Industrial World Problems & The Christian Agrarian Solution

In my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I have a chapter titled, Industrial Providers. That chapter is about the dangerous control that a handful of behemoth corporations have over the world’s food supply. I wrote the following (in the summer of 2005):


“For those who have the eyes to see, the vulnerabilities of the industrial food system are clearly evident. Primary among them is the following reality:

The free flow of cheap food is entirely connected to, and dependent on, the free flow of cheap oil

Cheap oil is history. Continued easy availability of oil at any price is threatened by four tenuous factors: terrorism, war, natural disasters, and economic breakdown. Each of these things has the potential to disrupt the free flow of oil. Each of these variables can and will, to some degree, negatively affect the hyper-refined division of labor and the just-in-time delivery system that the free flow of industrial food depends on.

The price of food will go much higher. You can count on it. Oil shortages and high energy costs must trickle down to the food consumers. Perhaps the trickle will turn to a flow. God only knows how things will play out.”


In another chapter, The Theology of Food Independence, I write:


"The probability of Peak Oil and the assurance of higher energy costs means that the food from corporations will be more expensive. Beyond that, natural disasters and geopolitical happenings will make some or all corporate foods unavailable at times and in places. Disruptions in the food supply could be minor, short-lived and and localized, or they could be major, long-lasting (even permanent), and widespread. To depend on the Industrial Providers in the face of this reality is foolishness."


With those things in mind, today, a reader of this blog (and a reader of the book) sent me the following article link:Rising Food Prices Take Aim at Wallets

The article indicates that food prices have risen 8% in the last year. That is a significant increase. It is only the beginning.

I say harsh things about the Industrial Providers in my book. I say harsh things about the industrial system. I warn of the vulnerabilities and the consequences of being totally dependent on a system that is not sustainable.

I am not a prophet. One need not be a prophet to understand and see the dangers that lie ahead of us. The handwriting is on the wall.

That said, the question that begs our attention is: “What can a person do?”

As the situation worsens, as more people become aware of the gravity of their situation, a lot of ideas and “solutions” will be put forth.

From the very beginning of this blog, I have presented what I believe to be the wisest course of action. It is to simplify your life, eliminate debt, find a piece of earth to cultivate, acquire tools of self sufficiency, and learn the skills of self sufficiency. These are among the unwritten tenants of the Christian agrarian movement. Some people might call it survivalism or maybe even fanaticism. I call it living life the way God intended it to be lived. It is a lifestyle that is focused on, and centered around, faith, family, and Livin’ The Good Life.

If you are unfamiliar with this way of life, I recommend the book: Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian

Unsustainable America (Follow-up)

Blog before last, I linked to an article in the Financial Times. The article spoke of warnings by the US Comptroller General, David Walker, about the unsustainability of America. Here’s the link again: Learn From The Fall of Rome, US Warned

A reader of this blog send me an e-mail and wrote the following (which I am sharing here with his permission):


I spent 7 years working for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C--the agency headed by the Comptroller General of the U.S. (You linked to an article by the Comptroller in your latest blog entry.) I can tell you first-hand that everything in the article is true. The fiscal situation of this nation is very serious. In my time at GAO, I worked on the audit of the national debt which is currently about $9 trillion! However, that is not a true picture of the debt. When you include unfunded entitlements (e.g. Social Security, military and civilian retirement) the national debt is actually about $50 trillion or $170,000 per capita! Your analogy of the freight train in your last blog entry is appropriate. I'm just surprised that it hasn't derailed already! So I understand the urgency of getting off the train while I still can. For several years now, my desire has been to live an agrarian lifestyle and reduce my dependence on our industrialized society.

Father & Son Build First Whizbang Garden Cart

Congratulations are in order for Don & Caleb Underwood from Arizona. This father and son team has the rare and special distinction of being the first to build a Whizbang Garden Cart by following the directions in my recently-published book, Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Garden Cart.

You can see pictures and read about the Underwood's Whizbang cart (it appears to have an invisible handle!!) at Don's blog: Here's a Link to the Story.

In addition to going down in Whizbang history as having built the very first Whizbang Garden Cart, the Underwoods are now in the running to win a very nice prize in the 2007 Whizbang Garden Cart Contest. There are 11 great prizes in the contest. First prize is a $100 gift certificate to Johnny's Seeds. The contest deadline in December 1st of this year. That is only three months away.

To learn more about the Whizbang Garden Cart (and find out how you can get a copy of the plan book) go to The Whizbang Garden Cart Blog.

Some Random Thoughts For August 2007

God Bless Ron Paul
I asked a politically astute acquaintance if he thought Ron Paul had a chance of winning the next presidential election. He said no. When I asked why he felt that, the man replied that Paul has two strikes against him. First, he’s honest. Second, he sticks to his principles.

I’m not so cynical. I think Ron Paul has a chance. His candidacy is like a fresh breeze blowing into our putrid political system.

Granny Miller went to a Ron Paul Rally and wrote about it at her blog.

Granny Miller also posted Ron Paul’s Statement of Faith

I’m Running For My Third Term
This November I will be running to keep my position as a town councilman. I’m currently in my eighth year as a public servant in this capacity. Four people are running for two positions.

I quit the Republican Committee this year because I was fed up with the political system and didn’t want to be a part of it anymore ( I wrote about it here: Politics & Meeting Vice President Cheney). But I am not sick of political service on the local level. I consider it a great responsibility and I take it very seriously.

I do not intend to “campaign” for reelection. I’ve never done that. If the people in my community want me, they will vote me in. If not, they won’t. I’m comfortable with either outcome.

Spider Bite
Yikes! Michael Bunker got bit by a Black Widow spider!

I don’t think we have black widow spiders in New York. But I’ve been told we do have the Brown Recluse spider, the bite of which can do bad things to a body.

Here’s wishing you a fast and total recovery Michael.

Flies For Art?
I wrote a blog titled, FREE Chicken Feed awhile back. A man recently replied to it as follows:


Hello,

My name is Christopher. I know this might sound crazy but I’m a grad student at art institute of Boston. I use dried flies in my art work. My question is would you be willing to sale me some deal flies. Or do you know where I can get some? This would help me out so much to reach the amount of flies I need for my work. Again I’d be willing to pay.

Thanks,
Christopher
My email is irvinchr@msu.edu


Unsustainable America?
Barry Morgan over at Acres of Hope America hasn’t blogged much lately but he called me awhile back. He and Lynne have been busy with their ministry and their move from Florida to a rural section of Georgia.

I encourage you to read Barry’s most recent post. It is an article about where America is headed as seen by the Comptroller General of the United States. It is not an encouraging analysis. Here is a link to the article.

40% and Two Weeks
We had dinner at my mother-in-law’s house a couple days ago. My sister-in-law told us that a nurse came to speak to the TOPS weight-loss class she participates in. But the nurse did not talk about weight loss. She spoke to the small group of women about the anticipated influenza pandemic in this country.

The nurse told those in attendance that it is expected that 40% of the population will be infected. If that happens, schools, businesses and government agencies will close down. Services will not be available. The economy will take a severe hit. She urged them to prepare by stockpiling two weeks of food, water, and other essentials. Here's a link to a pandemic influenze web site

I get that ol’ Y2k feeling when I hear about things like that, and consider the specter of Peak Oil, and read the Comptroller General’s warnings, and.....

It makes me think of a freight train barreling down a long track, out of control. The train can't be stopped. It will derail and crash when it gets to the bottom. There are a lot of people on the train.

It's a simple analogy. That freight train is our industrialized civilization.

How do you avoid crashing with the train? Get off while you can. Then, after the crash, you do what you can to help those around you.

