Slate Run Farm


 Small Farm Welding

It took me forever to break down and buy my first welder. It was an inexpensive MIG wire feed welder from Lowes. This was before we even moved to the farm. I never regretted the decision. Not only is welding fun, but it opens a whole new world of repair and fabrication. Farmers have historically built and repaired just about everything on their operation. Full time farmers routinely use welders in their operation. Why not the farmer with the smallholding? Besides quickly and permanently repairing cracked or broken equipment, you can cheaply and quickly fabricate all sorts of useful goodies even using found or scrap metal. One of the greatest savings is in the price of hardware. The cost of screws, brackets, and hinges can add up to quite a large material cost in a project built out of bulky wood. A great example is a portable chicken coop I built from galvanized electrical conduit. It is not only strong, but lightweight, and has lasted for quite a few years now. If I need to repair, I could cut out a rusty or damaged section, and weld in a new one with no perceptible compromise in strength. We have added bars to fence gates, repaired welded fence panels, built hay feeders, gate latch mechanisms, repaired equipment, vehicles, exhausts, BBQs, and more. Recently we replaced the rusted fenders on our stock trailer. After pricing out the cost of replacement fenders from several suppliers I found that I could buy sheet steel from the local metal supplier and weld them together myself for about half the cost and with a much heavier gauge metal than the originals. The one limitation is that most beginning welding projects are going to be out of mild steel (the most common kind). If you want to weld aluminum, or stainless steel the equipment and skills can get more complex.
So now that you are convinced, Where do you start? As with wood working you can't do it all with just one tool, but the welder is the heart of the operation. The most basic welder is the "Buzz Box" stick welder. These are great machines and have their merit. They are simple to use, have no moving parts, and probably will last forever, but require a 220v outlet. Also commonly available, and the most popular models are wire feed welders. All operate with flux-core wire, and some also operate with a solid wire and a gas shield. The flux-core mode allows you to weld without shielding gas, but makes for a dirtier weld. The most inexpensive wire-feed welders do flux-core only. The shielding gas mode is commonly referred to as "MIG" or "GMAW". These welders are all available in models that plug into common household outlets. Larger units require a 220v outlet, and some models allow you to plug into either a 120v or 220v outlet depending on the welding power you require. The least expensive units are going to have less power output and are probably not going to stand up as well to constant use. I've had my little 120v welder for over 10 years of occasional use with no problems and no maintenance either. Just a small investment and a little practice can thrust you into a whole new world of farm fabrication and repair. 
There are a million tools that you can buy to help with your welding and metal fabrication projects. If there were two or three that I would deem essential one would be an angle grinder. Typically priced around $50 or so, you can attach grinding, cutting, wire wheels, or sanding discs to this versatile tool. It'll cut quickly through most thinner metals and get reasonably well into corners. Another good tool is a metal chop saw, or for really occasional use a metal cutting disc for your mitre saw. A 10" metal cutting disc will slice through angle, box and tubular steel cleanly, straight and quickly. If you attach the cutting disc to your mitre saw (designed for wood), just be careful of melting any plastic guards, and move it to a clean work area where resulting sparks won't ignite any combustibles. A sawzall can be useful, but really only for sheet, or thin metal parts. 
I have a stockpile of used metal and pieces of scrap that I use for projects. One favorite source is angle iron from discarded bed frames at the dump. If you want to buy fresh metal the least expensive route is to find the metal supplier in your area. BMG metals in Manassas, Va is our closest source. Their staff is friendly and will help you find exactly what you need, no matter how small your project. Although the home improvement stores carry a small selection of metal pieces, It is much more expensive and the selection is limited.
The first few welds I made were really ugly, but were still functional. Over time I've increased my skills a bit, and every project or repair have been quite fun. I always look forward to using my welder, and am constantly amazed at the strong permanent connections made by this machine. The money that I've saved by the use of my welder is just the icing on the cake. If you're even a little bit handy and enjoy building and repair, you won't regret buying a welder.

 Sturdy Oak Milking/Fitting Stand.

We developed a design for a milking/fitting stand that is made from 2, 16ft oak fence boards, some decking screws, and a couple of angle braces. We've had several of these stands in service for 5 years or more with no appreciable signs of wear. They are sturdy, reasonably light, incredibly functional, economical, and nice to look at. You will however need some basic woodworking tools and some woodworking knowledge to make a good job of it. Use dried fence boards, as ones that have been stored outside in all but the hottest driest summer days will shrink and loosen your stand after it has been assembled. 

Oak fence boards are typically 1"x6" in cross section. This is a rough cut though and can vary a bit from board to board. Most measurements are approximate and will have to be finalized during the assembly process. Choose 2 boards that are nice and straight and have the fewest knots and defects. Note that all screws placed will have to be pre-drilled and countersunk to avoid splitting. 2-1/2" deck screws are recommended and can be used for all connections. All cross cuts can be done with a chop saw or mitre saw. A table saw is recommended for all rip cuts. If these are not available, a sharp hand saw will do it all, but more slowly. Clamping pieces together during assembly helps the accuracy and speed of the job, as does a helper!

