Homemade Hay Feeder

20170612_095651Hay constitutes most of the diet of farm animals found on the homestead. Pulled directly from the ground by the animal consuming it is the most nutritious, but that’s not always an option. Fields need to rest, winter stops hay growth, and some folks don’t have the land to dedicate. There is any number of reasons a homesteader might feed hay. If that’s the best option for your circumstances, go ahead and do what’s right for you. I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for someone else.

Besides the importance of maintaining condition of the hay, the method of feeding it is also important. Animals tend to make a mess. They are picky and go for the tastiest parts first. I often hear farmers caution that cows will eat the center out of a round hay bale to the point the outside collapses, sometimes causing injury.

In addition to store-bought feed we supplement for the known vitamins and parasite medication, we try to feed hay as much as possible. One of the many projects on my Honey-Do List is fencing off additional paddocks to use for rotational grazing. Until that chore is complete, the sheep will be largely on dry hay we bale through year.

My goal is three hay cuts a season, but between fires, unpredictable summer weather, using mostly borrowed equipment, extensive travel for work, and plain old inexperience, I’m doing good to get two mediocre cuts.

Our hay needs on The Five Cent Farm are modest with nine ewes, but with a soon to arrive ram, those needs will increase, if I can get Apollo to do his job. I’ve seen his results on my neighbor’s farm, so I’m confident that despite middle-age creeping up on the old boy, he’ll continue to produce long enough to expand the flock.

The big problem we were having with feeding the girls hay was two-fold. We get a lot of rain and any bales placed on the ground wick water up through them, so it becomes a race between moisture moving up and sheep eating down.

The second problem is the tendency for sheep, mine at least, to stomp all over bales as the pick through it, ruining hay they would normally eat while scattering around hay they might eat later, depending on how hungry they are.

Neither Mrs. Cunha nor I were happy with what we viewed a wasted resources in loss of finished hay and the time and effort to get it that way. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, we set out to steal a few good ideas from other people and incorporate them into one of our own.

This is what we came up with presented in photographs. Feel free to steal some ideas yourself.

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Tractors…For Rabbits

photo12Wire cages are the standard way to house rabbits, but a rabbit tractor is a simple homestead DIY project within the skills of most people. We typically use rabbit tractors both as grow-out pens and for when the kits begin to crowd their mom’s cage.

A secondary purpose, during spring and summer when the grass is lush, is as a mobile enclosure. Rather than break out the lawnmower, I let my little bundles of fur take on some of the yard maintenance responsibilities. The lushness of what’s growing, the size of the tractor, how many rabbits , and their ages will dictate how often the tractor needs to be moved. We average moving it every other day.

It was glorious. All last summer, the rabbits kept the backyard nibbled down sufficiently that only a few strips and patches in the corners had to be mowed.

An added benefit was reducing feed costs. Every dandelion, blade of grass, and bit of clover the rabbits munch from the turf is that much less feed I have to provide. It’s not much when they are young, but as butchering time nears, it gets to be quite a bit less alfalfa pellets and hay that I have to buy.

photo13I’m still not entirely sure about putting them on forage alone because I want to make sure their diet is nutritionally complete, so we give them a reduced daily ration of the all-purpose rabbit feed and some Timothy hay. We estimate the amounts, so there is just a touch of each left over each day. That rule of thumb may not be terribly scientific or as economically efficient as it could be, but we figure they are getting the nutrition they need that way.

Based on the way the rabbits go after the fresh forage growing from the ground, I suspect they wouldn’t put up much of a fuss, if we withdrew the hay and pellets entirely.

Where we do have a real concern is plants that may make the rabbits ill. While rabbit breeders may not have bred every bit of self-preservation instinct out the meat bricks we enjoy so much, a part of me suspects domestic rabbits don’t have enough sense not to eat something that will kill them.

Having said that, I have yet to see any of my rabbits eat something that kills them or makes them ill. I figure give it some time. I’ll kill one of them by accident sooner or later.