Farm To The Amish
My Aunt Carolyn says that the Amish are moving into northern Aroostook County Maine. They have bought two farms in the Fort Fairfield area. One is my grandfather’s farm, the one I wrote of in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. The Amish are reportedly moving from New York. It is beautiful country up there.

House For Sale
My next door neighbor (who actually lives up the road aways) has officially listed his house for sale. It is described as a “4 to 6 bedroom home.” In other words, it is very large. It includes a “45’ by 55’ steel pole barn.” No acerage is listed. It says only, “Large lot includes stream and waterfalls.” I would guess the large lot to be around 8 acres.

Asking price is $136,000. That is lower than we expected it would be. If I had the money, I’d buy it, take the lower land that adjoins my property, and resell the house with a large yard. But I don’t. So we will see what happens.

The Ice Cream Business
I wrote a few blogs back about Marlene’s idea of making and selling ice cream at outdoor events in the summer. She checked with the health department and to our surprise, they had no problem with the idea. A 5-day permit would cost $30. There are some minor regulations to comply with but they are minor. I don’ know if we will actually do this because I don’t know if we can fit the whole operation in a small trailer pulled behind a Honda Accord. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Amazing Turkeys
I am thoroughly enjoying our turkeys. This is the first year we have raised these remarkable creatures. It won’t be the last.

On two occasions I have been feeding and observing the birds and witnessed something that I think is incredible. One little peep from one of the turkeys and the head of every bird cocked to the side so one eye was looking up at the sky. I looked up at the sky too, expecting to see maybe a hawk. But I saw nothing. Some of the birds went back to eating but every few seconds they would tilt their heads sideways and look up. So I looked again and really studied the sky. Then I saw it. There was an airplane, several thousand feet up, just a speck of white against the blue sky, silently making it’s way. That was the only thing they could have been looking at. Like I said, this happened on two accasions. Is that amazing, or what?!

Book Bits & A New Blog Recommendation

Most readers here know I have a part time home-based business publishing how-to books and selling parts to make chicken pluckers. My hope and prayer is that the business will be blessed to the point that I can purchase some woodland and field/pasture acreage, debt free, and/or leave my factory job to work full-time at the home business.

With that in mind, I have, thus far, self-published six books through my company, Whizbang Books. My plan is to publish a book a year until...... I die. Or, maybe, before that if I am no longer physically, mentally, or financially capable of putting together another book.

I don’t think I’ll run out of book ideas any time soon. I have several different books in the works and new ideas come along all the time. In fact, my problem is that I have too many ideas, and far too little time.

Bearing that in mind, I have decided that my next book will NOT be a conventional paper-and-ink book. I’m pretty sure that it will be a book in a blog. By that I mean that I will establish a blog for the sole purpose of presenting a how-to book, complete with lots of photographs and the step-by-step directions in writing.

Such a book will be far, far easier for me to publish than a conventional book. And it will cost me absolutely nothing except the time it takes and the materials and props needed for the photos. And the time I spend on producing this next book should be WAY less than I’ve spent on any previous books.

You may be thinking to yourself that putting a book into blog form is kind of neat, but how would I make any money at such a thing? How would I charge people to read the book? Well, I won’t charge people a cent. The book will be absolutely free!!

This particular book will explain how to build something that every homesteader/ gardener/agrarian can really use and most do not own. It is something that can be purchased but the cost is absurdly high. My blog book will explain how anyone with basic skills can easily make one of these things themselves, in a couple of hours, using basic materials. That’s all I’ll reveal about the book for now.

The way I will make money (I hope) is by supplying some of the basic parts needed to build the item. I may offer a parts kit. Interested readers will not absolutely need my parts kits but I believe many will want them because a kit of assembled parts will be a real convenience, and it will probably cost less money than buying everything individually. Offhand, I think that the total cost to build this mystery item will be around $75. That is a very significant savings over already-made versions of the item. And it will be an especially small price to pay when you consider what this item will do for you.

I am currently in the finishing stages of developing and testing this new Whizbang invention. So, stay tuned for that.

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In other book news, I want to let you all know that Cumberland Books now carries my most recent book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Garden Cart: Easy to Follow Plans For a Remarkably Useful Tool. Click Here For More Information

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Speaking of the Whizbang Garden Cart, I am hoping that someone actually builds one and lets me (and the rest of the world) know about it before the end of this year. It takes time for a new how-to book to bear fruit. When I published my Chicken Plucker Planbook, I held my breath (figuratively speaking) for four months until someone actually followed my directions and built a Whizbang Plucker. When they posted their experience to the internet, the ball started rolling. Books started to sell. It was the beginning of my little book business.

With that in mind, I have established a Whizbang Garden Cart Contest for 2007. I will have another similar contest for 2008. But if you have an interest in making a cart, your best chance to win a real nice prize is to get it made and entered in this year’s contest.

By the way, I have sent copies of the garden cart book to several magazines, hoping some will review it for their readers. That too takes a long time to bear fruit. And I have sent sample copies to several seed catalogs and other appropriate booksellers hoping they will give it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Such is the work of a small-scale book publisher.

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I am considering different types of advertising for my book business. This year I invested in some small advertisements in Countryside magazine and Backyard Poultry magazine. The ads were expensive but they directed people to my very simple web site ( www.WhizbangBooks.com) and from there to my poultry-related blog essays. I have no way of recording response from the magazine ads but I can tell from my site meter that those blog essays get a LOT of reader traffic. And the plucker books are selling steady. And the plucker parts business is doing pretty well.

That said, I decided to check out the cost of advertising in Mother Earth News magazine. Earlier in the year, a reader of this blog offered me a lot of very good marketing advice and one of his recommendations was that I advertise in Mother Earth because it has far more readers than Countryside.

Well, I recently looked into the advertising rates for Mother Earth News and found out that a full page, four-color advertisement in that magazine sells for $27, 648. I could save money by going to black & white. That would only cost me $18,236.

Those prices are FAR more than I can afford. So I checked out a 1/3 page vertical advertisement. That would be enough to present several of my Whizbang books. Such an advertisement would cost me $7,530. That price is for advertising in one issue of the magazine. If I placed the ad six times, the cost per ad would drop to $5,033.

The bottom line here is that I can’t afford Mother Earth News. The most reasonably priced ad is a 1” black & white ad in the “General Store” section for $1,059. I can afford that but I have a hard time justifying that.

So maybe I’ll try the classifieds.

Many years ago, when Mother Earth News was a much different publication (and advertising was more affordable for the masses), I placed a single classified ad. It was my first foray into the mail order business. The little ad drew quite a bit of response. But it was something I ended up regretting. Someday I’ll tell you the story.

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And finally, while on this subject of my books, I would like to thank Dr. Mike Kear for his recent review of my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. Here is an excerpt:


I am in the midst of reading Herrick Kimball's book Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. It is a truly beautiful book. Well made, well written, fascinating. Part prose, part theology, part how-to, part declaration, part - dare I say it? - prophetic. If this was strictly a "religious" book, I would say that I am often "convicted" by the truth Kimball declares. Deliberate Agrarian is not a religious book, but it certainly is a spiritual one, and one that reverently bows the knee to the glory and sovereignty of God while proclaiming the necessity of progressive self-reliance under the providence of the Almighty.

This book is offensive, and rightly so, to modernists, industrial slaves, and emasculated Christians. But in midst of the offense the answer is provided. The answer is that God has always had it right and we will do well to listen to Him and follow His ways.


You can read the whole review at his blog, The Babylonian Groundhog.

