DIY Pasture Shade / AKA ‘No More Fried Ducklings’

Like much of the country/world, we have been dealing with increasing temperatures here at Birdsong Farm Oregon. Last year we lost a half dozen nests of Muscovy ducks due to the heat frying the eggs under our half barrel nests without any proper shade. It was a total tragedy that left our mother hens confused and distressed – one we have not forgotten and do not want to repeat! Since our pasture has but one shade tree on it we had to get creative. Enter Miranda’s brain and sketch book, some materials on hand and a killer deal on some Ebay shade cloth. I hope this post may be of use to you!

Farming makes me happy

Materials we used:

  • Baling twine. (if you aren’t already savvy to the infinite uses of baling twine, you haven’t been creative enough)
  • Shade cloth. I purchased a roll of 7×100 feet of 90% shade cloth for under $60 on Ebay
  • T-posts – all were on hand in assorted states of bent: still work fine!
  • Tiny cable ties (not sure of the cost, but cheap)

Assembling these two areas of shade took us a few hours on a beautiful sunny day listening to birdsong. How we did it:

First we drove two T-posts near the rear of our nests (full of setting hens). I tied many lengths of baling twine together to create a long IMG_4975‘rope’ that stretches much less than actual rope and utilized free/trash materials on hand. We then measured from the first set of T-posts about 5 feet so that the 7 foot shade cloth would reach and also drape over for more early morning shade. We drove these posts at an angle so that the tension of a tight rope between them would pull them in less. Once all the baling twine was tightly secured we cut the shade cloth to length and attached via small cable ties. This shade cloth came with hemmed edges that i rolled around the baling twine and tightly secured the cable ties.  The center of this long run sags somewhat so we plan to add a 5th t-post to the center on the high side. I also put a stake at the center of the low side to keep the shade cloth off the back of the nests.

Cool ducks

For the ‘grow out area’ we just needed as large a shaded area as we could make. I decided not to angle it and to just make one long rectangle about 2 feet off the ground. We drove the first 2 t posts about 30 feet apart and tightly tied the baling twine between them, then adding a third t-post in the center, attaching the existing twine to that post with a second, shorter piece of twine. Next we measured and cut the shade cloth and attached the first long side. Using the shade cloth as a measuring tool we drove the next three t-posts. * all t-posts in this structure were driven at a slight outward angle to manage the tension. We placed the cloth low so that there would be less potential stretch/sag. We ran the same long rope of baling twine around the entire perimeter, securing at each corner firmly.

erecting a shade structure for our duckserecting a shade structure for our duckserecting a shade structure for our duckserecting a shade structure for our ducks

After getting the cloth all attached we notice that it sagged somewhat. So, i made two ‘x’ patterns with the baling twine under the cloth from corner to center/ etc:

tight as a fiddle!

We then thought to ourselves: “Growing Muscovy ducks really like to fly and land on their houses. One duck trying to land on this will ruin it completely….. perhaps we should try and prevent that.” So we strung two more lines of baling twine above the ‘roof’ to hopefully thwart their interest in jumping on this. We’ll see how THAT goes. will this keep the ducklings off?

It rained last night which caused quite a bit of sagging, but as it dried the sag decreased. This will be a season of experimenting with this. For our meat chickens we plan to build a very simple/lightweight tractor with shade cloth on top that we can move around. I’m sure we’ll have new trials to learn from, but learn we will and new strategies will we develop! The great thing about this system is that we can ‘easily’ move it to a new position in a new season and don’t have any heavy tractors to lug around. The t-posts can be pulled using a car jack. Ask me at the end of hte summer how much i am excited about cutting all the cable ties and re-doing this system a few feet away vs just dragging a tractor….. haha. The nice thing about this is that we purchased very few materials and didn’t need to ‘build’ anything… so, pros and cons.

Pocket approves. :)

Pocket approved

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Custom Nubbins: Maslow and Valerie

It’s Fiber Friday once again and i’m pleased to feature two adorable corgis and their custom Nubbins, Valerie and Maslow. Thanks to their mama for sending me these great photos, which i plan to include in my 2017 Fiber Friends calendar!

Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber Friends Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber Friends Corgi Love

Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber Friends Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber Friends Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber Friends Custom "Nubbins" by Fiber FriendsPocket and her little Friends

You can see lots more Fiber Friends and Nubbins OR place an order for your very own custom felted portraits at my website,


Filed under ., Dogs/ Corgis, Felting, Fiber Fridays, Fibers

Scrapple: A Nose to Tail Breakfast Recipe

I recently butchered a hog for the first time. This was a pretty big deal for me and I wanted to be sure I used as much of the animal who’s life I had harvested as I could. The skin and ‘guts’ were wasted, but every other usable bit found its way into my freezer, thanks in part to a comment on my Facebook page suggesting I try out making “Scrapple.” I’d never heard of this before and I’m so happy to have tried making it! It is delicious! Only slightly more time intensive than making stock and much less time required for canning: this will be a go to recipe for me from now on.

If, like me, you didn’t grow up familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch treat, here’s a brief recipe with tips on making this at home. Not butchering a hog anytime in the near future? If you buy whole/half hogs from local farmers and have them processed by a butcher, request the butcher to return the bones and use those. OR buy some cheap cuts of bone in pork (shanks/trotters/butt roast) and make it using those.

How to Make Scrapple/ Pon Haus

  • 2.5-3 quarts rich stock
  • 3 cups cornmeal
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • optional seasonings/herbs including: sage/thyme/crushed hot pepper/savory
  • optional chopped hot peppers and garlic

Scrapple is basically a polenta loaf made with cornmeal and rich pork stock, chilled into loaf form then sliced and fried in your chosen delicious fat (lard or duck fat for me, pleaase!). It all starts by making the rich stock. This is what i started out with:

Homemade Scrapple: RecipeLooks appetizing, doesn’t it? No. BUT cover in water and boil for a few hours and you get some gelatinous/nutritious/mineral rich stock. Included in my stock pot is 1 large red onion, a few bay leaves, salt, pepper and the bones left from butchering a hog: spine/trotters/tongue, etc. I omitted the liver as i didn’t want this livery tasting: liver taste really takes over. I also threw in some old hambones that i’d saved after finishing up some ham roasts. Cover all this with water, bring to a boil and simmer with a lid on for several hours. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for several more hours. Once cool enough to handle, pour the stock through a colander into another pot. I used a pot that has measurements on the inside. Don’t throw away those bones quite yet, though! At this point i put the bones in a tupperware and the new stockpot both into the fridge until the next day. If you started earlier than me continue to the next step now.

Cook the stock down until you have 2.5-3 quarts of liquid. In the meantime pick all the meat off the bones and chop coarsely. Discard the bones (I compost mine). Bring to a boil then gradually add the cornmeal, stirring as you go. Reduce heat to medium/low and continue bubbling and stirring for about 15 minutes or the ‘glop’ sticks to a spoon fairly thickly. Add your chopped meat and optional hot peppers and garlic and stir/simmer for another 10-15 minutes or so. Taste for seasoning: This stuff is fairly bland on its own so you need to add plenty of herbs/salt to your own taste.

Homemade Scrapple: Recipe

Prepare two loaf/bread pans with sheets of wax paper folded inside to make removing the loafs much easier later on. Divide your gloppy  mixture between the two pans and place in the fridge overnight. You may wish to cover in foil or saran wrap. Once cooled the Scrapple will be firm and will pop out of those loaf pans, ready to slice! Slice into even slices and lay out on layers of wax paper on a cookie sheet. I sprinkled a bit of flour between each layer. Freeze like this then store in ziplock bags, ready for sunday brunches for weeks to come!

Homemade Scrapple: Recipe Homemade Scrapple: Recipe Homemade Scrapple: Recipe

To Cook Scrapple:

You may cook straight out of the freezer or allow to thaw. Heat a cast iron pan to medium with a generous dollup of your favorite cooking grease: lard, duck fat, bacon grease, butter – please, no margarine! 😉  Sprinkle a bit of flour on each side of the scrapple and place in the pan. I cooked frozen so i put a lid on my pan while i cooked the first side to help heat the center. Cook until golden brown on the underside and flip, cooking until each side is nice and crispy. The inner texture is a bit puddingy so don’t be surprised if your scrapple wants to fall apart in the pan, a bit like cooking mashed potato pancakes. Serve with fried eggs and a side of apple butter or hot sauce/ketchup or slathered in maple syrup. It’s a bit sweet/corny, a bit savory…. We thought it tasted like hashbrowns, sausage and french toast had a love child together. 