Cut 3 pieces of board to 48" in length. These will make the deck. Lay them out on your workbench nice and square. Measure across them to find the exact width which should be about 18". Cut a piece of board to this length. Be sure to choose sections of board that have no knots in areas that will make them weak. Cut this piece in half lengthwise. These two pieces will tie the 3 deck boards together. Draw a rule across the deck boards 6" from the ends to guide the placement of the cross ties. Line up one of the cross ties and place the first screw. Once the first screw is placed, drill and place another on the far side to hold it all together. I put 2 screws in every board across the ties. Repeat for the other cross tie. You now have completed the deck.

The deck sits 15" off the floor. Measure and cut a 15" piece of board to use as the back legs. Draw a line diagonally across the piece using a straight edge so that it terminates 1-1/2" from the edge of the board on either side. Cut along this line. This will give you two triangular pieces that are identical to use as the back legs. Fit and clamp them into position and place a screw on either end of the top through the deck into the leg. Also place one screw horizontally through the cross tie into the leg. This will make the rear quite sturdy. 

The front legs and stanchion uprights are made from one piece. A height between 52-60" is good. This measurement can vary depending on the size of goats you have. The first stands we made used a piece 60" high, but we later found that a full sized alpine goat fits comfortably even in a shorter stanchion. The piece of board for this will have to be very carefully selected for straightness and have no knots large enough to weaken it. Once cut to length it will be cut in half lengthwise to form the two stanchion uprights. Measure 15" from one end and mark across with a pencil. You can then cut an angle in the 15" leg section so that it tapers down to 1-1/2" from the approximate 3" width of the stanchion upright. Lay this piece against the side of the deckboard so you can mark the width of the cutout you are about to make. We use a circle saw with the depth set to the width of the board and dado it out. Be careful to make it tight. This will help with the strength and stability of the stand. Once the cutout is made, clean it up with a sharp chisel. Place two screws horizontally through the side of the upright into the deck of the stand. Then place one screw horizontally through the front cross tie into the upright. You can now set your milkstand upright!

By now you should get the routine of measuring, cutting and screwing. Refer to the pictures for placement of cross braces in the stanchion. Make a measurement across the bottom of the deck by the stanchion to establish the length of the cross braces. Cut the cross braces to length. The top two braces may have to be planed down a bit to facilitate movement of the stanchion bars. Also note the cutout in the front cross brace that controls the movement of the stanchion bar. The two slots are centered in the bar and are approximately 4" apart outside dimension. Leave a ridge on the center so that bar may be slid to center and then passively drops into place. The lower cross brace is screwed to the front of the uprights (not the face) below the front upper brace and determines the height of the feed trough and stanchion bar length. Use a piece of scrap 2x4 or 2x8 for the feed trough hanger and screw it to the face of the lower stanchion brace. A piece of 2x8 fits the feed trough hanger perfectly and supports the lower part of the feed trough. 

Fabrication of the stanchion bar is not difficult, but must be done with care. I chose to buy a finished piece of 1x2 oak from the hardware store, because it is the one part where a piece of nice finished lumber will benefit. Measure from the bottom of your lower cross brace to the top of the top stanchion cross bar. Add 2 or 3 inches for your handle. Cut 2 pieces from the 1x2 oak board to this length. Then with a router cut a 1-1/2" slot centered 1" from one end of both boards. Holding one of the boards in place on the stanchion, with the bottom flush with the bottom of the lower brace, mark with a nail or a scratch awl the bottom of the slot on the stanchion top brace. This will locate the position of the angle brace on the stanchion bar. Hold angle brace in place and with a chisel cut a countersink so that the angle brace sits flush with the surface of the stanchion bar. Screw in place. Repeat with other stanchion bar so that it appears as a mirror image. Mark lower stanchion brace at 4" centered. This will guide the placement of the Stanchion bar screw to the lower brace. Place stanchion bar into place, hooking the angle brace into it's slot. With the lower part aligned vertically, place a screw with a washer to the top of the slot in the lower part of the stanchion bar. Do this for both sides. 

One more piece to help with longevity is two diagonal braces connecting the stanchion uprights with the deck.