Even if you don’t read the rest of the review, please do check out the blog. I think you’ll be glad you did. Here’s that link again: The Babylonian Groundhog

Dunking James

Rural life is a repeating cycle of down-to-earth seasonal routines. For my family, there are the seasonal routines of planting and harvesting in the garden, raising and processing chickens, getting firewood split and stacked, making cider, and making maple syrup. Over time, the routines become family traditions. Attending annual rural events can also be great family memory makers and, in time, traditions.

All of which brings me to the New Hope Mills Festival. I wrote about this local event last year and blogged about it here. I posted pictures of the old mill, my wife Marlene selling her handcrafted soaps, and the dunking booth in the mill pond. Going to the New Hope Mills festival was a lot of fun and we were back there this year, weekend before last.

Marlene was there again selling her soaps and baked goods. James again sold onions he grew himself. And I again sold some garlic. I sold single bulbs for $1.50 each, and 1-pound net bags of bulbs for $6.00. Here is a picture of my garlic:

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Marlene overheard one woman at this year’s event remark to her friend that, “This is so Americana!” She was right. I like the festival because it is so simple, rural, small, and agrarian Americana.

This year I dropped Marlene and James off in the morning, helped them set up their tent and display, then headed home to work on the foundation of our new "barn" ( it's really just a small storage shed). Then, around lunch time, Robert and I drove to the Mill for lunch. It is only three miles from our house.

When we walked down to the event, I looked out in the mill pond and saw this:

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That is my son, James, sitting on the dunking platform. He volunteered. Over on the shore people were paying a dollar for a chance to throw four small cloth bags of pancake mix at a trip arm (you can see the mechanism by going to the blog article link above). All the while, James is taunting them. But, eventually, the pancake mix found its mark and this was the result....

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James would disappear under the water, come up a split second later, retrieve his floating hat, climb back up on the platform ,and go back to taunting the players. He was dunked dozens of times.

He thoroughly enjoyed himself, and I enjoyed watching it.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Whizbang Chicken Plucker

Years ago, I built myself a remarkably effective mechanical chicken plucker. I named it the Whizbang Plucker. Then I wrote a book telling others how to easily build their own inexpensive Whizbang Plucker. People bought the book. They built their own plucker. They were delighted with what the machine did for them.

Simply put, a Whizbang Plucker makes chicken plucking fun. I’m very serious when I tell you that.

Thousands of copies of the book have now been sold. Thousands of Whizbang Pluckers are now hard at work all across America. Homemade Whizbang Pluckers are also plucking chickens in at least a dozen other countries. It is an amazing thing. It is a Whizbang revolution.

What does this mean? It means that more and more people are once again raising wholesome food for themselves, independent of the Industrial Providers. Where will it lead? I like to think it will lead to a Whizbang Plucker in every backyard, and a home-raised chicken in every self-sufficient citizen’s pot.

Bearing that in mind, many people have e-mailed me over the years with questions about the Whizbang Plucker. I have decided to assemble many of the questions, and my answers, here. If your Whizbang question is not answered here, please send me an e-mail (hckimball@bci.net). I will do my best to answer it.

Best Whizbang Wishes,

Herrick Kimball

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How does the Whizbang plucker work?
The plucker consists of a tub with a disc-shaped, motor-driven plate in the bottom. The plate (called the “featherplate”) is studded with rubber “plucker fingers.” Turn the motor on, and the plate spins. Drop one or more scalded birds into the tub, while spraying them with a garden hose. The critters tumble around while the fingers flail the feathers off. In about 15 seconds the chickens will be plucked clean. It’s truly amazing. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe.

You can see the Whizbang Plucker in action on YouTube HERE and HERE.

Can the Whizbang Plucker really pluck all the feathers off a chicken in 15 seconds?
If you scald your chickens properly, the Whizbang will, indeed, pick the feathers off in 15 seconds (20 seconds at most). Scalding means to dunk the chicken in hot water. This loosens the feathers. It is not hard to do and This Essay tells you how. Virtually all the bird’s plumage will be mechanically picked off. Pin feathers will be removed too. 99.9% of the feathers will be gone (see the YouTube video links above). The few odd feathers that don’t come off during plucking can be easily rubbed or pulled off with no trouble prior to Butchering.

Better yet, a Whizbang tub plucker will pluck two, three, or even four chickens at once, just as quickly. In fact, you will get a better pluck if you pick at least two chickens at a time.

Are the bird’s dead when you pluck them in the Whizbang plucker?
Yes, very dead. All birds should be dead, bled, and scalded before going into the plucker. You should never pluck live birds.

Can you dry-pluck birds in a Whizbang plucker?
Nope. That doesn't work.

Don’t the birds bruise from all that tumbling and finger flailing?
No. There must be blood in the bird for bruising to occur. If you kill and bleed out the bird prior to plucking, there can be no bruising.

Do the birds ever bounce out of the tub when you are plucking them?
No. The plucking action does not bounce the birds. They tumble from side to side.

Where do the feathers go?
When the feathers are slapped off the bird’s carcass, they spin out to the sides of the tub and are washed down, through a space between the tub and featherplate, to the ground under the plucker. Then you rake the feathers up and put them on your compost pile. Poultry feathers are a great compost ingredient.

Did you invent the chicken plucker?
No. The first automatic chicken plucking machine was invented by Andrew Toti and Kent Tomlinson back in the 1940s. Commercial tub-style plucking machines have been in use for many years. The unpatented, expensive, stainless steel, commercial pluckers were my inspiration for building the Whizbang. There were other homemade pluckers out there but I was the first person to develop comprehensive plans for an inexpensive, remarkably effective, homemade poultry plucker that can be built with common materials and basic handyman skills.

Will the Whizbang pluck birds other than chickens?
Yes. Whizbang tub pluckers are being used to pluck turkeys, geese, and ducks too.

Turkeys up to 40lbs have been successfully plucked in a basic Whizbang (the exact unit I tell how to build in My Planbook). Such large birds are plucked one at a time and they tumble better if the feet are cut off prior to plucking. Even still, you may have to manually help the big bird tumble in order to get the best pluck. Turkeys will take longer than 20 seconds to pluck, but not a lot longer (maybe 45 seconds)

Ducks and geese do not pluck as easily and completely as chickens and turkeys. But they pluck a whole lot better by machine than they do by hand.

Can you pluck quail in a Whizbang plucker?
The basic Whizbang will not pluck quail. However, the Whizbang can be easily modified to pluck small, thin-skinned, game birds. To do this, you will need to install MANY more plucker fingers in the “featherplate” (the spinning, disc-shaped, finger-studded plate in the bottom of the tub). You should also use very soft plucker fingers in any plucker that will be used for gamebirds.

If you are looking to build a quail plucker (which, by the way, will also pluck chickens), I strongly recommend that you contact my chicken-plucking friend, David Schafer, maker of the Featherman Plucker. David makes a plucker specifically for game birds. He can answer questions specific to making a game bird plucker. You can also purchase the really soft plucker fingers from him. In the event that you decide to purchase a gamebird Featherman plucker from David, Make sure you request a Whizbang Discount. You’ll save some money by simply mentioning those two words.

What’s the difference between a homemade Whizbang plucker and David Schafer’s Featherman plucker?
Both machines do a fine job of plucking birds. The Whizbang will cost you less money.

How much does it cost to build a Whizbang plucker?
Using all new materials, you can build a Whizbang Plucker for around $500. But the Whizbang design is “salvage friendly,” which means you can easily utilize some salvaged components and save yourself a lot of money. For example, if you can find a second-hand electric motor that will work, you can save around $150. I’ve heard from people who built their whole Whizbang for as little as $150.

I Don’t have a lot of carpentry experience. How hard is it to build a Whizbang Plucker?
It is very easy to build your own plucker. Most people who read the book come to realize that it is something they can do. Many readers who are not “handy” have written to tell me they got the plucker made and they were downright pleased with the results.