Homemade Scrapple: Recipe Homemade Scrapple: RecipeHomemade Scrapple: Recipe

Did you grow up eating Scrapple? Have you ever made it? Share YOUR favorite variations!

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Planting Garlic – A Fall Favorite

Leaves are turning golden, days are bright yet shorter, and it’s time for one of my favorite chores in the garden: PLANTING GARLIC!

Planting garlic with Pocket the Corgi

I have blogged my ‘how to’s a few times on this blog and have several links to garlic planting tips in my resources page. This post is a re-cap on what i tried this year with some ideas on improving garlic yield.

The first major tip when planting many vegetables and especially garlic: rotation, rotation, rotation….. and this year i’m planting garlic in the same bed as last year. :/  There’s a reason to this madness! My garden is new and i can create a new bed about one per year…. you can see behind me in the photo above a bed filled with sunflowers and cover crops. THIS will be the planting location for garlic next fall, but for now i must make do with the same bed. There is some risk of disease when repeating garlic in the same place, but i’ve done my best to ammend enough that this year’s crop should be pretty darned happy. Last year we tilled up the sod and worked the soil with my broadfork, planting the garlic with some added rabbit manure and not much else. My harvest was pretty nice, but the bulbs weren’t quite as huge as they COULD be:

Garlic Harvest

To further spruce up this bed post harvest in July i added in more rabbit manure (i’m talking a LOT more) and further worked the soil with some growing pullets. We have a Salatin style chicken tractor that is just the right width to span across the entire bed. We started on one end, leaving the chickens in that section for a few weeks, moving down thirds and then back again – that’s a lot of chicken scratching, weeding, molting (feather meal!) and POOPING. The resultant bed was smooth, weed free, and definitely fertile. I lightly worked the bed up to loosen the upper crust and used my broadfork back and forth over the entire bed to open up the soil below slightly while still maintaining most of the natural tilth. (Over tillage is not what we’re about here on Birdsong Farm!).

Last year i planted 7 well spaced rows…. but there’s just something about an odd number of rows that drives me crazy. So, this year i did eight and had just the right amount of seed garlic saved from my July harvest to fill the whole bed. :) Note to self: Next year save 12 cloves Russian Red, 8-12 cloves Nootka Rose and hold the biggest hardneck cloves to finish up the 8×30 foot garlic patch.

Planting Garlic

For the actual planting, i marked my rows (one of my foot width’s apart) and used a how to dig a trough/furrow. I’m in the market for a plow style hoe – this was not the easiest. I planted about 4-6 inches deep, i think, placing the cloves blunt side down into the soil and following with about a table spoon of bone meal per clove and covering again with the soil moved out of the furrow. Once all the rows were in, ammended and covered i mulched the garden like crazy. I use oat or wheat straw…. which inevitably will grow baby oats or wheats but they’re easily pulled as they present themselves. I included a walking row down the center of my bed so that i can reach all areas – weeding garlic is essential! They do not like to compete.

Garlic planted and mulched

You may ask – how will the garlic break out of such deep mulch? Every year i mulch heavily and every year i fear it was a bad idea and every year i’m once again reminded that it’s totally okay and, in fact, prudent. Garlic’s first shoot is a bit like an egg tooth and can break through pretty heavy mulch. We tend to get early or random frosts and that additional mulch helps keep the garlic from freezing. You want your garlic to kind of incubate under there and do the majority of its green growing in the spring. This year i’ve done an additional experiment and inoculated the southern half of the bed with a beneficial mushroom. We’ll get to eat oyster mushrooms and the garlic will have a comrade breaking down the mulch and turning it into nutrition. I can’t wait to see if i notice a difference in yield from one half to the other!

Now we wait. In February and April i will begin fertilizing the patch with liquid seaweed and blood water from butcher days. But, in the meantime – we just wait and let the garlic do its thing. I really couldn’t think of a better way to spend a gorgeous sunday than plowing up some earth and filling it with delicious potential.

Do you plant your own garlic? What’s your favorite crop to plant and harvest?

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