Grape Yard


Main Street Project – Northfield, MN

A few of us took a half-day of vacation from work and headed 45 minutes south, to Northfield, MN.  Northfield is home to St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, but it is also has a pretty interesting integrated farming endeavor called the Main Street Project.  We visited two sites, one with meat chickens, and another which used the manure from the chicken operation to fertilize rows of hazelnuts, popcorn, elderberries, onions and black beans.


(Videos courtesy of Alex M.)

Product Review: Cozy Hen Waterer

Outer Pail with Insulation


A reader in Minneapolis, MN, asked me if it would be possible to give a bit more feedback on the Cozy Hen Waterer.  I thought that I could spin that into a more complete review of the product.

The waterer, manufactured and sold by Neora Inventors, LLC, consists of two nested buckets.  Lining the outer bucket is a couple layers double reflective bubble insulation; at the bottom of the pail are two strips of styrofoam insulation to position the inner pail and the chicken nipple correctly.  There is also a piece of reflective bubble insulation that is placed on the lid of the inner pail.

The chicken nipple assembly hangs about 1.½” out the bottom.   There is also a length of light-gauge chain on the bucket’s handle; chicken nipple to the length of chain, the unit is around 21″.

Inner pail with rubber grommet and heater suction cups on bottom

The outer bucket measures about 10″ tall and, at the lid, about 9″ in diameter.  The inner pail measures 7.½” tall, and at the lid, 7.½”.  The inner pail also holds around ¾ of a gallon; there is a length of shoelace attached to the pail that forms a sort of crude handle, as well.

More Details.  The basic concept of the waterer is to isolate the water from the elements.  It does this with the use of insulation and the clever encapsulation of the nipple with an aluminum pipe.

Neora Inventors’ website states that, when using the 15W aquarium heater in the pail, the nipple temperature will only be 8° cooler than the bulk of the water.

All the parts (minus the pails)

Review.  We haven’t verified the temperature measurement claims, but during our coldest stretches over the last month – around -9° F – the nipple stayed ice free; when tapped, liquid water was released.

For the most part, the waterer in conjunction with the 15W heater does what it Neora claims: it uses less electricity than a conventional fount, as well as keeping water ice-free and free-flowing.  Minimizing electricity consumption, for us, was actually nearly as important as providing the chickens with liquid water.  This might not be a huge concern for those with a coop with electricity from the grid.  This was discussed in a bit more depth in the previous post.

Chicken Nipple

There are a couple minor design-related items that could be unnecessary or simply in need of another iteration.  First, the inner lid contains two holes; one for the power cord of the heater to exit, and the other hole appears to be for refilling the pail.  In the picture, above, the inner lid is in the lower right corner.  The heater cord hole is on the right side.  The hole on the left, in my opinion, could be eliminated and a single hole be used for cord exiting and refilling.  Second, the hole in the inner lid insulation, because of evaporation, ice forms on the underside of the outer lid.  Eliminating this hole in the insulation would remove a place for heat to escape.

We had questions about how quickly the chickens would pickup the using the nipple – having only used a more traditional fount since we received them as day-old chicks.  The hens turned out to be quick studies and realized soon after the new waterer was placed in the coop that this was now the dispenser of water.

As to the long-term, post-winter use of the waterer, it is still an unknown.  I really like how wood chips and poop do not end up in the water as with a normal waterer that is placed near the ground; at the same time, the water requirements for the chickens will increase once we are into the summer months, as well as when we add more birds this spring.

_DSC7054Verdict. Small flocks (below a count of 8 to 10) in a coop with minimal ambient temperature control (such as our coop) could benefit from a Cozy Hen Waterer.  Assuming the aquarium heater can last several seasons, the cost savings on reduced electrical consumption compared to a high-wattage heated waterer, may allow for the unit to pay its own way (to an extent).

Aside from the two design comments, above, about extra holes, the only remaining point that should be mentioned is the cost: $75.00 (includes heater).  It maybe reasonable to think that with the possible research and development that went into their current/final design, that $75 is likely a good deal.  But, if you ignore any cost savings on electricity (the heater was $12.50), paying $62.50 for a ¾ gallon insulated pail might be a tough sell for some people.



Buckets of Chicken

Blood in the SnowThe sun was out and there was a fresh spring-like smell in the air.  Water dripped from the barn roof into a puddle near the door.  The cows, near the barn, were slurping from their trough – the ice in it was melting.

