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Chicken tractor(s), RMH and Computer Technology

 
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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A couple of years ago, I built a seed germination box that is about 6 feet long and 2.5x2.5 feet in cross section.  Mostly wood, plastic sheet for window.  It has 3 heating pads coming in from the bottom.  On the top, I have 2 receptacles for the ceramic IR emitters..  I had tried plastic "bulb holders with ceramic inserts" from Banggood, but they started to discolour after one season.  I changed over to porcelain holders (and proper pancake boxes on the ceiling of the box).  Being a seed box, it has two LED arrays to provide grow light.  The LED grow lights are controlled by a Woods timer, the heating pads by a Inkbird controller, and the two IR emitters by a MH1210W type controller.  I think I have two 50W emitters screwed in, but they could be 75W.  In any event, the IR emitters either produce no visible light, or very little.

Unless I plant chickens in the ground, the above has nothing to do with chickens.  But, it is about where I am at the moment on wiring stuff.  Some of the circuits have a ground, and some don't.

I've read a few threads in chickens about RMH; Washington state was the most northerly (so, south of 49N).  I'm at 56N

I am going to start raising chickens this year, in large part to start producing an income (which is not the correct order according to the Permaculture Farming Business Plan at Permaculture Apprentice).

The object is to have the chickens in a tractor.  Off the top of my head, the biggest chicken tractor designs I've seen which only require a single human to move, as 12 bird tractors.  Minimum order on chickens is 25.  Which sound like two chicken tractors (and hopefully I can overpopulate the 1 tractor by 1 bird).

As near as I can tell, if you want to overwinter the birds, you need a coop.  Which means a waste of effort.  We have an unused coop in summer, and unused chicken tractors in winter.

Many of you have smartphones, notepads, chromebooks or laptops; and may know something about USB devices and docking stations.

We have a chicken tractor (or two) with an external nestbox.  Which means we can remove eggs from outside the tractor.  But we build this nestbox like a USB thumbdrive, it slides into a socket in the back wall of the chicken tractor.

Some place on the farm, we build a "docking station".  If we have N chicken tractors, we have 2N ports on the docking station.  At end of summer, we move over to the docking station, unplug the nest box from the tractor, and we plug it into the nest box side of the docking station.  Then we back the chicken tractor up to the port on the other side of the docking station, and "seat" it.  Repeat for all chicken tractors.

The docking station is probably about 5 feet tall (because the nestbox height on the chicken tractor is about 4 feet), and is wide enough for the chicken tractors to be parked on the one side (and they have axles, wheels and other stuff).  The docking station is as "thick" as it needs to be.

I am thinking rocket mass heater in the docking station.  It would be nice if there was a thermoelectric generator to generate power to charge batteries, because solar power doesn't work so well when you only get 4.5 hours of direct sunlight per day (or less, that is the most direct sunlight I see on my north slope on the winter solstice).  But, a person could lug batteries so that a computer over wifi can report data to home.  By computer, I am thinking RPi or Arduino type stuff.  It is possible that a person needs a couple of 12V fans, to circulate some heat from the docking station to the two "mounted" chicken tractors.  The docking station probably has room for food and water, and might have windows to let the chickens know about daylight.  But basically the docking station has a mezzanine at the level of the chicken tractor and nest boxes for the chickens to use, to get to food and water and back to their chicken tractor home.  The egg laying (chickens willing) continues to happen in the nest boxes and the sleeping on the roosts in the chicken tractors.

A person could put insulation over top and around/under the chicken tractor, and maybe put a tarp over that.

Most of the computer technology of this note, is the idea of using a docking station to allow use of the chicken tractor all year long.

I am just starting to get into wifi and mesh networking on the farm, and I don't know if where I might build this is close enough to get data to my computers.

There are probably holes/bugs in this idea.
 
pollinator
Posts: 316
Location: Athens, GA Zone 8a
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I have no idea if this will work or not, but I like how you think!

As far as the extra bird in one of the tractors...if you're like everyone else, you're going to lose a few birds, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Thanks for the kind words.

You're a pollinator, eh?  I am trying more flowers this year, including phacelia tanacetafolia.  I think I have enough seed coming for 5 million plants.  

I don't know if this idea is inspired at all by Alton Brown from the Food Network, but permaculture abounds by the idea that everything be a multitasker.  Or, almost everything.

I haven't got a plan for a chicken tractor at the moment, but it seems to me that this nest boxes are likely going to be more than 3 feet off the ground, and less than 5 feet..  I have one aunt who is only 4 foot 8 or so, and a 4 foot tall nest box would be difficult for her.