Many people have a more handy friend or relative help them with the project.

How long does it take to build a Whizbang Plucker?
If you purchase a pre-made, pre-drilled, HDPE featherplate with a pre-mounted-and-perfectly-centered driveshaft from me (see below for more info about this), and you have all your other parts on hand, you should be able to assemble the plucker in a day. Figure a couple days (maybe longer) if you make your own featherplate.

Does your book tell everything I need to know to build a Whizbang plucker?
Yes. EVERYTHING is in the book. Nothing is lacking. The Book is also very easy to understand and follow.

Where can I get a copy of the Whizbang plucker planbook?
Lots of places…. Amazon.com, Cumberland Books, Back-40 Books, Acres USA, BackHome magazine, Mother Earth News, Strombergs Hatchery. Murray McMurray Hatchery, and directly from me at the Whizbang Books Online Catalog.

Is there a Canadian source for purchasing the Whizbang plucker planbook?
No. Not at this time. But Canadian folks can easily purchase a copy of the book from me at the above link.

Do you sell the plucker planbook to people in other countries?
Yes. I can ship a copy of the plucker planbook almost anywhere in the world using US Postal Service Flat Rate International Priority Mail. You can find details at the Whizbang Books Online Catalog.

Do you sell ready-to-assemble plucker kits?
No. Not at this time.

Do you sell any plucker parts?
Yes. I sell the harder to find parts needed to build a Whizbang Plucker. You can read all about the parts at this link: Plucker parts from Whizbang.

What kind of plucker fingers do you recommend? And where can I get them?
For general purpose plucking (not quail or gamebird plucking) I recommend the Kent C-25, medium durometer rubber plucker finger. These fingers were designed by Kent Tomlinson back in the 1940s. They are widely used and highly regarded.

You can purchase Kent C-25 fingers from Stromberg’s, Murray McMurray, or my son. Deatails can be found at the Plucker Parts From Whizbang link I've provided in the previous answer.

Can I save money by substituting something other than rubber plucker fingers to do the work of plucking?
Not that I know of. There is no substitute for a good plucker finger.

Do black rubber plucker fingers leave black marks on the birds when you pluck them?
No. I’ve never seen it. This is an unfounded sales pitch made by a company that sells yellow plucker fingers. (BTW, I’ve heard that yellow plucker fingers leave yellow marks on the birds.

Where can I buy plastic HDPE to make my own featherplate?
Try www.thecuttingboardfactory.com

Can I use an old washing machine to build a tub plucker?
I used to tell people it can't be done. But then I saw This YouTube Video. So the answer is now "yes." But I don’t know how it’s done and I can’t imagine the finished result is nearly as simple and effective as a Whizbang Plucker made according to my plan book.

What kind of motor do I need to power a Whizbang plucker?
In my book I recommend a 3/4hp, 1725 rpm, Farm Duty motor.

Will a 1/2hp Farm Duty electric motor work?
Yes. But a 3/4 hp motor gives you a little more uuumph!, and I feel better recommending a motor like that.

Will a 1hp Farm Duty motor work?
Yes.

I already own an electric motor but it isn’t a “Farm Duty” motor. Will it be good enough?
It might be. I hope so. Give it a try before you buy a new motor. I’m no expert on electric motors. All I know is that you can’t go wrong with the power and features found in a Farm Duty motor (and I do discuss this in the plan book). There are, I’m sure, other motors that are comparable to the Farm Duty units.

Where can I get a “Farm Duty” motor?
Lots of places. Check out Surplus Center. And don’t forget to see what’s available on Ebay.

Where can I get the pillow block bearings you recommend in your plucker planbook?
I recommend that you buy the bearings from Northern Tool. You want item #18314. You need to buy two of the bearings. They cost $8.00 each. Here’s a link to the item: Pillow Block Bearing. By the way, the bearings have a grease fitting on them. Make sure you grease the bearings each time after using the plucker.

The tub I intend to use for my plucker is bigger than the one shown on page 30 of your book. Will the 20-3/4” diameter featherplate you sell work in a bigger tub?
If you are using a 55-gallon plastic drum to make your plucker, the 20-3/4” featherplate I sell will probably work just fine. But I don’t guarantee it will. I suggest the featherplate gap (space between the outside of the spinning featherplate and the tub) be between 1” and 1-1/16”. Even a gap of 1-1/8” will probably work. But I’m hesitant to recommend a bigger space than that. With those measurements in mind, a tub with an inside diameter of 22-3/4” to 23” will work. This is discussed in the book.

Wouldn’t it be better to have almost no gap between the featherplate and the tub? Won’t a bigger gap allow legs and wings to fall into the space?
Errant poultry appendages will, on occasion, slip down into the gap, no matter what size it is. If the gap is small, wings and legs will get pinched, stop tumbling, and the fingers will beat the chicken unmercifully (until you shut the machine off). This is a sure recipe for broken skin and bones.

On the other hand, if the gap is bigger, and part of the chicken happens to slip down into it, the spinning featherplate and fingers are more likely to slap the bird right back out.

My homemade Whizbang plucker lacks power. What’s wrong?
Chances are you are using too long of an extension cord and/or the cord is not heavy enough. I recommend an extension cord with 12-gauge wire, and try to keep the length under 50 feet. That should solve any lack of power problem. It will also ensure that your motor has a longer lifespan.

Also, if the motor you are using is not a Farm Duty or comparable motor, that could explain the lack of power. If, for example, you use a 3/4hp motor that is engineered to drive a fan, it will not have the power needed to drive a chicken plucker. All 3/4hp motors are not created equal. But all Farm Duty motors are pretty much the same.

I built a Whizbang plucker and have used it to pluck chickens. I’ve been getting a lot of broken wings and legs. What’s wrong?
Some leg and wing damage is normal and to be expected in any kind of a tub plucker. But if more than 4 percent of the chickens you pluck are coming out with broken bones, something is wrong. I wrote an entire essay on this subject and you can find it here: How To Properly Whizbang-Pluck A Chicken

I’m in a hurry to build my plucker. Can you overnight parts to me?
Sorry but no. I typically ship plucker parts out the day after I get your order and I ship them via UPS Ground. Please do not procrastinate about ordering plucker parts.

If you have a question that was not answered here, please e-mail it to me at: hckimball(at)bci.net

CLICK HERE FOR AN ARCHIVE OF ALL MY ONLINE POULTRY ESSAYS

Farewell to the Field Car

Longtime readers of this blog will recall my two previous stories titled, Boys & Field Cars and Return of The Field Car. You know that my sons have had a lot of good fun with our old Ford Taurus station wagon. Last I spoke of it, which was earlier this spring, the car was hopelessly mired in the mud.

The old car stayed stuck for a month or so before one of our neighbors (a farmer who my sons help with hay) came over and pulled it out with his backhoe. He got it to the road. Robert and James got it rolling down the road towards our property and steered it into the back yard.

Robert figured the car needed a new battery but he didn’t want to spend the money for one. He found an assortment of old car batteries from various junk cars around the neighborhood but none of them would hold a charge. So the car stayed put for the summer.

