Tractor Trouble: Watch the Electrical System

A long time ago, someone, probably my dad, told me that “80% of all carburetion problem are really electrical.” In other words, your engine doesn’t run, and you suspect a fuel or carburetor problem, when all the time it was an ignition problem.

This happened to me over the last week, when my tractor (a Ford 640) would not start. I wasn’t the one operating it, and the issue became confused because he didn’t use the fuel shut-off, so we really did have a carburetion problem — the carburetor was flooded.


Heritage Chickens

When we were starting out, we believed that old-fashioned breeds of chickens would do better on old-fashioned farms. A lot of people believe this. The idea is that heritage breeds are best, while modern commercial breeds are suitable only for factory farming.

Alas, that’s not how it works. For starters, there has always been a distinction between show birds (which are supposed to look pretty) and utility birds (which are supposed to turn a profit through their meat or eggs). Never the twain shall meet. Once heritage breeds were supplanted by modern hybrids, that was the end of the heritage utility breeds! You’ve basically got a bunch of low-producing show birds on the one hand, and high-producing modern hybrids on the other. The middle range, with some exceptions, has gone extinct.


July Newsletter is Out

My July Newsletter has just been emailed. If you’re not a subscriber, you might consider joining (near the top right corner of the page here). Topics include quality in produce and pastured pigs.

It’s raining here today — unusual in an Oregon summer. But the chickens don’t mind very much. It’ll help keep the grass green, which is good, because the chickens won’t eat it once it starts to brown off.

Keeping Your Chore Load Light

It’s tempting to fill your day with farm chores, but the fact is that farming (and rural living in general) is filled with projects that have to get done, projects that happen once in a while but not every day. If you fill up your time with daily chores, you won’t be able to get anything done!

This is doubly true if you have a day job, as I do (in the WAN acceleration group at Citrix Systems). There’s been a big deadline crunch that’s kept me from getting my newsletter out on time or even respond to email properly. But I get my daily chores done because (a) I’ve purposely kept a lid on how many I accept, and (b) There are limits to how much I’m willing to let things slide in a crisis.


Direct Sales or Distribution?

It’s an article of faith these days that selling your farm products directly to the consumer is the only way to go. Ah, if it were only that simple!

The nice thing about selling direct is that face-to-face sales build trust and loyalty, provides direct feedback, and eliminates the middleman, allowing you to keep all the money. All well and good, but it’s awfully labor-intensive, especially if you live a long way from your customers. Farms, you have probably noticed, are way out in the country, and you’re a long way from your neighbors, let alone your customers.


Thirty Years of the HP 41C Calculator

Classics never go out of style. I still use the same type of programmable calculator today that I did thirty years ago.

It seems hard to believe, but thirty years ago I plunked down $299 for an HP-41C calculator, which had just been released by Hewlett-Packard. I was a penniless college student at the time, and for the life of me I can’t remember where I got the money.

I was living in Corvallis at the time, attending Oregon State University. The HP-41C had been designed across town at the Hewlett-Packard campus, and many of my classmates were HP employees.


The Ideal Roof for a Chicken Coop.

I’ve been meditating on the ideal roof for a chicken coop. It ought to have the following properties:

  • Easy to install.
  • Cheap.
  • Lasts forever.
  • Strong.
  • Rainwater doesn’t cause mud in front of the house.
  • Chickens don’t roost on top.

Also, if you live in the suburbs, it should be pretty enough to shut up your pompous neighbors.

Most of my houses have shed roofs made of galvanized steel roofing. The configuration is a “shed roof,” which just means that it’s higher and the front than at the back, so rainwater pours off at the back of the house where is causes less trouble.

My roofs are just metal, with no plywood decking underneath, and no insulation. This is appropriate for highly ventilated houses with enough airflow that the inside temperature and humidity are about the same as outside. You don’t have to worry about condensation in such a house.


Water Well Woes

You won’t believe how little water our well gives us — one quart a minute. That’s 440 gallons a day, which is enough if we don’t want to water the lawn with it. We have a 1500-gallon tank (these things are surprisingly affordable and lightweight black plastic affairs that a single person can roll off a trailer and into place), so we have plenty of water, until we run out.

We didn’t run out, but it started smelling bad. This is the other bad thing about wells in Oregon’s Coast Range — sulfur in the water, and the sulfur-loving bacteria that go with it. Not a health hazard, but unaesthetic.


What’s the Difference Between Brown and White Eggs?

In the bad old days, eggs in the big cities mostly came from the Midwest. Farmers would collect eggs and leave them, unrefrigerated, until they felt like going into town. They’d sell the eggs at the general store or the feed store, and the merchant would hold them, unrefrigerated, until he had a large enough lot to ship to an egg wholesaler.

The eggs would work their way towards the city, unrefrigerated, by slow freight. Eventually, they’d arrive in the store, where they would be set out, unrefrigerated, for the consumer.


I Love Farmers’ Markets

When I was a kid, my parents owned a campground nestled into a redwood forest. This gave me a pleasant outdoor summer job every year, which was great. But the best thing was the customers. By the time they got here, most campers were at least two days into their trip and had left most of their stress behind. A beautiful, quiet setting and the knowledge that they were hundreds of miles away from their troubles put them into a great mood. It was a pleasure dealing with them.

The local farmers’ markets are just the same. They’re full of happy strolling shoppers who are enjoying a little time off from the stress of their day, ready to please and be pleased. It’s life-affirming for all involved.