The generic construction wood around here is called SPF (Spruce Pine Fir).  Just about everything I've gone to build out of SPF, ends up weighing more than I would like when it is finished.  It is easy to say you will make a lightweight widget, but it is always really easy to add eight here and there and end up with something heavy.

What I am expanding on below, is how the Nth version of this would get built.  How much of this I will do on this first iteration, I don't know.

The best wood I can get for cabinets is Baltic birch, which is a plywood with thin plies and almost never any voids.  It looks reasonably nice.  But birch, really isn't known for durability in outdoor projects.

I think you can get baltic birch in thinner than 3mm (1/8 inch), but I've never seen it up here.  But, if a person uses 1 inch foam and skins it with 3mm baltic birch, your basic "board" for building a chicken tractor is about 1.25 inches thick.  A wood skin is needed on both inside and outside.  At the beginning, just worry about "finishing" the inside.  The foam is a water barrier.   I think you can get glass fabric as low as 0.56 ounces per square yard.  In general, your finished lay up of glass and epoxy is about 50% fabric and 50% epoxy.

Baltic birch typically comes as a 5x5 sheet (although I gather a work a like called Appleply comes as 4x8), and I suspect this tractor will be about 5 feet wide.   A 5x5 sheet of 1 inch foam is a bit over 2 cubic feet.  Maybe it is about 3 pounds per cubic foot;   So, about 6 pounds of foam.  

A 5x5 sheet of 3mm baltic birch is about 11 pounds.  We want 2 sheets, so 22 pounds.

A 5x5 sheet of baltic brich is about 2.7777777777777 square yards.  We have 2 surfaces.  If we use 0.56 ounce glass, that means we will have about 3 ounces of glass fabric and about 3 ounces of epoxy.  We will probably use epoxy to adhere the baltic birch to the foam, so maybe another 3 ounces to do both of those surface.

So, the rough bottom of a chicken tractor (assuming 5x5 for the bottom) is 3+11+0.5=15 pounds.

The competing design is SPF.  We have 19'5" of 2x4, and 50 square feet of 1/2 inch exterior plywood.  Which is 4823 cubic inches of SPF, and a guess at 75 pounds of SPF.

The SPF panel is 2 inch thick, compared to 1.25 for the foam/birch/glass/epoxy.  Birch is a stiffer wood than spruce, and glass is much stiffer than wood (even though we have very little glass here).  The glass will impose itself on properties, because it is as far away from the neutral axis as you can get.

So, we can choose the more aircraft like construction at 1/5th the weight and is stiffer; or the more easily available and know SPF.  The epoxy surface once cured is almost food safe.  You can buy food safe epoxy, it is more expensive.  Not that epoxy is cheap, but we are only looking at about 6 ounces of epoxy for this 5x5 sheet.  Wood and epoxy are both UV sensitive, so you need to paint both.  I think a polyurethane (marine) white paint with either titanium dioxide (there are 2 different ones) or zinc oxide is fine.  It will protect both wood and epoxy from UV.

Whether it is SPF or foam/birch/glass/epoxy; you probably want to put a layer of hardware cloth on the bottom (and probably part way up the sides).  It is the same weigh addition to both.  But that keeps animals like weasels from  clawing/chewing through the bottom.

A chicken tractor is in a sense, a box.  Easy boxes have 6 sides.  So, to build the SPF chicken tractor you are looking at 450 pounds plus the fence and the wheels.  It is easy to see how this gets so heavy that you need a tractor or many people to move.  To build it out of foam/birch/glass/epoxy; it is less than 100 pounds plus the fence and wheels.

The only foam easily available to me, is not friendly.  Which is a problem.  But, at some point we should either be able to make or buy foam that is made from vegetable oil.  It will likely be a polyurethane foam.  Making the resin part of a PU foam (or epoxy) is fairly easy; making the hardener for PU (or epoxy) is difficult.  To avoid problems (today), a person could use fossil sources for the hardener.

I'm a reasonable chemist, and I am not set up to make my own stuff from vegetable oil (I gather the best oil I could grow here, is likely flax oil).  Hopefully in the future I will be able to do better.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Docking station.

I don't know that I need to have a heat source in the docking station.  The chickens could make enough heat for themselves.

But, If the docking station is 5 feet tall and the mezzanine that the chickens walk on is about 4 feet off the ground, that means that 80% of the docking station has a zero occupancy factor.

Can a person build a "small" RMH?  Can we "dribble" in fuel (like nut tree branch fragments)?  But to have something like 40% of the volume of a structure devoted to thermal mass, might be useful.