But the Taurus has not been neglected. Robert gave it a new paint job—from grey to camouflage. And he decided to modify the back end a bit. Specifically, he cut part of it off. He started with a jigsaw. After quickly ruining every metal-cutting blade I own, he resorted to cutting by hand with a hacksaw. I told him he might want to try a cold chisel and a hammer to slice through the sheet metal. A couple hours and a couple blood blisters later he had removed a good-size section of car. Then he duct-taped the rough metal edges and bolted on a couple of lengths of metal conduit to the sides. It was transformed from a common field car to a custom-deluxe field car. Here’s a picture:

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Unfortunately, the faithful old vehicle never made it back to a field. Last weekend, we called a man to come haul the car away. Winter is coming. We need to clean up around here. The kids understood. They posed for pictures to remember their beloved field car:

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Another reason the car had to go was the barn we are building near it. Well, it’s just a storage shed, but we like to call it a barn. You can see the deck in the background of this next picture:

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A fellow named Rick (can't remember his last name) from Cortland NY came to get the car. He has a full time job with the highway department and picks up junk vehicles as a part time business. We saw his add in the weekly "pennysaver" newspaper. He takes cars and other junk metal away for free and cashes them in at the scrap yard.

Rick grew up on a farm and loves farming. His dad still farms at 65 years old. But Rick says there is no money in farming any more, and he sounded sad about that. So, with a wife and three kids, he has a regular job and his own part time hauling business. I don’t think we could have given that old field car to a nicer person.

Here’s a picture of Rick and our old car loaded on his truck.

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Farewell to the field car........

Marlene’s Little Farm Market Trailer

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As explained in a previous blog story, we traded our gas guzzling SUV for a more fuel efficient (and mechanically dependable) Honda Accord. That presented a problem for Marlene who sells her breads and cinnamon rolls and such at the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays. In addition to all the baked goods, she needs to take tables, a tent, chairs, and lots of other stuff.

For several weeks she crammed everything into the car. But, finally, last week, I finished her farm market trailer. That’s it in the picture above.

A four cylinder Honda is not made to haul a heavy load, so the trailer is small and light. I bought a 40” by 48” utility trailer kit from Northern Tool. It was item #125427. It cost me $220, plus shipping. It is a nice little trailer for the money.

On top of that I made a box with a 3/4” plywood bottom, and a frame of 3/4” pine pieces covered by 1/4” lauan plywood. I sheathed the plywood with thin fiberglass sheets (Structoglass is the name of the product). Then I attached aluminum angle over all the edges. There is silicone under the angle pieces. The box is weather tight.

There are two, hinged, open-out doors on the back. They are made of 1/2” plywood and painted white. Inside the trailer there are two shelves on the top. The shelves hold four large bread trays, and more. In the bottom of the trailer there is room to stack two or three folding tables, the folding tent/canopy, some folding chairs, and miscellaneous boxes. The upper shelves remove easily to provide more hauling capacity if needed.

The trailer is small enough to unhook from the car and easily roll by hand wherever it needs to go. There is a fold-down trailer jack with a wheel on the trailer tongue, which makes moving it all the easier.

Making my own trailer box cost a lot less money than buying something similar that was already made. And farm market day is now a whole lot easier for Marlene.

A tiny trailer behind a car not as useful as a pickup with a cap, or a van, or a big trailer, or even a SUV, but we’re keeping it simple, and making do.

Celebrating Jamestown (in my own special way)

This year is the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. A lot of people have traveled to Jamestown to visit and celebrate. I think that’s great. I can’t make it but I am celebrating in my own special way. I’m growing tobacco:

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I’ve never grown tobacco before. I started the plants from seeds the size of dust specks. The plants are now over 5 feet and are starting to blossom.

I don’t smoke and I don’t intend to start. I don’t chew tobacco and I don’t intend to start. But those tobacco leaves smell so good to me!

I plan to dry some of the big leaves and save them to make a natural insecticide for my garden.

Refrigeration Without Electricity

You can find some amazing things at a steam pageant. For instance.....

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That thing in the picture is a Crosley Icy Ball refrigerator. Circa 1928 to 1938. It didn’t use any electricity. It used heat from a kerosene lamp to make the inside cold.

You can learn more about the amazing Icy Ball device at this Wikipedia link: Crosley Icy Ball

And if you would like to make your own Icy Ball, check out this link: Icy Ball Plans

If someone actually makes one of these things, please tell me about it.

Marching Away From Babylon

I’ve been blogging here about the Pageant of Steam I recently attended. In my last story I asserted that the introduction of the steam tractor was the beginning of the end of traditional agrarian life and culture in this country. But I also made the point that the steam tractor was a good thing in that it brought people and communities closer together (e.g., when farm families gathered to share the work of threshing).

So the steam tractor presents us with something of a paradox. But the seeming contradiction disappears when you look at how the machine (a steam tractor or any other) is used. Is it used in a way that weakens families and destroys community? Or does the use of the machine strengthen families and preserve community?

And while we are looking, let’s also consider whether the machine directly or indirectly creates toxins that sicken people and poison the environment.

Few people look at machines and factories (which are, essentially, a lot of machines working together) from those perspectives. But I think more people should. We should question the ethics of a machine’s purpose and how it is employed. We should question whether the machine is harming people, families, communities, and the environment. We should use ethical evaluations to judge the legitimacy of all machines.

At the core of any ethical belief is a person’s religious worldview. Even an atheist has a faith-based presuppositional worldview. Can an atheist prove there is no God? No. Then he must believe it by faith. I rest my case.

My Christian, Biblical worldview is at odds with much of our modern, industrial world’s use of machinery and technology. It is also at odds with the unholy trinity of corporations, fiat money, and centralized government control (not to mention, manipulation).

Yet, here I am, smack dab in the clutches of a modern Babylonian civilization. I use products that were created by factories that undoubtedly poisoned someone or some piece of creation with their waste. I drive an automobile that burns gasoline which poisons the atmosphere. I drive my car to a factory job. Perhaps worst of all, I am a government employee. So, everywhere I look, I find I am participating in something I find abhorrent and terribly unethical.

How can anyone who sees and believes this, reconcile themselves to it? For me, the answer to that question can be found in my attitude towards the industrial culture, my degree of involvement, and my dependency on industrial systems. Here’s what I mean…

All of us who live in the industrialized world are expected to conform to the norms; to follow the industrial flock; to toe the line. For example, we are all expected to give our children to the government school system for proper so-called education. And while we are at it, the government has also decided that we must see that our children get the numerous immunization shots that the health care system says they need.

If you choose not to be involved in those things, you are out of step with the industrial system. Most Christian-agrarians do not get involved with those things. They also choose not to be materialistic consumers. They choose simplicity. They make do with less. They are loath to acquire debt. Christian-agrarians are not fashion conscious. They care nothing about the newest clothing styles nor other passing fads.

Christian-agrarians choose productive physical work over leisure activities. They choose to grow their own food (at least some), care for farm animals, cut firewood to heat their homes, and craft many of the goods they use. They choose to use their brains, their hands, and their backs to supply their own needs, all of which renders them, to some degree, independent of the Industrial Providers.

Christian-agrarians typically live in a more rural area where life is harder than it is in a city or suburban setting. They may choose to start a home business, not to make a lot of money, but to be home with their family and sustain a home-centered lifestyle.

In short, Christian-agrarians choose little over a lot, humility over hubris, contentment over discontentment, weakness over the acquisition of power, piety over rebellion, family over career, forgiveness over unforgiveness, to give rather than take, and to love rather than hate. All of these choices run contrary to the expectations of the industrialized culture we live in. This way of life is summed up in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:


Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.


To live that kind of life is to live apart from an industrial civilization that is at war against God and His creation.

It is impossible for us to be totally separate, at least while the system is still firmly in place. But every choice we make not to participate in the foolishness is an act of separation. And every step towards separation is a personal declaration of independence from man’s system and dependence on God’s system.

Freeing ourselves from modern Babylonian bondage is a step by step process and, frankly, I would like to be further along in the process than I am. But every step away is a step in the right direction.

Blast From The Past: Steam Pageant Discoveries (Part 2)

I related in my previous blog story about how my two sons and I spent a day at a local Pageant of Steam. We had a great time seeing old tractors and machines from America’s agrarian past. Here’s a picture of James and Robert in front of a monster steam tractor (that vest James is wearing was one of his flea market finds).