Yeah! You've completed your first stand. If you build one or two more you'll get the hang of it and be able to cut down on the time quite a bit. I've built at least a dozen of these stands some of which were sold and the proceeds donated to our local 4H clubs. I can now put one together in about 3 hours. Some have been sized down a bit for mini-goats but I usually still make the deck at least 42" long. Happy woodworking!
Sven Trummer

 Milking Machines and the Small Farm Goat Dairy

Mechanical milking equipment and it's use is a necessity for today's commercial dairy industry. The advantages are, cleaner milk, faster milking, and easier milking regardless of teat-size or shape. We would not be able to milk out a yearling with small teats manually as easily as with a machine. For the home dairy or small farm there is debate whether it would be worthwhile to use a milking machine. If you only have a few animals to milk and they are easy milkers, it could be hard to justify. There are reasons, however, that even the small producer would investigate using such equipment. Perhaps after many years of milking, your hands don't work quite as well anymore, or time is at a premium and every minute spent milking counts. It is also easier to have a friend milk your goats for you if they have a machine that is easy to use.
Not all milking machines are created equal, and you can't just go down to the local farm store and pick up a small, medium or large unit to suit your needs. To best fit the needs of your operation, a milking machine must be both cost effective and time-saving to use. A pipeline system with a number of milking stanchions is the best way to handle a large number of animals, and a single animal bucket milker is the best way to handle a smaller number of animals. There were historically also a combination of pipeline, and bucket systems where the pipeline supplied the vacuum and the milk was pumped into individual buckets. 

Home-made portable unit set up with Surge Bucket to milk cows.

Focusing on the needs of the small farm, some type of bucket system is probably the most cost effective and time-saving solution. Within that focus however, there are considerations to further refine the design of the milking setup. 10 goats could be well served milking into a 7-gallon bucket that has 2 sets of teat-cups or claw assemblies. If only one or two animals are to be milked, there are simple home-brew setups that minimize tubing and valves and have the bucket sit on the milking stand under the animal to be milked. If you have 10 or more goats to be milked, then you won't mind the extra time it takes to cleanse the claw assemblies, and tubing from a two goat setup. Otherwise with only 2-3 animals, the minimalist setup is the most efficient.
If you want an off-the-shelf milker, Caprine Supply, or Parts Dept. have good solutions. Both companies will work with you to customize your setup. I've ordered quite a bit of stuff from both sources and they are both pleasant and helpful. Expect to pay well over $1000 for a nice turn key system. 
Can you develop your own home-made milking machine? If you surf the web you will find that there are many solutions to the problem. First you must understand the basics. There are two main components to any milking system. One is the vacuum source, and the other is the bucket/milk extraction unit. For the vacuum source, a good vacuum pump is essential. There are many types of vacuum pumps, but the rotary vane type used for HVAC service are the most cost effective. Capacity needs to be at least 6CFM (cubic feet per minute) to milk one animal. You also need a vacuum regulator or relief valve to bleed off excess vacuum, and a gauge to read your setting (11-14In/Hg). A balance tank is also a necessity, to quickly transfer your vacuum charge to the bucket and get the system going. It also provides a brief reserve if a teat-cup falls off. You also need all the tubing and pipe fittings to hook all the components together. Finally you need to attach a stall-cock to engage the machine when you want to start milking.
For the least headaches the bucket assembly is best bought new from one of the above mentioned dairy supplies or other source. If, however you are mechanically minded and love to tinker, the Surge Milker bucket assemblies  can be obtained for much less on Ebay. Beware that these are all vintage and will probably take some work to get them running reliably. The heart of any milk extraction unit is the pulsator. It's operation and reliability is the key to getting the milk out quickly and safely. I have rebuilt and use the Surge Milker type pulsator reliably but some people I've helped with their machines would probably be better served using a modern pulsator.
One final recommendation is to enclose your milking unit. Barns are dirty places and it will keep your machine nice and clean. You can also keep a light bulb on to help keep the machine warm on those really cold mornings. An alternative is to have your machine located remotely in a warmed room. You can plumb the vacuum source to your milking station and even wire a remote on/off switch.
Mechanical milking is a broad and developing science. There is a world of information regarding new and developing technology in this field. This article is only intended to help you understand some of the basics and give an overview of some practical considerations. My initial interest was when a friend said she hated her machine and I helped solve some of the problems that technically and practically made it unusable. I have since then helped several people with their milking setups. I hope this article is helpful in making a decision about mechanical milking.
Sven Trummer

 Pizza Box Baby Chick Feeder

You too can turn an ordinary large pizza box into a hopper-style feeder for raising your baby chicks. It is inexpensive, the chicks won't soil the feed and you won't have to fill it as often as the ordinary feed store variety. Takes only about 15 minutes.

Tools required are a pencil, metal straight edge, sharp utility blade, and a hot glue gun. 