How much light (windows) does this mezzanine need?  The chickens are expected to go back to the chicken tractor(s) to sleep.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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A friend who has raised chickens in northern Alberta, central Alberta and SE Manitoba pointed out that chickens evolve a lot of dust, and if he had to guess a best temperature for laying eggs, it would be something like 21-22C (70-72F).  He also pointed out the humidity that chickens generate (which is widely known).

Dust and open flames don't mix well, so if a source of heat is needed, it probably should be outside.  So, we have something like a "stove" outside the docking station at one end,   Perhaps sitting on a bed of gravel and surrounded by concrete block.  We have an air to air heat exchanger to provide intake air to the docking station.  The air admitted to the mezzanine is at this 21-22C temperature (if needed).  The nest boxes are shallow, but a dead end for airflow (stagnant).  The plugin openings to the chicken tractors are probably near the floor level of the chicken tractor.  We place small fans near the ceiling of the chicken tractor(s) with a shutter, to let/push (warm) air out if the top of the tractor in such a way that the chickens don't feel a (cold) draft.  Controlling that with an Arduino equipment with a temperature and relative humidity sensor shouldn't be hard or expensive.  It may be that just opening and closing, or controlling how open the shutter is, is sufficient.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Phys.org has an interesting blurb from late 2017

https://phys.org/news/2017-11-earth-air-exchanger-farm-animals-livestock.html

This probably has lots of different names.  Is one of them "earth pipes"?  Or similar to that?  I have seen this kind of idea presented in passive solar projects, and had considered this as a heating method for a root cellar.

This phys.org article talks about 40m buried pipe (132 feet). buried 2m deep.  I think the depth is slightly below where the frost line is for your part of the world, at least in places which get significant snow or cold in winter.  I think it is best if the pipe has some slope on it, so that condensation will flow someplace (slowly).  You probably want condensation to flow into some kind of a sump (dry well) when it gets to the lowest point.  That should keep the condensation from having much contact with the air being drawn in.  You probably want smooth wall pipe to reduce pressure drop, and it might need to be fairly large diameter (4 inch probably isn't big enough).

The phys.org article is also looking at this as a source of cooling for pigs and poultry in summer, which is closer to the uses I have read about for solar passive ventilation.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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The Ontario government has a blurb on ventilation heat exchangers for barns.

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/19-013.htm

The stylized livestock in their first picture, looks like a chicken  to me.  Anyway, they are saying for raising animals in Ontario, if the outside temperature is -20C that 85% of the input (heat) energy in a (poultry?) barn is lost in the ventilation air exhaust and that 15% is lost through the "skin" of the building.  And then they go on to look at air to air heat exchangers to use ventilation exhaust to preheat incoming fresh air.

This paper is specifically concerned with big barns.  And the heat exchangers are commercial things.  I don't know if cheap replacements are around for small operations.

 
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sound like a big plan with lots of moving parts, share some pictures if you build it
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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A ski mountaineer hacked up a air to air heat exchanger, otherwise known as a heat recovery ventilator.  I found this at LouDawson.com, but all the images have WildSnow.com copyrights.  It looks like WildSnow forwards to LouDawson.

https://www.loudawson.com/17884/how-to-build-air-cross-flow-heat-exchanger/

His particular plants have a unit about 8 feet long, which should work for the 2 station docking port.  A person would need to install ducting in the chicken tractor(s) to draw moist air from near the ceiling of the chicken tractor, out the port into the docking station, where it is pumped into this HRV.

I don't think corrugated inner (aluminum foil) tubing is a good idea, rigid should be better.

 
pollinator
Posts: 353
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Gordon Haverland wrote:Thanks for the kind words.

You're a pollinator, eh?  I am trying more flowers this year, including phacelia tanacetafolia.  I think I have enough seed coming for 5 million plants.  



Not much input from me on the rest of your post.  But "pollinator" is a forum title.  It's based on having a track record of quality posts.  It has nothing to do with pollinating plants.  Although I have that title too I'm pretty sure I've never pollinated any plant, at least not intentionally.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I finished wading through the comments on Lou Dawson's website.

The inxoming air (winter) will be cooler and less absolute humidity.  The outgoing air will be warmer, and high in terms of absolute humidity and relative humidity.

The heat capacity of the incoming air will be significantly lower than the heat capacity of the warm, moist air going out.

If the docking station is 10 feet long, you want this heat exchanger pipe to be higher at the end opposite where the air intake is.  The warm, moist air travels in the outer (PVC or DWV) pipe.  The incoming dry, cold air travels inside the inner aluminum pipe.  To make rigid dryer pipe from sheet aluminum is probably cheaper, it is possible buying aluminum tubing (thin wall) might be almost as cheap and might work better.