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Steam tractors with steel wheels were utilized by farmers to plow fields and drive various kinds of machinery by means of long, wide, flat, belts. We did not see any farm machinery being worked the day we were there but we did see one of those tractors operate a saw mill. Here’s a picture of the tractor. You can see the drive belt on the left side of the photograph.

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On the other end of the belt was this sawmill...

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The steam tractor’s engine was fueled by coal and required a lot of attention. It was also a noisy beast, periodically letting off long, fierce, deafening blasts of steam.

Those powerful farm engines came on the scene in 1868 and were harbingers of radical change. Each powerful blast of steam was an assault on, and death knell for, the traditional agrarian way of life as it was then known— a way of life that was centered around home, community, and, typically, the local church.

Gasoline and kerosene-powered tractor engines were developed in the late 1800s but did not become dominant until the 1920s (after World War I). Gasoline engines were less expensive, faster to start, and easier to operate. More efficient engines and motors and agricultural machines would follow.

Factories were built. The machines begat machines. The sons of farmers traded their agrarian birthrights for the pottage of less work, more money, and all the things that more money can buy. The allure of new “opportunity” was a powerful magnet drawing the young away from the traditional way of life.

Small family farms would give way to larger, more efficient, farms until, now, according to the industrial mindset, we do not need families on the land doing the work of farming. Fewer and fewer men are needed to operate the modern machines that do the work of modern agriculture.

In traditional agriculture, children were an integral part of the work of the farm. They were trained from an early age to contribute to the family economy. They performed meaningful tasks. They were needed.

Today the work of agriculture is too dangerous for children. They are not needed. But they are not forgotten. The children of modern men now grow up with a new focus... entertainment and amusement. They have television, computer games, organized sports, theme parks, cell phones, instant messaging, i-pods, institutionalized education, and all other manner of modern flotsam.

Meaningful work for modern children? Well, of course there is still meaningful work. They can clean their rooms, feed the dog, take out the garbage and maybe even mow the lawn. And when they get a little older, we will direct them into meaningful jobs where they can learn the virtues of hard work and responsibility. Jobs like working at Burger King or WalMart or any of so many stores at the mall. Then they will go on to "higher" education where they will learn to be an integral part of the corporate-industrial world.

Farming doesn't really fit any more. What modern parent would want their child to be an independent, small-scale, family farmer? Far better is it that they become high wage earning cogs in our modern, consumption-based civilization. But I digress.

The decline and almost total destruction of agrarian culture in this nation began with the steam engine. That is what I believe to be true. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I do not mean to imply that the agrarian culture of our past was ideal. It was surely not perfect. But I dare say it was a way of life that was inherently superior to what we now have.

And neither am I saying that steam tractors were a bad thing. Fact is, they were a good thing. The big engines were used extensively to drive threshing machines which harvested grains like wheat and oats. Several farmers would get together and purchase one of the expensive machines. Or an out-of-town contractor would make the rounds with his machine. Threshing day was a community activity. Families traveled from farmstead to farmstead within the community to help each other bring in the harvest. The women and older girls prepared a great meal. The men and older boys worked at the threshing. The children were directed to help in various ways. It was a beautiful thing.

And therein lies much of the attraction of these old machines. They are reminders of those days, not really so long ago, when life revolved around family, the work of the family, community, and the work of the community. Deep inside, I think we all long for this lost way of life.

Blast From The Past: Steam Pageant Discoveries (Part 1)

I love old tools, machines and devices from our agrarian past. That allure drew me and my two youngest sons yesterday to the 47th annual Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua, N.Y. It was a sunny, hot, Wednesday in August, and the first day of the four day event.In short, we had a really good time. It was so good, in fact, that we all decided we should go again next year.

There were several different attractions at the pageant. First, there was the flea market and I felt it was an exceptionally good one. I went hoping to find some old but still useful agrarian tools, and I wasn’t disappointed. As always, I was on the lookout for another garden hoe to add to the small but useful selection I already have. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: A gardener can never have too many good garden hoes. They are a fundamental and essential agrarian tool.

As Providence would have it, I found the exact hoe I hoped I would find. It was the hoe of my dreams... a Planet Jr. wheel hoe... For 15 dollars... in decent working condition. If you are familiar with the Planet Jr. low-wheel hoe, you know it is probably the handiest, most efficient, and easy to use garden hoe ever invented. It is indispensable if you are a market gardener or just growing a big garden for your family.

The Planet Jr. company went out of business but Lehmans Hardware sells a modern reproduction of the tool for a mere $389. Here’s the link: Lehman’s Wheel Hoe

Another tool I went to the flea market hoping to find was a good old buck saw. There were many to choose from, ranging in price from $12 to $32, but I found a very nice one for $5. The guy I bought it from actually had three alike for $5 each. I wish I had bought them all. I have three sons and each of them needs a buck saw. They may not think so but I do. I could give them as Christmas gifts. But I have plans for this saw before Christmas arrives. By the way, Lehmans sells a good buck saw for $47.95. Here’s the link: Lehmans Buck Saw

Amongst all the tables and tents of old tools, parts, books, and other assorted stuff, I also discovered a lot of wonderful mystery implements. Things like this:

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The S-shaped blade on this long-handled tool is hand-forged. I asked the vendor what it was and he told me. I never would have guessed it. But it made sense when I heard it. This was a tool used by farmers in the 1800’s. Before I tell you what it is, I’m going to see if anyone reading this can guess what it is.

I could have bought this tool for $26. The guy would have taken less. I came close to getting it. But as much as I appreciate and enjoy old wood-and-iron farm tools, I need to restrict my acquisitions to tools that I can actually use or, at least, utilize as inspirational “investments” for new Whizbang Book projects. Collecting only for the sake of collecting is a pastime for people with money to spare and the room to store their collection. I have neither.

So how about it? Can anyone tell me what the old agrarian tool shown above was used for? Post your answer here and when (if) someone gets it right, I’ll let you know. If no one guesses after a couple weeks, I’ll reveal what it is.

I haven’t yet told you about the steam part of the Steam Pageant. That’ll be my next blog installment. Stay tuned for Part 2


Talkn’ Bout My Chicken Tractor
(Part 2)

Dateline: 5 August 2007

It was a year ago this month that I blogged a photo essay here titled, Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractor. I introduced the practical virtues of my eight-year-old homemade chicken tractor. That old tractor (now 9 years old) is looking shabby but it's still perfectly functional and currently serving to hold five turkeys. Since I’m now raising turkeys in a tractor, I needed to build another for the chickens. Here’s a picture of my newest chicken tractor:

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If you read my previous chicken tractor blog, you will notice that my new unit looks a lot like the old one. That’s because the old style has served me so well. But I have made a few changes and I kept track of my expenses too.

One difference between my old and new chicken tractors is that the new one is a foot wider. It measures 6ft by 12 ft. The hoops are 3/4” pvc water pipe, just like on the old version but the wider frame means this new tractor is lower in the center. The center height is 40.”

Another difference is that I made the closed end out of 1/2" CDX plywood instead of waferboard (a.k.a., Oriented Strand Board). CDX plywood is made with exterior glues and will not rot out as quickly as waferboard.

When making my new tractor I moved the Plasson bell waterer a few inches nearer to the door on the closed end. Now it is easier to access for cleaning.

I left the 10 inch wheels off the tractor and put a rope for moving on each end. I’m the one who does the moving and I have no problem lifting a bit and pulling one side of the unit over, then the other. In other words, I move it sideways, one end at a time. It’s not as easy as moving ahead with the tires, but its no strain for me to shuffle it over. I might bolt on tires someday.