What concerned us more at the start was the possibility of pesticide or fertilizer residue that might present a problem. Perhaps, we were being overly cautious, but we waited an entire rainy season before letting the rabbits forage on the ground. Even then, as heartless as it sounds, we picked one to be the Crash Test Dummy for a week or ten days before letting the rest join in.

The perk to being the guinea pig was that he got to the grass first and had the entire enclosure to himself. Not a bad trade-off when you consider their purpose and ultimate fate.

photo8The rabbit tractor I put together isn’t anything revolutionary. A tractor isn’t just for rabbits. The same principle of a mobile confinement device works equally well for chickens or other small livestock.

It’s two square frames separated by upright supports and a cover. The whole project is far from rocket surgery, and I would feel like a turd explaining how to screw boards together. Rather than give a how-to on basic carpentry, I’m going to give some tips and lessons learned.


The first rabbit tractor we constructed was 4×8 feet. We did that not realizing just how heavy it would be when finished. It can by moved by one person, but it’s a whole lot easier with a friend.

Another downside to the eight foot length is the long sides make placement a little more difficult. The earth underneath the bottom rail should be as level as possible. Otherwise, you wind up plugging the chinks with bricks, logs, rocks, scrap lumber…you get the idea.

The lid is also a little cumbersome to raise and lower. It really benefited from a lid stop. A piece of 1/4″ cable run through eye-bolts and secured to itself with crush locks keep the lid falling all the way open and tearing the hinges off. I couldn’t figure out a simple enough hinge arrangement to let the lid open more than ninety degrees.

Were I to build it again, I would have also hinged the other side of the lid because sometimes rabbits don’t feel like being caught and retreat under the side that does not open. You really lose the advantages of being human when down on all fours chasing a rabbit through what is essentially a two-foot-tall tunnel.

It’s enough to induce Vietnam flashbacks.

photo9On the up-side, you can divide it in half pretty easily and segregate your rabbits by sex or whatever criteria you like. That’s the only real advantage to the eight foot length. We scaled back on subsequent versions to 4×4 feet, and every problem associated with the eight foot length disappeared. I think I found the size I want to stick with.


Separate the top and bottom frame by slightly more than two feet. We thought ahead and went with twenty-six inches. That way, a two-foot wide roll of chicken wire had an inch of leeway at the top and bottom. It gave us room to work pulling the wire tight as we unrolled it and didn’t leave any hanging over the edges to snag.

Top material

Use whatever you like for a top. We discovered a product called Tuftex panels. They are a corrugated poly-carbonate sheeting material that blocks UV rays. Think of corrugated tin on the roof of a barn or shed, but nowhere near as hot. We went with opaque, and it keeps everything beneath quite cool. I guess those UV rays are the ones that make the sunshine hot.

The Tuftex is a little pricey, but easy to work with and has held up well. I also used it for the top and sides of the rabbit condo. It will likely outlast the wooden frame and be re-purposed onto another rabbit tractor.


I went with untreated lumber, suspecting the rabbits might chew it. Whatever turns treated lumber green probably isn’t good for them. I haven’t seen them chew very much in the year we have been using the tractors, so I don’t see the trouble I would have to go to in order to prevent a few chew marks as worth the effort. These rabbit tractors were intended to be quick and dirty projects without the expectation of them lasting forever. I have been thrilled to get this long out of them and expect another couple of years use, at least.

photoTo make the corners more stiff, I wanted something a little less flexible than a 2×4. Not having any 4x4s on hand and possessed of no desire to make a special trip to the Home Depot, I improvised and used what my wife affectionately calls a Portuguese 4×4. Just remember that a 2×4 is not two inches by four inches. Two put together are only 3 1/2 inches, so select your screws accordingly.


Unless you’ve got the hands of a gorilla, any money you spend on a powered stapler will be money well spent. After stapling twenty-four feet of chicken wire for the first rabbit tractor with the old style, ka-thunk version we’ve had for years, my wife was more than willing to spend $30 on an electric stapler. Save yourself the nerve damage in your hand and just get one.


