Cables are sometimes attempted.  They aren't worth the risk or effort.  Even if they work right, they'll only power some of the 120v outlets in your house (the ones using the same Hot leg as the backfed socket), won't power any of the 240v essentials, and will feed only 1800 watts max.

Our Way.

   We played catch-as-catch-can with typical, mid-sized generators and inverters for backup electricity for quite a few years.  Then the bovine aspect of our doomstead got up to speed, and we found ourselves with multiple freezers full of valuable beef and dairy.  We needed a more practical solution.

   First we considered a proper, automatic back-up generator system.  But we don't have LP or NG here, and the inaccessibility of the doomstead made professional installation of the generator and regular delivery of fuel an impossibility.

    So we bought the biggest gasoline generator we could.  In addition to having enough output to power everything we might want to run, the big generators tend to have other useful features.  Electric, push-button start.  12v DC output that can be used to charge batteries for incidental power needs.  A 50amp 120/240v socket, which can be used to channel up to 12,000 watts to the household service, rather than the 7,200 max that the mid-sized generators could provide through their 30amp 120/240v sockets.  And a toggle switch breaker on the 50amp socket, which allows it to be shut-off for safer plugging and unplugging.

   One common problem with portable generators for backup is that they almost inevitably wind up pushed into the far corner of the garage, buried under and behind a long ton of assorted junk.  Not only is it a pain to dig them out when they're needed, but you're unlikely to do it very often for maintenance...  So I laid down a heavy, rubber stall mat near the corner of the house, away from windows, and where it can be easily reached by the cables from the house, barn, milking parlor, and smithy.  Then I built an intentionally rough-looking corrugated box shed to cover the generator in its permanent location.  (Better it look like a doghouse for a redneck's really huge Rottweiler than the home of thousands of dollars worth of equipment for OpSec.)  Not having to to drag the thing out and connect the ground wire every time makes starting the generator much faster and easier, both when it's needed, and for regular maintenance.

   To connect the generator to the house, I got a heavy-duty 50amp extension cable with a plug that fits the generator's big outlet, removed the socket end from the cord, and wired it into the house's primary service panel though its own 50amp breaker, labeled "Aux In".  (No weak link from backfeeding through a 20 or 30amp dryer outlet.)  I also installed an interlock device...  A simple, sliding plate on the breaker panel that prevents the generator cable's incoming breaker and the grid main power breaker from being switched on at the same time.  This prevents anyone from accidentally energizing the generator cable from the house's end and creating a Suicide Cable hazard.

   When the grid goes down, I just raise the cover and start the generator with nothing plugged into it and the 50amp toggle breaker switched off.  Then I go to the house's primary service panel and switch off the 200amp main breaker from the grid, then switch on the Aux In breaker.  The interlock keeps me from doing this in the wrong order.  Next I remove the safety cap from the 50amp cable and plug it into the generator.  Switching on the 50amp circuit powers up the house.  The barn, milking parlor, and smithy can be plugged into the generator's other outlets so that they don't count against the wattage available to the main panel.  (This generator has plenty of capacity left-over to run them.)

   To switch back to grid, I switch off the 50amp circuit on the generator, remove and re-cap the big plug, go back to the house's primary panel to switch the Aux In breaker off, and the main grid breaker back on.  Again, the interlock keeps me from screwing up the order.  An effective interlock device is fairly easy to fabricate, and definitely worth the effort.

Bonus Round:  Generator Fuel & Maintenance.

   Generators need to be run, preferably under some electrical load, on a monthly basis.  This is one of the big problems with your typical portable generator as a backup.  The danged thing is a hassle to get to and set up, so you put it off.  Next thing you know, there's a major blackout, and your generator hasn't been run in years, and won't start or run right...  This is why I set up ours in a permanent place.  During the last week of each month, I fire it up, plug in just the barn (including the big barnyard lights) and milking parlor, and let it run for an hour while I do other chores.  No big deal.

   When shutting down after a maintenance run, or whenever I don't plan to restart the generator anytime soon, I shut off the fuel valve and wait for the engine to starve out, then turn the run/off switch off.  This gets the gasoline out of the fuel lines, pump, and carburetor, where it might thicken to clogging varnish over time.

   Check the oil every few runs.  Just in case.  Air filter, etc.  See your manual.

   The reason the dedicated, pro-installed backup systems run on LP/NG is that gasoline is a bit of a pain for this application.  It has a limited storage life, so you can't stockpile a lot of it.  Ethanol, which is common in American gasoline, shortens storage life even farther, and is murder on generators  to boot.  So get ethanol-free gas (it's around, but you may have to search), and treat it with a gasoline stabilizer for maximum storage life. 

   Regular maintenance runs should allow you to top-up the generator tank frequently enough (probably every third month) to keep the fuel therein from getting stale.  Be sure to use newly purchased and stabilized ethanol-free gas for this, not the stuff that's already aged a few months in your jerrycans.  If you feel like you're not going through gasoline fast enough to keep it fresh, siphon some out and use it in your automobile, clearing room for fresh fuel in the generator tank.  When SHTF, you don't want stale gas in the generator.

   A bunch of jerrycans (stored safely in a shed away from the house and barn) may be the simplest way to keep a stockpile of stabilized, ethanol-free gasoline for the generator.  Number or position your cans, keep using the oldest stuff up in your chainsaw, mowers, vehicles, and other gasoline engines before it gets stale, replace with new gas, keep the rotation going.

Notes:  There is a lot of variation in the way houses are wired.  Our house has a main service panel outside, under the meter.  This has the 200amp main breaker, and the 240v breakers for my well pump and heat pump.  (And now my Aux In breaker.)  This panel has a shared bus bar for Neutral and Ground. 

   There is a subpanel inside the house that is home to breakers for all the household circuits.  This panel also has a 200amp main switch at the top...  But switching it off will not kill the current in the outside panel or anything wired directly to it!

   Some houses will have only one panel.  Locate your meter and work from there to find the real main switch for your grid power.