First, cut 3" off the top of the flap (fig. 1). Then open the folded part of the bottom of the box, and cut enough to create a new flap, with little wings on the side that fold in (fig. 2). Use the straight edge to press in and score the cardboard where you want to make new creases. Next, unfold the entire box, and measure 2" up from the bottom, and mark. Then measure another 1-1/2" and mark. Do this on both sides so you can make a pencil line across the box. Use these parallel lines to guide the 1-1/2" square holes you will hand cut across the box (fig. 3). Just eyeball it. The chicks won't mind if you're not perfect.
Next, use the piece cut from the top with wings to create the hopper guide. Cut excess cardboard from the side flaps so that guide will angle back to about 3/8" from the back of the box. Line up the bottom of the guide at the bottom of the feed holes, and glue it in (fig. 4). A small piece of cardboard glued into the center will keep the guide from flexing. Place a piece of clear packing tape at the leading edge of the feed guide, this will help keep the flow of feed smooth. Now just finish up by gluing the whole thing closed. If you mess up on the first one, order another pizza and try again. This is also great little project for 4H kids! Have fun, feed your chicks, and keep their feed nice and clean.

Fig. 1      Fig. 2

Fig. 3     Fig. 4

Finished Feeder Baby Chicks Enjoying their Feeder!

I recently finished reading a wonderful goat book. My wife, Nina found it in the local library and checked it out for me. Goat Husbandryby David Mackenzie was first published in 1957, and the fifth edition was published in 1993, revised by Ruth Goodwin. My first impression was the interesting British perspective on raising goats. The book includes all aspects of goat care and housing but is focused on commercial goat keeping, including dairying, fiber and meat goats. It gives historical perspective to the place of the goat in agriculture and under what circumstances goats can be profitable to keep. Curious to the American perspective there are repeated references to British law and ordinances to which the goat farmer must abide. One law being that disbudding must be performed under anesthesia by a licensed Vet. Of particular interest to me were the sections on Cropping for Goats, and on Goat Farming Systems. In the Cropping for Goats section, Mackenzie describes some of the crops one can raise on a small scale operation to help nourish the goats and maximize milk yield. In the Goat Farming Systems section, there are examples of several farms and a description of how they operate and remain profitable. The book is well written and an easy read, but is not as focused on the basics like Storey's Guide to Raising Goats. Even if you've owned goats for quite a long time I think you'll find this book quite an interesting read!

Sven Trummer

 PVC Mineral Feeder

This article is intended to improve on the idea of the PVC tube mineral feeder. If you don't mind spending money then buy the Kane mineral feeder which looks quite nice and has two resevoirs. One for minerals, and one for soda. For the rest of us trying to save a buck, making one out of a PVC tube is one solution. I've seen quite a few examples where people bought the PVC pipe and all the fittings and glued them together. It is however kind of a clunky design, and not any cheaper than the Kane feeder. My Idea was to simplify the design and build it out of just one piece of tubing. If you buy a 10' piece you can make 4-5 feeders depending on how long you make them and do it for less than $20. Note The Kane feeder costs around $26 plus shipping and it has 2 resevoirs. This is not a bad deal, and it's a great design. I do however like to have feeders
hanging in various locations for the goat's convenience, and built a few myself. The key to the design is the cuts and the glue you use. The pictures below should explain the design and how to assemble it. I first tried a 3" diameter pipe but found that the 4" diameter seemed a better size. I chose a length of 2ft for the main shaft, then cut off the end at a 30° angle. You can make the straight cut with a power mitre saw, but the best way to make the angle cut is with a simple old-fashioned wood saw. I marked the angle on my work bench, then clamped the pipe flush with the edge of the bench. Then eyeballing from above, set the saw to work. Start carefully, and check directly from above to make sure the cut is in the right location. The rounding of the pipe will make you tend to cut too close to the end if you don't look directly from above. Once the saw has started a groove, take your time so you get a straight cut. This piece will be reversed and glued to the main shaft to create a hopper style resevoir. The second necessary part is a baffling sleeve to control the flow of mineral. Cut a 4" piece from the pipe you bought or you can use a thin walled piece of PVC like in the picture. Cut a small section out of the piece just big enough so you can compress it and fit it inside the tube. It then can be pushed up or down to control the flow of mineral. The second picture shows the baffle inserted into the main tube. Finally, we need to glue the two pieces together. PVC cement is not appropriate, since it is somewhat brittle when it sets. A better cement is a common automotive adhesive made for assembling plastic pieces. It has a high tack and once set has a slight spring and resilience. It is also sold in the plumbing section of your hardware store labelled as "Amazing Goop". Just read the directions, and glue the pieces together nice and straight! You can insert the baffle later. The first one I made I cut the top at a slight angle and attached a small piece of board as a lid with a short piece of wire. I did then however find an inexpensive "test cap" that is much cheaper than a proper PVC end cap. Mounting one can be left up to your imagination. I've jammed mine in corners and tied them with baling twine, but a proper mounting could be done with a metal strap. This could be heated slightly and set into the outside of the PVC to help hold it's position. The advantages of this design are that it can be filled with a quantity of mineral, and that it is less likely to get soiled by having the goats poop into it or put their hooves into it. Good luck and happy goating!

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