I don’t screw around with nails much anymore. Screws are my fasteners of choice. Just be sure to drill a pilot hole, so you don’t crack the end of the board. Especially, when you have to inevitably screw into the end grain of one them. Take this advice, if nothing else, to avoid a lot of wasted wood, aggravation, and embarrassment from shoddy joinery.

Allow me to pass on another tip I learned years ago that will result in the tightest joints you have ever seen. Measure the shank length of the screw and make sure it passes all the way through the first board. If the threads ride on both pieces of wood, they advance at the same rate and leave gaps in the joint. Alternately, drill a clearance hole. It will allow the screw to spin free in one board, while the threads bite into the other.

A picture explains this better than words.

clearance hole cheat







That’s about all I know on what to avoid doing when you build your own tractor. Oh, and have a good helper. They are invaluable when you need a third hand. So, get out there on a sunny day and build one. Your rabbits will be happier, and so will you from the reduced feed bill.


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I Made My Wife Pee in a Casserole Dish

My family has never been what you might call “lucky.” If something can go wrong, it usually does, but I wonder if that just makes us average. Optimists, with their eternally upbeat and positive outlooks, will say that every day above ground is a good one. They’re so full of shit. Ask the guy who spent twenty-six months in a bamboo tiger cage in Vietnam if every day above ground is a good one. I’m pretty sure he would disagree.

Some folks argue that considering the near misses of catastrophe in life, luck surfaces in little ways every day. I’m not so sure about that, either. Not that I’m a pessimist. I firmly believe the harder I work, the more luck I have. Unfortunately, that eats away at the defining characteristic of luck. I guess I’m more of a “probably-ist.”

A probably-ist spends his day not courting disaster. His catch phrase is, “That’s probably not a good idea.” That doesn’t mean something cannot be accomplished or should not be attempted. The probably-ist simply uses knowledge, experience, and common sense to evaluate the likelihood of success for a given task.

The Portage who jumped into the lion enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo a few years ago was definitely not a probably-ist.

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Oh, your stupid ass is mine.

He was a dumb fuck and deserved to die. He earned death. It’s not like this ersatz lion tamer jumped in after a child that fell into the enclosure. He did it on a lark for the thrill. A probably-ist can like thrills and can be spontaneous, but likelihood of a given situation going sideways is always on his mind.

I’m a fan of protective gear.

The point is that a little circumspect caution goes a long way in life. It lessens the likelihood of an early or horrific death. Sometimes, both. Despite wearing ear and eye protection religiously when operating power tools, sooner or later, some little piece of flying debris makes its way into my eye. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably a good idea to wear protective equipment.

That’s not to say gruesome injuries and spectacular deaths do not visit the probably-ist. Equipment malfunctions. Lapses in attention happen. Unforeseen and statistically unlikely events occur.

  • I had a grandfather who died of a brain embolism attributed to a broken ankle from when a horse stepped on it a year prior.
  • My step-grandfather (his replacement) died at seventy-seven years old when a well drilling tower broke loose from its moorings and fell on him.
  • A great-uncle bled to death from a chainsaw accident while logging.
  • My mother-in-law cut a thumb off with a circular saw, and a previous father-in-law cut a pinky off in metal press.
  • A cousin died after being struck by a train. I suspect suicide, but he did work for the railroad, so it’s in the books as an industrial accident.
  • At eleven years old, I sutured two of my father’s fingers back together after a firewood splitting incident while camping deep in the woods and several hours away from professional medical attention.
  • In one particularly humorous incident, a distant cousin drowned in a privy (It probably wasn’t a good idea to go stumbling around drunk in the dark, so this one shouldn’t count).

    images (20)
    Portuguese Library

Looking back on this list, the thought occurs to me that the victim in each of these scenarios was middle-aged or better when these occurred. Perhaps I should employ someone to follow me around and keep me from dying. Maybe that what sidekicks really are; professional spotters.

Just remember that when one of the Cunha boys says, “We had a little mishap,” that means someone nearly died.

Lacking a tradition of falling ass first into good things (except for that time in 1996 when I found a twenty dollar bill in a parking lot), I was surprised when my wife excitedly texted me this photo.