I rotated and rolled the large cook’s knife I held in my hand; the rivets through the handle and tang were still cold.

I lifted the knife up; a quick and heavy downward swing of the knife, and I felt the heel push into the chopping block below.  A slight forward movement with the knife on the block, and the rest of the blade was in contact with the surface.

One down, ten more to go.
List of Butchering TasksI flipped the now headless bird into the snow; the carcass flipped and jumped; I knocked the head into a bucket – wiped the blood from the knife, and walked to the coop to get another bird.

Walking back from the coop, the headless bird now lay motionless; the snow in front of the chopping block starts to take on the appearance some twisted form of a snowcone.

Two down, nine more to go.

We ended up dividing the lot into two batches.  Six birds and five birds.   With each batch, the process was the same.  Two to three headless birds in a 5 gallon pale – I’d walk up to the farm house from the coops – buckets in hand.  Scald, pluck, scorch the remaining fine feathers with a torch, remove feet, remove oil gland, remove trachea and neck skin, gut, since and chill. Repeat.

This was the first time that I witnessed the scald method.  Usually, when cleaning fowl, the carcass is too small, as with ruffed grouse, to really warrant going beyond the breast meat, or, the skin just seems far too greasy, as was with the ducks we had the last summer – in this case, I skinned the ducks.   The pigs we helped butcher a few years ago, we opted for skinning instead of scalding.  Rabbits, squirrels and deer are all skinned, too.

The killing turns out to be almost the easiest part (assuming you are not bothered overly much by the removal of life); the plucking is messy – feathers stick to your hands, and the removal of the entrails is slippery – there is quite a bit of fat on chickens.  There is water involved at both ends of the uncomfortable for hands spectrum – hot for scalding, and icy-cold for chilling.

IMG_0003 - Version 2 - 2015-01-18 at 12-20-32By late afternoon, the carcasses were chilling in tubs of ice water; we had cleaned up the work area in the farmhouse’s basement; the entrails that some consider edible were in the farmhouse freezer and the buckets of soggy feathers were out of the house.

On the ride home home, I found myself mulling over the sensorial aspects of the day’s task.  The red snow, noises made by headless carcasses, and smells.  I had given my mom a call – knowing that she, during her quixotic-commune days, had butchered chickens, as well.  She asked me, “What’d you think of the smell?”  I thought for a second or two, and replied, “It smelled like yellow.”  I knew she wasn’t referring to the smell of burnt feathers from the scorching, she was thinking of the bird itself – freshly plucked and at the point where you have started to clean out the cavity.   It has a yellow smell to me.   My mom knew exactly what I meant.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  I’m curious what others describe the smell as – leave a comment below.



Winter Chickens

Recently, I have had a few people -here and there – tell me, “I want to hear more about your chickens!” It has been a while since I posted anything about them.

I think the last time I mentioned them in a post, they were in a sort of adolescent phase; they had not bulked up, yet, and they were not fully grown; a friend in Oregon said, “they look like teenagers!”

The teenage chickens have grown up, and two of them began laying eggs in late September.  By mid-October, however, they had stopped laying due to the decreasing amount of daylight.

But, it’s not like we need them to be producing prodigious quantities of eggs for us.  For starters, if they were merely creatures of production for us, we would have likely not built the coop we built.  There is my penchant for aesthetically pleasing structures.  But, we would have built something less expensive and not something with a swank green-roof over the run area; we certainly would not have sided the building with cedar shakes; I probably would not have designed and built a curved-top solid cedar door either.  Needless to say and by no stretch of one’s imagination, the birds are spoiled.

The chickens could care less about their posh surroundings; as long as they have water, food and shelter from winds, they seem happy.  During the cold snap at the start of the new year (I was conveniently in the tropics – 10.03 degrees latitude, no less), Melissa heated up oatmeal and mix in a few left overs for them to eat.  It is also probably beneficial that we picked birds that would be good in our area; heavier bodied birds with good feathering.  No naked-neck birds in our flock and no overly fancy combs, either.  We just have araucanas, brahmas, a speckled sussex and a Rhode Island red; there might be a silver laced Wyndotte, too.  The brahmas are probably the best suited for cold weather.  They are a larger bird – about seven to nine pounds – with feathers down their legs and even over their feet.  The nieces call them “fluffy feets”.