The chicken tractor will need vents near the ceiling to work properly in summer.  This vents will need to be closed for operation at the docking station.

Condensation is inevitable in the outer (plastic) pipe.

Having the ducting that draws near ceiling air from the chicken tractor to push to the docking station should allow for an air filter to be used at the inlet in the chicken tractor.  I think this filter pretty much has to be HEPA, since we are seeing yet again in the news that farm animals are involved in virus transport at times.  You want a filter that can stop ordinary dust, bacteria and virii from getting involved in the condensation in the HRV.

If you wanted to be paranoid about things, having UVB lights in the outer air flow area would also work against bacteria and virii.  The cost of that would be the degradation of the plastic.  How long a tube would last, would depend on how much UV light is in the tube.  But it might makes sense to have two tubes plumbed in, so that you can pull a tube to replace it when needed.

Aluminum is amphoteric, it is vaguely unreactive for neutral pH, but it is more reactive for low and high pH.

There will likely be some condensation on the outside of the aluminum tube in the centre, especially towards the moist air exit/  You probably want to vent this moist air outlet so that it dumps its exhaust at least 2 feet away from the intake, and in a direction where prevailing winds don't cause recirculation.

If a person were to dig an underground air input line (apparently 132 feet), that spends a significant distance under the frost line (or 2m), that air should be getting to the docking station at something like 40-50F.  Digging that trench is an investment.  I've dug 60 feet with a deepest point fo about 4 feet down with a mattock, I can imagine digging a 132 foot trench to 2m..  To use such a pipe (heat source) for the docking station, I think it would be prudent to put a HEPA filter on it, before it enters the input at the docking station.  If the air inlet is just working with ordinary air, an ordinary filter is fine.  A common thing to ingest in winter is blown snow, and a filter would keep that out.

If conditions were such, that you felt you needed a little more input heat, perhaps a small wood furnace (opposite side from air intake) fueled by wood pellets(?) might be enough?  Have the "preheated" intake air exit the docking station, flow past a section of exhaust pipe from this pellet heater, and then go back into the docking station.  If you are using combustion heat to warm the preheated air more, you might need some kind of a mixing valve to control input temperatures to the docking station.

And with that, I think I need to go looking for chicken tractor plans that I can bend to this goal.
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:

Gordon Haverland wrote:Thanks for the kind words.

You're a pollinator, eh?  I am trying more flowers this year, including phacelia tanacetafolia.  I think I have enough seed coming for 5 million plants.  



Not much input from me on the rest of your post.  But "pollinator" is a forum title.  It's based on having a track record of quality posts.  It has nothing to do with pollinating plants.  Although I have that title too I'm pretty sure I've never pollinated any plant, at least not intentionally.



Too many bells and whistles for me.  I suppose I should be waiting for a label at some point like autistic, or dumbhead.  

I got criticized by the system for responding to someone.  I have more than 35,000 hours of study in materials science, and to have someone comment stuff that was nonsense in my area of expertice caused me problems.  So I just deleted my response.  And I've built stuff and I've done some blacksmithing.

----

I am just starting on this trek to plant more trees and try to build systems.  I am now on my second attempt to see if paw paw will grow here.  Probably because it is deer resistant, and I have deer problems.  But I have no idea if there are pollinators in the area (beetles that like the scent of rotting meat).
 
Gordon Haverland
Posts: 489
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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Hmm, more complexity.

We can put additional insulation and a tarp over the chicken tractors, but maybe, we only want to do so over the nest part.  We leave the "run" open.  If it is below -40, the chickens might not want to be outside in the winter.

But, if it is a nice day near 0C (32F), maybe the birds want to be outside.  Grasses don't grow when it can get cold, and so at some point, and dormant grass will be gone.  Which defeats some of why to have a run.

So, a person sprouts seeds into a mat of sorts, and raises insects like maggots.  If it is a warm winter day; open a hatch to the run and toss in some insect thing like maggots and then cover it with sprouted seeds of some kind.  The sprouts will give some "cover" to the insects, helping them live a little longer.

But around here, if the nice "day" comes from a chinook; it can disappear in a hurry.  A person can get the chickens back into the tractor easily enough before it gets too cold.  But the insects and sprouts are left outside.  The next warm day, the birds can go find now dead insects and the sprouts.  It may be that some sprouted seeds are unpalatable after freezing; but I suspect any thawed insect is fine.

But; you can't grow those sprouts or raise those insects without something like a greenhouse in the winter.  Or a heated garage.
 
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