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My two youngest were farting around in the river at the back of our property when they came across this rusty pistol. Knowing their father as well as they do, they decided to bring it home. If they expected to keep the pistol, they certainly didn’t mention it. I suspect they had visions of it finding a new home in their room. However, since I pay for the place, I get first dibs on keeping anything found there.

Whether it’s gold doubloons, a rusted shut pistol, Indian remains, or a unicorn, the rules are the same. Finders keepers; losers weepers…And Dad gets the really, really fun toys.

154-MMS-1421791262-attachment1-VZM (2)My wife continued to send me photos, and from what I could make out through the corrosion was a stamping “Western …” That clue and an understanding of firearm nomenclature was all I had to go on. So, I turned to my good friend Google. I don’t even remember anymore how we got along without the internet. I’ve blocked it out of my mind, it seems.

A little research revealed my kids aren’t exactly Mel Fisher. The pistol, clearly a single-action from the photos, is a Western Six in .22 caliber. These were no-frills pistols made from the 1960’s until the every early 1980’s. There is absolutely nothing fancy or collectible about them even in pristine condition. It’s what you call a “truck gun” in Texas; kept in the glove box of the car for those time you need to shoot something. They are small caliber, relatively quiet to shoot, effective without making a mess all over the place, and inexpensive enough that you don’t care if they get beat up or rusty. Depending on where you’re from and how you use it, some call it a “farm gun” or “trail gun.”152-MMS-1421791138-attachment1-IMG952015012095155803 (2)

Whatever you call it, the idea is the same; simple, cheap, and effective. Those are my three favorite qualities in a tool.

I rushed home to inspect my prize. It was in worse condition that I imagined. Every nook and cranny was packed solid with river sediment and tiny stones. The entire length of the barrel, the cylinder chambers, and the whole cylinder gap were packed solid with the mire. Not surprisingly, the ejector rod spring and large chunks of its housing were eaten away. Nothing moved. The whole shebang was frozen up into a solid mass.

Those who know me can attest to my love of both firearms and a challenge. I resolved to bring this abomination back to life. Of course, I use that term very loosely. I would consider it a success to load a cartridge in each chamber and make it go bang six times in a row without losing my eyesight or needing medical attention.

To that end, I have embarked on a quest to find the nastiest, most powerful, rust removing, grease cutting, supremely caustic solvent that has ever existed. The sort of stuff that requires a prescription, an OSHA MSDS Safety Sheet, a permit from at least two Federal Government agencies, and a note from my mother.

164-MMS-1421791836-attachment1-IMG952015012095160953 (2)The Home Depot and Lowes have failed me. Tractor Supply Company wasn’t much better. The best the O’Riley Auto Parts could offer me is a gallon of brake cleaning solvent. In desperation, I soaked the poor pistol in a Pyrex casserole dish full of urine. Let me tell you. It took some convincing to get my wife and kids to help with that one, but I managed it.

As the project stands right now, I have a rusted solid pistol that probably retailed, at most, for sixty dollars. I’ve already sunk close to that amount into trying to resurrect it. Plus an assortment of scrubbing pads, dental picks, and caustic liquids I normally have sitting around the garage. To purchase a brand new pistol of similar quality (when it was new) with the same form and function would be all of $120. I’m already halfway there, but that isn’t the point.

That’s not the point at all.

When I succeed in breathing life back into this little bitch (and believe me when I say that I will succeed, if it’s the last thing I do as I am hauled away from another “little mishap”), the pistol will be worth exactly…nothing.

Am I going to have to break down and buy a power washer to blow all this crap out? I mean, I’ll take any reason to buy a new tool, but then I’ll have to power wash every single thing outside to fully justify the purchase.

IMG_0180So, before I go off to purchase one more tool of questionable necessity, can you kind folks leave comments with your suggestions on how the get all this river gunk out the clockwork of my pistol? The second option is to mount it to a plaque with the inscription “The only pistol dug out of a river bank in the southern United States that was NOT owned by Jesse James.”

But that will only serve as a reminder of defeat. And I don’t like to lose.