I opted to leave off the pvc drain pipe side feeders. They worked okay but I could not clean them without climbing into the cage. And filling them with feed by pouring it through the chicken wire was not an ideal situation. My newest idea for a feeder is pictured here:

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What you are looking at is a long trough with skateboard wheels under each end. And there is a wooden handle on one end. My newest chicken tractor now has a removable hatch on the end opposite the door (you can see it in the picture). I fill the trough with feed, open the hatch, and roll it in. I reach in and remove the feeder for reloading and when I want to move the cage. This new feeder isn’t a perfect solution but I do think it is an improvement.

The only other change I made was to put furring strip angle braces on both ends of the tractor, instead of just one. Here’s a better view of one brace:

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It is those braces, in conjunction with the furring strip ridgepole, and the 2x4 angle braces (2ft long) on each corner of the 2x4 pressure treated bottom frame, that give this tractor amazing structural strength. Furring strips are light weight, strong and cheap wood pieces. I purchased a bundle of ten furring strips at 12 ft long for this project. The bundle cost me $20.37. There were some knots in the wood but I was able to pick and choose, cut and utilize, and ended up with wood pieces that had enough integrity to do the job nicely

I kept track of my material costs for this new tractor. Excluding the waterer, the total cost of materials (including 8% NY state sales tax) was $168.24. This tractor should have at least a ten year functional lifespan. So that figures out to $16.82 a year for pastured poultry housing. I currently have 66 Cornish X chickens in this tractor. That’s okay when they’re little. But as they are getting bigger, I need another tractor. My next chicken tractor will look just like this one. That’s how pleased I am with this design.

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One more thing. As some of you already know, I “pasture” my meat birds on my overgrown front lawn. Here’s a picture to prove it:

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The front lawn serves as a pasture because we are working with very little land here. Fortunately we do not have any close neighbors to complain. That’s one of the nice things about living in the country. You have more freedom.

There are advantages to raising chickens in your front yard. One is that the garden hose will reach the tractor. This makes filling the water bucket and cleaning the waterer real easy. And you don’t have to walk far to feed the little critters. And you can keep an eye on them better.

The only real disadvantage to front yard chicken tractors is the manure. As the birds get bigger, the manure deposit gets heavier, even when moving the cage twice a day, as I do. My kids do not like the manure because the front yard is where they do a lot of their bike riding, football playing and so forth.

But the manure lasts only a few weeks, and sometimes it has its advantages. For example, my boys recently set up a bike jump in the front yard. The jump was nothing more than a length of 2x8 board angled up on a chunk of firewood. They, and a couple of neighbor boys, took turns riding their bikes down the road, into the front yard, off the ramp and onto the front lawn. They were filming their exploits with a video camera. One of the neighbor kids sailed off the ramp, wiped out, and hit the ground, rolling headlong onto a patch of chicken manure. It was all on video. It wouldn't have been such a "precious moment" without the chicken manure. Just the thought of watching that film clip makes me laugh.

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If you liked this essay, I invite you to check out my Blog tutorial, How To Butcher A Chicken
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Turkeys in Tractors & Comfrey For Feed

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As mentioned in a previous blog entry, this is my first year raising turkeys. I started with 12. Two have died of undetermined causes. Neither bird appeared unhealthy. The losses were disappointing but not unexpected. They say that turkeys will die for no apparent reason. I’ve read that a 15% loss when raising turkeys is to be expected.

I was speaking with a neighbor last evening who is also raising turkeys for the first time. He had borrowed my Whizbang Chicken Plucker to process a batch of chickens. He is an organic dairy farmer. He is one of those who have a strong organic conviction because it is the right thing to do, not just because it has become more economically profitable in recent years. He told me he had some turkey losses too and started putting minced garlic in the bird’s water. There were no more problems after that. He also told me he uses things like garlic, cayenne pepper, castor oil, Echinacea and other herbs to heal his cows and boost their immune systems. I like to hear things like that, especially from a neighbor.

This neighbor is keeping his turkeys fenced inside a length of electric poultry netting from Premier. He moves the netting and birds to fresh pasture as needed. But he doesn’t have a charger to electrify the net. He said he couldn’t afford it. He uses the net only for containment of the birds and tethers his dog by the pen to deter predators.

I came very close to buying some of that same fencing this year, and a solar charger to keep it “hot” but I held off. It was going to cost several hundred dollars and I have read that keeping an adequate electric charge can be a bother.

So I opted to keep it simple. I put my ten turkeys in two old chicken tractors and I move them to a fresh patch of field twice a day. The turkeys are doing well. They are awesome grazers—far better grazers than chickens.

And I continue to be amazed at how much my turkeys like comfrey. I bring it to them in bunches and hang it for them to pick (as shown in the photo below). They will ignore their grain feed to eat the comfrey greens. I did a little research and found that comfrey is very high in protein. Fact is, it has almost the same protein content as soybeans!

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I have four bush-like plantings of comfrey that I planted back in 1998. The rootstock was given to us by our homesteading friends and country neighbors Kathy and Jack who were part of a local Y2k “support group” we got involved with. It was Kathy and Jack who introduced me to the idea of growing garlic for its health benefits. And Kathy gave a soapmaking demonstration to our group, which eventually led to my wife, Marlene, starting her own handcrafted soap business. A lot of the things that are a big part of our way of life now began back when we were getting ready for Y2k. But I digress…

Until this year, have seldom used Kathy & Jack’s gift of comfrey. I’ve tried feeding it to chickens in the past but they are not as fond of it as the turkeys. But now, this year I wish I had more comfrey because I’ve fed most all of it to the turkeys, and they would be eating a whole lot more if I had it.

Comfrey is easy to grow. It grows like a weed. But it doesn’t spread like a weed. It doesn’t appear to be bothered by disease or bugs. My comfrey planting thrives in an area that gets only partial sun. As the cost of poultry feed costs go up, alternatives like comfrey have a lot more appeal. And there are more reasons besides turkey feed to have a LOT of comfrey growing on your homestead.

To learn more about comfrey, I encourage you to read this article by Nancy Bubel.

Every day when I feed and water my turkeys, I tarry to watch them. They are amazing, fun creatures. And as I see them growing bigger and fatter on grain and greens in the fresh air, I can’t help but think how nice it’s going to be to have one of them for Thanksgiving dinner. That’s the way it is when you raise animals for your own food. You look at the animal and see it on the table, feeding your family.

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P.S. If you have not yet read my other poultry-related essays, I invite you to do so. Here are the links...

Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-year-Old Son

My Whizbang Plucker Story

Frequently Asked Questions About The Whizbang Plucker

Introducing My Deluxe Homemade Chicken Scalder

Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractors

FREE Chicken Feed

How To Butcher A Chicken

The Next Best Thing To A Whizbang Chicken Plucker

My Chicken Plucker Parts Business

The Best Place to Buy Plucker Fingers


Rethinking The Smoothie

Dateline: 5 August 2007

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Everyone loves smoothies. If you don’t know what a smoothie is, here is the current definition from Wikipedia:

A smoothie is a blended, chilled, sweet beverage made from fresh fruit and fruit juices which is blended with crushed ice, frozen fruit, or frozen yogurt. They have a milkshake-like consistency which is thicker than slush drinks, but unlike milkshakes, they do not usually contain cow's milk or ice cream.

Yesterday I tried a smoothie experiment. I took three fresh, juicy peaches (less the pits) and blended them with a small bunch of beet greens and just enough cold water to make it all mix (maybe ¼ cup). The resulting blend, pictured above, was an unappealing mud-like color. But it had a sweet earthy flavor that was downright good.

