Monday, November 2, 2009

Flows downhill

This Spring, when Professor Chaos had the bionic implant done on his chubby, flat, right foot, I had the privilege of playing Step-n-Fetchit for him, then a few weeks of four-hour-a-day rush-hour unpaid chauffeur duty, and a couple of months of managing every farm and household chore single-handed.

Which metaphor I never appreciated properly until we got the farm, and had a hundred-times daily lessons on how a given chore or repair that would take two people two minutes takes one person a half hour and a small storm-cloud of profanity.

A dog may be far better than a hired man for helping with livestock, but they suck at holding the window frame while I screw in a new hinge. Also, cannot lug a five-gallon poultry waterer.

The by-catch of all this, aside from a persistent vile temper in excess of the baseline, was the near-destruction of my upper back and neck.

A new physician, presented with the primary complaint of neck and back pain and severe paresthesia in both hands, questioned whether my insomnia might not indicate a need for antidepressants, and ordered up a a few fuck-you radiographs and a butt-cam for good measure. Neither revealed anything of interest. So, ipso facto, nothing wrong with me, thankyoucomeagain..

(Anyone know a decent internist/GP in the North Hills of Pittsburgh? Someone who, you know, actually practices medicine? Still looking ...)

The chiropractor strung me along for about six weeks, and I still couldn't feel my hand.

Finally, in July, my witch-doctor friend flew in as close as Dayton to teach a clinic. I drove out the night before, and a half-hour after deplaning, she got into my back, made me do things that made me cry, and essentially fixed me. Within four days the parasthesia was gone, and it has not come back.

Today Professor Chaos is having his left paw sliced, and I no wanna repeat.

So last month, I spent a couple days devising a labor-saving gadget that is, after a four-week trial, safe to say, the cat's ass.

The most tedious chore on the farm has been keeping the poultry supplied with plentiful, clean water.

First of all, there isn't a single commercial poultry-fount design that I would kick a duck in the ass with. We have at least six different designs, and each one of them sucks in some different way -- fragile, tips, leaks, won't open, won't close, hard to clean, clogs, breaks. And none of them are cheap, at least, for what you get.

So I bought some parts and made a poultry waterer that is easy to keep clean, does not leak, does not clog, does not tip, and never leaves my birds without plenty of water -- and I've only refilled it once since I installed it. It takes less than a minute a day to clean, and there is no heavy lifting involved. The heaviest work is pulling the garden hose up about 12' with a string.

First, I bought a self-filling dog water bowl. About $12 on sale somewhere.

I already had a 55 gallon plastic barrel that had served as a rain barrel for many years at our former home. It had cost me $5 -- I see them on Craig's List for $10 all the time nowadays.

I installed a new plastic spigot near the bottom. Spigot cost about $3 at Trader Horne.

I had some good-quality hose that I'd salvaged from the curb quite a while ago. Someone ran over a long, expensive hose with his lawnmower, and rather than cut out the damaged part and repair, he pitched it. My gain.

A shut-off valve for the downhill (in-coop) end -- about $3.

Male and female ends for the hose, about a buck and a half per.

My poultry are cooped in the lower level of our bank barn. Upstairs is hay storage and gear/equipment storage.

So I moved the empty rain barrel into the upper part of the barn, directly above the chicken coop. Positioned it over a strong beam near the foundation, and set it up on some cribbing so that the spigot isn't so close to the floor that the hose kinks.

Ignore the wood detritus around the barrel -- it rained down during roof repair last week.

Drilled a hole in the floor. This was harder than it sounds. The floor is oak, and 1 1/2" thick. Fortunately that is two courses of boards, so I was just able to pull this off with a hole saw and a chisel.

Fed the hose through the floor, and down into the coop.

Secured the bowl to the wall so that the chickens have to reach a little in order to drink. Shorter chickens can stand on the ramp to the pop-door. This way, less junk gets into the bowl.

The bowl is mounted on four screws with its keyhole mounts. It is secure on the wall, but easy to lift out to clean.

I just bring a bucket into the coop in the morning, lift the bowl off the mount, slosh the dusty water into the bucket, wipe the bowl off with a damp rag, and make sure that the new water glugging in is clean.

The drip you see at the shut-off valve in the photo is because I had just cleaned the bowl and inadvertently loosened the connection a little. I've since cranked it very tight.

I could have just as easily placed the barrel outside and uphill of the coop. This would have made filling it even easier. I bring the garden hose from the house up into the barn with a string that dangles down through a siding board that isn't nailed down at the bottom, and gives the barn swallows an entrance when the door is closed. But since the barrel is white, I wanted to keep it out of the sunlight so I wouldn't have to contend with algae. I also have some terra-cotta colored and blue barrels, and those would be better for an outdoor installation.

If I lived someplace level, I'd have built a frame/platform for the barrel that raised it to about chest level, and placed it very close to the coop.

Someone asked why I don't just run a hose straight to the coop from the house.

Last year, a hose that I left on burst while I was out for the day. Came home to a well cistern that had actually been sucked dry. Fortunately our well-pump has a safety shutoff and didn't fry, but we were without water for a day.

This single innovation has cut poultry chore time by about 75%.

Come winter, we'll probably have to go back to hauling water on the coldest days. I could heat the reservoir, but keeping the hose flowing overnight, when the birds don't drink, would be a bitch. Still, unless we have another apocalyptic winter, this should be about a month of water-hauling total.


  1. You're a genius and an inspiration, Houlie.

    Really, you're a farmer. Same thing!

  2. They make a heat tape tp keep PVC water pipes from freezing under mobile homes. I wonder if it would get too hot for your hose? You could also put a small stock tank heater in your tank to keep it from freezing. BTW, great idea!

  3. Love it! But here in the land of seemingly eternal winter I could only use it for about 5 months of the year (I had to put a base heater in my coop weeks ago).

    And besides, a Leonberger *can* carry a five gallon poultry waterer quite handily. Forget MacGyvering - next summer I'm getting a molossor!

  4. Love the waterer.

    Finding an actual doctor in the wilds of Western PA is really difficult. I abhor my mother's doctor in Kittanning (I'm sure he's a quack) and one of the reasons I stayed in Eastern PA, rather than moving back with Mom when my health went south, is that I had access to good medicial care for my migraines.

    If you don't mind traveling closer to Pittsburgh, I can ask my elementary school buddies (we have a Facebook page!) who still live in Pittsburgh for some recommendations. Pain just totally rots.


  5. RE doctors:

    For several years I had the same kind of experience you describe with the small town GP's I saw. They passed off increasing pain in all my joints as related to aging, chronically over-doing it or depression and basically told me to suck it up. The one that diagnosed me as clinically depressed (after a cursory look at my history and a half-assed, 30-second look-see) cut me off mid-sentence and walked out of the room as I tried to tell her I had already explored this with a close friend who is a psychiatrist in private practice. 'Cause of course a gp who got some generic info from the corporate office and her favorite drug reps knows more about this than a psychiatrist with decades of experience...

    I ended up using the interwebs to find a new gp and a rheumatologist. Looked for locally generated reviews and am lucky to have insurance where I don't need a referral to see a specialist.

    The new and improved doctors found two torn rotator cuffs, an autoimmune disorder and severe arthritis in at least a half dozen joints. If I'd been nice, shut up and sucked it up as repeatedly suggested I'd be freaking crippled by now.

  6. You know, I have to say: you really suck at step and fetch it, Dearest.


I've enabled the comments for all users; if you are posting as "anonymous" you MUST sign your comment. Anonymous unsigned comments will be deleted. Trolls, spammers, and litigants will be shot.