Later in the day I made a smoothie using three peaches and four large kale leaves. The drink was a bright green color. Not your typical smoothie. But, again, very tasty.

Today, I’m going to make a Swiss Chard and peach smoothie.

I’m excited about these new raw green smoothies. They are simple, easy and fast to make, and chock full of nutrition.

Try blending some fresh fruit with some fresh greens and you’ll see what I mean.



August Ramblings From This Deliberate Agrarian

Observation :
“The older I get, the more time it takes me to get less done.”

My “Farm”
When someone writes a magazine article about you, or you write a magazine article about something, people who read the article will sometimes call you.

Years ago, I wrote magazine articles and some how-to books about home remodeling. A few readers got the idea that I had some kind of dream workshop; perhaps like Norm Abrham has on his PBS television show. I actually got calls from people who said they were going to be in the area and really wanted to stop by and see my workshop. I had to tell them there wasn’t really anything to see. It is the size of a two-car garage and full of clutter. My stationary power tools amounted to a table saw, a radial arm saw, and a benchtop drill press, all made by Craftsman. I am a minimalist when it comes to tools. I make do with basic stuff.

Same goes for my “farm.” After the recent “Farmshow” article was published. I got a call from a fellow who wanted to travel to visit me and see my farm. I had to tell him that I don’t have a farm. I have one and a half acres, most of which is woods. I raise chickens on my front lawn. He replied with a disappointed, “Oh.” I told him he was still welcome to stop by sometime, but this is no showplace, at all. I’m a common rural dweller.

Whizbang Chicken Grinder?
The recent “Farmshow” article also brought a call from a man in California who wondered if I might know where he could get a large capacity “chicken grinder.” He needs something that will grind 30,000 to 40,000 old chickens so they can be composted.

Wow. Imagine that.

Upon hearing this plan to grind old chickens up for compost, Marlene thought about it a few seconds and said, “You could make a lot of broth out of them.”

(Marlene makes chicken broth out of chicken necks and backs after processing day. She cans it in quart jars. And it’s good.)

Beetles In A Cup
You know how they say that if you hold a seashell up to your ear, you can hear the ocean? Well, ho hum, that’s nothing. Try this if you want an real auditory thrill… Fill a Styrofoam cup partially full of squirming Japanese beetles and hold your ear up to the open end.

Lots of Bread
Marlene continues to bake for the farmer’s market every Thursday afternoon in Skaneateles, NY. Last week, when I came home from work on Wednesday, she informed me that she had made 46 loaves in six hours. Then, on Thursday morning, before the market, she and James (my 12-year-old) make quick breads (e.g., zucchini), cookies, and cinnamon rolls.

They are having another good year at the market. Once you establish yourself and gain a following with a good product at a busy market, the whole experience is very satisfying.

This Year’s Garage Sale Safari
Last weekend was the annual Rt 90 Garage sale. 50 miles of sales. I’ve written before of it here: Our Annual Garage Sale Safari. As always, I was on the lookout for another good garden hoe to add to my collection. I didn’t find any. I didn’t find much. I bought a couple old biographies about George Washington, a sledge hammer, and a blender. I spent $15.

But we did discover a new idea… At the rural crossroads town of Summerhill, two elderly ladies were making and selling milkshakes. They had on old electric milkshake blender from the 1950’s, a small freezer with ice cream, and an ice chest with gallon jugs of milk. Two bucks for a milkshake. We bought three.

The Big Disappointment Around Here
My neighbor is moving to Seattle. This is the neighbor who has allowed my family to use part of his land as if it was our own. The kids have driven their field car on his land, I have planted garlic and potatoes and other garden goods on the land, and we are pasturing turkeys there now. He even said we could raise pigs on his land. But now he is moving and will sell his land.

We have expressed an interest in buying some property from the man in the past. We will do so again. But he has not been willing to do so because he only owns around ten acres total and the loss of a few acres would decrease the overall value of his home.

Around 18 years ago the man who owned that land at the time surveyed off two building lots of a couple acres and put them up for sale for $5,000 each. I offered him $2,500 for the lot that adjoins my property (the land I now have garden & turkeys on). It was all I could afford at the time. He told me the offer was an insult. The lots never sold. He went bankrupt and moved to another state. I should have borrowed the money for both lots. Hindsight is sometimes a painful thing.

32.5 Acres For $32,900
My thanks to Hannah (aka, “Country Goalie”) for sending me information about a piece of property she saw that might be good for me. Here’s the description:


32.5 acres total. Nice pond w/5 acres of woods. Great spot to build or place a double-wide (no single wides allowed). Land is rented to farmer at this time. Owner financing available.
Address: 66 Road, hannibal, NY 13074.
Directions: Take NYS Route 104 west of Hannibal. Turn right onto 66 Road, go north 3/4 miles. Land on right.


Hannibal is about a hour north of where I now live. I’m not familiar with the area. But I think they get a significant amount of “lake effect” snowfall. Hannah says she drove by and it looks nice. I may check it out. The price is reasonable compared to other lots than size in central New York State. And owner financing makes it possible since I don’t have that much available to spend, and will not mortgage my house with a bank.

Oh, the things we could do with 32 acres of good earth! I only wish I could find the same thing closer to where we now live. We need to stay in this area as long as my stepfather and Marlene’s mother are still alive. That is important.

Thanks for the tip Hannah!

The Real Dirt on Farmer John
Thanks also to Dave Taylor who sent me a copy of the movie, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. It is an agrarian documentary. It is not Christian agrarian. It is kooky in places. But it is an engaging story with many endearing qualities.

(I’ll be sending it back to you soon Dave)

Harvesting Garlic 2007

Dateline: 2 August 2007
Updated: 10 April 2013

I harvested my garlic crop a week ago. It was the end of July. The bottom leaf on each plant was totally dry, brown, and shriveled. The next leaf up was mostly dry. The tips of the other leaves were turning brown. It was time. There would be no more significant growth.

When I first started growing garlic, I waited until most of the plant was dead and brown. Big mistake. You can do that with onions, but not garlic. If you wait that long to harvest your garlic, the bulbs will be split open and the papery bulb wrappers will be rotted off. Better to err on the side of harvesting a tad early than a tad late. That’s my recommendation.

When I harvest my garlic crop I feel as though I am doing something special, that I am participating in a significant event. In a miracle of creation, each bulb I harvest has developed from a single seed clove I planted 9 months ago. Down, out of sight, in the earth, the small clove developed into a full bulb. Amazing.

Here’s a picture of my homemade Whizbang Garden Cart with a load of just-pulled-from-the-earth garlic:

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I used to tie my harvested garlic in bunches and hang them to dry. But it takes a long time to dry that way and sometimes, if drying conditions are not good, mold will develop. That being the case, last year I came up with a nifty new garlic bulb dryer to cure my garlic (see link below for more information).

So now, immediately after harvesting the bulbs, I cut the green tops away and layer the bulbs in my new dryer. This next picture shows the tool I use for separating the tops from the bulbs:

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That inexpensive little benchtop band saw has proven very useful around here. In addition to cutting garlic bulbs, we have used it to slice bricks of Marlene’s homemade soap into bar size. And my kids are always using it to cut wood pieces for some project they are working on. After the bulbs have cured for a week or so in the dryer, I will use the saw to trim the roots off each bulb. Here’s a close-up picture of the bandsawn garlic:

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And finally, here’s another shot of the garden cart with a big load of fresh-picked garlic:


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Boy, that Whizbang Garden Cart sure is a handy tool around the homestead! :-)

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I invite you to read my other garlic-related blog essays:

How I Plant My Garlic

Curing Garlic Bulbs

Making Pickled Garlic Scapes

Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits

Selling My Garlic Powder At The Farmer’s Market